Socialist Worker

Movement goes from strength to strength

Issue No. 1832

Against capital and against war

COMMENTATORS declared the anti-capitalist movement dead at the start of the year. How wrong they were. In February 70,000 gathered at the second World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and 20,000 marched in New York, at one point chanting, 'George Bush is a terrorist.'

The following month 500,000 marched in Barcelona. The turnout stunned activists, who the previous day had been expecting only tens of thousands. The banner at the front of the Barcelona march (above) read 'Against a Europe of Capital and War'. Juan Ruiz Garcia, a 24 year old bus driver, carried a home-made placard saying, 'No to capitalism.'

He summed up the feeling of millions. 'Behind the wire fences of the conference, the politicians like Tony Blair want to privatise everything. They want more attacks on workers. They want to control everything in the interests of rich businessmen and their giant corporations. The people here are speaking with one voice-against their globalisation of power and money, and for social rights, workers' rights, respect for natural resources.'

In the run-up to the European Union summit in the Spanish city of Seville in June some 200,000 people joined a demonstration against the attacks on workers that Europe's leaders were pushing. As the summit started, some ten million workers across Spain went on strike, and two million took part in demonstrations.

It signalled the return of the general strike in Europe. Greece was also shut down by a 24-hour strike against the government's plans to slash pension rights. In April and October around 13 million workers went on strike in Italy against right wing prime minister Berlusconi's plan to make it easier for bosses to sack workers.

Trade unionists and anti-capitalists across Europe united at the year's biggest anti-capitalist event in Florence, Italy in November. Some 60,000 people took part in the European Social Forum-three days of meetings and debates discussing the alternative to the world we live in. It ended with one million people joining an anti-war march through the city. This showed how the anti-capitalist movement throughout the year had been matched by the growing mood against war.

Bush and Blair have been rattled by the opposition they have faced worldwide to their war drive. Around 100,000 people marched in support of the Palestinians and against war in London in April.

September saw Britain's biggest ever anti-war march. Some 400,000 people took over central London. Later that month the anti-war protest exploded onto the streets of the US. Around 200,000 joined demonstrations in New York and San Francisco, the largest since the Vietnam War era. In one part of the world, Latin America, there were great political and social upheavals throughout last year. The revolt in Argentina that had started in December 2001 continued into 2002.

By the year's end the continent had seen mass strikes in Uruguay and Paraguay, and strikes and mass protests against privatisation in Peru. In Ecuador an army officer disciplined for backing an indigenous people's rebellion won the presidential election.

And in the continent's most important country, Brazil, the leader of the Workers Party, Lula, won the presidential election. The year ended with turmoil in the continent's key oil producer, Venezuela, as workers and the poor mobilised to resist right wing attempts to topple the elected president Hugo Chavez.

The threat of the far right

THE FAR right rose in much of Europe. But resistance also grew-and showed how to block the Nazis. When Le Pen polled 17 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election in France there were shockwaves across Europe.

He beat Lionel Jospin, the leader of France's equivalent of the Labour Party. Jospin's party had led the coalition government whose attacks on working people had provoked deep disillusion. But mass protest against Le Pen ensured he could not capitalise on the vote. Every day for a week hundreds of thousands of people, millions in all, took to the streets. These demonstrations were the key to throwing back Le Pen.

At the start of the year the far right held government positions in Austria and Italy. Later Pym Fortuyn's party had startling electoral success in Holland. But protests have prevented the Austrian far right, Jorg Haider's Freedom Party, becoming a 'legitimate' or 'normal' party. The tensions this caused led to a dramatic fall in its vote.

Outrage against Pim Fortuyn's party caused its members to tear into one another and its support largely faded away. But the far right remains a serious threat, seeking to build 'hard' movements even when their vote dips.

In Britain the threat was shown by the election of three Nazi British National Party councillors in Burnley in the May local elections. A further BNP councillor was elected in nearby Blackburn in November.

The success of the Anti Nazi League's 30,000-strong carnival in Manchester in September showed the great well of opposition that exists against the Nazis.

Capitalism will cost us the earth

'WE SAY to the big polluters, cease your dealing in our death. Stop pumping cancer and asthma into the air we breathe. Should it cost too much to clean your smoke stacks, then close down and get lost. There can be no compromise with the satans of industry and the stooges in government.'

That was a statement from women in South Africa who were part of 25,000-strong protests against the Earth Summit in Johannesburg in August. The summit did nothing to help end poverty or halt the impact of global warming. Instead they promised to hand over water, sanitation and electricity provision to big business.

Last year there were more examples of the unpredictable weather that experts associate with global warming. Floods hit Prague in August and northern China, India and Cambodia suffered severe droughts.

Boom and bust across the globe

JULY BROUGHT the biggest bankruptcy in history with the collapse of US corporation WorldCom with debts of over $40 billion. It followed the fall of energy giant Enron, whose false accounting unravelled throughout the year, implicating US vice-president Dick Cheney and the Bush administration.

Only a few months before the WorldCom collapse the Financial Times had run an article that claimed, 'The recession is over before it began.' That prediction was over not long after it was written. This year saw the renewed threat of global recession.

The Japanese and German economies, the second and third largest, failed to become the predicted engines of recovery. In fact, unemployment in Germany soared back above four million.

That produced so much discontent that by the end of the year the government of Gerhard Schršder, narrowly re-elected in September, was on just 28 percent in the opinion polls. Corporate scandals in the US revealed how big business had systematically fiddled its profit figures over the last seven years so they appeared double what they actually were.

By the end of the 2002 the world's stockmarkets had been steadily falling for three years-the longest period since the 1930s. Some parts of the world had already been plunged into a slump on the scale of the Great Depression.

Argentina remained squeezed by the International Monetary Fund. Unemployment doubled through the year to about 40 percent. Those left in work had seen wages shrink while average prices increased by 30 percent. And, most damning of all, child starvation came to a country which is the third biggest food exporter in the world.

Grim return of the nuclear nightmare

ONE AND a half billion people in the Indian subcontinent lived under the shadow of nuclear annihilation. India and Pakistan twice came to the brink of major war-in January and again in the summer. The Hindu chauvinist Indian government headed by the BJP and the Western-backed Pakistani dictatorship of General Musharraf ended the year with their forces still squaring off in the disputed province of Kashmir.

The British government upped arms sales to the region, where 500 million people live on under $1 a day.

We're not waving, they're drowning

THE QUEEN Mother's death and the Golden Jubilee (which coincided with the World Cup) provided an opportunity for the monarchy to regain popularity. For a few months it seemed to have worked, aided and abetted by Blair's government.

Then, in November a deluge of royal revelations came out of the collapse of the trial of Princess Diana's butler, Paul Burrell. And the royals slumped to an all-time low in popularity.

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Sat 4 Jan 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1832
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