IBON International, the Ecumenical Institution for Labor Education and Research (EILER), International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS), and NNARA-Youth hosted the 2023 International Situation Forum last Friday, May 19, 2023 at Vinzons Hall, University of the Philippines.
With the call “Assert a People-Centered Development,” the forum delved into the systemic barriers faced by people globally amidst the “polycrisis” of connected and cascading crises today. The forum looked into how many development challenges are due to the persistent dominance of neoliberal economic policies. It also took up how the economic and geopolitical interests of the United States (US) and other global powers impact on multiple crises, wars, and acts of aggression. This provided crucial context for understanding the struggles for rights and sovereignty in the Philippines and the wider global South.
The forum started with Jennifer Malonzo, Executive Director of IBON International, emphasizing how the three years of the pandemic exposed as well as intensified trends related to debt, climate change, inflation, unemployment, inadequate wages, poverty, food scarcity, and conflicts. These interconnected crises have gained significant attention in policymaking circles.
Malonzo also shared how there is no “post-pandemic recovery” and, instead, the worsening of pre-existing inequalities. The wealth gap is striking with the richest 10% of the global population holding a massive 76% of total global income, leaving a disproportionately small share for the poorest half of humanity. The COVID-19 pandemic further widened the chasm of inequality. The richest 1% has accumulated an astonishing US$26 trillion since 2020, representing 63% of all new wealth generated during this period. Meanwhile, the remaining 99% of the population experienced dwindling incomes which exacerbated the struggles faced by individuals and families.
People across the globe but especially in the global South endure persistently dire living conditions. Healthcare, clean water, and essential public services are increasingly costly and out of reach for them. Adding to their plight, they often bear the weight of newly imposed taxes that governments levy to repay burdensome foreign debts. Instead of tackling unemployment head-on with structural reforms, governments often leave workers with no choice but to migrate and actually promote labor export despite the prevalence of abuse and human trafficking (IBON International, 2023).
“Amid crises, monopoly capitalists are exploring “new markets”. The digital economy, based on the accumulation and exploitation of data for profit, is one example. This “market” is monopolised by big technology corporations based in the US as well as in China. Even the climate crisis is exploited to peddle unproven so-called green technology, Malonzo said.
“The biggest transnational corporations profiting off crises – from finance, agriculture, arms to technology – are based in the US. One study showed that from 1960 to 2017, the global North squeezed around US$152 trillion from the global South, with the largest share (US$18 trillion) going to the US. Neoliberal policies enforced at the national level have facilitated these, such as in the Philippines where workers suffer lower wages and informal conditions,” Malonzo continued.
In her sharing, Liza Maza of ILPS emphasized the dominance of the United States (US) in global military expenditures, despite the numerous crises unfolding. She also shed light on how the conflicting interests among the US, China, and Russia results in economic blocs around regional trade and investment deals as well as in conflicts.
The US’s prominent role within NATO, for instance, fueled aggressive posturing that created fertile ground for the Ukraine war. In the Asia-Pacific region, US military forces have been expanding their presence by establishing bases and deploying troops to counter the influence of China. Paradoxically, while doing so, they lend support to repressive elite dictatorships that sow division and discord among the people. This emboldens security forces to suppress activists, trade unionists, indigenous communities, and human rights defenders. Ultimately, the warmongering tendencies are a lucrative enterprise for US arms corporations, in effect making the repression of working people and communities that resist a profitable venture for foreign big business (IBON International, 2023).
“The United States (US) maintains a huge military budget which is higher than the combined military budget of the next nine (9) countries in the list of top military spenders in the world. In an increasingly multipolar world, the US remains to be the most plunderous, aggressive, and war-like hegemon. Across the globe, the working people are resisting the impacts of neoliberal polices and are protesting against wars and preparations for wars,” Maza said.
Rochelle Porras, Executive Director of EILER, talked about the condition of the world’s working population amid the “polycrisis.” “Neoliberalization is the capitalists’ response to the escalating crisis of monopoly capitalism. Trade unions and women unionists play an essential role in defending workers and promoting safe and healthy workplaces, decent work with living wages, in closing the gender wage gap, and changing the system,” Porras said.
Adding to this, IBON International’s report on the international situation highlights the widening inequalities faced by the global working population. It revealed the concerning trend of wages consistently falling behind inflation, and of a steady decrease in labor’s share to total national income. This phenomenon can be traced back to the 1980s when economic liberalization and privatization gained momentum.
Interestingly, the onset of the pandemic temporarily disrupted this trend as reduced corporate profits during lockdowns led to a slight increase in labor’s share in total incomes. However, as business activities resumed, the downward trajectory also resumed, underscoring the persistence of this troubling trend.
Moreover, the report sheds light on the alarming rise in global unemployment. In 2022 alone, the number of unemployed individuals reached a staggering 207 million, marking a significant increase of 21 million compared to 2019. This surge in unemployment adversely impacts on women in particular, with an additional 435 million women and girls falling into extreme poverty. Women in the global South are disproportionately affected and face the brunt of rising living costs and precarious employment.
In the Philippines, labor rights violations heightened with increasing impunity particularly under former President Rodrigo Duterte. This is reflected in the Philippines being listed as one of the ten worst countries for workers in the International Trade Union Confederation Global Rights Index in the past six years.
According to the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), there were 56 cases of extrajudicial killings (EJK), 29 cases of harassment and intimidation, 6 cases of enforced disappearances, 4 cases of illegal detention, and 27 cases of incarceration on trumped-up charges of agricultural workers, trade unionists and labor rights defenders under the Duterte administration. Aside from these, the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) went from factory to factory in a red-tagging spree to vilify unionism and coerce workers to disaffiliate from unions.
In the midst of these interconnected crises, the Council for People’s Development and Governance (CPDG) firmly advocates for a development approach that prioritizes the well-being of the people. Central to this approach is the simultaneous promotion of human rights and social justice. CPDG recognizes the importance of poverty reduction efforts that specifically aim to improve the living conditions of the majority of impoverished Philippines population. This can be achieved through a genuinely redistributive agrarian reform program that effectively addresses issues of landlessness and tenancy.
Furthermore, CPDG emphasizes the importance of providing decent work opportunities and fair wages, as well as implementing comprehensive national economic development plans that are both nationally-owned and democratically adopted, ensuring that they truly serve the best interests of the people. CPDG also highlights the need for food security through sustainable agricultural practices and the principle of food sovereignty.
In line with the pursuit of equality, CPDG is committed to advancing gender equality and empowering women. Additionally, CPDG recognizes the urgency of environmental sustainability with a strong emphasis on climate justice and community resilience.
By embracing these principles and pursuing a people-centered development agenda, CPDG aims to address the multifaceted challenges faced by society and work towards a more equitable, just, and sustainable future for all. #eof#
IBON International. (May 2023). International Situation 2023: Recession, Rivalry, Resistance. Retrieved from https://iboninternational.org/download/international-situation-2023/