Shock is beginning to give way to action. Significant strikes and demonstrations are breaking out across the world in the largest wave of social protest since before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The imperialist politicians and geo-strategists who spent years drawing up the blueprints for war are discovering that despite all their careful planning, they set their bloody plans into motion on top of a massive social fault line.
The protests are heterogeneous in terms of race and religious background, international in scope, and are based in a working class that is larger, more urban and more interconnected than ever before. In more advanced and less developed countries alike, the protests revolve around the same demand: the rising cost of living is intolerable, conditions must change, and they must change now.
This is the social force that has the power to stop the drive to world war and prevent nuclear disaster. This global movement is unfolding by the hour.
On Thursday night, a large demonstration blocked the road to President Gotabaya Rajapakse’s private residence in Colombo’s outer suburbs, demanding his resignation. The right-wing government is implementing a ruthless IMF austerity regime as masses of people struggle to find medicine, food, milk and gas.
Diesel fuel has run out, currency is scarce, and long power outages blacken the country. A 31-year-old school teacher in Batticaloa told the ‘Indian Express’, “On Sunday I stood in a gas queue starting at 4 am. There is a shortage of milk powder. One has to struggle for rice and daal. There are no candles and many medicines have disappeared. I have a salary, but can we eat money?”
Similar movements are developing across the Middle East and North Africa, where Ukraine and Russia provide the bulk of wheat and cooking oil and where Ramadan, the Islamic holiday of fasting and feasting, is set to begin.
The United Nations declared Thursday that social conditions are “at a breaking point” across the region due to food shortages. The ‘New York Times’ wrote Thursday that scarcity and price increases “crush household and government budgets alike in countries that had nothing to spare, raising the possibility of the kind of mass popular unrest not seen since the Arab Spring protests a decade ago, which stemmed in part from soaring food prices.”
In Egypt, the ‘Times’ noted nervously, “videos of ordinary people venting about food prices have gone viral on social media under the hashtag ‘revolution of the hungry.’” The US-backed al-Sisi dictatorship has deployed the military to distribute food and set price controls for bread. Al-Sisi addressed the nation and urged the population to “rationalize” food consumption during Ramadan.
In Tunisia, where workers first sparked the Arab Spring, the ‘Middle East Eye’ wrote Thursday that “strikes intensified last week,” and as a result, “Ezra Zia, US undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights, visited the country.”
Food riots involving thousands of people took place across Iraq last week as the country, still reeling from a US invasion and occupation that killed a million people, was gripped by a serious shortage of food and flour.
Protests are also developing south of the Maghreb, in African countries where the working class has exploded in size and social weight and whose backbone includes many young people with the Internet in the palms of their hands. The average sub-Saharan African spends 65 percent of his household earnings on food. On Wednesday, the head of the Africa Development Bank said of the surge in food prices caused by the war in Ukraine: “If we don’t manage this very quickly, it will destabilize the continent.”
Protests in Sudan over shortages worsened by the war have coincided with powerful strikes of teachers and youth. Yesterday, a mass protest took place in Khartoum over the military government’s inability to stop the spiraling cost of living and where one 23-year-old protestor was killed. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to a report published Thursday by ‘Al Jazeera’, “rising fuel prices, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have sparked fears of increased social unrest,” forcing the government to reshuffle the cabinet to preempt social anger.
In South Africa, where large riots took place last summer, the head of a major youth non-profit described the social situation as “a time bomb that is ticking and could explode in our faces at any given moment.”
This movement is also developing in the world’s imperialist centers. In Spain, a weeks-long strike by truckers has brought international shipping to a standstill and galvanized broader support in the working class over the rising cost of living. The PSOE-Podemos government has ordered grocery stores and retailers to limit what customers can purchase, as the major business confederations demand action to prevent an imminent social explosion.
In Germany and Austria, diesel will now be rationed. Large demonstrations over the cost of living took place last month in Albania. In the United States, the cockpit of world imperialism, the emerging strike movement is driven above all by inflation and the spiraling cost of living. Five thousand teachers are on strike in Sacramento, California, following a two-week strike by teachers in Minneapolis, Minnesota in March.
In an ongoing strike by 600 oil refinery workers in Richmond, California, workers explain they cannot afford to fill their own cars with the gas they refine.
Fifty thousand grocery store workers in California are slated to strike in the coming days, while a contract for tens of thousands of dock workers on the west coast expires in a matter of weeks.
In the US and Canada, the government has banned or blocked major strikes by rail workers at BNSF and Canadian Pacific. Rising prices in the main imperialist countries will intensify the class struggle as the war continues.
Excerpted: ‘Global food crisis fuels international class struggle’.
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