Thursday, May 6, 2010

Layer 299 . . . Almost There, Blind Anger, Greek Protests, Shock Doctrine, and Fightbacks.

It's polling day today, and everyone's on tenterhooks. This is one election whose outcome, everyone seems to agree, cannot be predicted.

The news from Athens may or may not be a foretaste of what could happen here if our next government tries to impose a version of the Shock Doctrine.

Greek protesters storm the Acropolis

World markets plunge over fears that Greece's economic crisis will spread to other countries despite austerity measures

In a dramatic escalation of the anger unleashed by the economic crisis engulfing Greece, communist protesters stormed the Acropolis today as the euro and world markets plunged on concerns about the debt-choked country's huge bailout from the EU and the IMF.

Irate trade unionists took over Athens' ancient landmark as fury over an unprecedented package of austerity measures, agreed in return for a multibillion euro aid package from eurozone nations and the IMF, intensified.

By the break of dawn the citadel's ramparts had been draped with banners proclaiming: "Peoples of Europe rise up."

In Athens, protesting public sector workers said their action had been prompted by "blind anger" over the near-bankrupt government's decision to accept the painful policies.

Under the deal the Greek government must also freeze wages, slash pensions and do away with a plethora of bonuses and allowances – draconian reforms not seen since the second world war.

"We want to send a message to the people of Europe," said Panagiotis Papageorgopoulos, a communist party official marching with the protesters. "We can take control of our fate with organised protests so that our lives are not run by the EU and IMF."

In a prelude to tomorrow's paralysing general strike, schools, hospitals and domestic flights were disrupted as public servants stepped up action against the measures. Private sector workers, including air traffic controllers at Athens airport, will participate in the walk-out piling the pressure on the government.

Passing in front of Athens' imposing Greek parliament, demonstrators shouted: "Let the rich pay for the crisis." At the time MPs were debating a draft bill outlining the unpopular economic reforms that will have to be imposed.

With tensions running high, riot police fired off rounds of tear gas as they scuffled with men, women and students who also joined the protests.

Workers have warned that their campaign against the stringent package of fiscal policies and structural reforms will be ongoing and relentless.

If any of the above sounds like what the Tories are proposing to do in the UK, in order to please their chums in the City - well that's because it is. Cameron fully understands the principles of The Shock Doctrine. The question will be - will he get away with it? Or will British civil servants and other British workers have the guts to organise public protests and an effective resistance?

We can only hope they won't need to, and that a Lab / Lib collaboration will thwart the Tories' ambitions. Even so, we can't trust either the Labour lot or the Lib Dems not to slash and burn following the election, if they're in charge. Whatever happens, I just hope nobody's stupid enough to get involved in physical aggro.


I had another look at the closing chapter of Naomi Klein's book this week [Shock Wears Off], in which she details the grassroots movements in South America that have assumed power in most of the major countries, and have fought back from the appalling conditions imposed by American-sponsored dictatorships in places like Chile, Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina. Klein makes the point that having a number of these states in the control of left-of-centre governments gives the progressive movements much greater collective clout as they rebuild their countries in the interests of the mass of their population.

"The core tenets of Chicago School economics - privatisation, deregulation and cuts to government services - had laid the foundations for the breakdown.

The hording of wealth by a tiny minority of the . . .  population was not a peaceful process . . . nor was it a legal one.

[A] veneer was being very publicly stripped away, to reveal a system of gross wealth inequalities, often opened up with the aid of grotesque criminality.

It was in 2001 . . . that Argentina erupted in protest against IMF-prescribed austerity measures and proceded to force out five presidents in only three weeks.

In the years since, that wide-awake shock resistance has spread to many other former shock labs - Chile, Bolivia, China, Lebanon. And as people shed their collective fear that was first instilled with tanks and cattle prods, with sudden flights of capital and brutal cutbacks, many are demanding more democracy and more control over markets.

The staunchest opponents of neoliberal economics were winning election after election. The Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, running on a platform of "21st Century Socialism", was re-elected in 2006 for a third term with 63 percent of the vote.

Latin Americans understand perfectly well that it was authoritarian communism that failed in Eastern Europe and parts of Asia. Democratic socialism, meaning not only socialist parties brought to power through elections but also democratically run workplaces and land holdings, has worked in many regions, from Scandinavia to the thriving and historic cooperative economy in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region.

It was a version of this combination of democracy and socialism that Allende was attempting to bring to Chile between 1970 and 1973.

The dirty secret of the neoliberal era is that these ideas were never defeated in a great battle of ideas, nor were they voted down in elections. They were shocked out of the way at key political junctures. When resistance was fierce they were defeated with overt violence . . .

In other words, Allende needed to be taken out before his democratic third way spread . . .

The dream he represented was never defeated. It was . . .temporarily silenced, pushed under the surface by fear.

Ever since the Argentine collapse in 2001, opposition to privatisation has become the defining issue of the continent, able to make governments and break them; by late 2006, it was practically creating a domino effect. Luiz inacio Lula da Silva was reelected as president of Brazil largely because he turned the vote into a referendum on privatisation.

Chile and Argentina are both led by politicians who define themselves against their countries' Chicago School experiments.

The structures built by the continent's developmentalist movements [had been] sacked, stripped and sold off. Today Latin Americans are picking up the project that was so brutally interrupted all those years ago. Many of the policies cropping up are familiar: nationalisation of key sectors of the economy. land reform, major new investments in education, literacy and health care. These are not revolutionary ideas, but . . . [an] unapologetic vision of a government that helps reach for equality.

The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) is the continent's retort to the Free Trade Area of the Americas. ALBA is . . . "a perfect example of genuinely fair trade: each country provides what it is best placed to produce, in return for what it most needs, independent of global market prices." So Bolivia provides gas at stable discounted prices; Venezuela offers heavily subsidisd oil to poorer countries and shares expertise in developing reserves; and Cuba sends thousands of doctors to deliver free health care all over the continent, while training students from other countries at its medical schools.

The major benefit is that ALBA is essentially a barter system, in which countries decide for themselves what any given commodity or service is worth, rather than letting traders in new York, Chicago or London set the prices for them.

When one country does face a financial shortfall, this increased integration means that it does not need to turn to the IMF or the U.S. Treasury for a bailout.

The results have been dramatic. Brazil, so long shackled to Washington by its enormous debt, is refusing to enter into a new agreement with the IMF. Venezuela has withdrawn from both the IMF and the World Bank.

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