The International Context of Global Outrage (3/5)

From the Arab Spring to the Indignados movement to Occupy Wall Street

10 January 2012 by Eric Toussaint

Living conditions in Tunisia and Egypt, neither of which export raw materials, or only marginally, have worsened over recent years. The resulting civil protest has been met with brutal repression. In Tunisia first, this led to a mass reaction, which quickly took on a political dimension. People gathered in the streets and squares to face the forces of repression, which left 300 dead, and demanded the departure of the dictator, Ben Ali. He was forced to step down on 14 January 2011. From 25 January 2011 on, the movement spread to Egypt where the population had been subjected to decades of neoliberal counter-reforms dictated by the World Bank World Bank
The World Bank was founded as part of the new international monetary system set up at Bretton Woods in 1944. Its capital is provided by member states’ contributions and loans on the international money markets. It financed public and private projects in Third World and East European countries.

It consists of several closely associated institutions, among which :

1. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD, 189 members in 2017), which provides loans in productive sectors such as farming or energy ;

2. The International Development Association (IDA, 159 members in 1997), which provides less advanced countries with long-term loans (35-40 years) at very low interest (1%) ;

3. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), which provides both loan and equity finance for business ventures in developing countries.

As Third World Debt gets worse, the World Bank (along with the IMF) tends to adopt a macro-economic perspective. For instance, it enforces adjustment policies that are intended to balance heavily indebted countries’ payments. The World Bank advises those countries that have to undergo the IMF’s therapy on such matters as how to reduce budget deficits, round up savings, enduce foreign investors to settle within their borders, or free prices and exchange rates.

and the IMF IMF
International Monetary Fund
Along with the World Bank, the IMF was founded on the day the Bretton Woods Agreements were signed. Its first mission was to support the new system of standard exchange rates.

When the Bretton Wood fixed rates system came to an end in 1971, the main function of the IMF became that of being both policeman and fireman for global capital: it acts as policeman when it enforces its Structural Adjustment Policies and as fireman when it steps in to help out governments in risk of defaulting on debt repayments.

As for the World Bank, a weighted voting system operates: depending on the amount paid as contribution by each member state. 85% of the votes is required to modify the IMF Charter (which means that the USA with 17,68% % of the votes has a de facto veto on any change).

The institution is dominated by five countries: the United States (16,74%), Japan (6,23%), Germany (5,81%), France (4,29%) and the UK (4,29%).
The other 183 member countries are divided into groups led by one country. The most important one (6,57% of the votes) is led by Belgium. The least important group of countries (1,55% of the votes) is led by Gabon and brings together African countries.
, with a dictatorial regime allied, like Tunisia’s, to the major Western powers — as well as being totally compromised by an alliance with the Israeli government. On 11 February 2011, less than a month after Ben Ali’s demise, Moubarak too was obliged to resign from office. Repression clamped down on other countries in the region as civic unrest spread like wildfire. The process of struggle throughout the region is far from over. In Tunisia and Egypt, the ruling classes, helped by the major Western powers, are trying to control the situation to prevent the movement from becoming a full-blown social revolution.

The wind of rebellion has swept across the Mediterranean from North Africa towards southern Europe. In Portugal, on 12 March 2011, hundreds of thousands of temporary workers demonstrated in the streets but the movement did not last. On 15 May, the protest reached Spain and carried on until 23 July, before escalating to a global level on 15 October 2011. Meanwhile, the movement had reached Greece from 24 May 2011. Puerta del Sol Square in Madrid, Catalunya Square in Barcelona, Syntagma Square in Athens and hundreds of other squares in Spain and Greece vibrated to the same rythms in June 2011. In July and August, social protest also shook Israel: the Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv was occupied but with no threat to the government and without seeking to connect with the Palestinian cause. In September, the movement crossed the Atlantic. From the East Coast of the United States, where it started in New York and Wall Street, it spread over a large part of U.S. territory to the West Coast where Oakland was the site of the most radical action. On 15 October 2011, the date fixed by the Indignados movement in Spain, over a million people were demonstrating around the world, from Japan to the West Coast of the United States, mainly in the highly industrialised countries. The most imposing of the 15 October demonstrations were those in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Athens and Rome. In Spain, where the action started, almost half a million demonstrators marched through the streets of about 80 different towns, including at least 200,000 in Madrid. Demonstrations took place in the planet’s main two finance centres, New York and London, as part of this vast movement. In over 80 countries and nearly a thousand different cities, hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, marched in protest against the way governments were dealing with the international economic crisis. Governments had rushed to the aid of the private institutions who were responsible for the collapse and who were taking advantage of the crisis to enforce neoliberal policies such as massive redundancies in the public sector, drastic cuts in social spending, massive privatization, measures undermining collective solidarity (cutting retirement pensions and unemployment benefits, sabotaging negotiated agreements between employers and workers, and so on.) Everywhere the need to repay the public debt is the pretext invoked to justify increased austerity measures. Everywhere demonstrators condemn the banks.
There is no permanent organization behind this movement and it has not sought to establish any kind of international coordination; nevertheless, communication is clearly functioning well.

Translated by Vicki Briault in collaboration with Christine Pagnoulle

Éric Toussaint, Ph.D in political science, President of CADTM Belgium, member of the International Council of the World Social Forum since it was created, and of the Scientific Committee of ATTAC France. Author with Damien Millet of Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank, Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Montly Review Press, New-York, 2010; editor (with Damien Millet) of La Dette ou la Vie (Debt or Life), Aden-CADTM, 2011. Contributor to Le piège de la dette publique. Comment s’en sortir (How to escape from the of public debt trap), Paris: Les liens qui libèrent, 2011.

Eric Toussaint

is a historian and political scientist who completed his Ph.D. at the universities of Paris VIII and Liège, is the spokesperson of the CADTM International, and sits on the Scientific Council of ATTAC France.
He is the author of Greece 2015: there was an alternative. London: Resistance Books / IIRE / CADTM, 2020 , Debt System (Haymarket books, Chicago, 2019), Bankocracy (2015); The Life and Crimes of an Exemplary Man (2014); Glance in the Rear View Mirror. Neoliberal Ideology From its Origins to the Present, Haymarket books, Chicago, 2012, etc.
See his bibliography:
He co-authored World debt figures 2015 with Pierre Gottiniaux, Daniel Munevar and Antonio Sanabria (2015); and with Damien Millet Debt, the IMF, and the World Bank: Sixty Questions, Sixty Answers, Monthly Review Books, New York, 2010. He was the scientific coordinator of the Greek Truth Commission on Public Debt from April 2015 to November 2015.

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