Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Criticizing Capitalism Inside and Through Capitalism

A friend of mine regularly emails to a wide network of people articles that he finds of interest. Some of them are from more "mainstream" media such as the Globe & Mail, etc., while others are from the "alternate" press, such as Open Democracy, TomDispatch, Yes Magazine or Asia Times. He includes the full text as well as a hyperlink. I can only assume that he subscribes to Le Monde Diplomatique for when I click on the provided link, I am confronted with a paywall. I am, of course, grateful that my friend has provided the full text in the email for my reading pleasure.

The latest such article is titled "What's Left of the U.S. Left" written by Rick Fantasia. I appreciated his analysis and wanted to share it with friends. Over the past year or so I have usually found Facebook to be a quick way to share interesting links. But, of course, in this instance, the link takes you to a paywall. Now, ordinarily, this wouldn't bother me much. I understand that, the old adage of things being worth what you pay for them is usually true. And, certainly, good writing and critique has value. However, the crux of the argument being presented in this article is that there are "two lefts" in the U.S., which he describes as the "included" and the "excluded". As I read the article, I was beginning to wonder if the divide he described might have something to do with which side of the "paywall" you were on.
In his article he describes the "excluded" workers, otherwise largely known as the disenfranchised low waged non-union workers. He recounts how more than 15,000 activists of this group were in Detroit in June this past year as part of a U.S. Social Forum gathering. Participating in the event were representatives from the Excluded Workers Congress, the Domestic Worker Alliance, the Taxi Alliance, the Alliance for Guest Workers and the National Day Labourers Organizing Network, amongst many others. More than 10,000 of them marched through the streets "full of militancy, anger and colour". He laments that
"(t)here was almost no media coverage of the Detroit Social Forum in the US press, before or after, though the media had been saturated through the summer with reports of rightwing Tea Party rallies (some of which drew just a few hundred people."
He then rhetorically asks,
"Although the Forum took place in the heart of the auto industry, where were the auto workers?"
The answer, of course, lies in the fact that they, the auto workers, are part of the "other left", otherwise known as the "included" workers. They are part of the organized labour movement that has been far more successful in securing better wages and protection from the ravages of the economic downturn. As he points out
while their numbers have declined there are still some 50,000 auto workers and 128,000 retirees.
Fantasia then discusses the activity of this "other left". They were represented most recently by those who showed up at
a large demonstration in October in Washington DC called by a coalition of "progressive" groups, including the AFL-CIO (the country's biggest trade union confederation), the NAACP (national Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the national Council of La Raza, and the national Gay and Lesbian Task Force. This was the established institutionalised left, led by the main labour federation, the official labour movement that was able to bring well over 100,000 workers and others to Washington to show strength and draw public attention away from the Tea Party.
Fantasia pointed out that there
was little attempt to stir up the crowd, no march organized and no real sense of political urgency.
He concludes that these well organized groups have been
too close to power too often to want to jeopardize the position of their institutions.
His analysis certainly speaks to me. He is describing the notion of how power corrupts, regardless of the circle. From the smallest block party organizer to multi-national unions and corporations, for some people, power goes to their head and they often see the world only through organizational or "me first" eyes. Individuals and groups buy into the power trip, and we always need to be honest with ourselves about when it may be happening.

This, of course, brings me back to what "stuck in my craw" as it were, about not so much what this article was saying, but how I came across it. Here was an excellent, and intriguing article that criticized capitalism as well as pointing out that even within the "left" there are the "excluded" as well as the "included". Yet, it was posted behind a paywall that, by virtue of its existence, excluded many. Might one say that those who can afford to read it, don't actually need to, (as they are amongst the educated, financially privileged converted), while those who perhaps most need to read it, the "excluded", can't afford to? What a conundrum.

So, I posed this criticism to my friend, as I questioned why Fantasia was hiding his critique behind a paywall. He quickly came to the defense of Fantasia and Le Monde Diplomatique, saying that it was a struggling "progressive anti-capitalist co-operative" that deserved our support. While I couldn't disagree, I simultaneously wonder how we get the message out to those who most need to hear it, when they can't afford to pay?

I toyed with the idea of posting the article in its entirety, on my blog, but have, for now decided against this course, at my friend's behest. This led me to think of another topic; money, income, and how much is enough. It is rare, if ever, that people in our society are prepared to reveal their income, and what they spend it on. It is considered a "private" matter. I am beginning to think otherwise. I truly believe that, for the most part, we have reached the stage that "enough is enough". Welling up within me is immense criticism of those who draw bulky salaries or fat pensions whose biggest complaint (other than the airport lineups they must endure as they embark on their semi annual vacations), is that their taxes, and welfare rates, are too high. But, yes, that is another topic.

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