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People vs corporate power on Global Trade Day

TTIP protests

Anti-TTIP protesters in London, July 2014. Global Justice Now under a Creative Commons Licence

With the UK election only a few weeks away the media is alive with what has been called ‘the most important election for a generation’. But a report from the Democratic Audit warned all the way back in 2012 that our democracy was, in fact, in ‘terminal decline’ as corporate power grabs are becoming bigger and bolder.

How have corporations managed to co-opt democracy? First, big business has established very strong links with parliament. A third of government ministers have ties with the fossil fuel and/or the financial sectors. For years the British government employed the controversial Lord Browne (former chair of fracking company Cuadrilla) as an adviser. When Labour proposed a ‘price freeze’ on energy, corporations retaliated with the threat of blackouts, even though they’re making billions of pounds in profits – and it is hard to see how a price freeze would have a significant impact on that.

Another aspect of corporate power comes from big business’ increasing control of our resources and services. If you want to see the true scale of corporate might, just look at who controls essentials such as our energy, our food and our water. More than 90 per cent of Britian’s household energy is controlled by the Big Six energy companies; 76 per cent of food retail is controlled by only four companies, and England and Wales have been sliced into a patchwork of private water monopolies.

The corporate power grab is not just a problem in Britain. Across the world, corporations have taken unprecedented control of politics. A new series of ‘free trade’ deals is threatening to transfer even more power from national parliaments to corporations, by locking in privatization of public services, undermining regulations and giving corporations increased powers to sue governments.

This Saturday, people will be taking action in more than 400 places across the world as part of the Global Trade Day to protect our democracies and defeat the new trade deals. In Britain people will be protesting against the EU-US trade deal, TTIP (the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). If agreed, TTIP could undermine parliament’s ability to protect our health, our environment and our public services. The deal is also set to give corporations a bigger say in law-making by implementing a process where new laws go past big business before they go to Parliament.

There can be little doubt that the decline of our democracy would be even more ‘terminal’ under deals such as TTIP. If you care about the upcoming election, or wish there could be more of a choice to make, join the movement to stop TTIP on 18 April.

There are alternatives to corporate rule. Across Southern Europe newly popular parties such as Syriza and Podemos are showing how social movements, rather than big business, can form the base of power. Across the world, from Germany to Puerto Rico, communities have shown how we can take back control of our energy by building sustainable and democratic energy projects.

The outcome of the general election is no doubt important. But faith in our democracy lies beyond the outcome of 7 May. If we want a truly democratic society, now is the time to push back against corporate power and put the control of our lives back in the hands of the people.  

Morten Thaysen works in Global Justice Now’s communications team and is an activist with Fuel Poverty Action and Reclaim the Power. He tweets as @viabank

See New Internationalist’s guide ‘Ten reasons to be worried about the trojan treaties’

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