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Struggle in a Time of Crisis
edited by Nicolas Pons-Vignon & Mbuso Nkosi
Pluto Press, 2015
Rooting the current crisis in the financial & banking denouements of 2007, the editors of this volume have compiled thirty articles from the Global Labour University that study the roots, currents and alternatives to the current neo-liberal paradigm. At the very time forces of neo-liberalism trumpeted victory, the facade was crumbling. None of the pieces here are complacent about capitalism in it's current mode diminishing quietly into the night, rather they seek to energise and refocus the anti-neoliberal struggle.
The contributors begin by analysing the financial crises unravelling around us. Next they illustrate workers' struggles around the world, from the Troika's monetarist attack on Greece, through the globalised sweatshop industry and the 'race to the bottom' of the low-wage Asian economies, to the miners strikes in Marikana, South Africa.
Of topical interest for us is a chapter on the Department of International Development and it's policies around UK International Aid: since 2011, the focus has shifted from aid that helps boost the poorest in developing economies to aid that opens markets and aims to increase western/UK security. This change is enacted in such a way that, inevitably, the poor become poorer, ironically decreasing the securitisation sought. The recent Oxfam report on ever-widening inequality is in danger of being swept out of public view over aid worker indiscretions, issues that are extremely concerning, but may be being used by the MSM to fig-leaf the damaging reports on poverty.
The book also focusses on unionisation, it's flaws and benefits, the several authors unpacking the failures of hierarchical structures and the move away from progressive shopfloor involvement, and the need for greater efficiency in integrating local struggles with an internationalising agenda. Hopes for successfully resisting globalised finance are placed in a nexus of grassroots worker initiatives and in cooperation between workers around the world. Rather than taking a 'rose-tinted spectacles' approach, there is recognition that workers on the 'periphery' are disadvantaged in getting those in the 'core' (primarily Europe and North America) to work together, as the dynamic of 'trickledown' not only widens the gap between rich and poor in western economies, but between workers in western economies and workers outside the core. This disparity creates a 'divided, so conquered' effect, which anti-neoliberal groups must fight to narrow.
In the 90s the resistance, in my view misguidedly, branded their movement 'anti-globalisation'. It is made clear, here, that there is more than one 'globalisation' possible, and, in an ecologically challenged and increasingly unequal world, the positive drive for a local-global sustainable economy was put on pause in part by the semiotic implications of 'fighting globalisation' with no clear internationalist counter-narrative. The loss of a couple of decades of positive focus, from the anti-WTO activism in Seattle in '99 to the present, is of extreme concern, as ecological degradation has vastly accelerated in that time.
This makes a new globalised grassroots movement for cooperation in curbing neo-liberalism's worst excesses and fighting to maintain and improve workers rights more urgent than ever. Whilst a few of the contributors in this volume are too wedded to an instrumentalist approach, there are also clear-eyed analyses that emphasise the need for ordinary workers to be granted a voice (see for example, Vasco Pedrina's chapter, 'Rank & File Participation and International Union Democracy') and of the obstacles (see for example Andreas Bieler's 'Trade Unions, Free Trade and the Problem of Transnational Solidarity', and Eddie Cottle's 'Chinese Construction Companies in Africa').
It is painfully clear that an increase in insularity and populism - illustrated rather worryingly by the Brexit campaign and it's successes in radicalising right-ist tendencies in England, but occurring increasingly across Europe and the USA – is a major obstacle to fighting this source of growing wealth disparity and environmental degradation. It behoves us to ask, 'who benefits' from this agenda? By now we should, like slumbering lions, be roused into action, anger, rage even, by the answers to that question.
Should Brexit go ahead, the need for us to wrest the reins from the neo-liberal right and steer the out-of-control downhill bob-sleigh of the British economy toward an anti-hierarchical and internationalist left is imperative. Whether 'in' or 'out', the need for the British left to take a strong reform agenda for Europe to our comrades on the continent (and especially in Scandinavia, Portugal, France and Greece) will, too, be imperative. And, if we somehow 'remain' (which looks less likely daily), it's past time we pulled our weight and took our place as one of the 'richest' nations in the Union (maldistributed though that wealth is), fully engaging for the best advantage of all ordinary people in the EU – something we have singularly failed to do for 40 years. It becomes ever more clear that the worst option for Britain now is 'soft' Brexit. Though the media will sell such a 'compromise' as a kind of 'win' for both sides, ask again 'who benefits?'. Remainer or Leaver, it won't be us.
This is indeed a time of crisis, and we need to get back into the struggle; to stop identifying with the class above our own here in England; to instead seek an end to hierarchy and domination; to not neglect other peoples across the globe; and to fight for a 'new' vision of global action, aimed at a stable, sustainable, green, egalitarian world economy that benefits all those with whom we share this 'third rock from the Sun'.
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