People's power confronts global crisis

March 28, 2009

"Fat cats in terror after anti-capitalists attack Fred the Shred's home", was the headline on the right-wing British Daily Mail's March 26 report that the luxurious Edinburgh mansion of former Royal Bank of Scotland CEO Sir Fred Goodwin had been vandalised by a group calling themselves "Bank Bosses Are Criminals".

Goodwin, nicknamed "Fred the Shred" in reference to the sackings he has overseen, was forced to retire in October due to his role in the collapse of the RBS, which was revived with a £20 billion taxpayer-funded bailout.

Such was the anger at his £700,000-a-year retirement package that even PM Gordon Brown felt compelled to condemn it as "unjustifiable and unacceptable", the Mail said.

The Mail also raised the spectre of "anarchists … plotting mayhem at next week's G20 summit in London".

The G20 is made up of the world's 19 largest economies, plus the European Union, and the summit will develop a set of policies in response to the global economic crisis.

The Mail's penchant for lurid exaggeration not withstanding, the depth of anger at the corporate elite responsible for the crisis is reflected in the mainstream media's previous free market triumphalism being replaced by tales of "fat cats in terror" of the riotous mob.

A less tabloid version of the same tale was provided by a March 28 Sydney Morning Herald article, entitled "From Edinburgh to Paris to Kiev, Europe is revolting".

The SMH reported: "The signs are everywhere … Europe is rebelling."

The SMH said "the rising cost of living, mortgages heading skywards, job losses and a tide of home repossessions have sparked a chilling fear of the future and propelled the citizens of Europe into open uprising …

"Iceland, Italy, Spain, France, Latvia, Hungary, Greece and Bulgaria have already felt the force of civil unhappiness since the economic crisis …"

The article said: "Superintendent David Hartshorn of London's Metropolitan Police warned [of] a 'summer of rage' — with the city's G20 meeting the focus of widespread dissatisfaction."

The parameters of the G20's solutions to the crisis were set at the March 14 G20 finance ministers meeting.

These include guaranteeing financial institutions' liquidity (i.e. more taxpayer-funded bailouts) and taking control of "impaired" or "toxic" financial assets (taxpayers compensating financial institutions for their unprofitable assets).

In short, the G20's solution to the crisis is to socialise the casino capitalists' losses.

The bailouts continue despite having failed in their stated intention of persuading the banks to stop restricting credit. This is a big factor in the global economic contraction, which has resulted in dramatically rising unemployment.

In France, where two general strikes so far this year against attempts to make workers pay for the crisis have already mobilised millions on the streets, some are taking more drastic action.

Since March 24, Luc Rousselet, director of the French operations of US stationary and pharmaceuticals conglomerate 3M, has been barricaded inside an office by workers at the Pithiviers factory, which is halving its workforce of 235.

The workers are demanding better severance pay for those sacked and wage rises for those remaining.

Union delegate Jean-Francois Caparros explained: "This action is our only bartering tool, but there is no aggression involved … It's out of the question that the director leaves the site unless we get something", the March 26 British Guardian said.

On March 13, Sony France chief executive Serge Foucher agreed to increase redundancy packages for workers at the Pontonx-sur-l'Adour videotape plant after they blockaded him into the factory using tree trunks.

Two similar incidents took place in 2008.

In two European countries, Iceland and Latvia, governments have fallen after mass protests stormed parliament. In France's Carribean colonies, Martinique and Guadeloupe, across-the-board pay rises were won by general strikes lasting 38 and 44 days respectively.

In the US, the epicentre of the crisis, widespread anger has been expressed at the revelation that American International Group had paid its executives bonuses worth US$165 million after receiving bailouts totalling $173 billion from taxpayers.

Up to $4.6 million was paid to individual executives, including those responsible for bankrupting the company by selling insurance to guarantee soon-to-be toxic financial products.

While expressing anger, Obama administration officials have cited "contractual obligations" to justify allowing AIG to use taxpayers' money in such a way.

At least $50 billion of AIG's bailout money has been passed on to banks to cover their insured toxic assets. Many of these banks have also received bailout money directly from the government.

The March 24 Socialist Worker reported that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's response was a new economic package that, while including some sweetners such as moderate investment in infrastructure and an increase in legal regulation of the finance industry, centred on spending $100 billion on cash handouts and loan guarantees to entice investors to buy toxic assets.

The Obama administration's free-spending generosity does not extend to the victims of the corporate-caused crisis, such as working-class people made homeless through home foreclosures.

Abandoned by the government, many are fighting back. The February 18 New York Times reported on a nationwide campaign by the community-based group ACORN to organise non-violent resistance to attempted evictions of foreclosure victims.

"This is a desperate, last-ditch effort by folks who are working two or three jobs, single mothers, elderly people who don't know what else to do to save their homes", ACORN organiser Ginny Goldman explained.

This builds on the spontaneous resistance to evictions, involving neighbours and friends, that has been occuring. In some instances local officials have refused to enforce evictions.

Meanwhile, according to the January 28 National Public Radio Marketplace Report, housing activist group Take Back the Land has been moving homeless people into vacant foreclosed houses in the Miami area, in what the group describes as "liberating houses".

Such resistance from below can be expected to grow, especially as it becomes clear to the victims of this crisis that politicians in the pockets of the corporate interests responsible for the crisis have no intention of implementing policies to meet the needs of the majority.

Many are concluding that mass action by ordinary people is required to win the changes needed.

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