Saving Haiti from disaster capitalism

Haiti becomes a target for economic "shock therapy"

Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine warned of the rise of "disaster capitalism", under which governments and corporations use disasters as a chance to push through free-market policies unachievable in times of stability.

Where most see a crisis, neoliberal actors spy new market opportunities. And with poor countries desperate for any kind of aid, they are often forced to carry out extensive privatisation, deregulation and wage cuts in return.

Following the devastation inflicted on Haiti by Tuesday's earthquake, it's clear that the country has become a target for such economic "shock therapy". Over at Left Foot Forward, Adam Ramsay (recently interviewed by the NS) notes that some right-wing institutions have explicitly declared their intention to use the disaster to further a corporate agenda.

In the introduction to a paper on Haiti, originally titled "Amidst the Suffering, Crisis in Haiti Offers Opportunities to the US", the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, declared:

In addition to providing immediate humanitarian assistance, the US response to the tragic earthquake in Haiti offers opportunities to reshape Haiti's long-dysfunctional government and economy as well as to improve the public image of the United States in the region.

After just two hours, the foundation removed the offending passage and changed the title of the paper to the rather gentler "Things to Remember While Helping Haiti". But the damage was done.

Meanwhile, according to the Nation's Richard Kim, the IMF has agreed a new $100m loan to Haiti but has insisted on stringent conditions, including raising electricity prices, keeping inflation low and freezing pay for all state employees except those on the minimum wage.

As Klein argues in the video above, it is up to campaigners to insist that Haiti receive grants, not loans. With existing debts of $891m, the people of Haiti cannot afford for economic dogma to trump human need.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.