|Volume 50 Number 4, February 1, 2020
Working People Charting their Own
Path in Present Circumstances
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index : ShareThis
UK-Africa Investment Summit:
Increasing Britain's Exploitation of the Wealth of Africa
Building the Resistance and Seizing the Initiative
Britain left the European Union at 11.00pm on Friday, January 31. This followed the passing by the Westminster Parliament on January 22 of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, receiving the Royal Assent the following day, and the vote of the European Parliament on January 29 in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement brokered between the British government and the EU negotiators.
There now follows a transitional period of 11 months in which EU rules still apply to Britain. There will be negotiations on a mooted free trade agreement between Britain and the EU, which the government says will be completed by the end of 2020, though doubts have been expressed from a number of quarters, most notably by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. She said after her meeting with Boris Johnson in Downing Street in January that this was not long enough to reach a comprehensive deal covering all aspects of the future relationship. It will be contrary to the Agreement for Britain to sign trade deals with other countries until this transition period is over.
Neither "Remain" nor "Leave" was going to be decisive in the future direction of Britain, nor for that matter of the European Union. What must be addressed now by the working class and people is that it is necessary for the people themselves to discuss and act on the future direction of the economy, and intensify the fight against the narrow private interests which have the economy in their grip as they fight to compete in the global market.
The people of England, Scotland and Wales themselves must speak in their own name, recognising that the choice presented is not between allying with the United States or the European Union, neither of which is the guarantor of rights and social justice. Also in this context, the fight of the Irish people to reunify their country and determine their own affairs is bound to intensify. The Conservative government is standing in the way of self-determination for the people of Ireland, as it is doing with Scotland and Wales. Boris Johnson is demanding that the union of the United Kingdom be preserved. But this is contrary to the people taking control of their own lives, and affirming their national rights in the process.
Working people must chart their own path in the present circumstances, which means opposing imperialist globalisation and the violation of the sovereignty of nations and peoples, and striving themselves to become the decision-makers, working for democratic renewal and an anti-war government. Working people find themselves not so much at a crossroads, as at a juncture where they must speak out and organise in their own names. The independent programme which is required is that of the working people themselves.
On January 20, Prime Minister Boris Johnson opened the UK-Africa Investment Summit, which, according to the government, will lay "the foundations for new partnerships between the UK and African nations based on trade, investment, shared values and mutual interest". Twenty-one African countries attended, including sixteen heads of government. Although much was made of the alleged aim to "support African countries in their ambition to transform their economies", and efforts to "enable Africa's clean energy potential", the summit was being held in the context of Brexit, the continued aim to make Britain "great" again, and the requirements of the big monopolies and financial institutions to contend with their rivals, China, Russia, the US and others, to control the resources and wealth created in Africa. Emphasis was placed on enhancing the role of the City of London's control over African financial sector and institutions. It was also announced at the summit that the government had already signed trade agreements with eleven African countries and expects to sign such agreements with seven others.
The summit in London followed in the wake of similar summits held by Britain's main economic rivals. China, which conducted $208 billion worth of trade with Africa last year, holds annual summits with African countries. Last year China provided $60 billion in trade investment. Russia has also just held its first such summit. It is reported to have brokered trade deals worth $12 billion and to have already agreed another $14 billion in arms sales to Africa, around a third of its total armaments sales. Germany has just held its third investment summit with African countries, at which rivalry with Britain and France was a key theme.
The British government now aims that "Global Britain" should become Africa's "obvious partner of choice", following on from former Prime Minister Theresa May's aim of Britain's becoming the leading source of direct foreign investment in the continent by 2022. However unrealisable, it is evident that the government has committed itself to the scramble for economic as well geopolitical influence in Africa, which it recognises will have half of the world's fastest growing economies and by 2050 will provide a market of 25% of the world's consumers.
The summit itself resulted in major trade deals worth a total of £6.5 billion for the big monopolies such as Rolls Royce, Bombardier, Diageo, GlaxoSmithKline and Tullow. Despite government claims at the summit that it was committed to clean energy, 90% of the energy deals that were announced were in fossil fuels, the most significant being the £1.2 billion investment by Tullow in oil production in Kenya. Although the government attempts to show that such deals are leading to development for the people of Africa, facts show the reverse. The World Bank estimates that if current trends continue, 87% of the world's extreme poor will live in Africa by 2030. At present, 431 million people, 41% of Africa's population, live on less than $2 a day. Four of the world's most unequal countries are in Africa, including the continent's two largest economies, Nigeria and South Africa. In short, the "free market" and neo-liberal globalisation have failed to "develop" Africa for the majority of its people. The privatisation of key sectors such as education, which has been encouraged and financed by British governments, has exacerbated existing problems.
Even before the summit, the government had announced that so-called "aid" to Africa amounting to some £320 million would immediately be more closely linked to the requirements of the major financial institutions and the City of London, with another £2 billion made available over the next two years. It was announced that measures would be taken to facilitate more direct investment into Africa's economies, by using government funds to underwrite private sector capital. Social wealth created by the working people is being taken out of the economy, in the interests of the financial oligarchs, to facilitate the extraction of social wealth created throughout the African continent. These announcements by the government coincided with the announcement of similar measures taken by the World Bank. As the president of the World Bank put it, "strong actions from countries to improve rule of law and take on vested interests could create the right incentives to spur investment by strengthening financial systems, building confidence in financial markets, and enabling more productive private-sector activity".
The aim of the government is evidently to tie Africa's financial markets and banking systems more closely to Britain, while at the same time linking aid in African "development" projects more closely to the investment needs of the major financial institutions.
It was noteworthy that the investment summit was not only attended by the Prime Minister but also by four cabinet ministers, including the Foreign Secretary, underlining the importance attached to increasing Britain's trade and financial connections with Africa. Despite various attempts to present such connections as good for Africa's "development", what stood out at the summit was, as the International Development Secretary Alok Sharma put it, that the government wants "investors to seize the exciting opportunities that Africa offers".
The British government is using the conditions created by Brexit to attempt to strengthen the neo-colonial relationship that already exists with Africa and in the interests of the big monopolies and financial institutions. It is doing so in the context of the what is being called the new scramble for Africa's wealth and resources between all the big powers and blocs and especially in opposition to China and Russia. This course is not only a recipe for the continued impoverishment of the majority of people in Africa, but brings Britain into ever more dangerous contention with its rivals.
As part of the independent programme of the working class post-Brexit, it is essential that working people in Britain oppose this direction that the government is taking its trade deals which are aimed to favour the oligarchs and which will not solve the economic crises for the African peoples nor for Britain. Trade on an equal basis and for mutual benefit is what is called for, and which working people must strive for in their struggle to affirm their rights.
Workers' Weekly is sad to inform its readers of the death of Hylda Sims on January 13 after a short illness. Her vigour and youthful energy belied her 87 years.
She sang to her guitar and recited poetry at meetings organised by the Ad-Hoc Committee "The Things That Make For Peace", meetings against the chauvinism promoted at the centenary of the First World War, and against NATO.
Her father was a founder member of the CPGB. She herself became a member of the YCL. In the 1950s, she founded a skiffle group, together with the Skiffle Cellar in Soho. She visited the Soviet Union, playing in Moscow at the 1957 International Youth Festival. She was an indefatigable activist, and held a regular monthly music and poetry get-together at the Poetry Cafe. Among her achievements was her part in saving the Brockwell Lido at Herne Hill. She appeared on the Resonance Radio programme Sound Out on a number of occasions.
Here is a short poem of hers from 2017:
Jeremy is not
a typical leader - one
reason we love him
2020 is putting the necessity for the independent programme of the working class firmly on the agenda. It has been and continues to be a principle that for the working class to play its historic role and lead the entire society out of the crisis and open up the path to progress, it must have its own independent programme; but in the present conditions and circumstances, the consciousness of the social responsibility of the working class has matured. The dysfunctionality of the political institutions, the opposition to the neo-liberal agenda of the ruling elite, the goal of defending the rights of all, the necessity therefore to ensure a pro-social aim for society and its economy, are all converging to pin-point that the workers must themselves institute a modern democracy where the distribution of wealth and use of resources are human-centred, which the workers are quite capable of doing. They must play their leading role in fighting to establish an anti-war government, so that the state is not an instrument of violence and coercion above and against working people, but takes on a profile which empowers them to set the agenda for society.
Recently, there has been the example of the workers of France, who are taking forward the struggle to take control of the affairs of society and not just beg the ruling elite for concessions. What has been notable is the virtual media blackout in Britain on this important movement of workers and other sections of society. The workers' voice is breaking through, when to be "moderate" means to be open for business, to make business competitive in the global market. The fact is that, since workers produce the social wealth, the necessity presents itself for workers to control what they create. This is the perspective, the unifying factor of the workers' movement. It calls on the workers' movement to redouble its efforts to build the resistance and retain the initiative, to have their independent voice.
This emphasises what the working class should take up as its conscious aim for society, a new direction for the economy. The workers are very much excluded from power by the ruling elite, who do not want these concerns taken up by society. Instead, the elite want that their needs are served by talking Britain up under the tattered banner of "Get Brexit Done". The plans to "unite the nation" beg the question of which nation, but are meant to indicate that the workers should share the values of the elites, and allow the government to rule with impunity, while the anti-social offensive continues.
Working people are encouraged to put their trust in one global alliance or another, and that even if disaster is round the corner, there is no alternative and to suggest otherwise is to talk Britain down. The issue facing workers is to build resistance to this ideological, political and organisational assault. The financial oligarchs have no solution to the problems facing society and are haunted by the spectre of war and of apocalypse. Instead it is working people who will save the day. It cannot be allowed that the powers-that-be set the agenda for discourse and action on neo-liberal terms.
Workers are the essential human factor in the economy and the producers of all social wealth; they must set the aim of the economy to guarantee their well-being and security. The economy is our economy and the workers must have a voice, a say and control over its aim and direction.
The Workers' Forum section of Workers' Weekly will serve this aim and direction of the workers' movement, recognising that this is an indispensable current in the movement to work towards an Anti-War Government. We will not let the voice and concerns of working people go unheeded. We will do our best to bring out what is essential in building the united force and leadership of the working class in these struggles, including building the defence organisations of the class, and stressing that, by giving a voice in the here and now, and looking to the independent solutions that the class can bring to the problems of society, a way forward out of the crisis can, will and must be found. Working people must make their claims on society. Workers must set a pro-social aim. Production must be in favour of human beings and the future of society, not destruction of produced value through militarisation and a pro-war direction.
We therefore encourage everyone to join in and write, discuss and speak out about their struggles and the necessity for the working people themselves to have the power to take the decisions which affect their lives.
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