Carol Pagaduan-Araullo | Protests are good

By Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
Streetwise | BusinessWorld

The protracted global economic depression is sending the economies of even advanced capitalist countries such as the United States and members of the European Union on a tailspin. Despite fits of financial convulsions due to the bursting of economic bubbles and now EU countries threatening to default on their sovereign debts if not bailed out, most official quarters still minimize the extent and depth of the crisis of global capitalism.

But the average person-on-the-street in the perennially underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East as well as the most advanced capitalist countries in the West knows from experience that this global economic depression is for real.

It is making life harder and harder even for the touted “middle class”. Worse it is unclear how or when the crisis will end and how or if the people’s situation will improve.

All over the world, what is becoming exceedingly clear for a growing number of working people and their families – wage workers, salaried employees and the bourgeoning underclass of unemployed, under-employed and self-employed individuals trying to scrape together a living – is that they are being made to unfairly bear the burden of this crisis.

And they are fighting back. They are demanding changes that mean something to them and are not mere empty promises.

In this country, students, teachers and school officials are marching in the streets to decry budget cuts for state colleges and universities. Health care workers are up in arms over slashed budgets of public hospitals and public health programs.

They denounce the Aquino government’s budget priorities: debt servicing, conditional cash transfers aka dole-outs and military outlays that go down the drain of corruption and failed counter-insurgency programs.

They reject the privatization and commercialization of basic social services such as education, health care and housing and public utilities such as water, electricity and public transport.

Militant transport workers, in particular jeepney drivers and operators, along with the riding public have staged protests and strikes to dramatize their opposition to run away oil prices. They attribute this to the foreign and domestic oil cartel and speculators in the oil futures market manipulating the oil price and raking in super profits, together with the oil deregulation law and the national government’s “hands-off” policy even as it collects windfall value-added-tax on higher oil prices.

The protesters are demanding the scrapping of deregulation policies, centralized government procurement of crude oil to take advantage of the cheapest prices, the scrapping of VAT on oil and for the government to take the commanding heights of developing a sustainable and people-oriented energy policy that is free from foreign domination and control.

Workers are on a warpath against the policy of contractualization that is ravaging their jobs, security of tenure, wages and benefits leading to labor being at the complete mercy of capital. They are calling for the implementation of the twin policies of land reform and national industrialization to optimize the utilization of the country’s natural and human resources and to create jobs and livelihoods for the army of unemployed and underemployed, especially the youth.

Homeless people living in shanty colonies in urban centers are resisting spontaneously against violent demolitions of their make-do residences only to be literally thrown into the streets. They reject so-called government cum private development projects which exclude them but instead cater to commercial and financial big business interests.

In the US, there have been work stoppages and mass protests over lay-offs, budget cuts, withdrawal of entitlements and subsidies both in the public and private sectors. Migrant workers and other immigrants have denounced job discrimination, police racial profiling and severe restrictions as well as harassment from immigration authorities.

Fed-up ordinary Americans are staging an ongoing “Occupy Wall Street” campaign wherein hundreds if not thousands of people have been conducting a daily sit-in protest at the heart of the financial district in New York City, pointing their fingers at the behemoths of finance capital for their economic dislocation and immiseration.

Greece, Spain, France and Italy have witnessed hordes of their people pouring out into the streets to reject government austerity measures after the public coffers have been emptied in bail-outs for the banks and other financial institutions and other failed neo-liberal policies as well as profligacy of their ruling elites. They are also demanding jobs and social justice against the corporate elite and their political backers who continue to control the highest levers of power.

In North Africa and the Middle East, the political upheavals that have removed or are trying to depose entrenched authoritarian regimes continue. The workers and youth in Egypt, for example, will not settle for the mere removal of their previous ruler, Mubarak, but are calling for his trial and those of his cohorts to account for their crimes against the people.

They reject the military’s hold on power and demand greater political representation of ordinary people in decision-making. They call for an end to failed policies that have only managed to deepen their people’s impoverishment and misery and the backwardness and stagnation of their economy. They vigorously call the US to account for backing the Mubarak regime and its policy of rapprochement with the Zionists in Israel.

Sooner than expected, the real objectives of US-NATO in invading Libya are revealed. For one, Libya is being turned into their newest field of investment (read: dumping ground of surplus capital), with the IMF-World Bank “asked” to “rehabilitate” the Libyan economy using the billions of dollars the Libyan government has invested in foreign banks, and to repair its infrastructure damaged by the US-NATO bombings.

All these developments are rooted in the inability of the global capitalist system to fully recover from the global economic crisis triggered by the financial meltdown in 2007-08. The continuing and intensifying paroxysms in the very centers of capital belie all claims that the world economy has recovered or is on the way to recovery.

This is not at all surprising since none of the neoliberal policies that have brought about the crisis has been reversed. Measures have not been put in place for regulating transactions in financial derivative long identified as one of the major culprits that brought about the meltdown. Worse, the US and European governments, invariably beholden to and directed by finance capital, continue to conspire to this day in diverting public funds meant for housing, education and other basic social services to rescue the latter.

Corporate media and bourgeois propaganda may have succeeded for some time in conjuring the illusion of recovery and brighter times ahead, the reality of continuing joblessness, rising prices and loss of social security inevitably catches up and bursts whatever bubble of false hope remains.

Thus while it can be argued that the people’s protests are long overdue and still need to gain strength and momentum, these have so far been the only forces that have mitigated the greed and avarice of the big capitalists and their agents in the bureaucracies.

In the medium and long run, they are bound to grow and gain more strength as the crisis worsens and the hardships become more intolerable worldwide.

Published in Business World
30 Sept – 1 October 2011

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