The battle continues against neoliberalism and the global right

The year witnessed struggles across the world, most often led by trade unions, against neoliberalism and the related rise of the right-wing

January 01, 2019 by Anish R and Muhammed Shabeer
People's Protests against right wing regime and neoliberalism

For the media, the story of a resurgent right was one of the most popular narratives of the year, with tonnes of ink spilt on analyzing the reasons behind it, and the psychology of those who are part of it. What received much less attention than it deserved was the multiplicity of resistances that pushed back against the onslaught of neoliberalism and the right wing that has been spawned by it. 10 years after the financial crisis of 2007-2008, the internal contradictions of global capitalism stand exposed and 2018 saw a spirited fightback by the masses. In several countries, movements of women, workers, peasants, indigenous peoples, national minorities and other oppressed groups have assumed a more organized form and provide hope that in the coming years, the fight will be taken to the right.

In the United States labor movements are seeing a decisive come back. The vociferous organization of the US working class was validated by several significant movements, including the Tesla Factory workers’ demands for better working conditions, the strike by teachers across the country for wage hikes, the protests of hotel workers in Chicago and the mobilization of factory workers for unionization in Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo. Meanwhile, the Poor People’s Campaign broke new ground with its ability to harness the demands of the broader masses with its 40-day campaign of mass action.

Bullet and pencil
A Bullet and a pencil- the two visions contesting in the Brazilian election 2018.

 The working class movements were also tied to the larger resistance to the presidency of Donald Trump and the newly emboldened tribe of neo-Nazis and white supremacists across the country. The Antifa’s work in the previous year, of physically confronting the neo-Nazis, seems to have yielded results as there were much fewer and smaller white supremacist and nationalist rallies. If the results of the midterm elections held in November are any indication, there has been a rise of democratic socialists within the rank-and-file of the Democratic Party, which bodes well for the diversity of struggles too. In Canada, relentless struggles are going on in the province of Ontario, where premier Doug Ford’s pursuit of neoliberalism has generated much anger.

Latin America went through a very varied set of experiences. In Mexico, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador won the presidential election, on a joint platform of mass social justice movements, workers struggles and the indigenous rights movements. In Venezuela, despite widespread calls to boycott, people participated in large numbers in the local body elections in which the incumbent United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) emerged victorious. Cuba undertook a major democratic exercise of reforming the constitution, which involved popular consultations where more than 7 million people participated to suggest amendments to the draft constitution. However, Brazil, the largest nation in Latin America, elected a right-wing demagogue, Jair Bolsonaro, as the president. Bolsonaro, infamous for his homophobic, misogynist, racist and having pro-military stances now stands to reverse the nation’s hard won progress in racial justice, labor rights, environmental protections, etc. that was achieved during the rule of the leftist coalition of Workers’ Party, under the presidencies of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. It was Argentina though which saw waves of mobilization against the policies of president Mauricio Macri, culminating in the gigantic mobilizations during the IMF summit in November-December. President Macri’s decision to capitulate  to the IMF despite the organization’s disastrous record in the country and across the world mobilized thousands of Argentines on the streets in anger.

Anti-IMF protests in Argentina. (Photo: Emergentes)
Anti IMF protests in Argentina. (Photo: Emergentes)

On the other side of the world, four years into the rule of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government of prime minister Narendra Modi, India witnessed several massive demonstrations and rallies by the oppressed sections in 2018. But it was the farmers’ movement that was at the forefront of a nationwide struggle against the government. The protests highlighted the over two-decade-long agrarian crisis that has pushed millions of farmers and their families into debt and poverty, resulting in an estimated 300,000 suicides. Beginning with the rally of over 40,000 farmers in Mumbai in March, to about 100,000 of them marching to the national parliament in November, the rallies were possibly some of the largest to have happened in 2018. These protests were not only successful in pushing the government into a defensive, but also cost them elections in a round of key State assembly elections with the BJP losing two of its long-held strongholds in central India. A very similar anti-incumbency took place in Russia, when the government of President Vladimir Putin sought to amend the existing pension laws. The move dramatically increased the retirement age of the working class, threatening pensions of existing retirees and forcing workers to effectively work until almost the end of their lives for retirement benefits. The movement, spearheaded largely by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), created the biggest wave of anti-incumbency against Putin’s leadership, with opposition parties making significant electoral gains in provincial elections. The CPRF itself won one of the governorships and came very close to winning another governor election. An equally impressive victory was witnessed in Iraq this year, when an alliance between the Sadrist movement and the Iraqi Communist Party, known as the Sairoun Alliance, won the plurality of votes, after years of grassroots struggle against corruption and US imperialism. The most interesting part was that a female candidate from the communist party, Suhad al-Khateeb, won from the city of Najaf which is considered to be among the most conservative and religious of places in Iraq.

In Europe, by fanning up anti-immigrant feelings and islamophobia, fascists are gaining visibility and momentum these days. In elections, fascist organizations, including AfD (Alternative for Germany) in Germany, Vox in Spain, Casapound in Italy, Sweden Democrats in Sweden, etc. made gains. Neo-Nazi groups led nationalist rallies in Berlin, Poland and Italy, among other places, but each of them were met with equally massive anti-fascist counter-demonstrations organized by a wide coalition of groups. Italy saw the formation of a right-wing government in the form of a coalition between the Five Star Movement and the infamous League, but the year saw relentless resistance from those on the left.

Meanwhile, the dauntless resistance of communists in Eastern Europe continues at a time when right-wing governments with fascist sympathies have used the state machinery against them. Governments in Ukraine and Poland have banned communist parties or sympathies and have gone out of their way to felicitate and rehabilitate several Nazi and fascist collaborators. The resistance is also followed by the crushing of labor movements to facilitate the relentless onslaught of neoliberalism on these nations. In Hungary, the government passed an act this December, known by its critics as “slave law”, which allows the companies to not only delay wages for years but to demand longer working hours from its employees. Nevertheless, people’s resistance against the twin attacks of neoliberalism and the right-wing in Eastern Europe is nothing short of inspiring. For France, the Gilets Jaunes or the Yellow Vests will be long-remembered as a defining moment of the 21st century itself. While the country saw quite a few strikes, including by rail workers in the first half of the year, it was the spontaneous outburst against neoliberalism that shook the country. With the participation of more than 250,000 protesters, the Yellow Vests movement that seemed initially anti-political has begun to espouse more radical and transformative slogans.

Yellow vests have changed the political landscape of protests in France.

In Cambodia, independent trade unions continue to stand their ground in the face of consistent attacks from the government ever since the Supreme Court forcibly dissolved the largest opposition party in 2017. Court cases and litigations are used to intimidate the unions and their leaders, but they remain resolute.

Swaziland saw an unprecedented wave of protests by workers, farmers and teachers, combining these mobilizations with the movement against the monarchy, most of which were led by the Swaziland Communist Party and its affiliated unions. Despite police brutality, the struggle continued unabated.

Swaziland teachers resist police action
Maxwell Musa Myeni, a teacher at Lavumisa, a leader of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) resisting an armed police officer after police fired upon protesting teachers. (Image: CPS)

In Tunisia, eight years since the revolution, worsening economic conditions and rising unemployment of the youth caused the self-immolation of a journalist, triggering nationwide protests against the government that has done very little to fix the economy. The three-decades-long rule of Omar al-Bashir of Sudan now stands at the brink as people have risen against his government over skyrocketing inflation and food shortages.

Workers’ struggles in South Africa witnessed significant successes too. Earlier in September, protests by two of the largest trade unions, National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa and National Union of Mineworkers clinched a key victory against Eskom with a three year wage agreement. There were also some impressive displays of workers’ solidarity when trade unions in Namibia and South Africa went on a boycott of Shoprite, in support of the 98 workers whom the retail giant sued for going on a strike.

All these struggles – their victories and their experiences – point to a year of fiercer battles and many more victories ahead.