I’ve been writing in this blog on several occasions about how national debt is being used as a tool of political power by the financial elite in Europe in particular. Now I would like to examine some initiatives to fight back against this form of oppression.
On Saturday, October 8 began the Week of Global Action Against Debt and International Financial Institutions (IFIs) which will continue until Sunday, October 16. Here’s what the call-out for the week says:
“Instead of new mechanisms of indebtedness and the perpetuation of illegitimate debt, people everywhere call for the repudiation of illegitimate and odious debts and the consolidation of economic and financial alternatives that are sovereign and democratic and based on respect for human rights and Nature.
Let us join forces and say NO to illegitimate debt: acquired on people’s behalf but destined to benefit a few corrupt bankers and politicians, huge multinationals, speculative interests, and the criminalization and repression of popular resistance. Peoples the world over demand accountability and transparency in public finances. We demand the suspension of debt payments and the realization of comprehensive and participatory debt audits NOW! The protection of human rights must be the top priority of all States.
Let us break the chains of debt! so as to be able to resolve matters that are central to life like poverty eradication, the defense of human and peoples’ rights and of Nature, political and financial sovereignty, the building of socio-economic systems that are inclusive and equitable for all, women and men alike.
To build this other possible world, mobilizing people is our main tool. We thus call on organizations and people everywhere to mobilize together in a Week of Global Action Against Debt and IFIs, October 8 – 16. We invite everyone to join, to maximize their creativity and carry out whatever actions are appropriate to make visible our common demands and support concrete struggles.”
It’s a bit difficult to find out what actions have actually been planned, but at least in Latin America and the UK there are some events going on. The actions seem to be mostly talks and discussions, so this week of action seems to be mainly about raising awareness.
Also on this Saturday began the Brussels Agora of the Indignant movement where debt-related issues will be discussed amongst other things. Debt could be the one pressing issue that the movement could rally around on the global revolution day on October 15, but due to the decentralised nature of the movement it’s unlikely that there will arise any one unified message for that day. Hopefully the issue will be picked up by the various local assemblies in the months to come, since any popular response to the debt crisis needs to be international and not limited to just those countries with the most acute problems to have an effect on actual policy.
There’s also an ongoing campaign for the establishment of an international debt court for assessing both the sustainability and legitimacy of national debt. Here’s what they write on the homepage:
“Despite past debt relief initiatives over the last decade, huge amounts of unpayable and illegitimate debt remain. Not only developing countries, but also middle-income countries and developed countries like Greece and Ireland face soaring debt levels. Yet there exist no resolution mechanisms for sovereign debt. We want to change this. We need a structural solution that is independent of the parties involved and takes into account both borrowers’ and lenders’ responsibilities. We therefore advocate for a fair and independent Debt Court. This Court would be:
- Neutral: It cannot be controlled by creditors like the IMF or Northern governments, nor should assessments of debt sustainability be made by interested parties;
- Comprehensive: it must deal with all debts from all lenders and look at the justice of the lending behind the debt, as well as the sustainability of the debt itself;
- Accessible to ordinary people to give evidence;
- Accessible to the debtor to launch proceedings and able to order an immediate stay on payments for the country concerned;
- Legally enforceable
Such a process would have a far-reaching impact on the financial system and development and sovereignty of indebted countries.
We are calling on world leaders to establish an independent Debt Court. The Defuse the Debt Crisis campaign will focus on the G20 and the French Presidency of the G20 until the G20 summit in Cannes in November 2011.”
Now this is an example of a concrete plan that would go some ways to relieve debt-ridden countries from their plight. Under the current financial system the creditors have practically unlimited power to enforce their will upon their debtors by using organisations such as IMF and EU as their cronies. They’ve been able to create the illusion that any debt is solely the responsibility of the debtor and that any “haircut”, however minimal, on their part could only be due to their unmatched magnanimity. Since a country cannot declare bankruptcy, the creditors are able to keep bleeding their victims indefinitely.
Then there’s of course the possibility of direct action by the people. The Greek “I won’t pay” movement is a case in point. By a concerted effort to refuse to pay any taxes or other payments to the government, they’re trying to make it practically impossible for the Greek government to honour their commitments to the creditors. Obviously, such an approach holds many risks to the individuals, but as austerity is already wrecking the whole national economy, many people naturally feel that they have nothing to lose. In order to have any effect, however, they need actions of solidarity from the rest of Europe. People in those countries where the major creditor institutions have their headquarters need to pressure their governments to intervene with the unscrupulous behaviour of those institutions. The battle against debtocracy ought to be everybody’s business, since if we don’t do something about it now, the debt virus will eventually spread to all our countries.