Global Crisis Fuels Protests

As economists in the US warn against the potential for double-digit unemployment, much of the world is already experiencing that reality.  In Spain, 200,000 workers lost their jobs in January alone, the most for a single month on record, pushing that country’s unemployment rate to over 14%.  Over 9% of workers in the Republic of Ireland are now jobless, representing more unemployed people than any time since the Irish began keeping record in 1967.  Over 2 million workers in Colombia now find themselves without jobs, representing over 10% of the workforce.  Meanwhile in China, the New York Times reports that 20 million rural migrant workers have lost their jobs. 

Migrant workers make up a major part of the globalized economy, and they will be impacted severely, says Joseph Chamie of Pakistan’s The Daily Times.  “The global economic crisis, which is hitting the developed countries hard, might generate a tsunami-like wave of migrants returning home.”  He explains that the drop in remittances from employees sending their earnings home to their families would cause living conditions in many countries to worsen.  In Russia, even those who still have their jobs are finding their salaries less and less valuable, as the ruble fell to an 11-year low.  Russia, which depends on energy for 80% of its export revenue, was counting on $95 a barrel of oil for its 2009 budget.  It will have to adjust to the $40 reality we see today.

In what was labeled as the first political casualty of the crisis, Iceland’s entire ruling administration resigned, under the pressure of massive anti-government protests.  The demonstrations were sparked when Prime Minister Geir Haarde accepted a $10 billion rescue package from the International Monetary Fund.

The protests in Iceland are part of an anti-government response to the financial crisis that is observed in streets all around the world.  In France last week, an estimated 2.5 million people hit the streets to protest President Sarkozy’s $33 billion stimulus plan.  Many there are demanding the government nationalize the banking system.  A similar protest took place in Italy in October when hundreds of thousands protested Prime Minister Berlusconi’s cuts to the education budget.  In December, Greece was overcome with an anti-government uprising, and just last week, thousands blockaded the streets of Mexico City in anger at President Felipe Calderón’s neoliberal economic policies.  Meanwhile, back at the World Economic Forum, the annual demonstration that has accompanied the meeting since its inception was cracked down on heavily by Swiss authorities this year.  An article on Infoshop News said 130 protesters had been arrested.  Reuters reported that the protesters were demonstrating against the World Economic Forum, saying “the elite gathered for its annual meeting are not qualified to fix the world’s problems.”

This program was broadcast by the Real News Network on 6 February 2009.  The text above is a partial transcript of the program.