Today, those who contest government policies which promote unemployment, inequality and the destruction of public services, are insistently and consistently told that these measures are necessary because ‘the market’ demands it. Politicians from left to right abdicate their public responsibilities with the excuse that they are only doing what the market wants. This of course conceals the truth that markets are thoroughly political constructions. From debtor prisons to colonial expropriation to modern corporate plunder, law (civil and commercial), ‘dispute resolution’ bodies and ultimately police and military power enforce market rules.
‘The market’ is elevated to a primeval, anonymous force, while at the same time it is attributed to have human qualities. Markets have ‘sentiment’. Governments try to appease these sentiments by laying off public employees, closing schools and hospitals, privatizing pension funds and similar measures. It is curious that today the supposedly impersonal elements which constitute the market have never been more in evidence in all their individuality. Traders, bankers, investment advisors and CEO’s proliferate on facebook. They blog, tweet, speak at CSR events and issue buy, hold and sell advisories in ways which would have shocked their more retiring predecessors. Far-sighted spirits among them announce that their companies are now the vehicle for satisfying basic human needs (along with more esoteric consumer demands) because government has ‘failed’.
Workers struggle with the consequences of an historically unprecedented transfer of wealth and resources into fewer and fewer hands while ideological enforcers decree that politics must not be allowed to interfere with the market – their market. So governments spend trillions to rescue financial institutions but refuse voting shares and a role in running the institutions bailed out with citizens’ money.
We are told there is ‘no alternative’ to austerity at a time when corporations in the US, the Eurozone, the UK and Japan are sitting on an estimated cash pile of USD 7.75 trillion on their balance sheets (against a global GDP estimated at USD 60-65 trillion). The hoard continues to grow even as governments lower corporate taxes and slash minimum wages and public services.
Today’s May Day demands remain what they have been since the labour movement declared the first of May to be our day – the day of the international working class – over a hundred years ago. We demand jobs, health, food, water, education – a future for ourselves, our children and our planet. It is not only these, our rights, which are being stolen. Politics, a public good because it is the process through which citizens consciously organize their societies, is being privatized.
If we want our rights, we will have to re-appropriate politics as a vehicle for democratic action. The Occupy movement in the USA generated massive enthusiasm at home and abroad with a simple slogan – “We are the 99%” – which pinpointed the consequences of privatizing politics. The Spanish general strike in March was held under the slogan “They want to take away everything”. On May Day 2012, let us start to reclaim what has been stolen and Occupy Everything.
A May Day statement of the global union federations and the ITUC is available online at www.ituc-csi.org.