‘Global south’ Category Archives
by stuartbramhall in Global south, Inspiring Moments in Resistance
I encounter many long time activists in a quandary how to relate to #OccupyWallStreet. A vibrant, growing mass movement involving thousands of activists is always far more interesting and exciting than the ongoing drudgery (fundraising, event organizing, education and outreach, etc) of keeping existing grassroots organizations going. There is a strong temptation to abandon current organizing commitments to join the groundswell created by the OWS movement. While this might be the right move for some activists, it’s vitally important that others use their existing roles in union, peace and justice and environmental networks to bolster and support the anti-greed movement.
All Our Single Issues Have the Same Root Cause
There are strong strategic arguments for all unions and single issue peace and justice and environmental groups to get on board, in some way, with #OccupyWallStreet. All the corporate and government abuses our single issue groups are fighting have the same root cause – namely the corporate takeover of government. Yet many of us find it difficult to address the corporate tie-in from our single issue silos. Moreover there is already evidence that the current civil unrest in all major American cities is beginning to impact disastrous US policies in the Middle East.
How Do We Best Support OWS?
On the other hand, I question the value of long time union, antiwar, pro-democracy, peace and justice, homeless, sustainability and immigrants rights activists abandoning our existing commitments to camp out in the park. It makes more strategic sense to use our influence in the grassroots networks we have built up over decades to support and collaborate with #OccupyWallStreet. In this way we can provide inroads for younger, more militant OWS activists to sectors of society they might otherwise find difficult to access.
In my view, where existing union and community groups can best support the OWS movement is by providing logistical, material and tactical support as it expands into the productive sector. OWS can only exert real pressure on government, banks and other multinational corporations by disrupting business as usual – with corporate-targeted sit-ins, consumer boycotts, wild cat strikes or a combination of all three. In Egypt, it was the unions’ threat to shut down the Suez Canal that ultimately forced Mubarak to step down.
Many older activists, especially in the Open Source, sustainability and local democracy movements have already made significant gains in undermining corporate rule. The sustainability movement, for example, is responsible for an explosion of community-based alternatives to corporate controlled food, energy, transportation, education, health care and money. Equally impressive are the hundreds of communities in the local democracy movement which have passed ordinances restricting the right of corporations to build new hog farms, spread sewage sludge and deplete aquifers with bottled water operations.
Appealing to a Broad Base of Supporters
For their part, #OccupyWallStreet has already been remarkably effective in networking with existing groups. Good examples include the participation of OWS members in a march supporting Communication of American workers in their dispute with Verizon, an anti-eviction action OWS helped homeless advocates organize in Brooklyn, and the strong backing #OccupyWallStreet has received from organized labor. I attribute OWS coalition building success to their insistence on a broad inclusive vision (i.e. refusing to make specific demands). This enables them appeal to the widest possible base of potential supporters. I can’t count the number of large coalitions I have joined in the last thirty years that were scattered to the winds the moment we decided to formulate concrete demands. The last one was the 9-11 Coalition Seattle activists formed in September 2001 to protest the impending US war in Afghanistan. Over the five weeks we spent arguing over specific demands, our numbers shrank from one hundred plus to fifteen.
The November 2 general strike called by Occupy Oakland was the first test of OWS’s fragile coalition with labor. In a period of high unemployment, persuading unionists who still have work to put their own jobs on the line is no mean feat. While Occupy Oakland was unsuccessful in shutting the city itself down, a wild cat strike by Oakland longshoremen succeeded in closing down the Port of Oakland (http://tvnz.co.nz/world-news/occupy-oakland-succeeds-in-shutting-down-port-4499879).
To be continued, with a discussion of the effect of OWS on foreign policy.
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class, End of Capitalism, Global south
Former Wall Street analyst (and fellow expatriate) Max Keiser predicts that American workers are unlikely to manifest the same revolutionary fervor as their comrades in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain until they experience comparable difficulties paying for food. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-B2V2l_6QE (link kindly provided by a reader). Egyptians pay 40% of their income for food, Americans only 12%. Nevertheless with the impending double dip recession, continuing wage and benefit cuts, and financial markets massively speculating in food derivatives (see http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2011/07/03/speculating-with-our-food/), Keiser believes, as I do, that this day isn’t far off.
As a doctor and health food advocate, I was already well aware that the federal government massively subsidizes cheap fast food and junk food (http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/12/13/ending-the-obesity-epidemic/). America’s agricultural subsidies kill literally millions of Americans every year, by creating an epidemic of obesity and related medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Yet until Keiser raised the issue, I never recognized the importance of these subsidies in suppressing popular unrest. It seems the main purpose of US agricultural subsidies isn’t to help farmers or even the massive food conglomerates that run factory farms. They are intended is to control the single most important factor driving third world resistance movements – namely the cost of food.
I was also interested in Keiser’s view that no subsidy program has the ability to control rising food costs, so long Obama refuses to regulate the investment banks that are driving up food prices by speculating in the food commodities market.
A World Bank Perspective
World Bank President Robert Zoellick describes the link between the cost of food and regime change in an oped he wrote for the Financial Times in February 2011 (only paid subscribers can read the FT article, but it’s summarized at http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/article/2011/02/20110216153135elrem0.863125.html#axzz1TFa72yUl). The oped points to the widespread food riots that occurred in 2008 due to a sudden spike in food prices – as well as triggering regime change in Haiti. Yet according to Zoellick, the 2011 food crisis is even worse – with rising food costs forcing 44 million people into poverty between June 2010 and January 2011.
The February 27 Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/the-price-of-food-is-at-the-heart-of-this-wave-of-revolutions-2226896.html and March 2 Energy Bulletin http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-03-02/energy-food-revolution-inextricable-link offer a somewhat less ideological analysis than the World Bank president. The Energy Bulletin links the collapse of the Soviet Union to skyrocketing food prices. They point to a sudden decline in oil prices (with oil exports being the Soviet’s primary source of foreign revenue) in the late 1980s that left the Soviets unable to buy adequate wheat on world markets.
Most commentators seem to agree that the magic number is 40% – that civil unrest becomes inevitable once food prices consume more than 40% of workers’ incomes.
I think the number that ultimately triggers food riots in the US might be lower. During the Great Depression, Americans were forced to spend 35% of their income on food (http://www.enotes.com/1930-lifestyles-social-trends-american-decades/making-do-family-life-depression). Although we don’t read about them in mainstream history books, there were extremely bloody battles in Washington over Hoover’s refusal to pay the bonus that had been promised World War I veterans. Barbara Kingsolver writes about some of them in her 2009 historical novel The Lacuna.
Otherwise I totally agree with Keiser’s and Zoellick’s food theory of revolution, especially in countries like the US where psychological oppression is a bigger problem than political oppression. Psychological oppression is less much less prevalent in countries like Greece, France and Spain (and apparently Britain), where strong working class consciousness enables workers to instantly identify when the government and corporate elite are screwing them. In these countries, workers are far more willing to take to the streets over less life threatening issues – for example, high youth unemployment, pension cuts, an increase in the retirement age, unpopular wars and evidence of corruption in the criminal justice system.
To be continued.