Friday, February 18, 2011

How Cairo connects to Wisconsin and Britain

As people battle tanks and security forces in Bahrain, Libya, Iran and Yemen, and hundreds of thousands gather once more in Tahrir Square in Cairo to “protect the revolution”, you might wonder how this connects with struggles in Britain, the United States and other major capitalist countries.

While it seems that the upsurge in North Africa and the Middle East is mostly about the demand for political freedom and democratic rights – things we are said to “enjoy” already in this and other countries – this is too limited a view. The connections are more direct and just as explosive in their potential.

As we pointed out yesterday, the prolonged world recession which now includes rampant food inflation, falling living standards and mass unemployment in countries like Egypt and Yemen, is a key determining factor in the street revolts. Since Mubarak was overthrown a week ago, a wave of strikes over pay and conditions has gripped Egypt. The economic and the political are now joined together.

The global crisis has undoubtedly weakened the political standing of United States and its ability to influence events. This is sensed by protesters everywhere. Washington lagged well behind events in Egypt and although its Fifth Fleet sails out of Bahrain, the masses there clearly don’t give a damn either.

Now the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost. Anti-cuts campaigns proliferate in Britain and some unions are preparing strikes against the Coalition over jobs and pensions. The middle classes are on the move over library closures and the threatened government sell-off of forests.

With a million young people on the dole and record numbers working part-time, the number of working households close or to or below the breadline is increasing daily. Channel 4 News found dozens of US-style charities are handing out food parcels in Britain’s cities.

The latest estimate is that 53% of working age households in poverty have at least one working adult. “What the foodbank experience suggests is that these individuals are finding they plummet into crisis situations suddenly and more frequently,” the report said.

One woman who has been forced to use the foodbanks in Salisbury said: "Because I've always worked, I never expected to be in that position where I would be so grateful for somebody else giving us some food."

In the United States, where there are 10 million out of work, there is a growing revolt against attempts to make workers pay the entire price for the crisis, nowhere more so than in Wisconsin

This week, 30,000 public employees overwhelmed the state capital in an action against plans to strip them of benefits and collective bargaining rights. The Republican Governor failed to get a quorum for his bill when Democratic senators made themselves scarce. Similar attacks on the public sector are taking place across the country as budget deficits mount up.

In Washington, meanwhile, the Obama administration is preparing to end the Federal government’s involvement in social housing. The plan is to hand over the mortgage banks founded by Roosevelt in the 1930s to the very same banks responsible for the crash of 2008.

What we experience in Britain and the US more sharply than ever before is a form of dictatorship just as oppressive as the one overthrown in Egypt and under attack elsewhere. It is the dictatorship of the banks and the corporations, whose political front is provided by the likes of Obama, Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.

As Mahatma Gandhi said, when asked what he thought about Western “civilisation”: “I think it would be a good idea.” The real lesson from Egypt, Tunisia and other revolts is that we should get ready for our own Tahrir Square if we are to achieve a democracy of ownership and control that strips big business of its hold over us.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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