International resistance to austerity

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In South Africa, the patriotic euphoria created by the World Cup is already over. Like every other country in the world, South Africa is ruled by capitalism, and capitalism is a system in crisis which can only survive by stepping up the exploitation of the majority. A bitter strike by 1.3million public sector workers, led by teachers and nurses, has broken out around wage demands. The nurses have attempted to maintain essential services in the hospitals but have been condemned by the media for abandoning the sick and vulnerable. But the struggle has a lot of support within the working class. The strike has been joined by car workers, fuel supply workers, and, briefly, miners, with growing unrest among soldiers being used as strikebreakers.

In nearby Mozambique, a 30% rise in the price of bread has sparked strikes and riots in the streets of the capital Maputo as well as Matola, a neighbouring city to Maputo, and in Beira and Chimoio, urban centres in the central part of the country. Police have responded brutally, with live ammunition as well as rubber bullets. At least 10 people were shot dead and hundreds have been wounded. There have also been clashes over food price rises in Egypt. Prices of basic food stuffs around the world are steadily rising, particularly as a result of droughts and floods – probable effects of climate change - which have devastated agriculture in countries like Russia and Pakistan. The media are already voicing fears that the Mozambique rebellion could herald an international wave of food riots, as we saw in 2008. Across the planet, millions are already faced with starvation and capitalism’s economic and ecological breakdown is making the situation dramatically worse.

South African workers mocked the World Cup’s official feelgood slogan ‘Feel it, it is here’, with their own version: ‘feel it, it is war’. And the class war is international. Workers in countries like China and Bangladesh, whose cheap labour has kept up profits for the big western companies, are refusing to lie down in front of the capitalist crisis any longer. There have been huge waves of strikes in China and Bangladesh, many of them outside the control of the established unions, which the workers see as corrupt and subservient to capital and the state. The ruling class has responded with brutal repression, but also by trying to cobble together more ‘representative’ trade unions which can do a better job of keeping the workers in line. We are seeing similar tactics in South Africa, where the Congress of South African Trade Unions is threatening to break its ties with the ruling ANC so it can present itself to discontented workers as a really ‘independent’ force.

In the advanced countries, the majority of workers are not yet faced with starvation but they are certainly confronted with all the consequences of the economic crisis: spiralling unemployment and government-led austerity drives. Workers in Greece and Spain have been in the forefront of the new austerity packages, and they have launched wide scale strikes and demonstrations in response. But elsewhere in Europe and in America the resistance is still very hesitant and dispersed. Trade unions are still leading out one sector of workers at a time – like the BA workers and tube workers in Britain at the moment – when what is needed is for different sectors to come together around common demands.
The situation of workers and the poorest layers of the population in the peripheral countries may still seem remote from the daily concerns of workers in the capitalist centres. But there are small signs that this can change. The recent struggles of the Tekel workers in Turkey, for example, gave rise to a group of militant workers who saw the need to visit European countries like Germany and Greece to bring out the lessons of their own struggle. This was organised outside of union control, because the ‘Platform of Workers in Struggle’ understood that the unions are not on their side. There were reciprocal visits by Austrian and German workers to Turkey. 
On a broader level, the massive struggles in the less developed countries can provide workers in the heart of the system with an example of courage and determination, and a reminder that if they do not fight back, they will also face a plunge into the most desperate poverty, because capitalism’s crisis has no other outcome. Amos, 4.9.10
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