Global capitalism faces a crisis — and it’s not the economic one, not directly, anyway. In the last four years, in cities across the world, mass protest has greeted meetings of global economic institutions. Now one of those bodies is descending upon Australia.
A regional meeting of the big business think tank, the World Economic Forum, is planned for Melbourne from September 11 to 13. The activist groups mobilising against this meeting have followed other such campaigns in adopting the date as its rallying cry. S11 is in the business of building a campaign to rival the highly successful actions in Seattle in 1999 and in Davos and Washington DC this year. As in those cities, the ordinary people of Melbourne and Australia will have the opportunity to voice our anger at the worldwide attack on the rights and freedoms of the poor.
Making the planet safe for Capital. The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Economic Forum (WEF) have for decades been making the planet safe for transnational companies, usually by wrecking national economies and then offering “rescue” plans which leave countries dependent on foreign investment for survival. In 1994, these unelected and undemocratic bodies were joined by the World Trade Organisation (WTO), a sort of global enforcement body charged with hunting down “impediments” to “free trade.” Such impediments include anti-discrimination laws, regulation of minimum labour standards, Indigenous land and cultural rights, environment protection statutes and even health-related quarantine restrictions. The upsurge in outrage from poor and working class communities is directly linked to the depredations of the WTO since it began full operation in the late 1990s.
Both the World Bank and the IMF were set up following an agreement signed in the U.S. in 1944. Allegedly set up to assist in reconstruction after World War II, they were, in fact, the tools by which the U.S. government could build a neocolonial empire made up of itself and numerous client states, while also providing funds to prop up the devastated governments of Western Europe against a very real threat of grassroots revolution. Even a cursory glance at the history of the last five decades shows how successful a strategy this was. All over the world, from South Africa to Indonesia to Chile, brutal dictatorships were funded and plied with guns while the poor were sweated, starved and murdered.
Naked dictatorships attract bad PR these days, but a recent example of economic devastation is Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, which was forced to undergo “globalisation” in 1995. Its rice, sugar and cement industries were privatised, tariffs abolished and government “restructured.” The result? These essential commodities are no longer produced, and Haiti is even poorer than before.
Another example is Vietnam, where, following the “opening-up” of the economy to foreign investment, companies such as Nike have set up factories. In these sweatshops, workers are submitted to toxic fumes and forced to work, 2000 in a single room without protection from dangerous sewing machines. These conditions are in violation of Vietnam’s labour codes, but, hey, Nike is making shoes to world’s best practice, as determined by the World Bank/IMF “experts.” Vietnam’s Stalinist government can’t get credit anywhere else. So it has accommodated the extortionists, putting the Vietnamese revolution at very grave risk.
In El Salvador, there are cases of women miscarrying under these conditions and being told to continue working or be sacked for malingering. They will work 18-hour overtime shifts without extra pay. Fifteen to 26 year old women will be forced to work for 57¢ a day.
According to the World Bank: “The private sector is the main source of economic growth — of jobs and higher incomes. The Bank supports many sectors in which private sector development is making rapid inroads — finance, power, telecommunications and information technology, oil and gas and industry.” In reality, any development of infrastructure is almost exclusively for use by transnationals. What wealth that may be made by World Bank programs is skimmed off for debt repayments. The rest becomes the property of multinational, generally U.S.-owned, corporations. Meanwhile whole countries are enslaved by crushing, unpayable debts.
Australia’s experience with privatisation, deregulation and the running down of government assets has led to a number of general infrastructure failures. Power blackouts, the Longford Gas crisis, the poisoning of Sydney’s water supplies, and the decrepit state of the Sydney and Melbourne rail networks are all consequences of neoliberal policies which follow the World Bank’s prime directive — “privatise or bust!” The long-term ramifications of decaying infrastructure and abysmal social services are someone else’s problem: the ordinary people who cannot access dental and health care, good education, efficient transport, energy supply etc.
Shadow government. The World Economic Forum is an innocuous title for an immensely powerful private club for the global élite. Formed partly to provide a European rival for the IMF and World Bank think-tanks, it is now an international network. The heads of the top 1000 corporations, trade ministers, academics and selected media representatives make up this organisation, which has been deciding most policy for the whole planet since the early ’70s. Of course, it has no formal influence over the policies of the world’s governments. But WEF members control the purse strings and, as the old saying goes: “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”
Meeting annually for the past 30 years, the WEF has made decisions which affect all of us. Where we work, and under what conditions, school curriculum, health funding, even what foods we eat have been subjects of WEF working groups and plenary meetings. It was the WEF which organised the first “informal” meeting of influential trading nations that opened the so-called “Uruguay Round” of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). That 1982 meeting paved the way for globalisation and the WTO.
The WEF is behind the push for the unfettered use of Genetically Modified Organisms, a practice which benefits agribusiness members, but which has the potential to wipe out small farmers and involves possible detrimental health and environmental consequences. It is also behind the so-called TRIPs (Trade-Related aspects of Intellectual Property rights) provisions of the WTO rules. These provisions provided for the global patenting of plant, animal and human genetic material, genetically modified “species” and plant varieties, and the traditional knowledge, customs and cultural artifacts of Indigenous peoples.
Globalisation, or “neoliberalism,” has been the policy of the WEF from its formation. Every aspect of human society is meant to be allocated a dollar value and permitted to be bought and sold. Every barrier in the road to total exploitation of the planet’s resources and people in the quest for profits is to be pushed aside, including the right of parliaments to enact laws which mitigate this pillage. Or to put it another way, to deny every nation on earth the right to determine its destiny through its local political structures. Unelected, unaccountable and largely faceless, the WEF has installed itself as the global management committee of capitalism.
Its philosophy is probably best encapsulated by Francis Fukuyama, who, in 1989, wrote an article for the rightwing U.S. journal, The National Interest. In this piece, titled “The end of History?,” Fukuyama wrote:
“What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such; that is, the endpoint of mankind’s (sic) ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”
This ridiculous, eurocentric and racist triumphalism is the iron fist inside the velvet glove that the WEF/IMF/World Bank spin doctors have woven. The new capitalist aristocracy, like its feudal predecessor, really believes that only it can rule, anointed by the great god of market forces.
Unfortunately for the Fukuyamas of the world, in many countries, the population has other ideas, demanding an end to so-called “economic rationalism” and a voice in determining their destiny. Thirty years of WEF-style “reforms” have finally sparked open, global and coordinated revolt. After the Battle of Seattle, the ruling classes are showing signs of increasing nervousness.
Join the global protest. Marxists have long said that investment by transnational companies results in the export of a country’s wealth. Sure, the imperialists may pour hundreds of millions of dollars into building plant and equipment. But once that has happened, almost all the profits flow offshore, leaving little money to create and maintain local social infrastructure. Since most of these enterprises are only set up because the local authorities have been bribed or squeezed into providing massive tax concessions, governments have no money for basic services either.
The international economy has become an extortion racket, and no one is immune. While U.S. corporations, through their overseas operations, are increasing in wealth, the living standard of U.S. citizens is contracting. Australian politicians have been bullying us with threats that our wages have to compete with the 18¢ an hour wages of workers overseas. Meanwhile, Australian living standards have plummeted as profits flow to New York and Frankfurt. Here, the situation is tight for many people. In poorer countries the situation is already desperate. Now is the time to fight on a global scale.
And that is exactly what is happening! Last year, a wave of protests and strikes occurred in Bolivia in reaction to the World Bank’s condition that the sale of the country’s water supply must be to a U.S.-Italian transnational. After workers, peasants and Indigenous organisations began to organise “peoples’ assemblies,” the government declared martial law. An uneasy standoff remains, but the message is clear. Those oppressed by globalisation are prepared to fight back hard.
- Shut down the WEF and abolish the World Bank/IMF!
- Cancel all debts owed to imperialist countries!
- Expropriate privatised services and put then under worker/community control.
- Open the borders! Full citizenship rights for all residents and refugees!
- End the plunder of the global environment!
- End market-driven discrimination. Equal pay for work of equal value!
- Universal union rights, wages and conditions for all workers!
- Self-determination for Indigenous peoples! For an Australian treaty now!
Australian workers need to follow the lead of protestors in Seattle, London, Davos, Washington and many other places. We need to tell the World Exploitation Forum it is unwanted in Melbourne or anywhere.