Saturday, February 19, 2011

Structural Adjustment, USA

Without exception, everywhere in the world that the IMF's neoliberal "Structural Adjustment" program was implemented, it was met with massive public outrage and resistance. From Tanzania to Bolivia, no population took kindly to this obvious full-frontal attack on their living standards. The reasons for the public outrage were obvious: the masses of people did not want to accept massive cuts to basic services, huge layoffs of public sector workers, elimination of food subsidies, removal of environmental regulations, abolishment of minimum wage ordinances, or the curbing of trade union power. They didn't buy the patronizing, technocratic line coming from above that this "shock therapy" was what was best for them.

So how was "structural adjustment" pushed through if the masses were unified in their hatred of it? How did elites force its implementation on populations who didn't want it?

Well, this much is obvious: those implementing structural adjustment didn't bring it to a vote among local populations. The IMF didn't work through democratic channels one bit. How could it have? When you want do something that the vast majority of the population is against, it is clear that democracy is not the route you want to pursue. The population will say "no" and that will be that. It's no surprise, then, that some of the first "experiments" of this kind were in repressive countries like Egypt (the first country to undergo structural adjustment in the world). And even when it arrived in countries with stronger democratic institutions, it was pushed through just the same, whether or not the population liked it.

This is highly instructive in making sense of the concerted effort to break workplace democracy in Wisconsin, as well as Tennessee and Indiana and elsewhere. There is, as I've described elsewhere, a strong desire by ruling elites to push through punishing austerity cuts that will, in effect, deeply undermine the quality of life of the vast majority. Unsurprisingly, the vast working majority does not want this to happen.

Thus, unions, the only organs of workplace democracy, the only means of representation that working people have, are being targeted and attacked viscously. They are an obvious barrier standing in the way of pushing through harsh cuts and layoffs. They give working people a voice, a collective means of forcing uncaring capitalists to make concessions they're not keen on making. They are a small democratic check on the otherwise unchallenged power of employers.

But, as in the structural adjustment examples above, when you want to do something that the vast majority strongly opposes, you don't want to hear these voices. You don't want a democratic check on your power. You don't want to have to negotiate with those whose lives you are undermining. You want to just push the fucking thing through by any means necessary. You want to be able to pummel working people without facing any resistance.

Hence the concerted attack on unions and the entire idea of workplace democracy. The goal is to lay the groundwork for successfully pushing through "structural adjustment". That can only be pushed through after people are beaten down so thoroughly that they have no means of self-defense. This is a high-stakes battle. If the rich win, they will win similar battles elsewhere. But if they lose, that sets an important precedent and gives hope to millions all over the country (and, even, all over the world).


Anonymous said...

I think it's an interesting point to say that the US is undergoing IMF-style structural adjustment. I hadn't considered that before.

But in the Wisconsin case, it seems like this might not have happened if they hadn't voted for Scott Walker. You criticize the Democrats a great deal on this blog, but it seems like this is a case in which voting Democrat might actually have made a real progressive impact.

Anonymous said...

The Democrats in WI are only doing what they're doing because of the massive protests. Democrats can sometimes be responsive to social movements- but it would be a mistake to think that they're going to do the right thing if left to their own devices.

Anonymous said...

I often feel that the criticism of dems is well justified, but it's good to keep in mind that sometimes more forward thinking folks join their ranks because they don't see any other option.

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