Is their struggle a global concern?
Farmers’ unions from all over the USA have expressed support for the farmers’ uprising in India. They understand the need to stand in solidarity as their struggles connect. That they are victims of the same neoliberal ideology. It is a known fact that what farmers in India are enduring now has happened in America since the 1980s, starting with the Reagan administration. Once thriving family farms, were swallowed up by America’s food giants. The effects are evident throughout rural America. In the 1990s, half of the agriculture sector in the US consisted of small- to medium-sized family farms. Today these types of farms make up less than one-quarter of the agriculture sector.
For years now the American government has eroded the concept of parity prices (or the notion that guarantees farmers a fair price and a decent livelihood) and engaging in deregulatory efforts through federal policy change. The US agriculture does receive more support compared to other countries, although access to that support remains unbalanced. It excludes farmers who lack secure land tenure concentrated in vegetable and small-scale sectors. These farmers very often are minorities in the USA. The introduction of bills like the Justice for Black Farmers Act of 2020 proves the USA has a farming crisis of its own that it needs to address. But the effects of corporatization have gone even beyond just affecting minorities. The notion as described by the 87 unions that showed solidarity to the farmers’ agitation in India was “To get big or get out.” The effects have devastated small farms. The letter or statement of support shows a strong connection between the effect neoliberalism has had on the agriculture sector in America to what is now happening in India.
The effects of neoliberalism are not limited to one sector alone. Neoliberalism has created vast income inequality in the United States and throughout the world—although it is sold as an idea that promotes free-market capitalism. Many would argue that it brought about the decline of competition and creates monopolies in many sectors be it pharmaceuticals, banks, retail, or agriculture. It has created the idea of a global elite that does not base its business in one country alone but rather garners its resources from many. Although the farmers’ agitation has made headlines as the largest protest in the history of the world, it was not the first rebellion of people rejecting neoliberalism and the unjust disparities it creates. In America, many attributed the rise of Bernie Sanders and Trump to the failures of neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism is a political ideology that gained momentum in the 1970s and 1980s with leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. It is a political ideology that promotes policies like free-market competition and is often associated with laissez-faire capitalism. One of the key elements of neoliberalism is free trade. Free trade promotes the idea of free international capital flow without political restraints and in search of the highest profit. It allows multinational corporations to invest or move production to any country of the world. Neoliberalism is often accompanied by national policies that seek to remove the political constraints that limit or regulate free international capital flow or trade. Such policies include repressing labor, dismantling organized labor or unions, deregulation, privatization, and wage repression. Neoliberalism has stunted wage growth in both developed and developing countries. Although in this concept, we often do see developed countries calling the shots and developing nations obliging.
How does all of this connect to the farmers’ uprising in India? We know farmers in India have organized to create one of the most spirited protests in history to demand the repeal of the three farm bills that parliament passed without their knowledge or consultation by an undemocratic voice vote. Many have failed to acknowledge the role the United States has played in the passage of these three unjust laws. One key concern of the farmers is that these bills might take away MSP or the minimum support price for produce, wheat, rice, and grain. It is supposed to cover 26 crops. The MSP or minimum support guarantee ensures that farmers can receive a fair price for specific crops and earn enough to survive. This notion is very similar to what is known as parity prices in the USA. Yet America has been a powerful opponent of MSP usage in India, in the World Trade Organization or WTO. The US, Australia, Canada, and their European allies have claimed MSP hinders free trade. Or in other words, they consider MSP a political restraint, very much like fair wages, labor unions, and government regulations that should be eliminated.
Coming back to the point that the farmers’ protest in India is part of a larger crisis that is not limited to one country or even one sector. In no way can the Indian government say those who raise their voices abroad are intervening in their internal matters. Even in America, people are still wondering how to shut the door to fascism forever. One thing to keep in mind is that reforming trade was one of Trump’s main campaign points back in 2016. There is a need to make free trade into fair trade. We need to reverse the effects neoliberalism has had in terms of globalization overall. And not just the United States but every nation must take part in these efforts.
The revolution that started in India has opened the door for the world to take initiatives. Every country can start by protecting their small farmers from deregulation efforts, like these three farm laws in India. It is laws like these that diminish whatever little bargaining power that farmers have left by removing them from their farms. Despite all of his big promises, the Trump administration did little to reverse the effects of neoliberalism overall. His administration further advanced deregulation and increased aid to commodity farmers while cutting aid to the small farmers in need. The United States, among many others, must stop putting the interest of big agribusiness over the plight of small farmers. They must stop aiding the corporatization of agriculture both at home and in other countries. Steps like these would be a great start from what the world needs to take away and learn from the largest protest in world history. Just like the farmers of the world stand united against corporate greed and neoliberalism, it is time that everyone else joins them in their fight.
Sonika Gill is a second year law student at the Boston University School of Law.