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Issue #1664      November 12, 2014

Culture & Life

The struggle for food, water and energy

In Britain, thousands of workers in the National Health Service took strike action in October. Thousands of civil servants did the same, while teachers balloted for strike action in November. The main issue in all the disputes was falling real incomes, which have declined steadily for the last seven years. As TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady says, “Across the country people are struggling to make ends meet, as their pay lags behind prices and there seems to be no end in sight to their financial misery.”

The plight of the poor cuts no ice with the country’s Tory government, however, which is insisting on more cuts to government services and benefits along with wage freezes and continued austerity measures.

In Germany, supposedly the most economically successful part of the EU, train drivers also took strike action in October in support of demands for higher wages. The previous month, pilots at Lufthansa staged a one-day strike over attempts by the company to raise the retirement age. Meanwhile, in Morocco, public sector workers took strike action against government changes to pension and retirement rules that would mean cuts to pensions of between 25 to 30 percent for most workers.

The cuts in real wages, the raising of the retirement age, the cuts to pensions, attacks on working conditions (including safety provisions), the whole “austerity” scenario, are part of an on-going and intensifying war being waged by capitalism against workers as the capitalists try to dig themselves out of crisis – a declining rate of profit and fewer new sources of profit – by gouging money out of the pockets of the poor and shifting it to the much deeper pockets of the already rich.

Not satisfied with this, however, the main capitalist powers have been pushing a series of so-called “free trade” deals. Incorporated into international agreements with the force of law, these deals give corporations (and corporate lawyers) extraordinary power over elected governments. Transnational health or education companies can bid to supply services currently supplied by state health or education departments or institutions and the contract must go to the lowest bidder, regardless of the quality of the service they render or the desirability of the changes they cause to the working conditions, wages and employment prospects of workers in that sector.

Usually characterised as “trade and investment partnerships”, the provisions of these agreements mean that any government that tries to block corporations from making maximum profits by any means can be accused of unfair trading practices and sued for recovery of the “future” profits a company could have earned if it were allowed to do as it pleased. And the case would be heard, not in a court of law, but before a tribunal made up of three corporate lawyers whose decision would be final. It is an extraordinarily blatant attempt by capitalists to replace even the limited popular rule embodied in bourgeois democracy with outright corporate dictatorship.

The largest of these bilateral trade deals ever brokered is that between the US and Europe, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Last month there was a Europe-wide day of action against the TTIP. Protesters in Britain hung a large banner from Westminster Bridge reading “HANDS OFF DEMOCRACY # NO TTIP”.

Aware that “trade deals” like TTIP cannot be justified or even portrayed as being in the public interest, capitalist governments have taken to negotiating them in secret. British Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Keith Taylor told HuffPostUK: “Even my colleagues who sit on the European Parliament’s Trade Committee don’t get a proper look at the negotiating document, and most MEPs don’t get any say on the deal until we’re presented it as a fait accompli.”

Australia is being lined up for a similar deal with the USA, as part of this global push to establish a locked-in corporate rule that elected governments will be powerless to change. It is yet another attempt to create the “corporate state” that Mussolini dreamed of. And like all forms of Fascism it is inherently inimical to working people, indeed to all ordinary people, and it must be fought vigorously.

One corporation that expects to benefit greatly from agreements like the TTIP is notorious bio-tech giant Monsanto. The company made lots of money in earlier years by manufacturing such wholesome products as the pesticide DDT, the defoliant Agent Orange that left so many Vietnamese children horribly deformed both physically and mentally, as well as the modern scourge of recombinant bovine somatotropin (bovine growth hormone). Monsanto is even more notorious, however, for its unscrupulous practice of pushing genetically modified seeds upon farmers, especially in the Third World.

Monsanto is the company that distinguished itself by trying to gain control of patents to crops and by trying to tie farmers up legally so that they were prevented from saving, sharing or re-using seeds or plant varieties. This was a key element in the drive by big capital to gain control over the world’s food supplies. The corporate goal, so far only partly achieved, is to gain control of global energy, water and food supplies. Like Big Oil, the major agribusiness and water supply companies must be salivating copiously at the thought of the profits they will make when food and water is as sewn up under corporate control as oil production and distribution already is.

A large part of Europe’s energy supplies come from Russia, and a major motivating factor for the disturbances in Ukraine has been scheming by imperialism to disrupt the flow of Russian oil and gas, which reaches Europe via pipelines that cross Ukraine. Another major source of energy for Europe was to have been oil and gas from Iran, delivered via a pipeline through Syria. The actions of ISIS in Syria (and before them the so-called Free Syrian Army) acquire a special significance in this context.

It has always been big business versus the working people. But now we can see exactly why that is a fight the workers cannot afford to lose.

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