Issue 244 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 2000 Copyright © Socialist Review
Pay for Britain's top bosses rose by 16.5 percent in 1999. This was four times the average wage increase. There were 110 executives who received more than £1 million last year. Meanwhile, the inequality gap in Britain continues to widen, with a third of British children now officially living in poverty. Large sections of the poor are in paid work, but their wages are on or below the minimum wage.
This picture is not unique to Britain. In the US, the richest country in the world, the gap between rich and poor has also widened. The forthcoming presidential election features two major parties both committed to maintaining this state of affairs. They accept the neo-liberal policies which embrace privatisation, social welfare cuts and 'flexible', low wage, insecure jobs. It is hardly suprising that the Green Party candidate is registering up to 10 percent in the polls.
If in the richest countries workers are suffering, how much worse is it in many other parts of the world, where debt and Structural Adjustment Programmes have even worse consequences for workers and the poor?
No wonder that all eyes will be on Prague later this month as the bosses' representatives stage their latest meeting to decide the fate of the world's poor. The representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank will be greeted with a range of protests, culminating with the demonstration on 26 September which is attracting support from across Europe.
Since the mass demonstration against the World Trade Organisation in Seattle last November, no international capitalist meeting is complete without such protests. They signify the strength of the anti-capitalist mood, and also the breadth of opposition to the world's ruling classes.
The protesters come together on a range of issues from the environment to Third World debt. At the heart of all of them is a distrust of global capital and a determination to find an alternative to the neo-liberal policies which have caused such havoc.
If the protests are to have a longer term effect, however, they have to be harnessed to the working class struggle around the world. Here too there are encouraging signs. In recent months there have been general or mass strikes in countries ranging from Nigeria to South Korea, and from India to Argentina--all in some ways protesting at the policies dictated or 'advised' by the international capitalist institutions and implemented by national governments.
Whether workers in these countries are fighting against restructuring and job losses or fighting against the rise in fuel prices, the root of the anti working class policies is the same: the need for global capital and multinational companies to continue their attacks on working people. That is why global capital is leading to global protest.
In Britain, the level of strikes and anti-capitalist protests remains very low. Yet here too there is opposition to the Blair government's policies. The Peugeot strike in Coventry against job losses is a sign of it. The strike at Dudley Group of Hospitals encapsulates the same opposition to privatisation that exists elsewhere. The revolts against the sell-off of council housing in places like south Bedfordshire and High Wycombe show the level of opposition to such policies among tenants.
Blair is identified throughout the world with the politics of globalisation. His 'Third Way' is adopted enthusiastically by his counterparts even though the result is further poverty and misery for millions. But the strikes and protests show that there is an alternative.
The greatest significance of Seattle was that it marked a turning point, as it showed that millions of ordinary Americans opposed their government's policies and their terrible consequences internationally. We do not know if Prague will have a similar significance. But we do know that a good turnout of protesters will inspire people around the world and show them that they are not fighting alone.
This is particularly important for the people of eastern Europe itself, who were promised so much a decade ago but have found themselves suffering under the weight of global capital. And the more trade unionists and anti-capitalists who go from Britain, the easier it will be to build opposition to Blair's attacks on us at home.