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Workers hit back as tipping points breached

The impact of the social crisis on individuals in numbers of suicides, prescriptions for anti-depressants and the increasing numbers of people treated for stress at hospitals in England is steadily growing.

The NHS Health and Social Care Information Centre (Hscic) reports that there
were 6,370 admissions for stress – 410 more than the previous 12 months. Admission rates were highest among working-aged people aged 18 to 60, says the Hscic.

Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, added:

Concerns about money and debt place huge pressure on people's mental well-being, so it is not surprising if stress and anxiety rise in times of economic crisis.

We know that the outcomes of recessions – rising debt, unemployment and insecure housing – are associated with poorer mental health in individuals and poorer mental health is often linked to poorer physical health. Sustained periods of stress, anxiety and depression can lead to an increased risk of diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease.

The effect of the rapid deterioration in global economic and financial conditions is measured by the reaching and breaching of a multitude of tipping points – individual, social and political. The impact of the inter-related crises also brings individuals together, uniting them in common interests.

As the effects of the global crisis begin to be felt in capped wages, reduced pensions and job losses, growing anger amongst British trades unionists found its expression in a reluctant agreement by TUC leaders yesterday to begin exploring the practicalities of a general strike.

The unprecedented size of yesterday’s mass rally in Barcelona saw up to 1.5 million people on the streets demanding Catalonian secession from Spain, reflecting the now unbearable tensions of unrepayable debt that are tearing the eurozone countries apart.

In the wake of the police killing of 34 striking miners at the Marikana mine, unrest sweeping across South Africa's platinum sector has hit Anglo American Platinum, with striking miners blockading roads leading to shafts belonging to the world's top producer.

"Around 1,000 mineworkers had a confrontation with mine security [on Tuesday] night at the Siphumelele shaft and the situation has spread to other mine shafts this morning," regional police spokesman Thulani Ngubane said. Siphumelele is one of four mines near Rustenburg, 100km (60 miles) north-west of Johannesburg, that have been targeted as "restructuring candidates" by Amplats' parent company Anglo-American.

Julius Malema, populist former leader of the ANC’s Youth League has called for a national strike in all of South Africa's mines, as labour unrest in the country has escalated following the closure of two platinum and gold mines.

As the United States heads towards the “fiscal cliff” predicted for 2013, the credit ratings agencies are winding up the pressure on presidential candidates. They are threatening the country’s triple A status should they fail to impose the full weight of the crisis on a population already struggling to survive.

Corporate and debt-driven globalisation transferred manufacturing to the East and undermined the strength of US trade unions. During the 1970s, an average of 289 major work stoppages involving 1,000 or more workers occurred annually in the United States. By the 1990s, that had fallen to about 35 per year. And in 2009, there were no more than five.

That’s all changing.

On Monday in Chicago, teachers went on strike — their first in almost 25 years. The strike is not primarily about wages but, as the study produced by Chicago Teachers’ Union puts it, about creating schools that students deserve.

The study outlines a vision of the future for Chicago’s school children that resonates with parents and children in the schools. CTU’s study calls for the expansion of art and music programmes, more “wraparound” services to reach at-risk children, the recognition that class-size matters, and equalising funding across schools.
“A country and city that can afford to take care of its affluent citizens can afford to take care of those on the other end of the income scale. There is no excuse for denying students the essential services they deserve,” says their 10-point manifesto.

Their action has pitted teachers against mayor Rahm Emanuel. He was formerly president Obama’s chief of staff and has condemned the strike. So much for having a Democrat in charge of Chicago.

You can send messages of support to the union at

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
12 September 2012

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