Naomi Klein on Disaster Capitalism
THE wrecking balls are swinging, demolishing public housing that had withstood the disaster. The authorities say those who used to live there have dispersed. Meanwhile thousands of people are homeless, sleeping under bridges
Commercial interests are being handed contracts for health provision and schools.
Some parts of the city are booming, as low-cost housing is replaced by expensive condoms. . But the local people are not benefiting. The largely Afro-American workforce has been replaced by migrant workers, who are cheaper and have no rights. If these workers from Mexico or further afield ask for more money or even wages they are owed the employer can threaten that the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) are on their way, and they can be deported.
Some of this sounds like what's happening elsewhere, but in New Orleans, as described by author Naomi Klein, it is happening big time. Klein says it was a mistake to accuse the US authorities of incompetence in the way they dealt with the disaster. On the contrary, they had proved highly competent in turning the disaster to advantage, for the interests they represent.
It was the same with natural disasters as with war. "Blackwaters (private security firm operating in Iraq) are there, Halliburtons(engineers involved in the oil industry and in building prison camps like Guantanamo) are there as well," Klein told a packed and attentive audience at London's Friends Meeting House on Monday.
In London to launch the paperback edition of her book "The Shock Doctrine", * the Canadian writer recalled that in the early period of settlement in north America the Puritans saw it as a gift from God that diseases like smallpox had ravaged the native American population. Now capitalism was using both natural and man made disasters. She talked about the huge rise in privatisation at home and abroad, with the number of private contractors working in Iraq growing until they now outnumbered the US soldiers.
In Burma, under 'crony capitalism' the military junta was busy privatising everything from rice mills to the national library, while making sure which generals got what. A week after the cyclone soldiers were mobilised not for disaster relief but to run polling stations for a referendum on the constitution. The fertile land of the Irawaddy delta was up for grabs, the floods having helped clear small peasant farmers.
In the United States itself something which had not been seen since olden times was back - private firefighters. Rich people who could pay extra premiums to the insurance companies were entitled to this service, so that while forest fires might destroy nearby homes,their homes they would be sprayed with fireproof liquid by fire engines bearing the company logo.
Private health companies were now profitably treating soldiers returning from the war, with both physical and mental problems. Homeland Security is another profitable industry, with private prisons and ID cards etc. and the 'war on terror' would really be against immigrants.
I just managed to get in to hear Naomi Klein speak having come from a meeting of trades unionists discussing problems not unrelated to the developments she was talking about.
I was the only one going on to her meeting and though the Friends Meeting House was packed for the occasion, the organised labour movement was not much in evidence.
Although Naomi Klein spoke about workers' struggles in the US and Iraq, and in support of the Iraqi oilworkers fighting privatisation and foreign oil companies, somehow, as I was discussing with friends afterwards, the working class as a force for change, the "gravedigger of capitalism", was absent from her conclusions. That said, we have to be impressed at the way a mass of mainly young people can fill a hall to hear about serious issues, and talk about what they can do. Many are taking part in lively campaigns and actions against the capitalists.
Rather than carp at what was not there, it is up to us socialists of the 'old school' in the movement to find ways of bringing the energy and ideas of the young and the older labour movement together.