Socialist Worker

Worldwide revolts against capitalism

Issue No. 1717

From Seattle to Prague protests are part of

Worldwide revolts against capitalism

THE PROTESTS against global capitalism in Prague last week threw the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank onto the defensive.

Despite a massive police operation which saw over 850 people arrested and many more badly treated or refused entry to the Czech Republic, the IMF and World Bank were forced to end their conference a day early.

Most of the British press tried to discredit the protests as the actions of a few anarchists which did not tap widespread discontent with capitalism and its institutions.

The truth is that the Prague protests, like those in Seattle, Washington, and Melbourne over the last year, are just the tip of a global iceberg of discontent and a symbol of growing resistance to capitalism.

The World Bank may have changed its tone, and the IMF now talks of "poverty reduction" instead of "structural adjustment." In reality they both screw debt repayments from the poorest countries, putting a death sentence on 19,000 children every day.

They continue to impose pro-market neo-liberal policies which ruin the lives of millions more people around the world. But across the world those on the receiving end of these policies are fighting back.

The World Development Movement's new report, States of Unrest: Resistance to IMF Policies in Poor Countries, documents some of those struggles. It describes a wave of struggles across the world in the ten months since the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organisation last November.

In ARGENTINA a wave of strikes and protests began last December against IMF-imposed labour laws which will crush workers' trade union rights.

In May this year protests against an IMF austerity plan, which will mean huge social welfare and wage cuts, culminated in an 80,000-strong demonstration.

In June seven million workers took part in a 24-hour general strike against the labour laws, and in August teachers and scientists struck for one day against a 12 percent slashing of wages.

Last month the Financial Times reported "a wave of discontent sweeping across Argentina".

In BOLIVIA peasants, workers and students in the city of Cochabamba united this year to fight an IMF Structural Adjustment Programme which meant water privatisation and hiking water prices by as much as 200 percent.

Protesters shut down the city for four days and eventually forced the government to promise to ditch the privatisation and reverse the increase. This week in Bolivia some 130,000 teachers are on strike and peasants are blocking major roads throughout the country.

In August hundreds of thousands of workers joined a 24-hour general strike against an IMF austerity plan in COLOMBIA. The protest was in reaction to the government's IMF-backed "sweat and tears" budget, which included the sacking of thousands of public sector workers.

COSTA RICA saw at least 40 separate protests in March against an IMF-prescribed privatisation programme. On 16 March one person was killed when riot police clashed with demonstrators.

A week later 10,000 people besieged the presidential residence demanding the withdrawal of the privatisation plan.

ECUADOR saw a revolt against IMF-backed policies at the start of the year which forced out the president, Jamil Mahaud.

The military installed Mahaud's deputy as president, and he has pursued the same neo-liberal IMF-style policies as his predecessor. More protests have grown in recent months including a general strike involving oil workers, teachers, doctors and other public sector workers in June.

In HONDURAS there was a series of strikes between May and July to demand an end to IMF public service cuts. The government sent in riot police to public hospitals against 8,000 striking health workers.

On 26 June thousands of workers took part in a national strike to increase the minimum wage, blocking roads and the state-run port company. On 27 July thousands of secondary school teachers struck against unpaid wages.

In August there was then a 24-hour general strike against IMF-backed economic reforms, including widespread privatisation.

PARAGUAY saw a 48-hour general strike in June against IMF-backed plans to privatise telephone, water and railroad companies. Riot police attacked protesters with water cannon.

Latin America has seen some of the most widespread protests against the neo-liberal policies pushed by the IMF and World Bank in recent months. But elsewhere in the world there have been significant revolts too.

In KENYA the government arrested church leaders on a peaceful demonstration calling for debt relief in May.

MALAWI, also in Africa, saw widespread protests in May against IMF "reforms".

NIGERIA saw a general strike in June against an IMF order to hike fuel prices. Oil workers joined with public sector workers, and transport workers to blockade ports and highways.

In April armed riot police attacked protesters in ZAMBIA demanding an end to IMF Structural Adjustment Programmes. "The IMF are killing us, especially women and children," says one of the protest organisers, Emily Skiazwe.

As well as protests directly against IMF and World Bank imposed policies and programmes, many countries have seen revolts against governments which have willingly imposed the same neo-liberal policies pushed by those institutions.

In SOUTH AFRICA in May one million workers struck and demonstrated against job losses and cuts in wages which flowed from the government's pro-business policies.

CHINA too has seen a rising tide of protests and strikes as workers feel the impact of neo-liberal policies imposed by the government as it prepares to join the World Trade Organisation.

All these struggles give the lie to press claims that anti-capitalist protests only involve a small minority.

As one of the World Development Movement report's authors, Jessica Woodroffe, says, "Attempts by the World Bank and IMF to dismiss protesters as 'rich students' are naive and insulting. Millions of people around the world have been brave enough to protest against IMF policies. From Argentina to Zambia, farmers, priests, teachers and trade unionists have called for an end to IMF-imposed economic reforms."

Protests like those in Prague are part of, and a marvellous symbol of, this wider anti-capitalist revolt.

And after Prague the task of those in the anti-capitalist movement everywhere is to fight to create a movement that links all these different worldwide protests into a fight against the single system against which they are all directed.

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Sat 7 Oct 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1717
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