By our European Affairs correspondent
American President Barack Obama stressed the "sense of urgency" needed to confront the global economic crisis in talks with Gordon Brown ahead of the G20 summit of world leaders in London. But outside the sealed-off conference centre in London’s Docklands anti-capitalist protesters clashed with the police in the financial centre of the capital while angry French workers in Grenoble seized control of their plant offices taking four managers hostage.
Brown hoped to use the summit he called to build a common imperialist platform of measures to deal with the global slump. But it was unravelling before it even started with Franco-German imperialism demanding stricter international financial regulation and decidedly cool towards the Anglo-American ‘monetarist’ economic model, which they blame for the sub-prime crisis that triggered the great stock market crash last year.
The British Government wants China to pump vast sums of money into the international financial institutions of capitalism in return for more votes on the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank while Third World leaders want reform of the World Trade Organisation which has been dominated for far too long by American imperialism.
President Obama said that the world was facing the most severe economic crisis since the Second World War. The new chief of American imperialism called on the G20 to reject protectionism and support emerging markets, and called for countries to work together. This was dutifully repeated by Brown who said global solutions were needed for global problems while talking up Britain’s imaginary “special relationship” with the United States, which he said, would be a "partnership of purpose".
In public the Western leaders are trying to talk up the markets with their usual platitudes. In private there’s no doubt that they have little up their sleeves apart from letting the slump take its course peppered with a touch of social Keynesianism to sweeten the bitter pill of austerity for the working class that they expect, as always, to pay for the crisis of the exploiters’ own making.
But there’s also increasing fear of political crisis and uncontrollable Athens-type social unrest as protests against job and welfare cuts sweep Europe. The reactionary Czech government collapsed last week after four maverick MPs joined the opposition Social Democrats and Communists in a vote of no confidence in parliament. And French bosses got a warning of the shape of things to come when four of them were seized by workers at the Caterpillar factory in Grenoble.
"We are holding them in the director's office," union official Benoit Nicolas told the media. The hostages included the factory director and the head of human resources. "They are a little shocked," Nicolas said. The workers at the American plant walked out and took direct action on Tuesday following the news of over 700 lay-offs on pitiful redundancy terms. The Caterpillar workers are demanding a minimum of 30,000 euros [£27,800] each in redundancy payments, three times what’s on the table at the moment.
“There is no violence or sequestration, but simply pressure so they restart negotiations,” CGT union representative Pierre Piccarreta said. "At a time when the company is making a profit and distributing dividends to shareholders, we want to find a favourable outcome for all the workers and know as quickly as possible where we are going."
Bossnapping” is a French workers’ tradition which was popular during the wave of protests back in 1968. Last March the boss of Sony France was trapped in a conference room by workers demanding better severance terms and the head of a factory run by 3M, the giant American multinational, was held for two days by striking workers.
The Grenoble region has been hit by a wave of factory closures, re-structuring, and temporary lay-offs and the spirit of resistance is running high. French workers rightly say that if there’s money to bail out the banks then some of it must be used to keep manufacturing going and that money could come from the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund. While top executives continue to fill their boots with bonuses, like in Britain, more and more French workers are being given their cards. Some 2.4 million are unemployed now and it can only get worse.
No amount of tinkering with the capitalist system can halt the slump which will crucify working people unless they fight back. Communists and the unions must move into an organised counter-attack across Europe and the world to defend the working class and build the fight for socialism.