Issue 238 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review
Robbie Williams is getting together with Madonna, the Beatles are hooking up with REM, and the Spice Girls are joining forces with Metallica. This is not the coming together of some of the world's most popular bands to perform another Live Aid gig, but is the result of the multi-billion merger of giant multinationals. One company will now control between a quarter and a third of the world music industry--with the prospect of even further rich pickings as the internet opens up new opportunities for technological advances.
Barely had the new millennium started before the bosses showed what they had in store for us. A rash of mergers between some of the world's biggest multinationals, including Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham in pharmaceuticals and Time Warner media and internet provider AOL (America Online), which then merged with EMI, have been accompanied with headlines praising the virtues of the system. Yet for those who work in these industries the mergers make jobs less secure, with redundancies a certainty. And for the rest, these mergers offer control to a smaller group of powerful and unaccountable individuals.
The relentless expansion of capital and the way it crushes all that stands in its way was exactly what people were demonstrating against in Seattle last year. At the time, Bill Clinton was pressured to make noises about how the concerns of ordinary people must be respected, but the events that have occurred since then show how little this means. There is an inner logic to the capitalist system--competition between firms and the pursuit of profit--which compels multinationals to seek new markets. Governments and elected politicians worldwide have shown what side they are on--they want to oil the wheels of big business while doing very little to stand up for those whose lives are destroyed.
It should come as no surprise that the Clinton administration has pursued its relentless belief in the free market. At the end of January US representatives went to Montreal, along with representatives from 130 other countries to discuss the regulation of trade in GM foods.
Following the collapse of the WTO talks last year the US delegates have one simple aim: to force the rest of the world's governments to accept the import of US GM foods regardless of health and safety guidelines. The opposition that the US faces has more to do with public pressure against GM foods in Europe than any real concern with the environmental or health worries of ordinary people.
Indeed governments of both left and right have demonstrated nothing but contempt for those who elect them. Nothing illustrates this more graphically than the financial scandal which has rocked the German CDU conservative party. It has admitted that former chancellor Helmut Kohl operated secret bank accounts with money coming from private companies to fund the party when in office. Millions of pounds came from the French oil multinational Elf under the direct order of Socialist President François Mitterrand. The Blair government in Britain may not be tarnished by the stench of corruption that now exists in France and Germany, but New Labour has shown itself to be just as enthusiastically in favour of big business. That has meant holding the minimum wage to its current level, PFI in the NHS, and the attempt to sell off the tube.
Big business and its representatives in government have shown us at the beginning of the year what they have in store. It is up to the rest of us who reject their priorities to organise resistance and ensure they do not have it all their own way.