The young people who
have had the courage to take to the streets on every continent, and were among
the 20,000 protesters at Gothenburg (June 25), should take satisfaction from the
panic of new right politicians like Blair and Berlusconi. Abuse and repression
have become the stock response to a growing worldwide movement that has deep and
wide-ranging support among millions of ordinary people, especially in Latin
America, Africa and Asia, where violent and rapacious capitalism comes under the
banner of "free trade". The right of these people to a decent life is dismissed
by Blair as a "spurious cause".
The managers of
globalisation are worried. A critical stage has been reached in the imposition
of a centralised, bankers-run European "superstate". The euro is about to be
introduced without a single popular vote approving it. A great many Europeans
understand the dangers posed to real democracy: thus the rejection by Irish
voters of EU expansion. At the same time, the World Trade Organisation, the most
predatory of the international capitalist institutions, is set to impose its
General Agreement on Trade and Services, known as Gats, on impoverished,
The scope of Gats is
breathtaking. Almost every human activity is designated a "service", from
transport and tourism to water, health and education. Foreign corporations will
be allowed to take over almost any public service on the basis of a secret
"agreement" that is irreversible. The EU website describes Gats as "first and
foremost, an instrument for the benefit of business". A prototype is well under
way in Britain with the coming privatisation of the London Underground, air
traffic control and sections of the health service and education.
The enduring disaster
of Railtrack is magnified many times in Africa and Latin America, where
privatisation has been imposed by diktat of the World Bank and International
Monetary Fund. In Bolivia, the sale of the water supply to foreign companies
caused prices to rise 200 per cent, consuming more than a quarter of people’s
income; even rainwater was privatised. A mostly Indian protest movement forced
the government to take water back into public ownership. No doubt Blair would
call them criminals and their cause "spurious".
The violence of a few
protesters in Gothenburg or anywhere else is trivial compared with the violence
of the economic apartheid promoted by Bush and Blair and the enforcers of "free
trade". Unrepayable debt is their essential weapon. Debt has allowed the World
Bank and the IMF to destroy local agriculture and dismantle public services.
This has entrenched poverty, as the World Bank now admits. In the Philippines,
says the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, "we have calculated that
one child dies every hour because debt repayments consume vital services like
Despite a fanfare of
promises by Gordon Brown and other G8 governments, cancellation of the debts of
the poorest countries has not happened. Instead, £40m is transferred every day
from poor to rich countries. The G8 is to meet in Genoa next month and
Berlusconi says he is sealing off the
city: no trains,
planes, cars. How frightened they are. In Blair’s plutocracy, the criminalising
of protest is a clear aim, limiting political opposition to the ineffectual
activity of parliament and other establishment bodies and to a specious "debate"
generated by an obedient media.
Because it represents
the tip of an effective political opposition, the anti-capitalist movement, in
all its forms, is being tarred as a subversive "threat", with the government and
the media seeking to alienate the public from the demonstrators by representing
them collectively as violent, and by suppressing the issues that find public
support. Propaganda orchestrated by the police before the May Day demonstration
concentrated on "wanted" activists, even associating them with the Real IRA.
This backfired, thanks
to the ridiculous seven-hour detention by police of a bemused crowd in Oxford
Circus. In Gothenburg, justification for the use of live ammunition by Swedish
police was promoted by the Guardian’s Ian Black, who reported that "the
shootings [were] apparently in self-defence". Did the protesters have guns? No,
they did not. On Monday, Black further distinguished himself with a piece that
would have delighted the spinners of Downing Street with its prominent use of
Blair’s specious remark, that the protesters were a "travelling anarchists’
circus", as if that was a fact.
Berlusconi’s plans for
a fortress in Genoa will also backfire. From Italy to Ireland, Britain to
Bolivia, too many people, who do not demonstrate, are asking why they have no
say in the decisions that have brought insecurity and hardship to their lives.
In this country, the "booming economy" is a facade behind which foreign-owned
factories are allowed to sack thousands of workers and one in four children
grows up in poverty: treble the child poverty rate in most of Europe.
Certainly, let us
discuss violence. Blair runs a violent government. He knowingly attacked
civilians with cluster bombs in Yugoslavia, killing children caught in the open.
His devotion to "free trade" involves selling lethal weapons, including hand
guns, to countries with repressive regimes and internal conflict. Supported by
only 25 per cent of the British public, his government barely has legitimacy.
The anger and frustration of non-voters and voters alike is shared across the
world and by the young on the streets. Thanks to them, real politics are back.