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Towards a common platform to fight inequality

Guest content
14 December 2016

The Fight Inequality Alliance aims to bring together activists and organisations to tackle inequality globally and within all countries. The Alliance stands together to build a world of greater equality – where all people’s rights are respected and fulfilled, a world of shared prosperity, opportunity and dignity, living within the planet’s boundaries. Read the current draft of the shared vision below.

For centuries too many people have lived and died in poverty on the margins of society, robbed of dignity and opportunity because they are born girls, born into poverty, or suffer discrimination because of their caste, race, sexual identity, indigenous group or religion. Today these age-old disparities have been further entrenched by an acute concentration of wealth and power into the hands of a small elite.

This is no accident. Collusion between political and economic elites has led to the undermining of democracy and the creation of economic ideology and systems that have pushed a blind faith in markets and money so far, that over the last 30 years they have caused an inequality explosion. They have sold an ideology and an economic system to the world that allows them to amass more wealth and power, while keeping the many marginalised and poor.

This ideology has driven a race to the bottom on wages for most people whilst the number of billionaires continues to rise. It has given unprecedented lobby power to large multinational companies, whilst eroding the state and necessary regulation. It has created an elaborate network of secretive tax havens, driven privatisation of vital public services, and denied communities access to and control over the natural resources they need to live a decent life. The dominance of this ideology has created a grotesquely unequal world, fuelling climate change, poverty and human rights violations.

Inequality has deep roots. Gender inequality persists universally, and is further entrenched by the increased concentration of power and wealth. Women experience inequality in urban areas, rural areas, in schooling, in high-level and low-level jobs, in marriage & family, in exposure to unconstrained violence, with the resulting fear and psychological impacts not only being deep and broadly-felt, but also widely accepted as normal.

Systems of oppression and inequalities have existed in different forms and shapes throughout history. But people have worked together in broad alliances and movements many times before and built the collective power of people to achieve amazing victories against slavery, colonialism, apartheid, for LGBTQI rights, women’s rights, indigenous rights and labour rights to name a few. But whilst these agendas have seen some successes, more work needs to be done even on these issues, as the powerful have adjusted to create new systems of oppression in response. We have now reached such extremes of inequality that a more concerted fight back must create the just and sustainable world we need. We must achieve systemic change on this scale again.

We stand together to reject the economic discourse in whose name rich elites and large multinational corporations have pursued profit and power, by destroying the climate and trampling on the rights of women, workers and Indigenous Peoples.

We stand together to demand an end to a system that allows the powerful to conspire to keep people poor and silent by destroying the social contract between citizens and the state, and trampling on free speech and free association.

We stand together to build a world of greater equality – where all people’s rights are respected and fulfilled, a world of shared prosperity, opportunity and dignity, living within the planet’s boundaries.

We stand together with people - activists, social movements, feminists, Indigenous Peoples and workers everywhere to demand a new economic model that realigns economic benefits in the interests of people, peace and democracy. We stand together with people already engaged in many movements around the world to create these changes. We stand together to build the collective power of people to hold governments accountable and achieve the changes envisioned below, and more that can and must be done to create a better world.

We call on governments around the world to:

1. Take concrete action to close the gap between the richest and the rest

Inequality is out of control. In 2015 the richest 1% had more wealth than the rest of the world, and more than 700 million people were living in extreme poverty. And this extreme gulf between the haves and have nots has been widening with alarming speed over the past 30 years. Too often we find that women and excluded groups are the most impacted. Climate change is also widening the inequality gap as those who contributed the least to it are paying the highest price.

Drastically reducing inequality would benefit the whole of humanity. It is widely accepted that extreme economic inequality corrupts politics, reduces media freedom, hinders economic growth and stifles social mobility. It fuels crime and violent conflict, and stands in the way of the fight against poverty and sustainable development. Change will only come if governments take deliberate action to redistribute wealth, and put a range of progressive policies in place before economic inequality is past the point of no return.

We call for national plans to reduce extreme inequality. We call for social and economic policy-making that factors in the impact on inequality.

2. Reject market fundamentalism, and build economic alternatives that put people and planet first

Economic and political thinking remains dominated by a market fundamentalist ideology that insists deregulation, privatisation, and allowing the market to operate free from government intervention is the best and only path to sustained growth and shared prosperity. The evidence shows this to be untrue, and this ideology stands in the way of poverty and inequality reduction.

Pro-market policies imposed by international financial institutions have created avenues for wealth creation for elites at the expense of the majority everywhere in the world. For example, Latin America, Asia, Africa and the former Soviet bloc saw market fundamentalist policies imposed by creditors after the debt crises of the 80s and 90s. The result was soaring levels of economic inequality across the board, and huge increases in poverty directly resulting from a redistribution of wealth in favour of the richest. Many diverse actors have now recognized rising inequality as a risk to social cohesion, and political and economic stability. Now is the time for a rejection of the market fundamentalist policies that are condemning generations of people to live and die in poverty.

We call for a just economic system that fights poverty and inequality, and makes the market a servant of the people, rather than making people slaves to the market. We call for an end to the ideology that demands cuts in public spending, deregulation, privatisation, tax breaks for the wealthy, and a race to the bottom on environmental standards and human rights.

3. Build just economies that do not discriminate against and exploit women

The same market fundamentalism ideology that creates the gap between the richest and the rest also relies on and further entrenches patriarchy - it undermines the rights of women, achieving economic growth off the back of an unfair burden of unpaid care work and poverty wages for women.

For many years, the faces of workers in the lowest-paid, most precarious and dangerous jobs, unprotected by labour laws, have been the faces of women and girls. Around the world women and girls put in hours of unpaid care work each week that yields billions for the global economy and earns them absolutely no income. Rather than recognising, protecting and rewarding their economic contribution, market fundamentalism has hit women and girls hardest by stripping away policies like paid maternity leave, childcare, and free health and education.

We call for a fair economy that recognises, reduces and redistributes unpaid care work, and social and economic policies that invest in and protect women and girls. We call for an end to economic slavery of women and girls, that sees them toiling without reward to put money into the pockets of the richest companies and individuals.

4. Stop climate catastrophe by protecting affected communities and ending the undue influence of the fossil fuel industry

Climate change is a crisis of inequality. The greenhouse gas emissions of the ‘haves’ are creating dangerous changes to the climate that hit the ‘have-nots’ hardest, as floods and droughts decimate their lives and livelihoods.

Yet governments everywhere are putting the interests of corporations who benefit from the destructive status quo ahead of the interests of people. They spend billions of dollars of public money on subsidies for fossil fuels, rather than investing in the transition to sustainable alternatives. At the same time, companies and elites that profit from fossil fuels are using the market fundamentalist rulebook- such as the unfair agreements of the World Trade Organization and selling false solutions - to undermine the shift to clean, renewable energy. Communities must have a stake in these alternative solutions.

In the meantime, many countries are already disproportionately impacted by a climate crisis they did not cause and need climate finance in order to adapt and increase their resilience to its impacts.

We call for climate justice, where those countries that have done the most to cause climate change take their fair share of climate action. The richest must reduce consumption to ensure that resources are shared equitably and in line with planetary boundaries. Governments must curb the influence of the fossil fuel industry. We call for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and a reinvestment of public money in sustainable alternatives to protect people and planet.

5. Make worker’s rights the cornerstone of our economic model and end corporate greed

The oppression of workers around the world is a human injustice, as well as an intentional strategy by rich elites and corporations to remove opposition to the skewed system that offers dwindling wages to the many, while rich corporations rake in record profits and pay their top executives obscene rewards. Work has become increasingly casualised and informal, with young people and women being hit hardest.

Unions and collective bargaining help redress this imbalance and keep inequality in check, but around the world, workers are facing violations of fundamental rights at work and a crackdown on their right to organize and collectively bargain. For millions of people, the consequences of standing up against unfair conditions can be total loss of income, and persecution.

We call for labour rights and the rule of law for all workers, inclusive of a minimum living wage, social protection and collective bargaining, including the right strike. We call for mandated due diligence for multinationals and an end to today’s grotesque levels of corporate profit, executive pay and rewards, which are profits built on poverty wages and the erosion of decent work.

6. Make wealthy corporations and individuals pay their fair share of tax

The shady world of tax havens and banking secrecy, and flawed fiscal policy that hands out tax cuts for the rich whilst hitting the poor with spending cuts, are some of the most deeply-rooted and corrosive consequences of market fundamentalism. Today, our rigged economy is using the very tools needed to level the playing field, to redistribute money upwards, within and between countries.

Countries have reduced income inequality by making the right tax and spending decisions. Cracking down on tax dodging by multinationals would go a long way to fill the gaping holes in budgets of rich and poor countries alike. But whilst large corporations and the richest are able to write the tax rules, and to defend regressive and unfair taxation in the name of economic growth, inequality will continue to accelerate.

We call for a tax system that puts the brakes on runaway inequality, by increasing or creating tax on wealth, capital and profits of the richest companies and individuals. We call for the creation of progressive tax systems that ensures each company and individual pays their fair share of taxes. We call for an end to tax secrecy, tax havens and illicit financial flows that allow billions of dollars of tax dodging each year, strangling public budgets needed to fund vital public services and pushing people into poverty.

7. Reject privatisation of essential services, build strong responsible states and ensure social protection for all

The destruction of the role of the state, and privatisation of services like health and education, is grounded in market fundamentalist dogma and an unquestioning belief that markets should be introduced into all spheres of life. This zeal for privatisation is taking away the tools and social protection needed to roll back the worst extremes of poverty and inequality.

Privatisation has been a key ingredient in structural adjustment policies introduced since the 80s and 90s that have led to soaring inequality in the poorest countries. Yet governments and donors pour billions of dollars of public money into private initiatives in health and education in the name of this ideology. A system that allows companies to make vast profits, whilst pricing the poorest out of schools and hospitals, and further undermining a public sector that could deliver for the poorest and most vulnerable, has no place in a civilised society.

We call for governments to build states that can provide social protection for everyone, and free public health and education systems to take care of all citizens from the cradle to the grave. We call for an end to privatisation of public services, and no more public subsidies that only serves to put money into the pockets of the richest.

8. Put land back into the hands of women and smallholder farmers and end the dominance of agribusiness

Struggles to take ownership of land represent the oldest form of wealth inequality. Wealthy elites in rich and poor countries alike use their political influence to secure land concessions and subsidies, and while millions of people go hungry, investors and industrial agribusiness make vast profits from land that is grabbed from the poorest communities, Indigenous Peoples and smallholder farmers – land they used to feed themselves sustainably and to supply local markets. Industrial agribusiness is also one of the largest contributors to climate crises.

This is not a new struggle, but it has been accelerated by growing inequality, market fundamentalism and speculation in agricultural commodities. Wealth in the form of land is being redistributed upwards, with poor countries losing vast areas of land to banks and private investors. This goes against lessons from countries where land redistribution has played a key role in reducing inequality. 

We call for governments to protect the rights of women, Indigenous Peoples and communities to their land, pursue deliberate land redistribution programmes, and join together to regulate investors and industrial agribusiness. We call for an end to land grabs that rob the poorest of food sovereignty.

9. Protect democratic rights and civil society space in the face of growing inequality

The rapid rise of inequality has gone hand in hand with the crushing of democracy and civil society space. Rising collusion between political and economic elites has eroded the freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in countries around the world. Civil society freedoms are increasingly being violated around the world.

In this context, hate speech, physical attacks, disappearances and assassinations are increasingly common. Citizens who speak truth to power, and challenge authoritarianism and market fundamentalism, are suffering vilification and stigmatisation, arbitrary detention and criminalisation.

We call for governments to safeguard civil society, and protect the rights of all citizens to freely speak out, organise and take action. We call for an end to legislation that prevents civil society holding governments accountable.

10. Protect the rights of migrants and refugees and address the root causes of displacement

In a world of economic winners and losers, too often the blame for a lack of opportunity is laid at the door of migrants and refugees – victims of forced displacement – rather than at the door of governments engaged in conflict and war or pushing regressive policy.

Migrant workers often suffer the worst discrimination, low wages and insecure work without equal rights. Refugees and displaced people suffer perilous journeys and abandonment in unsafe camps, as stable countries refuse entry on the basis that there is not enough money to meet their needs. In a world of plenty, this is unacceptable.

Ensuring people’s rights and equal opportunity is the antidote to fear and xenophobia for a world where trust is breaking down between people within and between nations, and people and their government.

We call for all governments to ensure refugees, migrants and forcibly displaced people are protected under international standards, and are provided the rights to safe haven, the right to work and social protection. We call for an end to the racist and xenophobic political and media rhetoric that scapegoats migrants and refugees, and an end to encampment policies that undermine their dignity and chance of a decent life.

Original source: Fight Inequality

Photo credit: ant.photos, flickr creative commons