INTERVENTION DESIGNED TO SAFEGUARD NEO-COLONIAL INTERESTS
Mobutu Sese Seko, the CIA-installed dictator of Zaire, is in trouble –and that means trouble for the imperialists who rely on him to safeguard their interests in this resource-rich country, the world’s largest producer of industrial diamonds.
Formerly the Belgian Congo, Zaire won independence in 1960, and radical Patrice Lumumba was elected its first prime minister. Unwilling to lose control, Belgium provoked a civil war that led to the UN-assisted overthrow of Lumumba’s government and his assassination. In recent years, France has replaced Belgium as Zaire’s main neocolonialist exploiter.
Today, Mobutu is one of the richest men anywhere, while Zairian wages average $3 per month. Facing growing opposition, he fled the capital in 1991 and is now living on the French Riviera, ill from cancer.
For centuries before current national borders were drawn by colonialism, both Hutus and Tutsis have lived in central Africa. Among the many groups fighting to end Mobutu’s rule is one made up primarily of Zairian Tutsis. In late October, these rebels began taking control of large cities in eastern Zaire at Rwanda’s border, making Mobutu’s hold on the country even more tenuous.
When France initiated plans to send UN troops to Zaire in November, it did so out of concern for the stability of capitalist domination of the region, not for Hutu refugees displaced by Rwanda’s civil war. This war itself is a result of colonial policies of divide and rule, topped by drastic austerity programs currently imposed by the IMF.
The return of large numbers of refugees to Rwanda left France and its allies groping for a new excuse for intervention. If their rule by proxy remains in jeopardy, they will find one.
LABOR MOVEMENT AT BOILING POINT
Mass political work stoppages exploded onto the European scene during the past year, starting with combative public-service strikes in France in Nov.-Dec. 1995.
Since then, hundreds of thousands of workers have walked off their jobs to oppose efforts to drive down wages and benefits, privatize public services, scapegoat immigrants for economic ills, and dismantle social programs. The various governments are claiming that austerity measures are needed to satisfy tough criteria regarding debt, inflation, etc. established for entry into Europe’s planned currency union in 1999.
Public-sector unions struck in Belgium, marching on Brussels to protest privatization. A streetcar strike closed down Milan, Italy. More than 150,000 Danes walked out in April 1996 in solidarity with bus drivers on strike since February.
In October alone, more than 2,000,000 people in France and 400,000 in Germany’s industrial region responded to calls for general strikes and one-day shutdowns. In November, two million students went on strike in Spain, at the same time that 30,000 public employees rallied against a pay freeze and cuts in social services.
Many of these actions won significant concessions. But it will take more than strikes, no matter how militant, to force Europe’s governments to fundamentally reverse course. The strikes, however, are the proving grounds in which workers can develop the program and leadership necessary to mount a unified, sustained challenge to the pro-corporate agenda, in the political arena as well as at the point of production.
MIXED SIGNALS ON MARKET REFORMS
In 1986, Vietnam set out to develop a “market economy with a socialist orientation,” a dangerous balancing act impelled by the same problems of capitalist hostility and a sick global economy that confronted other workers states — plus the effects of 50 years of war. The government cut subsidies to state enterprises, ended collective farming, and sought new trading partners to replace Eastern Bloc countries.
The changes include a growing number of export processing zones providing special benefits to export-oriented industries, which foreign companies may own wholly or in part. But investors complain that the government is retaining too much control, reneging on promises such as creation of a stock exchange, and favoring state businesses over private ones.
The slowed pace of reform may well be a response to the growing anger of Vietnamese who are experiencing new exploitation, even beatings, on the job. Workers have formed hundreds of independent associations, and strikes, formerly unknown, now protest everything from unpaid overtime to lack of workplace democracy.