The world faces a “1930s moment”, as the IMF warned in late January. Five years after the economic crisis erupted in 2007, global capitalism has failed to recover.
The European Central Bank, the IMF and European Union (EU) are holding Greek workers to ransom, demanding that Greece sack another 15,000 public servants and make deeper cuts to health and welfare.
Unless Greece makes the cuts, the EU is threatening to withhold the €14.5 billion Greece needs to avoid defaulting on its debts. A default threatens chaos across Europe’s banking system, with banks collapsing under the weight of toxic debts.
Europe is probably already back in recession. Austerity policies are destroying growth as well as causing people immense suffering. Greece’s economy has contracted by 13 per cent since 2008.
Since the onset of the crisis in 2007, stagnation has engulfed Europe and the US. Until now, a bloc of less developed economies, in particular China, have continued to grow strongly. But that high growth could also be coming to an end. Manufacturing in China contracted in November and December as the government tried to slow down the economy to deal with a property price bubble and inflation.
The Australian economy is increasingly dependent on China—and crisis there poses huge risks.
Job cuts here are already starting to steal the headlines, with sackings at Heinz, Telstra, Toyota, Holden, Mortein, Qantas, the University of Sydney, ANZ, Macquarie Bank and Westpac. Outside the mining sector there are increasing fears of job losses, after 44,000 jobs in manufacturing and 28,000 in retail were lost in January to November 2011. Another 29,300 jobs were lost in December.
Almost no jobs were created in 2011, compared to nearly 370,000 in 2010—the worst performance since the recession of the early 1990s. The Australian tallied 3700 job losses in just the first five weeks of 2012.
Unemployment only stayed at 5.3 per cent because people gave up looking for work, according to the Bureau of Statistics. The Roy Morgan poll, which does measure those who stopped looking for work, shows unemployment at 8.6 per cent in December, jumping to 10.3 per cent in January. The Morgan poll also shows that another 10 per cent of the workforce is under-employed, and would like to work more hours.
Julia Gillard says she wants to focus 2012 on the government’s efforts on jobs and managing the economy, after her horror year in 2011. But that’s just as big a joke as last year’s slogan of “decision and delivery”. Up to 3000 public service jobs could be lost as Wayne Swan squeezes the public service to keep the budget surplus.
State governments are doing likewise, with the Baillieu Liberal government in Victoria planning to slash 3600 public service jobs and O’Farrell in NSW targeting 5000 job cuts in the next three years.
Labor’s continuing slump in the opinion polls continues to fuel talk of a leadership challenge by Kevin Rudd.
But a move to Rudd would solve nothing. Gillard is implementing the same failed, conservative policies as Rudd. Rudd was just as ready to cave into the mining bosses over the mining tax as Gillard.
As Solidarity went to press, around 3500 miners in Queensland’s Bowen Basin had begun a week-long strike, taking on the industry giant BHP over safety and sub-contractors’ pay. It is the biggest strike in Australia for ten years.
This is the kind of industrial action that is needed to shift the political climate to the left. Action like this could save the jobs of the 600 workers at Alcoa’s Geelong plant that’s facing closure.
The crisis in Europe is generating mass resistance.
Greek workers have staged 14 general strikes over the past two years. When the latest cuts package was announced unions held a 24-hour strike at one day’s notice and another 48-hour stoppage followed.
A handful of workplaces have gone further. Greek socialist Panos Garganos reports, “In one hospital in Kilkis in the north of Greece… they held a general meeting of everyone who worked there and resolved not to accept any closures or redundancies. They will run the hospital themselves if the government tries to shut it down.”
In Egypt, the revolution is linking politics and economics as workplaces struggle for jobs and against privatisation, fighting the corrupt managers who enriched themselves under Mubarak.
These struggles are an inspiration to everyone fighting cuts, jobs losses and the dead hand of Labor’s conservatism here. Instead of a society run for bankers and big business, they have begun to pose the alternative of a world run in the interests of working people.