States of Unrest
‘Human beings are more than a market. Neo-liberalism has been a failure because it denies human dignity.’ – Newly elected President Nicanor Duarte Frutos’ inauguration speech
In June 2002, thousands of campesinos, students and trade union activists blocked roads in the Paraguayan countryside and in front of the Congress in the capital, Asunción, demanding the repeal of a privatization law implemented under pressure from the IMF.
‘The only thing lacking is for us to pull down the Argentine flag and replace it with the IMF’s.’ – Alfredo Avelin, Governor of San Juan
On 26 June 2002, over 50 people were arrested, 15 injured and 2 shot dead in violent protests against the Government and IMF. Riot police used teargas, rubber bullets and batons to disperse protesters, who took to the streets just before Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna was due to travel to Washington to meet IMF officials. On 14 November of the same year, the Government announced it was ‘postponing’ debt repayments to the World Bank in the wake of mass protests throughout the country.
‘Now let somebody out there tell us, having privatized 80 per cent of our economy, why is it that we have become one of the poorest countries in Africa and the whole world?’ – Joyce Nonde, President, Zambia Federation of Free Trade Unions (FFTUZ)
No-one can accuse Zambia of failing to swallow the difficult economic medicine prescribed by the IMF and World Bank. In the past decade Zambia, now the world’s 12th-poorest country, has privatized 257 out of 280 state firms. President Levy Mwanawasa admits that ‘there has been no significant benefit to the country’ and that ‘privatization of crucial state enterprises has led to poverty, asset stripping and job losses’.
Emily Sikazwe of leading Zambian NGO Women for Change put it more succinctly when she said: ‘The IMF are killing us, especially women and children.’ Sikazwe was one of scores of protesters who, in April 2000, were dispersed by armed riot police in the Zambian capital Lusaka after attempting to picket a hotel where IMF officials were meeting.
2002 saw famine hit many parts of Southern Africa. By May the President declared Zambia’s food shortage a national disaster, as four million people faced starvation. Yet in 2002 the IMF repeated its demand for privatization of the Zambian National Commerce Bank. After a campaign of strong opposition by trade unions President Mwanawasa halted the sell-off. IMF resident representative to Zambia Mark Ellyne immediately reacted by threatening to withhold over a billion dollars of debt relief, a sum equivalent to a quarter of the country’s GDP.
Thousands took to the streets of Lusaka to support the President’s decision, to oppose the IMF and to call a halt to other privatizations.
‘This is a game they are playing. The game is called privatization. IMF wants to privatize social security. The Government thinks we don’t even deserve retirement.’ – Sevil Erol, Secretary-General, Confederation of Public Sector Unions (KESK)
The 2001 economic crisis in Turkey forced the Government to agree to a massive adjustment package with the IMF including ‘restructuring the banking sector, improving budget transparency, and preparing the privatization of state-owned enterprises [including steel, electricity, airline and telecom companies]’. Bayram Meral, President of Turkey’s largest union confederation said: ‘The policies of the IMF and the World Bank do not aim to help Turkey but to assure that Turkey can pay its debts on time and in full.’ In November of that year thousands demonstrated in the city’s capital calling for an end to ‘the Government’s subservience to IMF policies’.
Austerity measures have sparked massive protests throughout the country in recent years as major IMF-backed privatization deals have been met with fierce public opposition. Despite public and parliamentary pressure, the Government recently signed on for further IMF loans with promises to accelerate privatization.
‘Public services are the property of the nation. It is not acceptable to sell people’s property without their permission or agreement.’ – Lee Sang-Youn, Director, Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU)
Tens of thousands of trade union activists have been routinely demonstrating in the country against a host of IMF- and World Bank-backed ‘structural reforms’ which have led to massive job losses, wage cuts and removal of workers’ rights.
On 11 July 2002, trade union members demonstrated in Lahore against mounting unemployment, rising inflation, and the Government’s privatization policy. The Pakistan Workers Confederation decried the ‘policies formulated under the dictates of the IMF and World Bank, [which] have done colossal damage to the country.’
‘Senegalese ministers fear the World Bank more than God.’ – Madia Diop, former General Secretary, National Confederation of Senegalese Workers (CNTS)
‘In Senegal our resistance to World Bank and IMF liberalization policies is growing because we have seen what they do to the poor,’ says Demba Dembele of the Forum for African Alternatives. ‘For years the Senegalese Government resisted selling off our electricity company SENELEC because it plays a key role in the country’s development, and because private companies prefer to supply richer urban households than expand supply into poor rural areas. Our government finally agreed to sell SENELEC when it was made a loan condition, but there was strong union opposition because it violated an agreement guaranteeing State control. Eventually, under intense World Bank and IMF pressure, the Government falsely accused labour leaders of organizing a night-long power outage. The entire union leadership was arrested or sacked.
‘Then in 1999 Elyo Hydro-Quebec (EHQ) of Canada bought a third of SENELEC shares but took control of the Board – a key World Bank condition. The predicted benefits to the domestic economy did not materialize. There was no new investment, profits and management fees were transferred abroad and power outages increased, contributing to a slowdown of the economy resulting in huge job losses.
‘So our resistance strengthened, and we saw numerous strikes and demonstrations, some of which were suppressed with violence. The controversy played a big role in the defeat of the President during the 2000 elections. The new government took back control of SENELEC and reinstated the union leaders. The privatization was undemocratic and very costly, economically and socially, but since SENELEC was returned to public ownership, power outages have halved and the company has raised over US$15 million in the West African stock market. Although the World Bank acknowledged the huge costs to our country of the privatization, our new government is being “encouraged” to try again.’
Credits: Compiled by Adam Ma’anit and the World Development Movement (WDM). To obtain copies of the States of Unrest reports and to find out more about the World Development Movement, visit: http://www.wdm.org.uk/statesofunrest/
This article is from
the March 2004 issue
of New Internationalist.
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