Mon Jan 30, 2023
January 30, 2023

When imperialism attacks, the workers and the oppressed of the world fight back!

Ecuador, Sri Lanka, Panama and Great Britain…

When we write this article, the workers and popular masses in Panama follow in the footsteps of their Ecuadorian and Sinhalese (Sri Lanka) brothers and sisters: they paralyze the country, demand the reduction of fuel prices and the “canasta básica” (a measure of a basic basket of goods and services for one person over a set period of time), and face violent repression. In another part of the world, in the imperialist north, workers in the British railways and other labour sectors are waging a hard struggle against the reduction of their wages eaten up by inflation with a wave of strikes that confronts the now defunct government of Boris Johnson.

By Alejandro Iturbe and Ricardo Ayala

The real theft that inflation enacts on the wages and incomes of the popular sectors is causing a shortage of essential products and the uncontrolled increase in food prices. This situation becomes intolerable and generates a growing response in the form of various struggles across the world, which include real popular uprisings.

The most recent is the one produced in Sri Lanka (former Ceylon) where a wave of strikes and mobilizations in response to the very high inflation and the lack of basic products (in the midst of a serious external debt crisis) led the workers and the popular masses to take the presidential residence and force the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who fled the country[1].

A few weeks ago it was Ecuador that staged a popular uprising against the government of President Guillermo Lasso, triggered by the rise in fuel prices. It was led by the indigenous peasant masses, who marched towards the cities and received the support of the inhabitants of the working-class and popular neighborhoods. The Lasso government had to back down on the increase in fuel costs[2].

A similar dynamic is taking place in Panama, where for about two weeks a wave of strikes, demonstrations and roadblocks has been developing “against the increase in inflation and corruption”[3]. In this context, the government of Laurentino Cortizo seeks to negotiate with the unions. The situation has been described as “the most massive crisis” in recent decades, with the country “on the verge of a social upheaval.”

The working population of semi-colonial countries are rising up against hunger and social degradation, accentuated by the rise of the dollar, the devaluation of their national currencies, the increase in the cost of importing fuels, and a foreign debt and inflation that are skyrocketing.

But the wave of mobilizations is already also having affects the working class of the imperialist countries. In the front row, we have the strikes in Britain, expressing the deep anger at the devaluation of wages and the fall in living standards due to inflation, along with the attack on public services, in the midst of a political crisis in which Boris Johnson has submitted his resignation.

Our British comrades inform us that British railway workers and nurses, who had been extolled as heroes during the height of the pandemic, are now being turned into outcasts because of their actions. To the mobilization of the railway workers, with six days of paralysis so far this year, are added the bus drivers who have gone on strike in many cities such as Liverpool, those of trams in London, and the port workers. Hospital staff (1.5 million workers), teachers (624,000), civil servants, and firefighters are offered a combination of lower-than-inflation wage increases, heavy job losses, and worse pensions and working conditions.

The vanguard of the struggle is being carried out by the transport sector, with numerous strikes and conflicts in air transport, in various countries and European companies. Beyond transport, we have the ongoing strike of Norwegian oil workers[4]. The rejection by the IG Metall of the 4.7% increase in the salary offered by the German metallurgical employers[5] may change the atmosphere in the region. Conflicts are also beginning to occur in other countries such as France and the Spanish State.

In European NATO countries, workers see how, at the same time that their wages deteriorate with inflation, their labor rights are attacked and public services deteriorate, their governments plan to spend fortunes on rearming to the teeth.

The “perfect storm”

The IMF warns of the trend towards a “great perfect storm”[6] in the semi-colonial countries, with the combination of a crisis of payment of their external debts driven by the rise in interest rates of the dollar and the euro and the devaluation of their currencies, together with high inflation. At the same time, the rise in fuel prices, accentuated by the war in Ukraine, increases production costs and drains these same dollars into the imperialist oil monopolies.

Even some specialized media publish a ranking of “countries with the highest risk of default” (debt default) in 2022. This list includes Ukraine, Turkey, and Argentina[7]. The situation of Ukraine, in the midst of a war of defense of its national sovereignty against Russia, is well known. Turkey and Argentina are “pressure cookers” with the highest inflations in the world and a parallel process of liquefaction of their national currencies. A similar process is underway in South Africa, which is also on that list.

As a consequence, the trend toward the emergence of popular uprisings in the indebted semi-colonial countries continues. The factor that differentiates these processes from those that have occurred during the pandemic is the intervention of the working class, as shown by the workers’ strikes in Brazil.

For the IMF, the perfect storm is circumscribed above all to new crises of non-payment of the external debts of semi-colonial countries.  The sustained momentum of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike increases the drain on imperialist banks and institutions and pushes economies to stalemate. In the imperialist countries, the rise in interest rates also pushes for stagnation, without containing inflation that seriously corrodes wages, pensions, and other incomes. At the same time, it puts at risk the debt sustainability of the peripheral countries of the euro, such as Italy, the Spanish State, Portugal, and Greece. If the working class of the European countries increases its resistance, accompanying its English brothers, a perfect storm could form… a storm of class struggle.

It is within this framework that the managing director of the IMF, Kristalina Georgieva, proposes: “a new reduction in global growth for both 2022 and 2023 … It’s going to be a tough 2022, and possibly an even tougher 2023, with a higher risk of recession.”  [8]

With inflation at all-time highs in many decades and the energy war started with Russia, with large cuts in Russian gas sent to Europe and the threat of a complete cut-off, the temperatures of the torrid European summer are rising. Brussels proposes, at the service of German industry, mandatory reductions in energy consumption in the middle of winter, which the Spanish State and Portugal do not accept. The fall of the “Atlanticist” Mario Draghi, at the head of the government of Italy reveals the serious problems facing the European Union and the great risks to maintaining its cohesion.

Unity of struggle of the world working class against imperialism

Faced with the eminence of a generalized crisis of public debt – external and internal – the imperialist governments and the semi-colonial nations orchestrate a policy of “fiscal discipline” based on “adjustment policies” against the workers and popular sectors[9]. And while wages are devalued by inflation around the world, imperialist governments increase military budgets to unprecedented proportions, while accentuating the plundering of semi-colonial countries through foreign debt and inflation. Meanwhile, they do not give Ukraine the weapons necessary to defeat Putin, thus prolonging the war.

The bill of the enormous rearmament underway is to be financed either by the expropriation of wages or by the payment of the public debt that fattens the coffers of the banks and lending institutions. The unity of the world proletariat is critical to fight against the imperialist offensive.

Struggles such as those in Ecuador, Sri Lanka, and Panama clearly raise the need to overthrow the surrenderist governments and, with it, the issue of the need for the seizure of power by the workers and the masses.  Workers’ struggles, such as those in Britain, need to unify in a general strike and also raise the urgency of the struggle for the sliding scale of wages, that is, their monthly readjustment according to the rise in prices.

On the other hand, the intervention of the working class with its own methods in the recent social upheavals is key to the sustained advance of the struggle against governments that apply the dictates of the IMF. The slogan of Non-Payment of external (and internal) debt is vital to stop the plundering of workers and people. In Europe, for its part, the task is to fight against the rearmament carried out by the imperialist governments and that this money instead be used to meet the needs of the workers and not at the service of the imperialist NATO.

Notes:

[1] https://litci.org/es/sri-lanka-una-revolucion-en-curso-derriba-al-presidente-rajapaksa/

[2] https://litci.org/es/ecuador-las-masas-vuelven-a-las-calles-ahora-contra-el-banquero-lasso/

[3]  Panama registers a new day of protests and road blockades | The most important news and analysis in Latin America | DW | 15.07.2022

[4]  Norwegian oil workers’ strike will affect Europe – Action Magazine (accion.coop)

[5]  German metallurgical union announces new strikes | Europe up to date | DW | 12.06.2022

[6] https://www.imf.org/es/Publications/fandd/issues/2022/06/confronting-a-perfect-long-storm-tharman-shanmugaratnam

[7] https://www.visualcapitalist.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/sovereign-debt-risk-ranking-1.png

[8] https://www.imf.org/es/News/Articles/2022/07/13/blog-how-g20-can-respond

[9]  See, among others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Lh00lAByO0

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