On October 3 this year the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) called on the international working class to join forces and fight for its rights.
It will appeal to trade unions around the world to coordinate their militant struggle against the actions of transnational corporations that are plundering the wealth-producing resources of the people of the world, leaving them with poverty, unemployment and precariousness.
On October 3 this year, the International Action Day, the WFTU called on unions and workers to take to the streets and organise activities and symbolic “trials” to demand the rights of the people and the working class in areas such as food, water, medicine, housing and education for all.
In this issue we include extracts from the WFTU Declaration for the International Action Day in response to one of today’s key questions: is there enough food to eliminate world hunger?
Food: Demanding nourishment for all people
Under capitalism food, water, medicine, books and housing are commodities.
The rule of capitalist production ensures a sufficient percentage of profit. This defines what, how much, where and when everything is produced.
The strategic dilemma is: development for whom?
The right to food is a universal right. However, in 2007 world food prices increased dramatically and are now at their highest levels in 30 years. This has created a global crisis which shows that the capitalist system cannot solve the nutritional problem. Important demonstrations have taken place on this issue in poor and developed countries.
In January 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) food price index reached the highest level since the FAO started measuring food prices in 1990, affecting mainly the poorest populations.
The World Bank estimates that another 50-million people were made poor in 2008 by high food prices.
According to the World Bank index, global sugar prices have reached a 30-year high after increasing 12 percent since January 2010. Edible oil prices have risen 73 percent since June 2010. The price of wheat has increased the most, more than doubling between June 2010 and January 2011.
The price of maize has been affected by the surge in the wheat and oil markets and also jumped about 73 percent during the second half of 2010.
Other food items,, such as vegetables and beans, have also experienced large price increases. Simultaneously with the rise of food prices, the super-profits of monopolies and multinational groups that dominate the global market and control the production, transport and trading of food, have increased as well.
Small producers are being exploited, giving away their production almost for free, as well as workers on the land and in food industries who work for “a loaf of bread”. Finally, consumers are also being exploited by being forced to pay high prices for food.
The power of the monopolies, whether local or foreign, leads to the increased exploitation of the working class, robbery from households and poor farmers, and the formation of cartels. A small number of companies control the greatest share of sales and profits globally.
The food industries, multinationals, governments and political forces responsible for the food-price crisis and continuous food scandals continue to move the blame for the food insufficiency to specific circumstances and unfortunate incidents.
The obvious reason is to cover up their responsibilities, and the fact that public health comes second to servicing the profiteering of multinationals. To cover this up, they must disorient the popular strata in order to defuse the anger of workers and the hungry and prevent them from demanding the wealth they produce but cannot enjoy.
Governments and multinationals both claim that the so called “nutritional crisis” is due to the reduction of global production resulting from climate change, and to the increase in food consumption by people in developing countries. This theory is deluded and hypocritical.
The reduction of global food production is due to the conscious, anti-labour policies that multinationals and governments implemented to benefit their own interests in higher profits.
The starting point for the implementation of these policies was the finding that global food production was increasing at double the rate of demand. This caused a reduction in prices and lower profits for the food companies, while the increase in stockpiles was an added expense for storage and maintenance.
Food demand in the market has nothing to do with the actual needs of people. During the period when the market was supposedly saturated, large stockpiles of food were destroyed and subsidies were paid to farmers to reduce production.
This took place when more than 850-million people were undernourished or starving because they could not afford to buy food.
The trend intensified when the economic crisis struck, leading to a reduction in food consumption. It is a safe conclusion that when multinationals refer to “market demand”, what they actually mean is their profits.
According to FAO’s estimates, with conventional agriculture and existing climate and weather conditions, food production is sufficient for twice as many people as the current world population.
According to the FAO, food production must increase 70% in order to meet the demand of the global population that is estimated to climb to nine billion by 2050.
This shows that the nutritional problem is purely a class-political problem and not a technocratic issue. It will not be solved by growing genetically modified food, just as it was not solved with the “green revolution”.
We are told that growing genetically modified crops will solve hunger and poverty. That is a lie. Companies are promoting this technology to increase their profits by controlling the food chain. In developing countries, genetically modified crops have been grown mainly as export cash crops, sometimes at the expense of local food production.
In the US, GM foods are grown extensively, and the US is the largest producer and exporter of agricultural products Yet 11-million Americans are undernourished and another 22-million find it difficult, at times, to meet their nutritional needs.
One of the contradictions of the capitalist form of production is that food rots in fields and in storage because big merchants buy it from farmers at rock-bottom prices, while in urban areas people cannot afford to buy the food they need.
Risks for health – and for the environment
Another reason for the effort to convert perceptions of the causes of the food crisis from class-political to technocratic is to get people to accept cheap and dangerous methods of production, which undermine public health and the environment and, at the same time, increase the profits of multinational companies.
For large food corporations, the health of consumers and the environment is seen as insignificant when set against profits. The monopolies utilise science and technology according to their profitability. The development of biotechnology is not used to meet the needs of workers. And the use of genetically modified crops is increasingly out of control.
In order to maximise profits from its genetically modified seed business, Monsanto, a US company, is at the forefront of the push for regulatory clearance for GM products in numerous countries.
According to the latest data Monsanto, one of the largest companies in the agro-industry and a pioneer of genetically modified food, increased its profit in the December 2007-February 2008 quarter from $1,44-billion to $2,22-billion.
The company aims to aggressively displace conventional seeds with its patented GM varieties, particularly of soy, corn, canola and cotton, in order to fully control production and further maximise profits.
Moreover, the abuse of antibiotics by companies that produce meat has led to some antibiotics becoming ineffective. In the US, 80% of the antibiotics used by the food industry are for the rapid growth of livestock. This leads to the development of microorganisms resistant to antibiotics and the promotion of those microorganisms throughout the food chain.
Biofuel: a new means of profiteering
The production of biofuels became a frontline issue for two main reasons. The first is the reasonable search for sources of energy that can replace oil. The second is the immense interest of the US government in promoting the production of ethanol, mainly from corn but also from sugar.
The economic and social dimensions of this issue were brought to light by the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, in two articles in Granma in 2007: “The tragedy is not us wanting to save energy,” stated Castro, “but to convert food into fuel. If this formula is applied at an international level, it is equal to the internationalisation of genocide.”
The production of biofuels was first suggested two decades ago. Its supporters underlined the fact that biofuels reduce dependency on oil, reducing environmental pollution and benefiting the consumer economically, since the cost of producing biofuel is lower if it takes place on a mass scale.
Already, oil companies, automobile companies and the transnationals of agro-industry have invested huge sums in the production of ethanol, in order to control the production of biofuels as well.
“All the GM companies – Monsanto, Syngenta, Dypo, Dow, Bayer, BASF – have invested in crops for the production of biofuels. They have already finalised agreements with Cargill, Archer, Daniel Midland, Bunge which control the global trade of cereals,” said Eric Holt-Gimιnez, executive director of FoodFirst an institute that specialises in food and development policy.
In the US, the use of corn for the production of ethanol which is mixed with benzine to reduce the dependence of the country on imported oil, has led to an increase in the price of corn and sugar. The more land that is used to grow crops for biofuel instead of food products, the higher the price of the latter.
And since corn is used as fodder for livestock, the price of meat rises as well. Instead of being used to feed people, the land and crop production will be used to feed the hungry cars of Americans.
Biofuels: three main implications
The first and most serious implication of biofuel production is the increased exploitation of the countries of the Third World. The price of corn, wheat, sugarcane and other crops that can be converted to biofuel will rise.
The second and equally serious impact is that vast area of land will be needed to grow crops for biofuels.
Land is bought by large companies and there is resistance to the changing use of forests, jungles, communal land and the land of small settlements, as well as among small farmers who grow subsistence crops. Given their wasteful use of land and the dominance of agro-alimentary transnationals, what will happen to small farmers, forests, jungles, local communities and indigenous people?
A third issue is the negative impact of the production of biofuel on the environment.
Supporters of biofuels say they have a positive energy balance and a neutral impact on carbon dioxide emissions. But, according to scientific research, this is not true. The crops used in the production of biofuels demand large quantities of agro-chemicals. Ethanol from corn, the type that the US produces, is neither cheap nor “green”. Its production uses as much energy as the quantity it releases during combustion, perhaps more.
Moreover, the subsidies, according to the International Institute of Sustainable Development, cost taxpayers between $5,5-billion and $7,3-billion annually.
The production of biofuels is a catastrophe for the environment, farmers and indigenous populations. Millions of acres of land will be bought by multinationals for the production of biofuels.
The crisis of the capitalist way of production will not be reversible, no matter how many injustices it causes, unless we target its overthrow and support a new economic and political practice that will be based on development and production that benefits the people, and not corporate profits.
The WFTU position
The WFTU believes that food production must be planned to benefit people, not to increase the profits of multinationals.
With the utilisation of the productive capabilities of each country, with respect to public health and the environment, the production of qualitative, safe and cheap food is possible for all people. Only within this framework will food not be seen as commodity and a source of profit.
All aspects of the nutritional problem prove that it is a class-political problem that affects, first and foremost, the working class, small and medium farmers and the popular strata.
Thus, to confront this issue we need coordinated struggles that reach the core of the problem. They must be connected with the issue of political and economic power.
• Food, water and medicines are commodities and profit-providers for capitalists. For the WFTU and militant trade unions they are social goods and everyone should have the right to obtain them either free of charge or cheaply from public organisations.
• The strategies of the large corporations increase the prices of social goods, destroy the living standards of workers, attack poor farmers and affect the environment negatively.
• Capitalists plunder the wealth-producing resources of countries and its people, especially those of the Third World.
• In many ways capitalists control the quantity and quality of food, water and medicine. They have the ability, through bio-technology, to affect the habits, psychology and life expectancy of ordinary people.
• International organisations such as the FAO and the World Health Organisation are controlled by multinationals and their decisions, overtly or covertly, work against working people, poor peasants and the general population. Usually, they limit themselves to describing the situation and the publication of statistics.
The WFTU action
The presidential council of the WFTU that took place in February 2012 in Johannesburg, hosted by the WFTU affiliates in South Africa, Numsa, Nehawu, Ceppwawu and Popcru, decided to organise an international action day on the October 3 this year.
Members and friends of WFTU are organising specific action. They are working to establish a programme of action with boldness and creativity, and using forms that have the same orientation as the WFTU.
• The aim is to unite workers, poor farmers, peasants and indigenous people with the WFTU’s militant platform.
• The plan is to publish announcements, posters, articles, memorandums and letters of protest that will inform working people.
• It is also intended to organise activities in factories and other places of work.
• The purpose is underline that the solution to these problems can only come through the overthrow of capitalist exploitation.
• Ultimately, a demand for immediate solutions will be presented to the government and international organisations.To read the WFTU declaration on the planned international action, visit the WFTU website at www.wftucentral.org
Multinational companies and profits
Nestle: 2009, 70-billion euro in revenues; seven billion euro in annual profits. Active in the industries of food (26%), prepared meals (18%), beverages (27%) and chocolate (11%).
Cargill: 2011, 85-billion euro in revenues; 140,000 employees; 3,3-billion euro in annual profits. Active in the trade of cereals, the breeding and sale of livestock, and in energy, metals, finance (it controls 25% of cereal exports from the United States and 22% of the US meat market).
The company’s sales increased from $101-billion to $119-billion in 2011, a rise of about 18%.
Its profits have increased from $2,5-billion to $4,3-billion a year. The company’s revenues and sales have surpassed pre-crisis levels.
Kraft: 35-billion euro in revenues; 3,5-billion euro in annual profits.
General Mills: 12-billion euro in sales in 2011; 1,4-billion euro in annual profits.
Anheuser-Busch: 28-billion euro in sales in 2011; three billion euro in annual profits. Active in the production of beverages.
Pepsico: 4-billion sales in 2010; 4,5-billion euro in profits in 2010.
Coca-Cola Company: 25-billion euro sales in 2010. 6-billion euro profits.
OCTOBER 3 2012
INTERNATIONAL ACTION DAY
Food, clean water, medicines, books and housing for all
Against multinationals and capitalist barbarity
«We bring to trial»:
• the transnationals
• the cartel and trusts
• the plundering of the wealth-producing resources
Stop the plundering of natural resources by transnationals! Wealth belongs to those who produce it!
FOOD: Nourishment for all people
More than 850-million people are undernourished or starving because their income prevents them from obtaining proper sustenance
The production of agricultural products could be sufficient to satisfy the nutritional needs of a population twice as big as the existing one.
WATER: Clean water for all
About 884-million people have no access to safe, clean water and about three times as many, about 39% of the global population – mainly in Africa and in Asia – have no access to basic sanitation.
BOOKS: Free, public and qualitative education for all
There are more than 75-million illiterate people in developing countries. One out of eight children does not even receive preliminary education. More than half are girls.
MEDICINES: Free medicines for all people
Multinational companies are allowed to block the production of sufficient quantities of medicines in order to keep prices high and to profit when panidemics occur.
HOUSING: Decent housing for all
About 1, 6-billion people live in sub-standard housing (slums) and 100-million are homeless.