According to the International Labour Organization (a UN agency), world unemployment will increase in 2009 by between 30-50 million as compared to the situation in 2007 – producing a worldwide unemployment rate of 7.1 percent. On top of that, the number of people in ‘working poverty’, ie, earning less than $2 a day, could rise by as many as 200 million to encompass 45 percent of all workers, leaving as many people below the poverty line as there were in 1997 (in spite of a huge decrease of poverty in China over the same period). Over half the world’s population will again be either unemployed or living below a poverty line set at earnings of under $2 a day! All this assumed that the IMF’s November forecast of 2.2 percent global economic growth comes to fruition, but the IMF has now just cut its forecast to 0.5 percent, and it is feared that the rise in world unemployment could be nearer 100m than 50m.
In these circumstances, it is not surprising to see the beginnings of working-class resistance in Europe – starting with the protests in Greece in December/January, centred around the police murder of 15-year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos, but expressing public outrage at the effects of economic crisis on Greece’s working masses. In France, on 29 January, a massive general strike took place in protest at the policies of the Sarkozy government, especially its provision of a €360bn rescue plan for French banks while providing nothing to workers hit by the crisis.
Although the bourgeois media have tried to minimise the impact of the one-day strike in France, and its accompanying street protests in Paris and other major French towns, it was certainly serious enough to persuade Sarkozy to propose negotiations with the unions who called the strike, and which, he said, could include discussion to modify his intended overhaul of the public sector, with the thousands of job losses that this would no doubt entail. Fearing the spread of the Greek riots to France, Sarkozy has already abandoned his plans for high school reform after teenage pupils staged street protests.
In Britain, there has been a wave of protest strikes whose underlying cause is really the rapidly rising levels of unemployment in Britain today. Unfortunately, the stranglehold of social democracy and social chauvinism on the minds of British workers prevents them from seeing unemployment as a global problem of the capitalist system. Therefore, the strikes that have been taking place at oil refineries in different parts of the UK are not directed against capitalism and the government that serves it, but are a protest at foreign workers being brought in to effect temporary project work.
The strikers’ demand is the Gordon Brown slogan ‘British jobs for British workers’ – a slogan eagerly parroted by the BNP, just as keen to save capitalism in its time of crisis as is the Labour party, and even more openly prepared to incite racism and abandon democratic rights when this becomes necessary for that nefarious purpose. British workers need to find ways of escaping the ideological and organisational thrall of social democracy so that their fighting spirit can be pitted against the real enemy – capitalism.