by Faramarz Farbod
Can humans rise to the occasion and overcome the challenges facing their societies and the planet? Call me unimaginative but I believe this can come about if as participants in movements for social change we re-embrace the politics of labor and set out to shift the balance of power between labor and capital, in favor of labor. Failing to do so, would mean that our world will continue to be organized to serve the narrow needs and requirements of financial markets and of the large investor classes at the expense of the rest of humanity and of nature.
Social and ecological degradation need not be the common fate of humans. A specter is haunting our world—a specter of the spirit of resistance and revolt. All the powers of the old world united will not suffice to exorcise this spirit if the greatest possible number of people join together to insist that another world is indeed possible.
Once democratic rights are won and the balance of power is shifted in favor of workers, then the workers, the youth, students, and women will be better placed to fight to expand the realm of social justice in the future.
There are powerful reasons for hope. For one, the post-Cold War U.S. hegemony lasted only until 2008. In addition, the Great Recession of 2008 is affording progressive forces an unprecedented opportunity to challenge neoliberal assumptions and policies.
The neoliberal globalizers had been telling the world that people are atomistic individuals interested only in their own well-being, interest, and profits; that the whole world is a market and that all social policies must conform to market needs; that markets are about freedom and democracy; and that there is no other world possible or desirable other than the present one with its mad pursuit of savage competition, increase in trade, free flow of capital, regressive tax systems, austere social budgets, privatization of public assets, liberalization of capital markets, and assaults against the social power of workers. The ravages of the ruinous recession expose many of these claims as, at worst, nothing more than deceptive claims and, at best, as myths peddled by greedy moneyed interests.
In the present context of the Great Recession, the maddening insistence of the moneyed classes that the public both pay (bail them out) and bear the brunt of the crisis (in the form of shrinking social budgets) has led tens of thousands of people to participate in street protests and work strikes in several countries, including (and belatedly) Madison, Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of public employees and citizens protested against an assault aimed at weakening the collective bargaining right of some public employees.
Furthermore, the 2011 Arab Rebellion has demonstrated stunningly that another Middle East is indeed possible. To be human is (among other things) to be inspired by the successes of others. It is a joy to witness that the Middle East may be exporting to the U.S. and elsewhere a valiant spirit of resistance and peaceful revolution. It is even more exciting to see a symbiosis between the politics of transformation there and here, as there have been welcome signs of the synergistic effect of protests in Egypt and Madison, Wisconsin: for example, an Egyptian placecard read: “Egyptians Support Workers in Wisconsin–One World, One Pain” while protesters in Wisconsin referred to the Governor Scott Walker whom they were demonstrating against as “the Mubarak of the Middle West.”
Finally, let’s return to my point made at the outset regarding the necessity of building new balances of power between labor and capital. I am concerned that in spite of the presence of labor struggles in the Middle East, Europe, and the US, organizers might fail to nurture awareness and solidarity between workers of different nations as well as between them and others among their compatriots. The labor-capital contradiction can inform political democracy concerns to ensure that the momentum gained by the peoples’ uprisings be used to win certain basic rights for the workers such as the right to independent unionism and significantly higher minimum wages. Once democratic rights are won and the balance of power is shifted in favor of workers, then the workers, the youth, students, and women will be better placed to fight to expand the realm of social justice in the future. Without workers participating as workers in social movements and without a strong and sustained consciousness of solidarity among them neoliberal globalization will not be rolled back nor defeated in its aim of creating a global dream system of economic and political control over the planet.
Fara teaches Political Science at Moravian College.
(Published in the 2011 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)