NEW YORK: Rising food costs. Soaring fuel bills. Wages that are not keeping pace. Inflation is plundering people’s wallets, sparking a wave of protests and workers’ strikes around the world.
This week alone saw protests by the political opposition in Pakistan, nurses in Zimbabwe, unionized workers in Belgium, railway workers in Britain, Indigenous people in Ecuador, hundreds of US pilots and some European airline workers. Sri Lanka’s prime minister declared an economic collapse Wednesday after weeks of political turmoil.
Economists say Russia’s war in Ukraine amplified inflation by further pushing up the cost of energy and prices of fertilizer, grains and cooking oils as farmers struggle to grow and export crops in one of the world’s key agricultural regions.
As prices rise, inflation threatens to exacerbate inequalities and widen the gap between billions of people struggling to cover their costs and those who are able to keep spending.
“We are not all in this together,” said Matt Grainger, head of inequality policy at antipoverty organization Oxfam. “How many of the richest even know what a loaf of bread costs? They don’t really, they just absorb the prices.”
Oxfam is calling on the Group of 7 leading industrialized nations, which are holding their annual summit this weekend in Germany, to provide debt relief to developing economies and to tax corporations on excess profits.
“This isn’t just a standalone crisis. It’s coming off the back of an appalling pandemic that fueled increased inequality worldwide,” Grainger said. “I think we will see more and more protests.”
The demonstrations have caught the attention of governments, which have responded to soaring consumer prices with support measures like expanded subsidies for utility bills and cuts to fuel taxes. Often, that offers little relief because energy markets are volatile. Central banks are trying to ease inflation by raising interest rates.
Meanwhile, striking workers have pressured employers to engage in talks on raising wages to keep up with rising prices.
Eddie Dempsey, a senior official with Britain’s Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, which brought UK train services to a near standstill with strikes this week, said there are going to be more demands for pay increases across other sectors.
“It’s about time Britain had a pay rise. Wages have been falling for 30 years and corporate profits have been going through the roof,” Dempsey said.
Last week, thousands of truckers in South Korea ended an eight-day strike that caused shipment delays as they called for minimum wage guarantees amid soaring fuel prices.
Months earlier, some 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) away, truckers in Spain went on strike to protest fuel prices.
Peru’s government imposed a brief curfew after protests against fuel and food prices turned violent in April. Truckers and other transport workers also had gone on strike and blocked key highways.
Protests over the cost of living ousted Sri Lanka’s prime minister last month. Middle-class families say they’re forced to skip meals because of the island nation’s economic crisis, prompting them to contemplate leaving the country altogether.
The situation is particularly dire for refugees and the poor in conflict areas such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Myanmar and Haiti, where fighting has forced people to flee their homes and rely on aid organizations, themselves struggling to raise money.