Four emerging global changes that will shape the decade

28 November, 2020

Dockers at strike in Valparaiso, Chile, this week.

1The class struggle is growing globally driven by the attacks on workers’ living conditions aimed at reviving the profitability of companies during the recession. Two examples. In Tunisia, where the struggle began rising in spring, local general strikes keep occurring and overlap with the sector-wide strikes in a nonstop continuum. Furthermore, there are also strikes of special significance, like the one at the Gafsa phosphate plant, revolts in the city of Jelma, and mobilizations of the petty bourgeoisie (journalists, lawyers) in the capital. President Kais Saied promises to put an end to anarchy but is the very embodiment of impotence. In India, where 140 million workers are unemployed and wages are falling, the strikes are massive: bank workers, longshoremen and port workers, oil workers as well as electricity workers. The unions try to keep their leadership with national general strikes, but the truth is that the movement of struggles today is extremely wide in geography and in sectors, but also in its relationship with the unions and in capacities of self-organization.

In any case, an experience of mass struggle is being generated globally that is clashing with the unions when not drowning because of them. Now it is a question of seeing how this experience translates into advances in the class struggle or not, and these advances, in turn, into the workers being conscious of the means and possibilities of the struggles themselves. The development of political and militant expressions by the working class continues to be fundamental.

Berlin Tesla factory under accelerated construction.

2The green deal has been rolled out in Europe at a prodigious speed. The message: electrifying production whatever the cost. The German state multi-billion euro plans for the transition to the electric car were followed by the launch of massive investment plans by the energy companies in which green hydrogen plays a central role: EDF in France, in Spain Iberdrola (75 billion), Repsol (18 billion), Endesa (7.9 billion). Everything is seasoned with contracts of hundreds of millions, hydrogen production projects in Portugal, new mass investments in wind energy in Germany and Great Britain and electrolysis infrastructures for industrial areas. During the last two weeks, investments and subsidies of more than 200 billion euros to be developed during the next 3 years have been announced.

This is not a technological change, this is a technological rupture. The combustion engine is being deliberately turned off.

Gunnar Herrmann, director of Ford Germany.

The immediate question is how are they going to render that massive amount of capital profitable. Electric automotive technologies, the production of hydrogen as a fuel, or the replacement of natural gas plants with renewables, do not involve physical productivity gains. The point is not that more will be produced by exploiting less labor and resources. And yet the expected return, the productivity of the investments in terms of profit, according to what the companies are publishing would mean entering a real golden age for the capital invested. Where are the revenues that will cover that relative difference going to come from? Three clues.

The first is the reaction of the American automakers. The statements of the German director of Ford complained about how the big American companies, which are lagging behind in their electrical transition, were being pushed aside if not expelled by the new environmental regulations in Brussels. The drastic turnaround of General Motors in the US, withdrawing its support for Trump’s policy and aligning itself with Biden’s Green Deal corroborates the fear of the American giants to lose even more international markets.

All EDF’s profitable activities would be privatized by 35% while activities with massive investment demand would be made public.

Mediapart report on the restructuring of French public electricity company.

The second one, the restructuring of EDF and the strike that it has set in motion. In order to receive the massive capital allowed by the regulatory forced technological change, the company privatizes the operating branches while retaining a state-controlled core that will channel public investments. In other words: the state doubly subsidizes the profits of the capital invested in the company by renouncing a good part of its dividend. This would be trivial in itself: deals between capital groups and the state. But it has a direct consequence for the workers: the company breaks up into smaller units in which the working conditions of the new hires will no longer be the same. Green precariousness in the name of the supposedly common climate cause.

And finally the German experience or Israeli experience, and the last electric auctions in Spain make clear that electricity is going to be more expensive. For households in general, this means a direct tax which will have a direct impact on the increase in poverty. It is also a regressive tax because electricity consumption represents a higher percentage of the income for workers than for the rest of the social classes. But the effect of the new energy costs is not going to stop there. The rise in energy prices represents a supply shock that multiplies its costs in cascade throughout the productive chain. Only the large industrial companies will be left out, that is to say, the large industrial companies and the construction companies. In other words: electrification means a massive transfer of income from workers to capital and from services, small industry and agriculture to large capital and investment applications.

NATO maneuvers

3The supposed return to multilateralism will not halt the trade war or reduce military tensions. The evolution in the Asia-Pacific zone is proving to be very instructive. After the signing of the RCEP, which creates the world’s largest free trade zone around China, China’s retaliation against Australia has not yielded an inch. Ships filled with Australian coal remain at anchor in Chinese ports. Australian wine has just suffered a tariff of 200% which does not augur well for one of Australia’s main agricultural exports. Relations between Japan and China, on the other hand, which seemed to be boosted by the treaty and, above all, by the positive impact of Chinese demand on Japanese big industries, seem to be increasingly poisoned by territorial disputes at sea and by Japanese military and armament efforts.

The reform plans of the NATO are no less illustrative: the confrontation of interests is taken for granted and an attempt is made to maintain the validity of a common goal by allowing internal coalitions and allowing joint actions even with the opposition of some members, thus putting an end to the practice of consensus. Obviously, they are afraid of seeing in the military organization the process of decay that we see in the EU and that Poland and Hungary are now leading. In Mercosur we have been seeing a similar idea of reform underway… which is what makes it possible, on the other hand, for Argentina to push for the integration of Bolivia.

The global context is that of an apparent development of multilateralism which is in fact the minimum grouping necessary to ensure the coherence of different sets of contradictory bilateral agreements. In reality, the RCEP does not create a homogeneous market, not even the conditions of access of the members to the market of the other countries are equal for everyone. It is a set of pre-existing bilateral agreements to which the consequences of each agreement between a specific pair of countries have been limited for the other partners without reducing more than marginally the heterogeneity of the relations and their rules. NATO evolves to provide a lax global framework to different internal alliances and to the US military relations with each of the other members. Mercosur will allow for à la carte agreements with third countries and bilateral agreements between members beyond the increasingly weak common framework. The EU, bound by the treaties, is paralyzed by the contradictory choice between allowing advances and new treaties only for some states and incorporating decision mechanisms by majority.

Emancipation age in the different EU members

4The cultural transformations that the now accelerating crisis is imposing on the entire world are increasingly tangible and express global contradictions in different ways. Young workers are at the center of many of them. A clear example is the age of leaving their parent’s house (emancipation). In Europe, the national capitals that have managed to dampen down the latest recessions with the greatest success have managed to keep this age close to the age of majority. In Sweden during the last decade it has always been below 18 and in Denmark it is around 20. But in Germany or France, although it has not yet reached 24, it tends to rise while still not reaching the levels of the European South.

This week in Spain a report showing that 82.7% of the population aged 25 years old still lives with their parents was published. The age of emancipation in Spain -29.5 years-, like the Portuguese, Croatian or Italian ages would deserve the consideration of social pathology insofar as it expresses that the level of precarization reached by the young generations of workers has produced an abysmal fall in both income and life expectations. The most frequent salary in the total of salaries is already 16% lower than the average pension of a new retiree. To stop the erosion of living standards the average working family has no choice but to pool income and subsidize young people by using the salaries and pensions of their parents and grandparents. The result is not only an illusion of income among young people, it is a deprivation: they do not live an longed youth, but they see their personal development blunted by a forced dependency.

In semicolonial countries the option to stay at home is not possible without endangering the very survival of the family nucleus. The result: migration at the cost, many times, of one’s own life. But the question is not where it is worse for a worker to be young. Obviously, it will be worse in the weaker capitals needing to impose increasingly draconian conditions to maintain their profitability. The question is who sets the trend and how fast it develops. And in this, as in everything else, the horizon only highlights the need to overcome this system now.

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