This weekend the TUC’s Congress House headquarters plays host to the ‘Latin America 2011′ conference. Delegates will hear over 50 speakers from Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and the UK sharing their experiences of ‘Making a better world possible’.
From defending an elected socialist government against fascist dictatorship in the Spanish Civil War to campaigning for the end of Apartheid in South Africa, the Labour and Trade Union movement in Britain has a proud tradition of practical internationalism.
Events like ‘Latin America 2011′ aren’t about British activists lecturing their Latin American counterparts on the direction that they believe should be taken in their struggles for a fairer and more equal society. But neither is it merely an opportunity for passive admiration.
It is an opportunity for Labour and Trade Union movement activists from Britain and Latin America to share their experiences and for us to learn from the experiences of our counterparts abroad. Crucially, it is an opportunity to then apply some of what we learn to our own struggles in Britain against the neoliberal agenda of the ConDem Coalition governing on behalf of ‘the 1%’ against ‘the 99%’ with working people facing the biggest onslaught on their living standards since the 1930s.
Despite the profound differences between so-called ‘First World’ countries and the so-called ‘developing world’, Britain and Latin America do share some political similarities.
Neo-liberal economics were launched against working people in both Britain and in Latin America in the 1970s. In Latin America, the neo-liberal economic dogma of the ‘Chicago school’ of economists such as Margaret Thatcher’s hero, Milton Friedman, were first piloted in Chile, from 1973, by the guns of brutal dictator – and friend of Margaret Thatcher – General Pinochet. It then spread, enforced by brutal repression, right across Latin America. Unemployment, inequality and poverty soared, trade unions were crushed and the numbers of the ‘disappeared’ and executed mounted as governments in across the region ‘took steps’ to keep their economic system in place against the interests of the vast majority of citizens.
In Britain, the election of Margaret Thatcher brought neo-liberalism via the ballot box and resulted in Britain returning to the highest level of unemployment since the 1930s, levels of inequality not seen since the Victorian age and brutal repression of trade unionists like the miners and Wapping strikers.
General acceptance of the neo-liberal adherence to privatization, free-markets and economies structured for the benefit of the few, not the many, continued to dominate in Britain and Latin America throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
However, in Latin America, the laboratory of the neo-liberal economic experiment of the ‘Chicago school’, the effect of that experiment on the everyday lives of working people resulted in a political fight-back which started with the election of socialist Hugo Chavez as President of Venezuela in 1998 and which continued with the election of other socialist in the region such as Raffael Correa in Ecuador, Evo Morales in Bolivia and Luiz Inacio Lula in Brazil.
The advance of progressive politics in the region continues despite the global economic crisis caused by banks and big business.
The real significance of this is seen in the latest UN Economic Commission on Latin America. It states: ‘There was a turning point in 2002 and 2003 when inequality began to trend down in many countries’. It then goes on to note that: ‘poverty and inequality are decreasing in the region, the main reason are rising labour income and increasing public transfers to the ost vulnerable sectors’.
The Labour and Trade Union movement in power in Latin America is showing that there is an alternative to the agenda of austerity, cuts, privatization and unemployment that the ConDem Coalition in Britain tells us is inevitable.
‘Latin America 2011′ is a fantastic opportunity for us to compare notes with our Trade Union and Labour Movement counterparts from Latin America on our common, and ongoing, task of fighting for a better society.