Academic journal article Social Justice

Contentious Politics: Financial Crisis, Political-Economic Conflict, and Collective Struggles-A Commentary

Academic journal article Social Justice

Contentious Politics: Financial Crisis, Political-Economic Conflict, and Collective Struggles-A Commentary

Article excerpt

EACH OF THE ARTICLES IN THIS SPECIAL ISSUE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE OFFERS A rich, exciting, and timely focus on various collective struggles and conflicts within the global crisis. At the heart of the current global crisis is a crisis of capitalism and in particular neoliberal financial and economic policy. Within the crisis of capitalism, we are also witnessing a political crisis--of representation, of legitimation, of defunct or dysfunctional political processes and regimes--and a rejection of the "business as usual" status quo. This is as evident in Greece, Spain, Italy, and the UK as it is in Egypt--all countries featured in the articles here.

Above all, each article reveals that the global crisis in all its localized manifestations embraces a deepening social crisis that is wrought by loss of homes, falling incomes, unemployment, cuts to welfare provision, rising taxation, and increased food and energy costs. For many, these are the very basic needs for social reproduction--a point taken up by Brown et al. (2013) in this issue. They are the human costs of the economic and financial crisis, the living "collateral damage" of the global crisis). (1)

A brief commentary precludes a detailed discussion of all the excellent insights provided in the different articles. Instead, I will select some common thematic issues, such as dimensions of global crisis and related conflicts, the attack on social welfare and democracy, and the contentious forms of politics associated with a "politics from below" and the various collective struggles that have occurred in response to the crisis since 2008. Although each author uniquely addresses the issues with a particular emphasis, each theme recurs in different ways throughout the articles.

As I write, the daily news is a reminder that events in many of the countries under discussion remain mercurial and there will likely be further widespread anger, protest, and instability in the future. Egypt and Greece are examples, as are Tunisia and Syria. The mercurial nature of current events is highlighted in some of the following examples.

A court in Egypt has ordered a retrial for ex-president Hosni Mubarak after accepting an appeal against his life sentence over failing to prevent the death of many hundreds of protestors during the 2011 uprising (BBC Online 2013). (2) And in the UK, the Conservative coalition government recently announced a 1 percent cap on welfare benefits over the next three years. (3) This represents a real-terms cut in benefits for the unemployed and many working families over this period, since the 1 percent benefits cap is lower than the current rate of inflation (see Peachey 2013). In November 2012 the Greek Parliament agreed to a further round of austerity cuts, linked to the European "troika" (4) Further bailout conditions. Only a day after the budget was approved, the troika demanded an additional 17.4 billion euros ($22.6 billion) in cuts (Dreier 2012). In Italy, the technocratic president, Mario Monti, has stepped down and Silvio Berlusconi is shaping up for a return to office in the forthcoming election amid growing concerns that economic liberalization and austerity cuts in Italy have not achieved any real depth in relation to reducing the debt--e.g., relative to GNP, levels of unemployment, or industrial production (Pratley 2012). The situation is similar in Spain, where the recession is reportedly much deeper, the unemployment rate is more severe, and banks are more dysfunctional (ibid.).

All such developments suggest that during 2013 and beyond there will be a growing body of evidence of social inequalities and poverty, rising levels of unemployment, lower than expected economic growth, and a sharpening divide between the state and society more generally.

The Crisis of Capitalism and Financialization

At the heart of these developments stands the crisis of capitalism and neoliberalism. Financial and economic neoliberal policies are associated with the deregulation of banks, finance, and markets. …

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