Socialist Worker

2001: Resisting war and recession

Issue No. 1781

WAR, RECESSION, resistance. The three notes which marked last year will ring through the coming 12 months too. In Britain, 2001 began with job cuts and resistance, as 10,000 people marched in defence of Vauxhall workers' jobs, threatened by multinational General Motors.

Solidarity strikes took place at General Motors plants across Europe. But, in a scene that was to become depressingly familiar, trade union leaders refused to build on that spirit of resistance. The same month there were signs of the great global movement that was to reach a crescendo in the summer.

January saw the World Social Forum of the anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation movement in Porto Alegre in Brazil. At the same time protests greeted our rulers' World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos.

The protests against global capitalism spread and deepened, from Quebec in April to Gothenburg and Barcelona in June and then the magnificent mass protests at the G8 summit in Genoa in Italy in July. Such protests contradicted claims that disillusionment with official politics, reflected in Britain in the lowest general election turnout since 1918, meant people aren't interested in politics.

Economic recession also developed and speeded up as the year drew on, with employers using the excuse of the 11 September attacks to push through even more job cuts. The attack on the World Trade Centre was a turning point in the year, as it became the pretext for George W Bush and Tony Blair to unleash brutal war on Afghanistan and openly talk of extending the war to other countries.

The horror of the war fuelled more resistance, with some of the biggest anti-war protests seen since the 1960s in cities from London to Rome. All the horrors that marked last year will scar people's lives in the coming year too.

Bush is threatening far wider war. Recession will see millions more condemned to poverty, and more lives and communities wrecked by unemployment. The hope for the coming year is that the resistance which also marked last year will grow and deepen.


Labour lost support as attacks deepened

'I JOINED the Labour Party in 1996 to get rid of the Tories. In 1997 I grafted for the Labour Party. I was up and down ladders putting up posters, handing out leaflets. I believed there would be redistribution of wealth, although I knew it wouldn't be overnight. But then Blair invited Thatcher into Downing Street and cut corporation tax. Now the Private Finance Initiative is coming into the fire service too. The defining moment for me came when I was getting something for my wife from the shop. A group of asylum seekers were at the till buying basics using vouchers. I just couldn't stay any longer in a party propagating such racism. New Labour is constantly in slavish obedience to big business. Someone's got to tear that script up. I have seen the film about the protests in Seattle. You can feel something in the air. This isn't a protest vote. The Socialist Alliance is a new force in town. It's about the future.'

Steve Godward, chair of the West Midlands FBU firefighters' union, explained why he decided to stand as the Socialist Alliance candidate in Birmingham Erdington at the general election. The coming year sees new challenges for the Socialist Alliance and Scottish Socialist Party in establishing a left wing alternative to Labour. Many areas of England will see council elections in May, and everywhere will see European elections in June.


Palestinians killed for demanding justice

'MOHAMED AL ASTAL, 14, awoke around dawn yesterday morning, pulled on his school uniform of jeans and a blue shirt, and set out to walk his little brother, Akram, aged six, to school. The boys met up with three of their cousins, aged 11 and 12. Within an instant, all five were dead, blown to pieces in a single explosion that spewed body parts and shards of metal for 30 yards through the sand dunes, greenhouses, and sycamore trees. ''Both of my boys were good boys,' said the boys' father, Naim Al Astal. 'The older used to take Akram's hand and keep and eye on him. That is why we had them at the same school, so that Mohammed could look out for Akram. We blame the Israeli government. They are the ones who plant bombs for schoolchildren. It could only be Israel. The tanks are all over the dunes'.'

The Guardian reporting from Khan Yunis, Gaza, on 23 November. Israel, backed by the US, murdered over 900 Palestinians during the year of the intifada, but Palestinians continue their resistance.


Racism: a threat we must beat

'I WAS face to face with one of the officers and said, 'It's OK. There are no problems here.' Then he lifted his riot shield with the edge up and smashed it straight into my face. I said, 'What are you doing? I'm not trying to cause trouble. I'm trying to stop it.' He repeatedly hit me again. I was unconscious for a few seconds, then came to. I could see the blood coming the left hand side of my face.'

Shahid Malik, member of the Labour Party national executive and son of the deputy mayor of Burnley, on the police behaviour in the town. The combination of Nazi activity, police racism and poverty saw Asian youth and white allies fight back in Burnley, Bradford and Oldham last summer. The coming year sees challenges for anti-racists in ensuring the Nazis are beaten back in Oldham and Burnley. The TUC has called for an anti-racist march this spring in the north west of England.


1,200 million lived on less than $1 per day

'AFGHANISTAN IS just the start.'
George W Bush

'THE ELEMENTARY truth that seems to elude the experts again and again-Gulf War, Afghan War, next war-is that power is its own reward. Victory changes everything, psychology above all. The psychology of the region is now one of fear and deep respect for American power. Now is the time to use it.'
US cheerleader for war and Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer

THE REALITY of globalisation hit home last year-the gap between the rich and poor countries continued to widen. The richest 20 percent of the world's population increased their share of global income to over 82 percent, while the income of the world's poorest people dropped to 1.4 percent. Within countries income inequality also widened. One in three children in Britain remained in poverty.

In the US, the richest country in the world, 23.3 million people were forced to rely on charities for food. In developing countries 149 million children were malnourished each day. Around 1,200 million people lived on less than $1 a day.

The terrible suffering fuelled anti-capitalist protests, strikes and uprisings in many poor countries. That confounded the likes of New Labour's international development secretary Clare Short, who claimed it was only middle class people in industrialised countries who were taking to the streets.

'CARLO WAS a boy of great generosity who was opposed to injustice. He read, he studied, he discussed and he protested for his ideas. He always cared about others. Carlo didn't accept the notion that eight leaders of the world should decide the life and deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Here in Genoa you do not need to go far to see the victims of their policies.'
Father of Carlo Giuliani, 23 year old shot dead by Italian police on the Genoa protests


Events of the year

January

  • Over 10,000 people join demonstration in Luton to defend jobs at the Vauxhall car plant, owned by US multinational General Motors. Solidarity stoppages take place across European General Motors plants. Union leaders, though, fail to build on the spirit of resistance.

  • Brazilian city of Porto Alegre hosts the first World Social Forum, bringing strands of the anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation movements together.

  • World rulers and financiers gather in Swiss resort of Davos at World Economic Forum. Thousands defy police blockade to stage protests there.

  • George W Bush inaugurated as US president after stealing an election in which most US workers did not vote. Bush immediately sets about ripping up US commitment to international treaties such as that on climate change.

  • Health workers at Dudley hospitals move into their sixth month of strikes against New Labour's Private Finance Initiative plan to hand their jobs to a profit-hungry company.
  • February

  • Corus steel multinational begins massive job cuts across Britain, devastating communities.

  • War criminal Ariel Sharon is elected as prime minister of Israel.

  • Blockade of Faslane nuclear base in Scotland. George Galloway MP and Tommy Sheridan MSP are among those arrested.

  • Mass popular uprising in Ecuador forces government to retreat from IMF-backed austerity measures.

  • Over 15,000 people march in support of anti-globalisation activist José Bové when he appears in court in France.

    March

  • Foot and mouth crisis spreads across Britain, eventually leading Tony Blair to postpone general election until June.

  • Massive numbers turn out to greet leaders of Zapatista movement when their march arrives in Mexico City.

  • Report shows that five million people in Britain are now living below the official poverty line.

  • Protests around world as drugs multinationals, backed by Western governments, start South African court case to prevent cheap AIDS drugs for people in poorest countries. Movement forces multinationals to retreat.

  • Over 20,000 people join anti-capitalist march in Naples, Italy.

  • Revolt in Argentina against IMF-backed austerity plan forces government to sack leading minister and to temporarily retreat while planning new attacks.

  • Thousands blockade nuclear waste trains in Germany.

  • Tube workers in London stage solid strike against privatisation, with many defying the anti-union laws to join the action.

    April

  • Number of millionaires in Britain has officially doubled since New Labour came to office in 1997.

  • Judge halts original trial of Leeds footballers and others accused of attacking Sarfraz Najeib.

  • Thousands of job cuts announced in telecom equipment firms such as Ericsson, Marconi and Motorola, as boom turns to bust across Britain.

  • Riots in Bradford after racist attacks on local Asian people followed by police attacks on protesting Asians.

  • Workers occupy Danone factory in Calais, France, and 30,000 workers, including delegation from Britain, march against job cuts in Calais.

  • Over 70,000 people join anti-capitalist protest in Quebec as rulers of countries across American continent meet to discuss free trade pact.

  • Riot in Oldham after police protect Nazis and then attack local Asians and others protesting.

    May

  • Some 6,000 people join May Day protest in London despite massive intimidation by police and media. Spirited protest makes major impact despite police imprisoning people for hours in Oxford Street.

  • General strike against attacks on pensions by New Labour type government shakes Greece and forces government to retreat. 'The biggest strike since the fall of the military junta in 1974,' says Socialist Worker's Greek sister paper.

  • Right winger Silvio Berlusconi elected as prime minister in Italy.

  • World Bank cancels planned summit in Barcelona for fear of anti-capitalist demonstration.

  • Dudley hospitals strike ends in defeat after ten-month fight when union leaders agree shabby deal to smooth way for New Labour in run-up to election.

  • Unofficial and illegal postal strike sweeps Britain. Rank and file organisation sees tens of thousands of workers beat bosses.

  • Riots in Oldham after Asian youth revolt against racism and police.

    June

  • New Labour wins general election on lowest turnout since 1918. Tory vote collapses and their leader William Hague resigns. Socialist candidates in Scottish Socialist Party and Socialist Alliance save ten deposits. Nazis in BNP get worrying vote in Oldham and Burnley.

  • Over 30,000 people join anti-capitalist protests in Swedish city of Gothenburg at European leaders' summit. Police unleash unprovoked attack on demonstrators and shoot down three protesters.

  • Some 35,000 people join anti-capitalist march in Barcelona, Spain, despite cancellation of the World Bank summit.

  • Furious delegates at UNISON public sector workers' union conference force New Labour's Stephen Byers to halt his speech over the government's privatisation plans.

  • Riots in Burnley.

    July

  • Riots in Bradford.

  • David Trimble resigns as Northern Ireland first minister in bid to force British government to make concessions to Unionists.

  • Number of Palestinians killed by Israel during intifada passes 500.

  • Over 300,000 people join magnificent protests in Genoa at G8 summit, rocking world leaders, despite savage police repression including murder of Carlo Giuliani and attack on independent media centre.

    August

  • Murder of refugee Firsat Yildiz in Glasgow's Sighthill estate sparks angry protests.

  • The Israeli state's policy of assassinating Palestinian leaders endorsed by US vice-president Dick Cheney.

    September

  • Millions join general strike in South Africa against privatisation.

  • George W Bush tries to wreck United Nations anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, by organising walkout of US delegates.

  • Australian government turns back refugees on board ship Tampa.

  • McDonald's deal to sponsor dinner at New Labour's conference.

  • World Trade Centre destroyed and Pentagon attacked.

  • Confrontation between government and unions in Britain over privatisation headed off after Blair cancels his planned speech to TUC and union leaders agree to shelve fight.

  • Some 6,000 march against privatisation at Labour's conference in Brighton.

    October

  • Bombing of Afghanistan starts.

  • Railtrack goes bust, and shareholders squeal for compensation.

  • 50,000 join anti-war demonstrations in Britain, and major demonstrations take place across world.

    November

  • Protests to mark meeting of World Trade Organisation in Qatar.

  • 100,000 join anti-war demo in London and similar protests take place in countries around the world.

  • Anti-capitalist conference in Beirut.

  • Number of Palestinians killed by Israel in intifada reaches 900.

    December

  • Bush claims 'victory' in war and Blair talks of 'vindication' while reports show more civilians already killed by their bombing than died in attack on World Trade Centre.

  • Enron, one of world's biggest companies, collapses in chaos, sparking fear of wider economic slump.

  • General strike rocks Argentina as economic crisis deepens. Government steals pensioners' money to pay bankers and IMF.

  • Some 100,000 workers join trade union protest in Brussels against job cuts and demanding a 'social Europe'. Some 20,000 people join anti-capitalist march the following day in the Belgian capital.

  • Uprising topples Argentinian government.


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