Thursday, 31 December 2009

No War but Class War - 2009 in review

2009 has been a truly historic year in global politics.

For mainstream media outlets such as the Guardian, this is because "it was the year Barack Obama took office, Britain entered recession, MPs' expenses were exposed to public scrutiny, Iranians protested after a flawed presidential election, Michael Jackson died and the Copenhagen climate summit ended in recriminations and a flawed deal." For radicals, it is because this year has been a year of resistance. This year, amidst a seismic upheaval of the global capitalist system, the working class rose up on a scale unseen for at least a decade.

The unrest in Greece

For the Greeks, the year began as it would end. In all-out war. Mainstream media interest in the upheaval unleashed by the murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulos ended with the riots of last December, but for those on the ground the struggle went on.

From running battles with state supported fascist paramilitaries to resistance against police brutality, the resistance of the anarchists forced the government into crisis. The snap election called by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis in the wake of the stock exchange bombing saw George Papandreou's "socialists" sweep to power, but this did not end repression against the anarchists. In turn, acts of dissidence continued, with the anniversaries of the Polytechnic Uprising and Alexandros's murder heralding massive protest. The slogan of those who took to the streets on the 6th December was a defiant "we won't forget, we won't forgive!"

With Greece's ongoing debt crisis, and the brutal impact of EU-enforced "austerity measures," that sentiment looks to be a lasting one. As Labour Minister Andreas Loverdos warns, "there will be blood."

The G20

This year saw the world's top twenty economies, the G20, hold two summits on measures to revive and rebrand global capitalism.

According to The Independent, "$1trn will be made available to countries that run into trouble via the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and World Trade Organisation, which will all be beefed up" but "the real significance" of the agreement was the "enhanced role" given to the likes of the IMF, "whose budget will triple to $750bn." In much the same vein, The Guardian tells us of "the death of the "Washington Consensus" of financial market liberalisation, privatisation and unfettered capitalism promulgated by ... the IMF and the World Bank" which is of course demonstrated by granting one of those same "Bretton Woods institutions," namely the IMF, "a stronger role" in "the world financial system" than that it already enjoys of enforcer of that same "unfettered capitalism" upon the world's poorest.


As noted earlier, the IMF and World Bank were central to the "Washington Consensus" that has now "died" with the "stronger role" of the same "Bretton Woods institutions" that propped up the Consensus in the first place. This is nothing new. As now, each past crisis has marked the "death" of one form of capitalism in favour of a "stronger" form that more efficiently perpetuated the same injustices ... Indeed, the central "triumph" of the G20 summit appears to be a rebranding of exactly the same disaster capitalism that has brought us to this point in the first place. Whatever the press may declare about Barack Obama and Gordon Brown's "new world order," we really are just left with "little more than the status quo."
And in Pittsburgh in September;
According to the Guardian, Barack Obama hailed a "new era of engagement" under which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) "will regularly analyse whether the economic policies of G20 countries are consistent with "sustainable and balanced trajectories for the global economy"." Gordon brown echoed this sentiment by stating that "the old systems of economic co-operation are over," replaced by "a system that can prevent crises as well as deal with them when they occur."
Both summits were met with massive protests, and it appeared that the lessons of London appeared to have been learned in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the brutal policing in place for the summit rendered even the best actions ineffective.

But, as I noted at the time, whilst "that those who suffer their successes are paying for their failures doesn't interest [the world's richest] in the slightest," the "possibility that the masses might finally rise up and say "enough" terrifies them." This was evident in "both the disproportionate reaction to the protesters outside [the summit] and from an increasing denial and rollback of workers' rights" worldwide.

This is good news: "Let them be scared. As long as people continue to organise and mobilise, to educate themselves and each other, and to stand up on principle against injustice, then the rebellion will grow."


The reaction to the climate summit in Copenhagen was, arguably, the third pillar of the year's resistance against global capitalism. I have explained in depth why a cop-out at COP15 was inevitable, and also why civil disobedience and an agenda from below is neccesary for any lasting effect on climate change.

Though they faced harsh police oppression, this was what activist groups such as Climate Justice Now! aimed to put forward;
The Climate Justice Now! coalition, alongside other networks, was united here at COP15 in the call for System Change, Not Climate Change. In contrast, the Copenhagen climate conference itself demonstrated that real solutions, as opposed to false, market-based solutions, will not be adopted until we overcome the existing unjust political and economic system.

Government and corporate elites here in Copenhagen made no attempt to satisfy the expectations of the world. False solutions and corporations completely co-opted the United Nations process. The global elite would like to privatize the atmosphere through carbon markets; carve up the remaining forests, bush and grasslands of the world through the violation of indigenous rights and land-grabbing; promote high-risk technologies to restructure the climate; convert real forests into monoculture tree plantations and agricultural soils into carbon sinks; and complete the enclosure and privatisation of the commons. Virtually every proposal discussed in Copenhagen was based on a desire to create opportunities for profit rather than to reduce emissions, and even the small amounts of financing promised could end up paying for the transfer of risky technologies.

The only discussions of real solutions in Copenhagen took place in social movements. Climate Justice Now!, Climate Justice Action and Klimaforum09 articulated many creative ideas and attempted to deliver those ideas to the UN Climate Change Conference through the Klimaforum09 People's Declaration and the Reclaim Power People's Assembly. Among nations, the ALBA countries, many African nations and AOSIS often echoed the messages of the climate justice movement, speaking of the need to repay climate debt, create mitigation and adaptation funds outside of neoliberal institutions such as the World Bank and IMF, and keep global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees.

The UN and the Danish government served the interests of the rich, industrialized countries, excluding our voices and the voices of the least powerful throughout the world, and attempting to silence our demands to talk about real solutions. Nevertheless, our voices grew stronger and more united day by day during the two-week conference. As we grew stronger, the mechanisms implemented by the UN and the Danish authorities for the participation of civil society grew more dysfunctional, repressive and undemocratic, very much like the WTO and Davos.

Social movement participation was limited throughout the conference, drastically curtailed in week two, and several civil society organizations even had their admission credentials revoked midway through the second week. At the same time, corporations continued lobbying inside the Bella Center.

Outside the conference,the Danish police extended the repressive framework, launching a massive clampdown on the right to free expression and arresting and beating thousands, including civil society delegates to the climate conference. Our movement overcame this repression to raise our voices in protest over and over again. Our demonstrations mobilized more than 100,000 people in Denmark to press for climate justice, while social movements around the world mobilized hundreds of thousands more in local climate justice demonstrations. In spite of repression by the Danish government and exclusion by the United Nations, the movement for system change not climate change is now stronger than when we arrived in Denmark.

While Copenhagen has been a disaster for just and equitable climate solutions, it has been an inspiring watershed moment in the battle for climate justice. The governments of the elite have no solutions to offer, but the climate justice movement has provided strong vision and clear alternatives. Copenhagen will be remembered as an historic event for global social movements. It will be remembered, along with Seattle and Cancun, as a critical moment when the diverse agendas of many social movements coalesced and became stronger, asking in one voice for system change, not climate change.

The Climate Justice Now! coalition calls for social movements around the world to mobilize in support of climate justice.

We will take our struggle forward not just in climate talks, but on the ground and in the streets, to promote genuine solutions that include:

- leaving fossil fuels in the ground and investing instead in appropriate energy-efficiency and safe, clean and community-led renewable energy - radically reducing wasteful consumption, first and foremost in the North, but also by Southern elites - huge financial transfers from North to South, based on the repayment of climate debts and subject to democratic control. The costs of adaptation and mitigation should be paid for by redirecting military budgets, progressive and innovative taxes, and debt cancellation - rights-based resource conservation that enforces Indigenous land rights and promotes peoples' sovereignty over energy, forests, land and water - sustainable family farming and fishing, and peoples' food sovereignty.

We are committed to building a diverse movement – locally and globally – for a better world.
Other movements

Though the Greek riots, the protests at the G20 summits, and the actions at COP15 are the ones that have best captured the spotlight and public imagination, working class resistance in 2009 has been truly global.

Occupations at the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight, in the Ssongyang car factory in North Korea, and the refuse worker strikes are just three of the workplace rebellions that have arisen against the agenda of the bosses in the past 12 months. The refusal of Lance Corporal Joe Glenton to fight in Afghanistan and the army strikes in South Africa have set a vital precedent for organisation in the military. And the plight of shack dwellers' movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, November's "sans papiers" strike in France, and direct action by indigenous people in Colombia and Ecuador speak of an increased willingness of the poorest and most disenfranchised to stand up for themselves.

There have been considerable setbacks, and the willingness of state and capital to resort to ferocious violence knows no bounds. However, what is clear is that, in the wake of a crisis that the perpetrators are determined to make the victims pay for, 2009 has shown what organisation and direct action can achieve if only people are willing to resist.

As we enter 2010, what we need now is to learn from the mistakes of this past year and build upon the successes.

Happy New Year!