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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
18 February 2011

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Your Say


Earl says:

In the demo in San Francisco on Saturday in support of the workers in Wisconsin there were several thousand people. But they were almost completely white! Also the average age of the demonstrators were around 50.   This reflects the weakness of the US labor movement... it is not a movement that involves the community, the youth and unemployed.   

For many union workers, their union is a job trust.  That is,  a guaranteed job with middle class pay.  Their style of life is under attack....it's tempting to say screw them because they never supported anyone else.   But I think we have to respect the learning process of a section of the Amerrican  people who have been living in an ivory tower--with a mortgage- up till now.  They are now suddenly discovering they are not "middle class" but actually workers who can be thrown on the scrap heap. 

The Democratic Party is naturally trying to co-opt the protests, though they and the union bureuacracy accept the proposed cuts in pay.  Of course, the union bureucracy sees its very existance is at stake.   Given these "leaders", I thiink we can expect some miserable compromise within a few days... probably relying on cumpulsory arbitration.

Demonstrations for 2-3 hours are necessary, but they should only be the first step in sympathy strikes. Naturally, sympathy strikes are against the law and the union bureaucracy would never do anything against the law... which might lead to them spending a nite in jail.

In  the demonstration there was no mention that the attack is not only against unions but also against the disabled, people on welfare,  immigrants, etc.

The so-called Labor Councils are at best ineffecitve, passing resolutions that go nowhere.  We on the Left have to propose opening up the Labor Councils and turning them into PEOPLES ASSEMBLIES, reflecting ALL the oppressed.


Jonathan says:

The coming together of the historical and the geographical in the social being.

A municipal member in New York, as if talking of another city at the moment, and one in the U.S. at that (and the reason, no doubt, being the connection between end-of-empires) referred to an analogous situation happening in ancient Rome, with the difference, he points out, that this economic problem was shifted to China, Rome didn’t have that, it just emptied. A point worth grasping as to now and the decay of slave empires as economic formations.

Trouble is it isn’t so ancient, it feels contempory, also the same phenomenon is occurring with issues such as gold price and interest rates, Babylon as if it is 1970, so also with wheat, approaching an historical record high, relatively: ever! They have stopped, it seems, taking out the history books and dusting them down, they have taken the contents to heart and see the whole of recorded history laid out and issues of the present rooted deeply in the past. Also this was the case, as it always is, of the assessment of the Egyptian revolution by analysers for insurance brokers; of the three measures they kept to, giving better insight and therefore predictions, than the White House and the State Department: the state of play with flour in Cairo and the swaying of the officer corps. They will be factoring in the price of wheat as we engage in this process; as they will the factoring in the speculation on food, and the betting on poverty. The key to the city, any city, is the bakers, the mills, the wheat (or rice), virtual foods don’t play here. Something very special must be happening in this epoch when the whole sweep of history is captured in the moment. It ‘feels’ as if history lead to this. Of course it did, it does, but so blatant a presentation is normally the reserve of the military that do look at matters as if Alexandra was present (which he is) on the lectern. However the matter has switched, it is the other way round.

The methods of crowd control, of putting down insurrection aren’t in their histories because the content is different; the economical form driving consciousness is not though; the economic formation that it drives towards is. Production is as materialists have it, the base of society, out of this grows the other forms of social being. The nature of the political body and the closing of the gap in relations, as well as the astronomical increase in the number of relations tightening the ‘fist’ that is to break through their decrepit system. From the birth of capitalism the revolutionization of the whole instruments of distribution, the air transport, the high speed trains and of the necessary means of communication has been ever heading towards the immediate, from pigeons to telegraphs to the milliseconds now present. What was exclusively the preserve of capitalism and its state now is its 'other'. For with it comes all the profit making ‘ingredients’ such as the Mobil and internet. So, also, the developing forms of resistance from the actual use of social media to passing information, as Robert Fisk pointed out, on the eating of a half a lemon to combat CS gas now takes moments ‘Robert Fisk: Three weeks in Egypt show the power of brutality – and its limits’. To which, of course, one can use vinegar on scarves, whatever. The point is, it is said; it is read.

The Tories seem blind to the level of provocation their statements and plans of ‘working for benefits’ presents, so too do their media. Egypt comes into more than ‘the living room’, and this they must know. Each economical response has a political response. If they think the youth of last year haven’t been analyzing events world wide it is only because they themselves are so confused as to their own responses. If I hear casual comments by otherwise disinterested, ill, people as to the Windsor’s fortune and whether it should be treated the same as Mubarak’s things have taken a leap in the dark for them.


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