Hope springs eternal: A New Year's worker's message| December 31, 2012
The question now is where to go from here. All workers and most people are now expendable waste in the global corporate market. We feel demoralized and defensive and are picked off one by one. We face "austerity" as the banks earn record profits. We compete to death while trillions are shored up in offshore bank accounts. Some of that loot was robbed from us after the 2008 failure of the banking system for which our children and their children and likely their children will be paying for their lifetimes as the planet screams for relief. Is it fair that someone that hasn't been born yet should be paying banks money after they have already robbed and pillaged billions in profit? Apparently, yes. There does not appear to be much understanding of system failure by most workers and their leaders.
We keep puttering on, looking for someone to blame, a name we can hang our hat on while systems of destruction rise around us. We use the bosses' courts in vain attempts to settle scores with an occasional victory. We keep running on someone else's treadmill while they control the wheel. This system cares not about our bodies, our histories, our cultures or our dignity. At one time, it was Indigenous peoples in this position. Now it is all of us, everything, every country, every town, every workplace, every street, and every body. The Indigenous territories continue to be colonized. And we of the settler class have self-colonized ourselves along the way and behave by cue in this absurd trap. Even with resistance rising all around us, we go shopping and hope for the best, like compliant little victims programmed by the system as Rome burns, or more aptly, as the Earth screams.
Unions are woefully self-immobilized; seemingly unable or unwilling to explore the processes to shift the terrain or acknowledge that one might exist. That is left to the youth, the defenders of the land, the frontline and marginalized peoples who are the most penalized fallout of capitalism and a colonial mess that remains unresolved. We play by the rules; the same rules made to penalize resistance and silence opposition to corporatism (some would say it has the hallmarks of soft fascism). We play the game on their field in an unsustainable order based on greed and destruction and then predictably complain about it.
Are you as tired of being a victim as I am? We blame corporations for what they were designed to do, blaming politicians for what they can't, or won't, do, and living in the shadows of denial or fear or both. We tolerate a system controlled by others that is based on an alleged "lesser of evils," where no matter who is elected they will be hamstrung by a global corporate initiative of investors and bankers that can bring a country to its knees. It is the system which promotes a corrupt nature of relations that robs workers, punishes the poor and destroys the land. It is a place of record profits and jobless recoveries. The "economy" as they call it, is spoken of with reverence and scared fervour as if we exist and are designed only for it.
But like Patti Smith sang, "people have the power," more power than they know, "the power to dream, to rule, to wrestle the earth from fools." We have the strength in numbers that can occupy and blockade and the power to withdraw our labour and bring the production of goods and services to a halt. We have the power to write the script any time of our choosing. How many of us are afraid of that power in the hour it is needed most? Many working-class people participate in this surrender whether they know it or not. They would rather talk about Christmas turkey or the latest abuse by their bosses rather than joining or creating spaces of resistance while staid, ineffective institutions rule us. A lack of creative power, and spaces to find it, is a course designed by the enemy that we travel day after day. It continues to rob us, with our compliance, silence and ineffectiveness.
If you think there is something more, something greater and something better, then we need to find a way out. This system is broken. Let's get over it and plan for real. What is the old adage: don't get mad, get even. Better yet, make our opponents irrelevant; perhaps not an easy task, but certainly a noble and desired one. Never has this been so vital to so many people. We face more than getting even: it is the survival of our species and all living things with a little human dignity in the here and now.
If you step outside for a moment, leave the box, as Idle No More has done, and just for an instant consider all things possible and that maybe our biggest enemy has not been those that rob us and fill their pockets, but rather ourselves. It is our compliance, our blind faith, our system of acceptance, as if chained to an illusion that we can really change things with a ballot while the strings are pulled inevitably by invisible puppeteers. This farce which is now global no longer has meaning or vision. We are atomized, broken up into disconnected parts, right down to the neighbourhood and even family level. We have been taught suspicion and that we live in "democracies" and have special "Canadian values" in a land based on theft of Indigenous territories and a culture of war. We see invisible enemies everywhere. Up is down and down is up. So we look for refuge in a pile of distractions and circuses. Time is almost up. And so we avoid. We are the sheep, making it possible for the ruse to continue.
So what processes will we unleash? Will we remain a bunch of hopeless victims satisfied with an absence of ideas about resistance? Will our spaces be denied by well-meaning "leaders" hamstrung by processes from another era that don't work? Or shall we mould ourselves into something else, something fit for the times, something that leaves a legacy to be enjoyed by those who follow us to build on; organized collectives of workers that seize opportunity and turn disadvantage into advantage to join with defenders of these lands and waters around us? Will we become a movement defined by us and not our opponents? Will we become real allies and join the resistance rising up all around us? Will we nurture a wiry resistance that is always moving, strategizing and inviting processes that are participatory and feed on the collective power we carry together?
Our governments (and unions) are "pretend" or "part-time" democracies. The backrooms, the hidden and the unseen, fear, and a lack of ideas dot the terrain. Thus defeatism and social management of struggle have become our practice, part of our nature. We have a poor understanding of participatory democracy because we have not been given a chance, nor do we claim it. It is too easy to blame "mis-leaders" or general incompetence on others. That is unfair, though in some cases quite true. We have allowed ourselves to be locked into processes with little wiggle room. That means changing the terrain, and creating new rules. We have the right to dream and create. Let us never forget that. That project deepens now which leaves us with choices.
I don't need to list all the things that strangle our hope. We live them everyday. And making more lists of our misery and what the corporatocracy is doing to us is no longer on. Righteous victims don't change anything. But new structures and spaces of possibility can lend themselves to something vital. This is not a game. We can no longer tippy-toe with a paralyzing fear that creates no victories and waits for others to find them for us and merely complain and blame when they don't.
Workers, and the increased destruction of rights, are not inevitable. It is only inevitable if we allow ourselves to be "managed" under rules and practices designed to rob and destroy us that we reproduce. So instead of playing on their field, chasing paper thrown at us by employers, filing grievances that go nowhere, and tying up unions in bureaucratic processes, why not unleash another kind of unionism. One grounded in the power of our work and dignity and in harmony with the thousands of years of Indigenous wisdom placed on these lands that was never extinguished, even in the darkest of times.
We don't lack resistance; we lack places to nurture it. Active unionism would require that every worker contribute time and effort to developing spaces and processes for resistance and acknowledge these destructive systems of control rather than "manage" what we all agree is a woeful decline in union power. A real struggle involves the personal, the emotional, the direct contact, not hollow proclamations posted on bulletin boards in the hopeless drudgery of workplaces. What we lack are the assemblies and places to tap into our unity and power.
As the resistance rises around us, let us not be cautious and afraid anymore. The politics of blame are over. None of us are alone. People do have the power; they just struggle to realize it. Consider it an invitation.
Dave Bleakney is the national union representative for education for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and has written and published in numerous publications on resistance, neoliberal globalization and adult education pedagogy.