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Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
Who Is GKN Trying to Kid with its Voluntary Redundancy Scheme?
Important International Anniversary:
Marking Africa Day 2020
The government behaves as if they have the right to decide everything and refuse to listen to workers speaking out. Experience is demonstrating that decision-making is done to favour the rich. Despite all medical and scientific warnings that the pandemic is far from over and the proposals to begin "business as usual" as soon as possible are bound to cost lives, the government is insisting that their actions are for the purpose of "protecting lives" but at the same time "minimising economic damage". Why this balancing act? Economic damage to whom? Should a responsible government not be putting protecting lives in contradiction with minimising economic damage? That whole logic is that saving lives is going to cause economic damage. Then what can be said to be the aim of the economy?
Boris Johnson is easing the lockdown, but with no scientific backing other than the advice of "business" that the economy needs to work. This is at a time when Britain has one of the worst records of Covid-19 deaths proportionally in Europe. When the lockdown was imposed on March 23, there were 74 daily deaths; now on May 28 there have been 377 daily deaths. The figures speak for themselves.
But primary schools in England are supposed to begin to reopen from this Monday, June 1, in the teeth of the opposition from teachers and their unions and many parents and concerned people. Not a few councils have announced that they will not allow schools to reopen on Monday. The government in Wales has ruled out schools reopening on June 1, while Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said that children will return to school on August 11. The test and trace system was also supposed to come into effect on Monday, June 1, but all the indications are that it will be inoperable.
What this means for the economy is that everything that was in crisis before is even further in crisis, while public funds have been directed at the global oligarchs, not even at the small and medium-sized businesses. And the working people are still bearing the brunt of the crisis. Working people have a right to demand that conditions at work are safe, as well as to demand that public transport is safe for the transport workers and is arranged so that working people who use this transport are not subjected to unsafe and crowded conditions.
Then there are the "fiscal policies for recovery". The government is selling record amounts of bonds (government debt) during the coronavirus pandemic. According to House of Commons briefing papers, the government debt may exceed £2 trillion by the end of the year, 85% of which has been sold, mainly to the financial institutions. In 2019/20, gross debt interest payments were £47 billion, £11 billion of which is paid, the briefing papers say, to the Bank of England, which has been engaging in Quantitative Easing (that is, itself buying debt from the financial institutions). The briefing papers report that 28% of the debt by value is held "overseas". It may be asked what this distinction means in the conditions where there is a global financial oligarchy. All this money to pay the rich through bailouts, loans and other means comes from the new value workers produce. At the very least, the workers should have a say in how this value is distributed.
Defence of and renovation of the public services themselves is on the agenda, and an urgent necessity. That has been brought sharply into focus by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. More generally, there is the urgent necessity for the renovation of how society operates so that workers are involved in decision-making at every level. The privatisation, fragmentation and "just-in-time" mode of operation of the NHS supply chain has been a major factor in the lack of facilities, including PPE, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. This mode of operation is not capable of responding to the scale of the illness, favouring as it does the competing private interests only, and has been opposed by the people and health staff best able to make the decisions. Those speaking out against this state of affairs have not been listened to, and even attempted to be silenced. Once the pandemic is brought under control, can the situation go back to how it was before? Everyone who is fighting for change has the firm answer that it must not be allowed. It is not consistent with the needs of the society and the right to health care.
Increased investments in social programmes and public services and enterprises that serve the people and economy are badly needed. The pandemic has made this perfectly clear. People are demanding that investment go to the health service, and education, immediately to meet the present requirements, but crucially for the future too. The ruling elite is only too willing to pay the rich, spend billions on war production and do everything to help the multinationals, which they say is helping the economy. But the people know that it is health, education and other public services which need to be invested in so that the economy is healthy and viable. This must be the way forward.
In fact, no one wants to go back to the way things were, the financial oligarchy because it wants to hold government debt at an ever greater level, the rich captains of industry because they see increased possibilities of receiving funds from the state treasury; and on the other hand, the working people, including small and medium-sized businesses, who want an economy that serves the people and in which they contribute to setting the direction, which is to provide what benefits society. Above all, the people aspire to renovate the relations of humans to humans, and strive for the power to do so. The measures that the government is taking over the economy in the conditions of the pandemic preserve the power of the financial oligarchy and its control over the state and its control over its own financial wealth.
Reopening without bringing into being a new beginning that takes into account the causes of the shutdown is bound to fail and inevitably lead to yet another crisis. The outlook of the ruling elite is that it should just be business as usual with the rich becoming richer, the poor poorer and the economy suffering its regular crises. The people's outlook on the other hand must be that the direction of the economy be provided with a new aim, that of serving the well-being of society and its members. Enough of the anarchy of production and the entrenchment of the block to people's empowerment! Let us look towards the decision-making of working people at every level, so that they can deal with problems as they arise, and chart the way forward to a modern economy which befits society in the 21st century. This is the opportunity to grasp this nettle!
Various major airlines are making mass redundancies in response to the fall in demand during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has precipitated a crisis in the industry. British Airways announced the loss of 12,000 employees on April 28; Ryanair said on May 1 that 3,000 jobs in Europe were to go; and on May 5, Virgin Atlantic stated that it was to shed 3,000 jobs in Britain and stop flying from Gatwick. Flybe, which had already been struggling for some time, ceased operations altogether on March 5.
Now easyJet has announced that it plans to make up to 30% of its workforce of 15,000 redundant. This comes after suspending all flights since March, placing most of its workers onto the furlough scheme, and on the back of staff taking pay cuts.
The company, which is set to restart flights on June 15, declared: "To effect the restructure of our business, easyJet will shortly launch an employee consultation process on proposals to reduce staff numbers by up to 30%, reflecting the reduced fleet, the optimisation of our network and bases, improved productivity as well as the promotion of more efficient ways of working."
"Productivity", from the company's narrow private perspective, means the bottom-line profit per hour of work employed. This profit is the added value appropriated by the company itself and paid to its owners of equity, its shareholders. This added-value itself is a claim on the total new value produced by the workers, part of which is claimed by workers as wages, benefits and pensions, or via the government as far as it funds social programmes. The remaining new value is the added-value, the total capitalist profit, divided between the holders of the company's equity and debt, and the government for its activities as the representative of capitalist interests.
It is the new value produced by the workers that is the source of profit; yet the company's narrow perspective treats that work as a cost to be cut. Although the product of aviation, and any transport industry, is not a tangible object, it is a very valuable commodity nonetheless.
The purpose of "optimisation" and "efficiency" is to attempt to produce the same bottom-line result with fewer staff. These are blanket terms to mean maximising their claim through a variety of means. They might pile on the pressure to work unpaid overtime, or work through breaks. They might also attempt to force concessions on the wages, benefits and pensions, influence the government to reduce corporate taxation, cut social programmes, or demand direct pay-the-rich schemes such as state subsidies. Finally, they might attempt to drive up the "productivity" of their workforce. Typically, this means increasing the rate of production through, on the one hand, technological solutions or changing how work is organised, and on the other, intensifying the work itself by applying pressure and demanding more of their employees.
In other words, such "restructuring" is about pushing the workforce to get more for less, and is an ultimately fruitless strategy. Where the changes are sustainable, they become generalised in the industry and the rate of return inevitably falls as the value of the product reduces as a result. Where unsustainable, staff either go into action over the concessions, or burn out. Furthermore, the productive forces are themselves destroyed wholesale, adding to the chaos in the economy as a whole.
Trade Unions' Response
Pilots' union BALPA condemned what it called an "ill-considered knee-jerk reaction", pointing to the company's own conservative projections of recovery by 2023.
BALPA General Secretary Brian Strutton said: "Before coronavirus the UK aviation industry was world leading. But now aviation workers are facing a tsunami of job losses. There is no more time for delay. The UK Government should follow the example set by others in Europe and around the world, recognise that aviation is vital to the UK economy and keep to the promise made by the Chancellor on March 17 to help airlines."
Lindsey Olliver, Unite easyJet officer, also labelled the move "an unnecessarily hasty decision". "The workforce is currently furloughed under the government's job retention scheme and the airline will continue to receive support until at least October. It has also received a government-backed loan of £600m and has committed to expenditure on new aircraft," she said.
There is a need for caution here, however, and workers need to be clear on sticking to their own perspective. The government is incurring a massive debt from private lenders during the pandemic. This is of significant concern, as a decade of austerity has brutally illustrated.
On the basis of vitality to the economy, industry and lenders are demanding huge handouts at this time.
"We realise that these are very difficult times and we are having to consider very difficult decisions which will impact our people, but we want to protect as many jobs as we can for the long-term," said chief executive Johan Lundgren. "We want to ensure that we emerge from the pandemic an even more competitive business than before, so that easyJet can thrive in the future."
In other words, we wish to amass as much profit as possible to ensure we have the greatest rate of return; this is what it means to be competitive, and it is for the workers' good too. But the implicit admission is that competition can no longer sort out which business, or even whole industries, are vital to exist.
The workers cannot be diverted into demanding state support for business with the aim of continued "business as usual", of the maximisation of profit and competitiveness.
State funding of whatever form comes from the public value that workers have produced. It is the workers, the producers, who should decide what this value is used for. They demand a say over what role aviation plays in the economy and how that economy is directed; they demand a say over their claims and conditions of work. It is the workers themselves who should decide what is vital, and further, what is meant by vital. What is vital is that which is aimed in favour of the public interest.
In this regard, the degree to which these companies are blinded to the public interest by their overriding pursuit of profit in their state of competition is revealed by their attempt to blame the measures to contain the virus. In particular, the industry is up in arms over the plans to quarantine those arriving from abroad for 14 days, due to come into force from June 8. Such attempts to derail the effort to control the pandemic in pursuit of private interests must be condemned. Workers must fight for their rights and dignity.
GKN is creating an "open voluntary" redundancy scheme on the Isle of Wight. In other words, anyone currently a permanent employee can volunteer to be sacked. That is very democratic; even the most skilled can go if they choose! Some choice! No compensation package can compensate for the permanent loss of a reasonable livelihood. The right to which can never be taken for granted or guaranteed under this climate of "business as usual".
A spokesman for GKN told local news blog, OnTheWight: "Voluntary resignation is one of a range of sensible measures - including furlough, an external hiring freeze, reducing agency workers and early retirement - that GKN Aerospace has implemented in many sites to mitigate the short-term impact during this unprecedented and uncertain time."
The norm is being returned to in terms of neo-liberal market forces dictating demand. The market goes down in a crisis and the productive forces become expendable. So, lay-off is the decision-makers' choice.
The blame, of course, is the pandemic and the lockdown. The fact that the airline industry is going through massive re-organisation, which has reduced demand, is part and parcel of and hides the same systemic problem. Yet facts are stubborn, the airline industry and suppliers of aircraft and parts are going through the same mistaken process.
Already airlines have cut back on workforces they see as a "cost" even though workers are the producers of new value. Cost-cutting has always been the default but usual method of improving productivity.
There is a kidology involved in the message of volunteer redundancy. It is supposed to be "light", but everyone knows it can turn heavy with compulsory redundancy if the company does not get its way.
The package is supposed to alleviate the pain and mitigate the circumstances, but the truth is usually different in the long term. It does nothing for the dignity of labour. A package is a deal, but it is also a concession and concessions are never solutions. There must be a better way of solving the problem that cause such crises. In that way of looking at things, it can't be "business as usual".
Why do they want volunteers? It is not because they treat islanders any different to anyone else at GKN as they have already indicated. GKN do not want any disruption in their overall business.
Not only do they produce for civilian aircraft, but they also produce for their partners in crime, BAE, next door. This of course is the military-industrial complex and produces for military aircraft and war production for, for example, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, to preserve anachronistic imperialist control over the Middle East.
A division in production, where the entire workforce is organised in their trade unions, is a workforce that must be placated with minimum disruption. Hence the "buy off" and compensation terms. GKN have never been philanthropic or considerate in their dealings.
Workers at GKN know that the company cannot be trusted. Recent years have seen threats to their jobs. Not so long ago they threatened to up sticks and move production to Hungary. The workers lost jobs with the Rolls-Royce problem. Workers have had to bring in their regional trade union officers to negotiate against productivity measures and changes in conditions in the past.
There is a conflict of interests between the employers and the workers. Workers need to have more say over their conditions and employment. The current decision-makers make poor choices over the way productivity is measured and controlled. Treating labour as a "cost" is an incorrect method, and is is intended to serve the narrow private interests of the employer. The workers are the producers of the wealth in any business and cutting does not compensate for losses in trade. In reality it does nothing but reduce capacity for the future.
How decision-making is carried out and control over production would be far better if workers were to have more say over their destiny.
A shift in emphasis from unstable military production is a decision that could also be taken.
Technological development, engines and composite wings are already giving lighter weight greener methods of flight for the future of civil air travel. New innovations in cabin atmosphere control are necessary to prevent transmission of disease. The skills have proven to be transferable in the production of ventilators for the NHS during the pandemic. The skills and labour should not be lost to GKN productive forces.
It is where the dignity of labour lies.
The website NursingNotes reports that front-line doctors demonstrated silently outside Downing Street on May 28 calling for adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line healthcare workers. The demonstration drew attention to the challenge to the government over the levels of protection afforded to healthcare workers during the Covid-19 crisis. A legal fundraiser has been launched, raising upwards of £45,000.
The protest took place at the same time as the weekly "Clap for Carers" to highlight that while many are celebrating essential workers others are failing to supply the equipment required to protect themselves.
In a joint statement, Dr Meenal Viz and Dr Nishant Joshi, said: "While our ministers are bickering, we've been in the front-line watching our colleagues die. Our politicians have shown us that they are out of touch. There is a human cost to this systemic negligence. The government talks about numbers in a blasé way, and we are seeing the effects of suffering. As doctors, we have appreciated the support during #ClapForCarers. But instead of clapping, we observed silence in remembrance of our 237 colleagues who have died during the pandemic."
Anthony Johnson, a health visitor and activist for Nurses United UK, added: "It's still the case that front-line staff are having to speak out about the lack of PPE. Apparently, it's not just when it comes to Dominic Cummings that this government won't listen? If we can't keep staff safe, when they're fighting a virus to keep us safe, what are we doing?"
"Coronavirus has confirmed that working women are still underpaid and undervalued in Britain today," the TUC said on May 29, the 50th anniversary of the Equal Pay Act.
TUC analysis shows that women are much more likely than men to be key workers and, when they are, are much more likely to be on low pay. Of an estimated 9.8 million key workers, nearly two-thirds are women. And 2.6 million women key workers earn less than £10 an hour.
TUC General Frances O'Grady said: "50 years after brave women won the legal right to equal pay, coronavirus has confirmed that pay inequality is still rife in Britain today.
"Working women have led the fight against coronavirus, but millions of them are stuck in low paid and insecure jobs. That is not right.
"As we emerge from this crisis, we need a reckoning on how we value and reward women's work. Without proper change it will take decades to close the gender pay gap."
Estimates of key worker earnings are based on the government's list of key occupations and data from the most recent Labour Force Survey(Q4,2019). The TUC's analysis suggests there are up to 9.8 million key workers, and that 3.7 million are paid below £10 per hour. This is based, the TUC report, on linking four-digit occupation codes to government guidance, which is open to interpretation.
Lockdown restrictions are being lifted in England before experts are ready to cut the threat level from coronavirus from "high", No 10 has admitted. Boris Johnson had been expected to lower the alert level from 4 to 3 when he gave the go-ahead for groups of 6 to mix in gardens and parks, but failed to mention it. Now his spokesman has conceded the level remains at 4 - where transmission of the virus is said to be "high" - while arguing it is "coming down from 4 to 3".
Join Cuba Solidarity's live online discussion on Monday, June 1, at 6.30pm and hear Cuban health specialists discuss how the island is fighting coronavirus at home and abroad.
More than 2,000 Cuban medical professionals are currently helping to fight the Covid-19 pandemic around the world. There are growing calls for these brigades to be awarded a Nobel Prize, and Noam Chomsky has described the island as the only nation demonstrating "genuine internationalism" during the current crisis.
At home Cuba is battling the virus using its networks of family doctors and community health volunteers to make regular house calls and trace contacts, while its pharmaceutical industry is producing treatments to boost the immune system and aid recovery.
Meanwhile the Trump administration continues to intensify the blockade. In recent weeks it has prevented a Chinese medical aid shipment of Covid-19 testing kits and ventilators from reaching the island. It has tried to warn countries off accepting Cuban medical brigades. And it has made moves to add Cuba back onto its countries that support terrorism blacklist at the same time that the Cuban embassy in Washington itself suffered a terrorist attack.
The Cuba Solidarity Campaign has used this time to campaign for the blockade to be suspended to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to the island, and raised funds for medical aid. More than 16,500 people have signed its online petition and £27,000 has already been transferred to Cuba.
Dr Jorge Delgado Bustillo: Director of Cuba's Central Medical
Collaboration Unit (UCCM), responsible for the international teams of Cuban
medics volunteering in 59 countries around the world
Dr Katty-Hind Selman-Housein Bernal: Cuban health professional with more than 20 years experience of community and public health including as a family doctor and intensive care specialist
Her Excellency Bárbara Elena Montalvo Álvarez: Cuban ambassador to the United Kingdom
Rob Miller: Cuba Solidarity Campaign director
Chair - Christine Blower: Labour member of the House of Lords and former General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers
Once you have registered, information on how to join the event will be sent on Monday morning. Please submit questions in advance to email@example.com
Whilst the pandemic continues, the government is finding time to rush through Parliament its new Trade Bill . The Bill had its second reading on May 20 in the House of Commons, and now it is at the Committee stage and expected to be reported to the House by June 25. It then receives its third and final reading in the House of Commons and with passage through to the Lords is expected to become law in the summer. The Bill is to "Make provision about the implementation of international trade agreements; to make provision establishing the Trade Remedies Authority and conferring functions on it; and to make provision about the collection and disclosure of information relating to trade." Although not very long, the Bill has already run into opposition from many quarters including people fighting to protect the NHS and protect food and agriculture standards from US de-regulation under the Trade Bill. 
At its second reading, the government claimed that the Bill was essential to "keep trade flowing and supply chains open, so that we can all have the essential supplies we need" during the coronavirus pandemic. The Secretary of State for International Trade, Elizabeth Truss, claimed: "Free trade and resilient supply chains will be crucial to the global economic recovery as the crisis passes." But what she then said showed that the government's plan for the Bill was to use the crisis to push through a "new US/UK trade Agreement". This is an agreement, she claimed, that for the steel industry "would provide a significant boost to our trade to this high-value market (steel imports and exports)". She claimed that the Bill was about "free trade" and spoke against what she called "protectionism" in agriculture, saying that "almost always ends up making the protected industry weaker".
Part 1 of the Bill signs Britain, its regions and separate nations to the implementation of an international trade agreement by "An Appropriate Authority" of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement signed at Marrakesh on 15 April 1994, as amended on or before the United Kingdom's accession (the GPA ) which opens up government procurement markets among its parties. On this the Secretary of State claimed: "As an independent member, we are free to decide what procurement is covered under the agreement." However, on the statement she makes that "we are free to decide", who is the "we"? It will be "Government Ministers of the Crown" of Westminster and the devolved nations as the "appropriate authority". Neither will there any longer be the fig leaf of ratification of Britain's international "trade" agreements by Parliament in the proposed Bill. For certain, "we are free to decide" does not mean that the Bill empowers the people of Britain, in their nations, or regions, to make the decisions on international trade that benefit the interests of all.
Because of the opposition of the people on these questions, the Secretary of State also commented that Britain's GPA coverage does not and will not apply to the procurement of UK health services. "Our NHS is not on the table," she claimed during the second reading of the Bill. But Ministers have already decided through the present European Union procurement legislation to privatise public services to overseas companies including NHS bodies. There is nothing in the Trade Bill that will replace the EU legislation, that does not put the NHS on the table, where Ministers and the state are the decision makers.
Part II of the Bill sets up the The Trades Remedies Authority which will advise the Secretary of State "in conducting international trade disputes", including "analysis of trade remedy measures imposed in countries, or territories other than the United Kingdom", and analysis of the "impact of such measures on producers and exporters in the United Kingdom." In speaking about the Bill, the Secretary of State also said: "The Bill will embed market access for British companies by enabling the UK to join the WTO's Government procurement agreement as an independent member. This will provide businesses with continued access to the extraordinary opportunities of the global procurement market, worth some £1.3 trillion a year."
In other words, Britain's imperialist interests are to continue to be renewed and enforced by international trade agreements with former colonies in the commonwealth, in Africa, Asia and throughout the world where services and trade with British companies are concerned. Such trade and procuring of military and civil contracts in these countries is directed by the financial oligarchy and monopolies, and will continue to be unequal trade where the wealth of the peoples of the world continue to be exploited by the ruling elite in Britain.
What this reveals alongside the present EU trade regulations is that present international trade deals increasingly cover every aspect of the socialised economy, with neo-liberal standards that make maximum profits for the rich. The agreements dictate social conditions on the people at home and in developing countries from food standards, to working conditions, to the provision of healthcare, as well as enabling financial arrangements that often dictate privatisation of water and other vital utilities. Most of these international trade agreements also contain a provision for "investor state dispute settlements" which enable corporations to sue governments in secret offshore tribunals over any government policy that might affect the "future anticipated profits" of investors. For example, in the present pandemic, where these trade arrangements have failed to secure the quality and quantity of the most vital equipment to protect and save life, it has now been reported that many corporations are preparing legal cases to sue governments over the pandemic measures that they have taken . As such, it is these trade deals that have undermined all those civil society and public authority measures that were previously the remit of national parliaments but are now directly imposed by monopoly interests.
The Trade Bill represents the latest attempt by the government and ruling elite to use the conditions of Brexit and the present pandemic to rail-road through a bill to strengthen the police powers of the executive to agree international trade agreements that serve monopoly private interests at home and abroad. This is being carried out in the context of the ruling elite's scramble for wealth as part of the imperialist system of states, using the mantra of "opposing protectionism" and for "free trade" as the deception to exploit the resources and peoples at home and around the world.
As part of their independent programme, it is essential that working people in Britain oppose the Trade Bill. The Trade Bill will be used for these international trade agreements which go against the interests of every aspect of human life in Britain and abroad; most importantly, the right of people to decide their own arrangements. The necessity for trade on an equal basis and for mutual benefit is what is called for, where the people are fully involved in making the decisions. The working class and people must accept nothing less in their struggle for a new society that implements trade on an equal basis and for the mutual benefit of all.
 Trade Bill
Farmers urge UK government to protect food standards
in post-Brexit trade bill
Farmers, environmentalists and consumer groups are pressing the government to honour its manifesto pledge not to undermine food standards with low-quality imports in a post-Brexit trade policy. A coalition of organisations, led by the National Farmers Union, failed to secure amendments in the Commons to the agriculture bill last week to protect UK farmers and producers from lower-quality imports from countries like the US. Imports that are of particular concern to UK farmers and producers include US poultry products, including chlorinated chicken, eggs and hormone-injected beef.
 World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on
Government Procurement (GPA)
The GPA is a plurilateral agreement within the framework of the WTO, meaning that not all WTO members are parties to the Agreement. At present, the Agreement has 20 parties comprising 48 WTO members. 35 WTO members/observers participate in the GPA Committee as observers. Out of these, 12 members are in the process of acceding to the Agreement.
The fundamental aim of the GPA is to mutually open government procurement markets among its parties. As a result of several rounds of negotiations, the GPA parties have opened procurement activities worth an estimated US$ 1.7 trillion annually to international competition (i.e. to suppliers from GPA parties offering goods, services or construction services).
 Corporate Europe Observatory: Cashing in on the
As governments take action to fight the COVID-19 pandemic... states could face multi-million dollar lawsuits.
All-Africa Peoples Conference, Accra, Ghana 1958
May 25 marks Africa Liberation Day, sometimes known as Africa Freedom Day, or more recently simply Africa Day. It has been celebrated on May 25 since 1963 to mark the date of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), but the day has been observed since its inception in 1958, by the peoples of Africa, the African diaspora and all progressive people to mark the victories achieved, as well as the continuing struggles, for the complete liberation and independence of the African continent.
The African continent and its peoples have made many advances in the struggle for their empowerment and to end foreign interference over the past sixty-two years, including the founding of the OAU itself, as well as the creation of its successor, the African Union. There have also been important struggles to bring to end dictatorial regimes as in Egypt and Sudan.
But the imperialist system of states, headed by the governments of the US, Britain and the other big powers, continue to thwart the aspirations of the peoples of Africa for empowerment and total liberation.
This year Africa Liberation Day was held in the midst of the Covid-19 epidemic and highlighted the necessity for the peoples and countries of Africa to rid themselves of all remnants of colonialism and neo-colonialism. Most African countries have fared much better than some commentators predicted when compared to the countries of Europe and North America, for example. In these conditions African governments also took the lead in demanding the easing of debt repayments due to the IMF, World Bank and other financial institutions. However, what is noticeable is the fact that African countries make up over 50% of all the 76 poorer countries eligible for the suspension of debt payments announced by the G20 group of the world's richest countries in April 2020. African countries are also over 70% of 25 of the world's lowest income countries eligible for additional debt relief announced by the IMF at the same time. As well as the indebtedness of African countries such figures also show that Africa remains largely in a state dependency on the wealthiest countries and their financial institutions. This status is also made apparent by figures for foreign direct investment and by the enormous illicit financial flows out of the continent, estimated at $1.3 trillion between 1980 and 2018.
Foreign interference in Africa takes many other forms and one of the major problems today is that it continues, often in the guise of providing humanitarian support, or security. The US military alone, organised under the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), has troops operating in over twenty-five African countries, allegedly for "combating terrorism", and has military bases in at least fifteen African countries.
It appears that the big powers are contending with each other to provide "security training" and offer other forms of military "support" to African countries. Among the most significant recent developments are the China-Africa Defence and Security Forum, first launched in 2018, and the first China-Africa Peace and Security Forum held in 2019. At the present time there are seven different UN peace-keeping missions in Africa. China currently participates in five of these UN peacekeeping missions, including the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), and has demonstrated that in this arena too it is willing to compete with the US and its allies.
British, French, US and other foreign troops are also still being deployed across the countries of the Sahel allegedly for peace-keeping operations partly under the auspices of MINUSMA. But the militarisation of the Sahel which has continued throughout the twenty-first century has not brought peace to the region. It was reported recently that violent deaths have increased fivefold in the region since 2016. In 2019 there were more than 4,000 such deaths. In Burkina Faso alone, violent deaths increased from eighty in 2016 to nearly 2,000 last year. It is now anticipated that such violence and instability may also extend to other states in West Africa, including Ghana, Ivory Coast, Benin and Togo.
Many of the military activities taking place in the Sahel are alleged to be combating circumstances which have been created or exacerbated by the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011, in which Britain played a leading role. Britain's armed forces continued to intervene in the country long after 2011, and along with other significant foreign intervention, have continued to fuel a conflict which has been ongoing since the NATO intervention. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Qatar, are now also openly intervening in this conflict, along with the US, France, Italy and other EU countries.
African Liberation Day 2020 demonstrates once again that the peoples of Africa have the support of progressive people through the world in their struggles to remove the yoke of foreign domination and interference. Africa and Africans have continued to demonstrate that they will continue these struggles to realise their aspirations for liberation and empowerment, taking into account their own experience and based on the principle that "we are our own liberators!".
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