FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Free Trade, Corporate Plunder and the War on Working People

by

Prior to last year’s national elections in India, there were calls for a Thatcherite revolution to fast-track the country towards privatisation and neo-liberalism. Under successive Thatcher-led governments in the eighties, however, inequalities skyrocketed in Britain and economic growth was no better than in the seventies.

Traditional manufacturing was decimated and international finance became the bedrock of the ‘new’ economy. Jobs disappeared over the horizon to cheap labour economies, corporations bought up public utilities, the rich got richer and many of Britain’s towns and cities in its former industrial heartland became shadows of their former selves. Low paid, insecure, non-unionised labour is now the norm and unemployment and underemployment are rife. Destroying ordinary people’s livelihoods was done in the name of ‘the national interest’. Destroying industry was done in the name of ‘efficiency’.

In 2010, 28 percent of the UK workforce, some 10.6 million people, either did not have a job, or had stopped looking for one. And that figure was calculated before many public sector jobs were slashed under the lie of ‘austerity’.

Today, much of the mainstream political and media rhetoric revolves around the need to create jobs, facilitate ‘free’ trade, ensure growth and make ‘the nation’ competitive. The endless, tedious mantra says ordinary people have to be ‘flexible’, ‘tighten their belts, expect to do a ‘fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ and let the market decide. This creates jobs. This fuels ‘growth’. Unfortunately, it does neither. What we have is austerity. What we have is an on-going economic crisis, a huge national debt, rule by profligate bankers and corporate entities and mass surveillance to keep ordinary people in check.

So what might the future hold? Unfortunately, more of the same.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between the EU and US is intended to be the biggest trade deal in history. The EU and US together account for 40 percent of global economic output. The European Commission tries to sell the deal to the public by claiming that the agreement will increase GDP by one percent and will entail massive job creation.

However, these claims are not supported even by its own studies, which predict a growth rate of just 0.01 percent GDP over the next ten years and the potential loss of jobs in several sectors, including agriculture. Corporations are lobbying EU-US trade negotiators to use the deal to weaken food safety, labour, health and environmental standards and undermine digital rights. Negotiations are shrouded in secrecy and are being driven by corporate interests. And the outcome could entail the bypassing of any democratic processes in order to push through corporate-friendly policies. The proposed agreement represents little more than a corporate power grab.

It should come as little surprise that this is the case. Based on a recent report, the European Commission’s trade and investment policy reveals a bunch of unelected technocrats who care little about what ordinary people want and negotiate on behalf of big business. The Commission has eagerly pursued a corporate agenda and has pushed for policies in sync with the interests of big business. It is effectively a captive but willing servant of a corporate agenda. Big business has been able to translate its massive wealth into political influence to render the European Commission a “disgrace to the democratic traditions of Europe.”

This proposed trade agreement (and others like it being negotiated across the world) is based on a firm belief in ‘the market’ (a euphemism for subsidies for the rich, cronyism, rigged markets and cartels) and the intense dislike of state intervention and state provision of goods and services. The ‘free market’ doctrine that underpins this belief attempts to convince people that nations can prosper by having austerity imposed on them and by embracing neo-liberalism and ‘free’ trade. This is a smokescreen that the financial-corporate elites hide behind while continuing to enrich themselves and secure taxpayer handouts, whether in the form of bank bailouts or other huge amounts of corporate dole.

In much of the West, the actual reality of neo-liberalism and the market is stagnating or declining wages in real terms, high levels of personal debt and a permanent underclass, while the rich and their corporations to rake in record profits and salt away wealth in tax havens.

Corporate plunder in India 

Thatcher was a handmaiden of the rich. Her role was to destroy ‘subversive’ or socialist tendencies within Britain and to shatter the post-1945 Keynesian consensus based on full employment, fairness and a robust welfare state. She tilted the balance of power in favour of elite interests by embarking on a pro-privatisation, anti-trade union/anti-welfare state policy agenda. Sections of the public regarded Thatcher as a strong leader who would get things done, where others before her had been too weak and dithered. In India, Narendra Modi has been portrayed in a similar light.

His government is attempting to move ahead with ‘reforms’ that others dragged their feet on. To date, India has experienced a brand of ‘neo-liberalism lite’. Yet what we have seen thus far has been state-backed violence and human rights abuses to ‘secure’ tribal areas for rich foreign and Indian corporations, increasing inequalities, more illicit money than ever pouring into Swiss bank accounts and massive corruption and cronyism.

Under Modi are we to witness an accelerated ‘restructuring’ of agriculture in favour of Western agribusiness? Will more farmers be forced from their land on behalf of commercial interests? Officialdom wants to depopulate rural areas by shifting over 600 million to cities. It begs the question: in an age of increasing automation, how will hundreds of millions of agriculture sector workers earn their livelihoods once they have left the land?

What type of already filthy and overburdened urban centres can play host to such a gigantic mass of humanity who were deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ in rural India and will possibly be (indeed, already are) deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ once in the cities?

Gandhi stated that the future of India lies in its villages. Rural society was regarded as India’s bedrock. But now that bedrock is being dug up. Global agritech companies have been granted license to influence key aspects of agriculture by controlling seeds and chemical inputs and by funding and thus distorting the biotech research agenda and aspects of overall development policy.

Part of that ‘development’ agenda is based on dismantling the Public Distribution System for food. Policy analyst Devinder Sharma notes that the government may eventually stop supporting farmers by doing away with the system of announcing the minimum support price for farmers and thereby reduce the subsidy outgo. He argues that farmers would be encouraged to grow cash crops for supermarkets and to ‘compete’ in a market based on trade policies that work in favour of big landowners and heavily subsidised Western agriculture.

By shifting towards a commercialised system that would also give the poor cash to buy food in the market place, rather than the almost half a million ‘ration shops’ that currently exist, the result will be what the WTO/ World Bank/IMF have been telling India to for a long time: to displace the farming population so that agribusiness can find a stronghold in India.

We need only look at what happened to the soy industry in India during the nineties, or last year’s report by GRAIN, to see how small farmers are forced from their land to benefit powerful global agritech. If it cannot be achieved by unfair trade policies and other duplicitous practices, it is achieved by repression and violence, as Helena Paul notes:

“Repression and displacement, often violent, of remaining rural populations, illness, falling local food production have all featured in this picture. Indigenous communities have been displaced and reduced to living on the capital’s rubbish dumps. This is a crime that we can rightly call genocide – the extinguishment of entire Peoples, their culture, their way of life and their environment.”

Although Helena Paul is referring to the situation in Paraguay, what she describes could well apply to India or elsewhere.

In addition, the secretive corporate-driven trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and India could fundamentally restructure Indian society in favour of Western corporate interests and adversely impact hundreds of millions and their livelihoods and traditional ways of living. And as with the proposed US-EU agreement, powerful transnational corporations would be able to by-pass national legislation that was implemented to safeguard the public’s rights. Governments could be sued by multinational companies for billions of dollars in private arbitration panels outside of national courts if laws, policies, court decisions or other actions are perceived to interfere with their investments.

A massive shift in global power and wealth from poor to rich

Current negotiations over ‘free’ trade agreements have little to do with free trade. They are more concerned with loosening regulatory barriers and bypassing any democratic processes to allow large corporations to destroy competition and siphon off wealth to the detriment of smaller, locally based firms and producers.

The planet’s super rich comprise a global elite. It is not a unified elite. But whether based in China, Russia or India, its members have to varying extents been incorporated into the Anglo-American system of trade and finance. For them, the ability to ‘do business’ is what matters, not national identity or the ability to empathise with someone toiling in a field who happened to be born on the same land mass. And in order ‘to do business’, government machinery has been corrupted and bent to serve their ends. In turn, organisations that were intended to be ‘by’ and ‘for’ ordinary working people have been successfully infiltrated and dealt with.

The increasing global takeover of agriculture by powerful agribusiness, the selling off of industrial developments built with public money and strategic assets and secretive corporate-driven trade agreements represent a massive corporate heist of wealth and power across the world. The world’s super rich regard ‘nations’ as population holding centres to be exploited whereby people are stripped of control of their livelihoods for personal gain. Whether it concerns rich oligarchs in the US or India’s billionaire business men, corporate profits and personal gain trump any notion of the ‘national interest’.

Still want a Thatcherite revolution?

Colin Todhunter is an extensively published independent writer and former social policy researcher based in the UK and India.

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Colin Todhunter is an extensively published independent writer and former social policy researcher based in the UK and India.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

June 27, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again
Jonathan Cook
Hersh’s New Syria Revelations Buried From View
Edward Hunt
Excessive and Avoidable Harm in Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Death of Democracy Both Here and Abroad and All Those Colorful Sneakers
Gary Leupp
Immanuel Kant on Electoral Interference
Kenneth Surin
Theresa May and the Tories are in Freefall
Slavoj Zizek
Get the Left
Robert Fisk
Saudi Arabia Wants to Reduce Qatar to a Vassal State
Ralph Nader
Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris and Distractions
Rima Najjar
Palestinians Are Seeking Justice in Jerusalem – Not an Abusive Life-Long Mate
Norman Solomon
Is ‘Russiagate’ Collapsing as a Political Strategy?
Binoy Kampmark
In the Twitter Building: Tech Incubators and Altering Perceptions
Dean Baker
Uber’s Repudiation is the Moment for the U.S. to Finally Start Regulating the So-called Sharing Economy
Rob Seimetz
What I Saw From The Law
George Wuerthner
The Causes of Forest Fires: Climate vs. Logging
June 26, 2017
William Hawes – Jason Holland
Lies That Capitalists Tell Us
Chairman Brandon Sazue
Out of the Shadow of Custer: Zinke Proves He’s No “Champion” of Indian Country With his Grizzly Lies
Patrick Cockburn
Grenfell Tower: the Tragic Price of the Rolled-Back Stat
Joseph Mangano
Tritium: Toxic Tip of the Nuclear Iceberg
Ray McGovern
Hersh’s Big Scoop: Bad Intel Behind Trump’s Syria Attack
Roy Eidelson
Heart of Darkness: Observations on a Torture Notebook
Geoff Beckman
Why Democrats Lose: the Case of Jon Ossoff
Matthew Stevenson
Travels Around Trump’s America
David Macaray
Law Enforcement’s Dirty Little Secret
Colin Todhunter
Future Shock: Imagining India
Yoav Litvin
Animals at the Roger Waters Concert
Binoy Kampmark
Pride in San Francisco
Stansfield Smith
North Koreans in South Korea Face Imprisonment for Wanting to Return Home
Hamid Yazdan Panah
Remembering Native American Civil Rights Pioneer, Lehman Brightman
James Porteous
Seventeen-Year-Old Nabra Hassanen Was Murdered
Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castile’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail