Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Global Struggles and Debates Continue Around Rising Fuel and Food Prices

Global Struggles and Debates Continue Around Rising Fuel and Food Prices

FAO, African Economic Summit convene amid growing crises and unrest

by Abayomi Azikiwe, Editor
Pan-African News Wire

International concern is mounting rapidly over the rise in fuel and food prices. Demonstrations in western Europe by the truckers and fishing unions have brought the stark realities of the current economic downturn to the attention of the rulers of the industrialized countries and their allies among the elites in the developing regions of the world.

In various geo-political areas throughout the globe, people have been propelled into political and labor actions to demonstrate their concern over the deteriorating social situations that workers find themselves in not only in the so-called Third World but increasingly within the capitalist states. This precipitous decline in real wages and consequently living standards, is also related to the ongoing militarist policies engineered by the United States and Britain and taken up by France, Germany, Canada, Australia and others.

The $700 billion plus annual US military budget and the Bush administration's continuing occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan has squandered enormous material and human resources throughout the world. In addition, the insatiable greed of the capitlist rulers has created the largest transferral of wealth from working class and poor to the rich in modern human history. This massive appropriation of the wealth and labor of working people and the poor took place as well in the United States through the massive tax cuts for the rich coupled with the draconian evisceration in funding for social programs, public works, health care and education.

As it relates to the so-called subprime mortgage mess, many European and Asian capitalist countries have been deeply affected by this crisis. Financial institutions within Europe specifically have invested in the unscrupulous practices of the American mortgage industry and the banks. The failure of the banking polices in the real estate market has resulted in the foreclosures of as many as two million households. This foreclosure and eviction epidemic is not only taking place in the urban areas, although it is most evident there, it is also occuring in the more affluent suburban communities where the real estate boom of the 1990s and early 2000s has come to a grinding halt.

Fuel price hikes spark food crisis in Europe and the world

Meanwhile in western Europe, trucker's unions took militant actions during the month of May and June. On June 9 lorry drivers in Spain utilized their vehicles to block highways linked with neighboring France.

The truckers announced in Spain that they would be on strike until the government took action to lower fuel prices which have had a devastating impact on their ability to earn a living. These drivers obstructed passage on to AP-7, beginning in Catalonia in the northeast leading to the border with France. These actions brought traffic to a halt on the A-3 around Ribarroja located in the eastern province of Valencia.

In addition, these drivers with their vehicles, sealed off industrial estates further north along the Mediterranean coast at Sagunto and in Castellon. As a result markets closed in Benicarlo and Vinaros, while other blockades were planned to shut down a major route leading into Barcelona. In the Basque country, there were news reports on June 10 that strikers had thrown stones at vehicles attempting to cross their picket lines.

With plans to continue the strike through the week, people have rushed to the petrol stations and markets to stock up on gasoline and food. The Guardian in the UK reported that: "If the strike endures it could paralyse the distribution of fresh produce across the country. Supermarkets chains Eroski and Carrefour said they had also stocked up on supplies ahead of the strike."

In another report issued on June 10 and published in the BBC News, it says of the lorry drivers that: "Most of the 90,000 hauliers participating in the strike are self-employed, or working for small and medium-sized haulage companies, and they have warned that many supermarkets will run out of goods within days. Petrol supplies may also be disrupted."

Just the week before, an international conference organzied by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) was held in Rome, Italy. The conference addressed the growing problems of rising food prices and cited the rapid increase in the cost of oil as being a major factor. The FAO conference concluded that some action must be taken to address this mounting crisis. However, these policy prescriptions did not come with methods to compel the major culprits to change their activities which seek to maximize profits at the expense of the welfare of the working people, farmers and the poor.

In an address to the FAO conference in Rome delivered by the Republic of South Africa's Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, she attempts to address the responsibility of the western industrialized countries in recorrecting the problems associated with the global food crisis. Deputy President Mlambo-Ngcuka stated in her address to the conference that: "We all call upon development partners to channel more development assistance in the area of agricultural production as well as assist member states to reduce their food import bills by supporting the already identified programmes. This renewed focus should target investments in agricultural production, irrigation infrastructure, access to fertiliser and seeds, agro-processing and market development including extension services, general human resources and meaningful involvement of women."

Deputy President Mlambo-Ngcuka also reflected the concerns of many people within the developing world in regard to the efforts being taken by multi-national corporations to develop alternative bio-fuels by utilizing food grown specifically for its conversion to energy sources that can power machine technologies. The Deputy President of South Africa said that: "It is the view of my delegation that the production of bio-energy should not be allowed to negatively affect food security nor the land tenure of smallholders and agro- biodiversity. We should support efforts to continue to conduct research and strengthen collaboration and partnerships to promote sustainable production systems."

Several days after the beginning of the FAO conference in Rome, another summit was held in Cape Town, South Africa called by the World Economic Forum whose central headquarters is in Davos, Switzerland. The WEF has been a source of controversy for many years. The World Social Forum is, at least in part, a response to the pro-capitalist character of the WEF. The 18th World Economic Forum on Africa (WEFA) featured a host of leaders of governments, non-governmental organizations as well as prive corporations.

South African President Thabo Mbeki addressed the WEFA and emphasized the positive aspects of the African experience over the last several years. President Mbeki told the Forum in Cape Town that: "There is much better clarity in the political leadership on the continent about where we need to go. There is greater clarity on how to respond to economic challenges. And there is an appreciation of the need to deal with conflict."

However, if the actual players who occupy the structures of the World Economic Forum on Africa are examined, it becomes quite clear they are the same players who have created the international crisis that has affected billions of people throughout the world. For example the co-chair of the WEFA is E. Neville Isdell, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Coca-Cola Company in the United States. Isdell said at the WEFA that "it is crucial for Africa to leverage its comparative advantages and reinvest its gains to enable it to move up the value-chain. To do this, business needs to join with government and civil society to improve skills."

In other words, the capitalist countries and their institutions continue to absolve themselves of responsibility for the current crisis in food production and distrubtion and the relationship between these problems and the quest for megaprofits within the oil industry. The reason why these capitalist nations are rich is because they have, and continue to exploit the land, labor and resources of the peoples of the Global South. Consequently, in order to solve this problem of unequal control and dominance by the industrialized capitalist countries, there must be a radical redistribution of wealth and resources within the contemporary world. Of course the capitalist themselves will never admit or acknowledge this and therefore the national and class struggles will continue throughout the world around these fundamental issues of wealth and political control.

The newly-elected President of the African National Congress (ANC) and the possible successor to Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, also addressed the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town during early June. Zuma spoke directly to the severity of the escalating problem of food deficits being aggravated by the rising fuel prices. Zuma said to the Cape Town gathering that: "The issue of food prices is actually a time bomb. With those who have the budgets to adjust [its] one thing. But with those who have no money to buy at all, once the food price goes up, they are cut out, even from the possibility of buying food. Then you are sitting with a situation that an uprising would emerge."

According to the South African Globe & Mail Newspaper published on June 5, "Zuma was speaking against the background of a global doubling in the price of wheat in the past year, and an almost 80% hike in the African and Asian staples maize and rice over the same period. Soaring food costs have already sparked riots in Egypt, Indonesia, Cameroon, Peru and Haiti."

In a recently released reported published by the Organization for Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the FAO entitled: "OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook, 2008-2017", it states that the assumption that food prices will reach a peak in the not to distant future and then decline may be based on false assumptions that things will remain relatively stable politically and economically throughout the international community. Yet the underlying fear of instability comes across in the report.

The Outlook states that: "The recent spike in food commodity prices surprised most economic forecasters, reminding us of the inherent vulnerability of projections to unanticipated developments. The baseline assumptions of normal weather and stable economic performance are necessary, but the future will not follow that smooth path. Negative and positive yield shocks that reduce or raise income, alter exchange rates, and induce or limit inflation. Similarly there is growing discussion over whether governments will continue to subsidize the conversion of food commodities to biofuel production with the same enthusiasm as during recent years."

It is the erosion of these assumptions within the capitalist world that has created the current instability in the food production industry throughout the world. In addition, the disproportionate influence of the multi-national oil companies and the banking and financial sectors will ultimately be addressed in a more systematic and coordinated manner so that people can effectively set policies where they can produce food based upon their need and not on the drive for increasing rates of profit.

Wither the United States?

As the further decline in the prospects for a rapid recovery from the recession that is deeply affecting the working people and the poor of the United States becomes apparent to growing numbers within the population, the people inside the country will be further impoverished through the declining value of the dollar along with the sharp rise in fuel, energy and food prices. It becomes apparent that the people must take action independently to raise these issues to the forefront of political discussion.

The current presidential race in the United States has not taken up in a serious fashion the deepening crisis in food production and rising fuel and energy prices. The corporate media is heavily responsible for these non-debates among candidates where the principal issues for discussion have centered around what church the candidates attends and the purported controversial statements their pastors have made to their congregations.

Critical issues such as the ending of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ongoing military occupation of Somalia, the increasing gap between rich and poor in the world as well as the United States, are continuously ignored by the corporate press and the politicians. It will inevitably require a serious effort on the part of the people's representatives to bring these political, economic and social issues to the forefront.

With the release of national economic statistics in the United States for the month of May, it revealed that some 49,000 people had officially lost their jobs during this time period. The statistics also revealed that the official unemployment rate is 5.5%, meaning that 8.5 million people are looking for work and cannot find it. The statistics also revealed that among African-Americans the unemployment rate is officially placed at 9.7%. What was striking as well was that since January of 2008, some 324,000 people have lost their jobs.

These statistics are taking place amid unprecedented rises in fuel prices over a relatively short period of time. In face of rising prices, the United States Federal Reserve has finally mentioned the word "inflation" in a report delivered by the Chair Ben Barnake. As a result of the inflationary pressures being placed on the US economy, it is feared that there will be a further tightening of credit directed toward working class families who have already suffered the most under the collapse of the mortgage industry.

Although these statistics reveal the official figures released by the United States Government, in all liklihood the actual numbers are much higher. Consequently, in order for these problems to be addressed there has to be an organized intervention among key elements of the American population. Acting in conjunction with the growing struggles among working class, poor and other struggling segments of the populations worldwide, the people inside the US must recognize that their mythical but deadly war against "terrorism" is merely a mask to further repress and exploit those peoples internally and externally who are subjected to constant lies and propaganda from the corporate and government controlled media.

It is essential that key elements among the working class, nationally oppressed and poor take charge of the struggle to reverse this crisis. There will no fundamental change in the United States or worldwide without this prospective response from the grassroots level. The sooner this realization occurs the closer the world will be to resolving and reversing the ever increasing crisis in capitalist globalization.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire. Articles from this news service have been reprinted in publications and web sites throughout the international community.

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