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Desperate acts of desperate people

Last Thursday, a man in Modesto, California, whose house was scheduled for foreclosure, shot and killed the sheriff’s deputy and the locksmith who came to evict him.

Modesto authorities responded by sending 100 police and SWAT snipers and it ended Waco-style, with the building burning to the ground with the man inside.

US foreclosures – in which the lender takes legal possession of the property – rose from 2,203,295 in 2007 to 3,920,418 in 2011.

Rapidly deteriorating economic conditions in every part of the world are driving individuals who see no way out of their predicament to the most desperate of actions.

Earlier this month, across the Atlantic retired pharmacist, Dimitris Christoulas, shot himself on the steps of the Greek Parliament building in Syntagma Square after savage cuts in his pension payments.

Described as decent, law-abiding, meticulous and dignified, the 77-year-old had written in his one-page, three-paragraph suicide note that it would be better to have a "decent end" than be forced to scavenge in the "rubbish to feed myself".

Friend and neighbour Antonis Skarmoutsos said that “with his suicide he wanted to send a political message. He was deeply politicised but also enraged."

A committed leftist, Christoulas was active in citizens' groups such as "I won't pay", which started as a one-off protest against toll fees but quickly turned into an anti-austerity movement. He became a symbol of resistance for those who perceive austerity politics as unfair and ultimately self-defeating.

Suicide rates are soaring worldwide as governments act to contract their economies in response to the deepening global recession. Slashing public spending, freezing and cutting wages, shrinking and closing public services, eliminating jobs by the hundreds of thousands is the norm across Europe.

Austerity measures in the UK, Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland and elsewhere are certain to accelerate in the coming months, driving millions to and beyond the limits of their tolerance.

Last November, as the Cameron-Clegg Coalition announced its plans to deny incapacity benefits to 1 million people, the bodies of Mark and Helen Mullins were found lying side by side in their rundown home in Bedworth, Warwickshire after an apparent suicide pact.

In a video filmed at a soup kitchen earlier this year, Mr Mullins told how his wife's mental health problems had left them in a benefits limbo: “The job centre decided Helen couldn't sign on as she was incapable of employment as she has no literacy and numeracy skills. “

He said. “However, the incapacity people wouldn't recognise her disabilities which led to month after month of seeing specialists. We're in a catch 22 situation.”

Without money, the couple were forced to live hand to mouth on vegetables they got from a soup kitchen in Coventry, a 12-mile round trip on foot.

For the 99% whose lives are being smashed by the crisis nothing can be more urgent than the construction of a replacement for the bankrupt system which chases after profits at whatever cost to the majority of the population.

The politics of protest whether in the form of strikes – such as the one-day 10 May action called by Unite and the PCS over pensions – demonstrations or even riots are limited in the face of this onslaught and can add to people’s frustration without troubling the ruling class.

All that is needed is the political movement – a global network of people’s assemblies – to create democratic governments which will break the power of the corporations, outlaw speculation and the extraction of profit via shareholding, and establish a society designed to satisfy the needs of people rather than the insatiable greed of private capital.

The elements for a not-for-profit alternative are in place – socially-owned and democratically-run workers’ and consumer cooperatives, credit unions, building societies, highly successful not-for-profit companies and services of all kinds. It’s not rocket science. It’s about going beyond resistance.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
18 April 2012

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