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Challenging inequality? Assert people’s collective rights and sovereignty

Posted on 13 February 2018

Photos courtesy of Peasant Movement of the Philippines ( Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas ), People Over Profit, Wikimedia Commons . With CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

This was originally published in TeleSUR English. You can read it here.

Last month’s Oxfam report tells a story of worsened economic inequality, with the world’s richest 1% capturing 82% of wealth in 2017 and no increase for the bottom 50 percent. Monopoly power, crony capitalism and inheritance, according to Oxfam, are responsible for two-thirds of the wealth of the 2,043 billionaires in 2017.

What does monopoly power look like today? 134 of the top “Fortune Global 500” companies, which tend to dominate their respective industries, are headquartered in the United States in 2016. Look at Apple in technology and Lockheed in the defense industry. Most, if not all, of them are transnational corporations (TNCs) that operate in other regions through, for example, subsidiaries or through “subcontracting” production.

In 2015, the top 10% corporations captured 80% of profits, according to McKinsey Global Institute. The ever-increasing shareholders’ profits of corporate monopolies, whether in tax havens or not, are at the expense of Southern workers who labour at “race-to-the-bottom” wages in precarious conditions. One grim example occurred in 2013 when a weakened Bangladeshi factory complex collapsed, killing more than a thousand workers, many of whom are women. The factory supplied US corporate giants such as Walmart.

In increasing corporate concentration, elite-led states are anything but off the hook. People’s movements have been long aware of states’ role in strengthening corporate monopoly power, through manoeuvring of public policy for business interests that entrench existing or new monopolies.

Monopolies are entrenched not only “at home” since these corporate giants expand their reach – monopoly capital’s reach – to other regions with natural resources and generally lower labour costs. Southern movements have seen the joint trajectory of elite-led Southern states and international finance institutions (IFIs) towards neoliberalism, to the benefit of TNCs.

Conservative estimates by the World Bank Group (WBG), one of the big IFIs, show how 80% of the 767 million poor people live in rural areas in 2013. This would likely increase, if we reject the bank’s assumption that workers and farmers are already “non-poor” if they earn above USD 1.90 to 3.10 per day. When it comes to total wealth and assets, the WBG also admits inequality, with wealth per capita in rich countries being 52 times greater than in low-income countries.

Apart from these, such WBG reports on inequality have not prevented the Bank – with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – from pushing looser regulation, liberalised and privatised economies that prioritised big private sector over people. According to a 2015 research involving 123 countries from 1985 to 2002, IMF and World Bank loans and their state-implemented “policy reforms” worsened the state of collective labour rights.

The complicity of elite-led Southern states, meanwhile, does not end with locking in these neoliberal rules. They also use state repression against small producers. Seven out of 10 cases of land rights-related violations in 2017 involved police, military and paramilitaries, according

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