The current crisis, brought on by capitalist mismanagement during the ongoing global pandemic and climate emergency and compounded by the war in Ukraine, is largely defined by supply shortages, inflation and dramatic increases in the cost of living. Though not as severely affected as many other countries, Australia is experiencing this in the form of a worsening housing crisis and decline in real wages, alongside increases in the price of food and fuel. Abroad, countries in the Global South face acute hunger, with several countries now "at risk of deterioration towards catastrophic conditions, with up to 750,000 people facing starvation and death". According to World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley, "(c)onditions now are much worse than during the Arab Spring in 2011 and 2007-2008 food price crisis, when 48 countries were rocked by political unrest, riots and protests".
In some countries this process has already begun, including Sri Lanka, where an ongoing wave of anger against corruption, shortages and inflation, among other things, has forced the resignation or arrest of many of the nation's political elite. In others, the working class has already made significant gains. Sparked by high fuel prices and the rising cost of living, the national strike in Ecuador has concluded successfully after eighteen days, with the working class defeating the neoliberal government of Guillermo Lasso to secure several key demands. Led by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the national strike was launched on June 13 with ten demands, including the reduction and freezing of the price of fuel, Indigenous self-determination, economic relief, fair prices on food and an end to the privatisation of public assets. The demands also contained an ecological dimension, calling for a moratorium on oil and gas exploration and other extractivist policies.
This has been a long and bitter fight, however, reaching far back beyond the national strike's eighteen days. Several major Indigenous-led uprisings took place throughout the 1990s, primarily in support of land rights and against extractivism and privatisation. These continued into the 2000s despite the election of the populist left-wing government of Rafael Correa, which although nominally opposed to neoliberal institutions such as the IMF and World Bank continued to carry out extractivist developments. The development of the Chinese-owned Mirador copper mine, for example, triggered a series of protests demanding greater environmental protections and consultation with Indigenous communities. In 2015 hundreds of thousands marched from across the political spectrum against austerity measures and increases in inheritance taxes and demanded Correa's departure, which was achieved peacefully in the 2017 elections. His successor and former vice-president Lenin Moreno soon made a sharp turn away from leftist policy, however, and in 2019 his government cut fuel subsidies. As a result of the subsequent 40% increase in fuel costs, students and transport workers initiated a mass uprising that paralysed the nation and resulted in the restoration of subsidies and the reversal of other austerity measures. The uprising and the accompanying police violence would also have the effect of utterly destroying Moreno's popularity. By the time he was evicted from office in 2021, his approval rate stood at around 9%.
Following the authoritarian policies, debt and corruption of the Correa government, however, enthusiasm for the pro-Correa Union for Hope was not sufficient to return the left to power. This, in addition to the failure of Indigenous candidate Yaku Perez to make it to the second round of elections meant that the hardcore neoliberal banker Guillermo Lasso was able to secure a victory, though his Movimiento CREO party was able to win only 12 seats in the 137 member National Assembly. Despite initially gaining ground thanks to an extensive vaccination program, Lasso's government has failed to confront issues concerning Indigenous representation, unemployment and the cost of living. Banks are refusing to cancel debts accrued by workers and campesinos during the pandemic, meaning that there "can be no economic revival for the poorest because the bankers are suffocating them". Poverty is widespread, with 29% of the total population living in conditions of poverty and 59.1% of the Indigenous population beneath the poverty line. On top of this, the country's escalating drug war has exacerbated feelings that the government is insensitive to the people. Since December 2020, clashes between rival gangs in prison have left at least 316 dead while 1,800 violent deaths were recorded in 2021 alone.
In response to the ongoing crisis of Ecuadorian society, CONAIE launched the June 13 strike in conjunction with the Council of Evangelical Indigenous Peoples and Organisations of Ecuador and the National Confederation of Peasant, Indigenous and Black Organisations. Though the strike was initially not expected to be as large as the 2019 uprising, the government's decision to arrest CONAIE leader Leonidas Iza on the second day proved to be incendiary. Police units were attacked and in Latacunga protesters occupied the Prosecutor's Office. On the third day Iza was released, but protests were only gaining in momentum: large-scale mobilisations of students and residents of poorer communities saw blockades erected in Quito and several other major cities. By the 16th, tens of thousands were marching in the streets and the next day the government imposed a state of emergency in the provinces and a curfew in Quito. This was accompanied by an intense campaign of vilification and racist attack by the state's spokesmen and media. These had little effect, however, and the protests continued to grow despite an intensification of police violence, which saw one protester, Byron Guatatoca, shot and killed at point-blank range with a tear gas canister in Puyo and another who police absurdly claim "fell into a ravine" on the outskirts of Quito. Tens of thousands have been left injured while others were killed by the army's intervention, including one in a confrontation in San Antonio that also left seventeen soldiers injured - an illustration of the ferocity of the street fighting.
Negotiations between the Indigenous movement and the government were arranged for June 27 but delayed by heavy clashes initiated by the army that left one soldier dead, a confrontation that Lasso used as an excuse to break off dialogue. Perhaps due to the deepening of the unrest, which saw an impeachment attempt and, on the final day of the national strike, the extension of the state of emergency to four more provinces, Lasso at last reached an agreement with the Indigenous leadership on June 30. The key demands won include the suspension of the state of emergency, a reduction of the price of fuel by 15c per gallon, support to the healthcare system and a prohibition on mining in several protected and Indigenous territories. The unfortunate reality remains, however, that the strike was unable to achieve all of its goals, prompting Iza to state that the agreement was "certainly not on the terms we wanted", leaving a "bittersweet taste''.
In our view, a factor contributing to this unsatisfying outcome was the absence of organised labour, with the country's most powerful union, the Frente Unitario de Trabajadores, disgracefully choosing to largely sit the strike out due to its leadership's political differences with CONAIE. We can further observe that the people were in fact ahead of the CONAIE leadership in their revolutionary consciousness, clearly desiring to go beyond its ten demands and settlement with the state, as indicated by the insurrections not just in the capital but in the Tungurahua and Cotopaxi provinces. While Iza is an excellent leader clearly committed to the strike movement, Primera Linea notes that his "leadership, intentionally or not, is overshadowing other social and Indigenous leaders ... He has both moderated and also agitated this movement, depending on the moment". Nonetheless, we endorse Iza when he declared that "(t)his fight has no colour because it belongs to the runas [Indigenous], to the whites, to the mestizos, to the cholos, to the montubios, to the Afros, to all of us who are screwed economically" - a clear statement that working class people cannot win their demands if they do not overcome the false divisions sowed by the ruling class.
An important gain of June 2022 has been the further weakening of the Ecuadorian neoliberal state and the strengthening of a combative and militant working class. Without a clear revolutionary approach, however, whatever gains are won will eventually be rolled back. Without a revolutionary overturn of the existing status quo, the world's people will continue to be held hostage to the failed capitalist economic system and its inflation, shortages and various other hazards. The June national strike has demonstrated that it is possible to fight capitalism and win. It has also shown that a lot more can be achieved.