Tuesday, 12 July 2005
For those who experienced the failed New Zealand experiment of the 1990s, the Howard government's industrial relations agenda has a eerie ring of déjà vu. By Lyndy McIntyre, NZNO communications adviser with the New Zealand Nurses' Organisation, currently seconded to the ACTU
Economics editor Ross Gittins has issued damning criticisms of the Federal Government's industrial relations newspaper advertisements in a column in the Sydney Morning Herald Monday 11 July 2005.
YOU ARE TELLING LIES BUT I AM SELLING REFORM
Author: ROSS GITTINS - Ross Gittins is the Herald's Economics Editor.
Publication: Sydney Morning Herald , Page 17 (Mon 11 Jul 2005)
There's nothing new about furious arguments between governments and interest groups opposed to the changes those governments propose.
What's different about the argument over the industrial relations changes, however, is the degree of verbal abuse the Government has been heaping on the ACTU.
John Howard and the normally God-fearing Kevin Andrews have repeatedly referred to the unions' claims as "lies".
That's a pretty tough word to be using in the rough and tumble of political debate, where both sides are likely to be exaggerating their case and saying things calculated to mislead an uninitiated public.
It's an invitation to people in my position to run the old lie detector over the Government's claims. And frankly, those taxpayer-financed newspaper ads at the weekend don't stack up too well.
Consider some of the "key points of our plan". The first was "new safeguards for wages and conditions - guaranteed by federal legislation".
Perfectly true - but a long way from the whole truth. What it doesn't say is that the new safeguards are much narrower than the existing safeguards - which are also guaranteed by federal legislation.
At present, the operation of the "no-disadvantage test" makes a person's award their safety net. Even if they're on a collectively bargained enterprise agreement or an individual contract (including an Australian Workplace Agreement), they can't do worse than their award.
That award covers the minimum wage they must be paid, plus up to 20 conditions of employment. The new safety net, however, covers their minimum wage and just four conditions: annual leave, sick leave, unpaid parental leave and the 38 hour week.
The conditions that will no longer effectively be covered by the safety net include redundancy pay, overtime, shift-work penalty rates, weekend and public holiday pay rates and annual leave loading.
Another key point is to "safeguard workers with a modern award system". This is quite dishonest. People who are offered employment on condition they accept an AWA will gain no protection at all from the relevant award. Nor will any existing workers who've signed an AWA.
People on collective agreements will gain no additional safety from their award. Only people subject to neither a collective agreement nor an AWA will be protected by their award - in theory, but possibly not in practice.
A third key point is to "protect workers against unlawful dismissal". This is quite sneaky because many workers wouldn't realise the difference between "unfair dismissal" and "unlawful dismissal".
Unlawful dismissal is much more restricted, covering discrimination on the grounds of family responsibilities, pregnancy, race and gender, union membership and political affiliations.
But it's trickier than that. With unfair dismissal, the worker just fronts up to the Industrial Relations Commission.
With unlawful dismissal, the newly jobless worker has to hire a lawyer, bring proceedings in an ordinary court and hope their lawyer isn't outgunned by the employer's lawyer. You can imagine how many people with a genuine case won't feel able to pursue it.
Now let's examine the Government's claims about "what we won't do". The first is that "we won't cut four weeks annual leave". True - but the provision for workers to choose to cash out up to two weeks leave is (apart from being bad policy) open to abuse.
Some workers seeking employment may be obliged to accept an AWA in which two weeks' leave have been bargained away, or decline the job. In other circumstances, bosses may oblige existing ununionised workers to accept such a condition even though applying pressure isn't strictly legal.
Next, "we won't cut award wages". Not in nominal terms, no. But cuts in real wages are quite possible for workers on one of the minimum wage rates specified in their award.
Already the Government has indicated that the new Fair Pay Commission's first minimum wage adjustment won't occur until well over year after the last adjustment under the old system. This is an old trick for cutting real wages.
It's a safe bet that, at the first hint of a recession, the pay commission would cease granting wage rises for the duration, eventually resuming adjustments without any thought of "catch-up".
We've got no way of knowing the commission will seek to preserve the real value of minimum wages in the ordinary course. But even if it does, we can be confident it will grant rises smaller than the old commission would have. So it's likely minimum wages will fall relative to market-determined wages.
And then there are all those overtime and penalty rates that will no longer be in the safety net. Their loss could certainly cause some workers' take-home pay to fall - which is all the unions have claimed.
Third, "we won't abolish awards". True. The plan is merely to stop them being the safety net, so that for most people they become a dead letter. Mr Howard is far too crafty to actually abolish awards, just as he's emasculated the role of the Industrial Relations Commission without actually abolishing it.
Fourth, "we won't remove the right to join a union". True. They'll just greatly constrain the unions' ability to recruit new members. Unions' entry into workplaces will require the permission of the employer.
Fifth, "we won't take away the right to strike". Not take it away, no. Strikes have already been made illegal outside the bargaining period. Now Mr Howard plans to make strikes much harder to organise by requiring cumbersome secret ballots.
The likely result is that the strikes we have will be much longer. Once they're out, they'll stay out.
Finally, "we won't outlaw union agreements". No, they'll just reduce the security of workers who aren't protected by a union, make it far easier for employers to push their ununionised workers on to individual contracts and, where workers summon the courage to decline an individual contract, leave employers under no obligation to bargain collectively - with or without a union.
This is the most unashamedly anti-union government we've had. It won't outlaw them, just do its damnedest to frustrate them.
Whereas until quite recently it was almost universally accepted that workers had a right to bargain collectively, this Government is doing all it can to discourage collective bargaining and foster individual bargaining.
Often, combatants resort to hurling abuse because their case is weak or hard to defend. The Government's basic problem is it can't bring itself to admit that the crystal-clear objective of its changes is to shift the balance of bargaining power in favour of employers.
Far from admitting that truth, it is seeking to conceal it from an unsophisticated electorate. Hence the many misleading statements in the taxpayer-financed advertisements.
Messrs Howard and Andrews are in no position to accuse their opponents of telling lies.
From July 1 2005 the Federal Government will take control of the Senate giving it a majority in both houses of federal parliament. For the first time since he became Prime Minister, John Howard's Government will be able to pass whatever laws it likes without them being blocked or changed by the Senate. The Government has announced it will use these new powers to rewrite Australia's workplace laws and take away most of your basic rights at work.
So what changes is the Howard Government planning for Australia's workplaces?
1. Abolish protection from unfair dismissal for 4 million workers employed in companies with less than 100 staff
2. Allow employers to put workers onto individual contracts that cut take-home pay and reduce employment conditions to only 5 minimum standards ? workers who refuse to sign may fear being sacked
3. Change the way minimum wages are set to make them lower
4. Effectively abolish the award safety net and replace it with just 5 conditions:
- a minimum hourly rate of pay (currently $12.75)
- 8 days sick leave
- 4 weeks annual leave
- unpaid parental leave
- weekly working hours
Many workers will lose conditions like weekend, shift and public holiday rates; overtime; redundancy pay; allowances; and casual loadings.
5. Keep unions out of workplaces and reduce the capacity for workers to bargain collectively with their employer
6. Take away the powers of the independent Industrial Relations Commission
What do these changes mean for you?
The Government's plans will mean lower living standards for working people
Unions believe that the changes proposed by the Howard Government threaten the basic rights, pay and entitlements of Australian workers.
These changes will benefit business at the expense of Australian working families.
The Government's plans would make it harder for working Australians to get ahead and take them backwards at a time when many are just keeping their heads above water.
Unions will fight to protect your basic rights at work
Unions have always stood for decent rights and fairness in the workplace.
The changes the Government is proposing will hurt working families.
Unions will oppose the Howard Government's changes and campaign for:
- A strong safety net of award minimum wages and conditions
- Proper rights for Australian workers to reject individual contracts and bargain for decent pay and conditions in collective agreements
- The right to join a union and to be represented by a union
- A strong, independent Industrial Relations Commission to settle disputes and ensure fair minimum wages and conditions
These things are vital to protect Australian living standards, families and the Australian way of life.
How can you help the campaign to protect your rights at work?
Union members, employees and concerned community members everywhere need to send a strong message to the Howard Government that Australia does not support its plans to take away basic rights at work.
What you can do to support the union campaign:
- Tell your work colleagues, family and friends about the Howard Government's plans by giving them a copy of this flyer.
- Be active through your union ? strong unions are the best way to protect your rights at work. For information on Joining a Union
- Grab an ACTU Campaign Pack of information and materials.
- Ask your employer to sign a Rights at Work Charter, and commit to respecting your rights at work.
- Join the ACTU?s national week of union and community action ? 27 June to 1 July.
- Let your local Liberal or National Party Federal MP know that you oppose the Government's plans to take away basic rights at work.
You can also contact your union, State Trades and Labour Council, or call the ACTU Hotline on 1300 362 223.
Your Rights At Work Worth Fighting For - Summary of the Federal Government's plans to change Australia's workplace laws.
Fact Sheet 1A - The Federal Government Wants To Take Away Most Of Your Basic Rights At Work - An introduction to the 6 single issue fact sheets below.
Fact Sheet 1 - Abolish Protection From Unfair Dismissals - The Howard Government plans to get rid of your unfair dismissal protection and right to redundancy pay if you work in a small business.
Fact Sheet 2 - Individual Contracts That Cut Take-home Pay And Reduce Employment Conditions - The Howard Government will use individual contracts to undercut your existing rights and conditions at work.
Fact Sheet 3 - Change The Way Minimum Wages Are Set To Make Them Lower - The Howard Government plans to change the way minimum wages are set to make them lower.
Fact Sheet 4 - Replace The Award Safety Net With Just Five Minimum ConditionsThe Howard Government plans to remove conditions from awards.
Fact Sheet 5 - Keep Unions Out Of Workplaces And Reduce The Capacity For Workers To Bargain Collectively - The Howard Government will make it harder for unions to protect and represent working people.
Fact Sheet 6 - Take Away The Powers Of The Independent Industrial Relations Commission - The Federal Government plans to weaken the powers of the independent umpire in the workplace - the Industrial Relations Commission.
Fact Sheet - Unfair Dismissal - Here is the fact sheet on the Federal Government's plans to abolish protection from unfair dismissal for 3.6 million Australian workers.
Fact Sheet - Individual Contracts - How the Government's new individual contracts can cut take-home pay.
Fact Sheet - Women Are Facing A Major Challenge To Hold On To Their Rights At Work - The Government has said they want to cut a number of important conditions from awards. Women will be worst affected by these changes as more than 60% of award only workers are women.
Fact Sheet - The Impact on Communities - Communities will suffer. The proposals are an attack on our quality of life and the values communities stand for.
Fact Sheet for Construction Workers: The Howard Government has introduced new laws which make almost all forms of industrial action illegal for construction workers. Meanwhile, the Building Taskforce has been given new powers to demand documents and compel workers to answer questions under oath, which take effect from June 22.
Government's IR revolution is a free kick for big business but will be kick in the guts for workers Australian workers
Millions of Australian workers are set to lose their access to award employment conditions, protection from unfair dismissal, and an effective safety net of minimum wages under new workplace changes announced by the Prime Minister John Howard yesterday.
With this direct attack on the rights of Australian workers John Howard has abandoned all pretence that he is a friend of the battlers.
Under the changes announced by the Government:
- 99% of Australian companies will be able to sack employees without regard to fair process or reasoning meaning over 3.6 million Australian workers will have no remedy against unfair dismissal.
- Minimum wages will be allowed to fall in value and all other award wages, currently relied upon by 1.6 million workers and their families would likely be frozen.
- The award safety net will be effectively abolished and replaced with just four minimum conditions.
- Employers will be encouraged to force workers onto Australian Workplace Agreement individual contracts (AWAs) that will allow existing pay rates and employment conditions to be slashed.
- It will be harder for employees to access information, support or assistance from a union.
- The independent Industrial Relations Commission is to be gutted, and
- State industrial relations systems will be attacked.
If enacted these proposals will threaten the wages, conditions and living standards of Australian employees at a time when many working families are already struggling just to keep their head above water.
The Government's policies are based on out-dated ideology and do nothing to address the labour market shortages, training backlogs and infrastructure blockages that are hampering
The removal of the Industrial Relations Commission from its role in setting award minimum wages in place of the Orwellian-named Fair Pay Commission clearly has the objective of setting
We know this because if, over the past eight years, the governments' submission to the minimum wages case had prevailed the minimum rates would be $44 per week or $2,288 a year lower than its current $467.60 per week. And Minister Andrews has said he thinks the national minimum wage should be $70 per week lower than this. The losers will be workers with lower labour market power- traditionally unskilled workers, women and young people.
The government justifies the change by perpetuating the falsehood that
The government has announced the creation of just four statutory minimum conditions of employment ? annual leave, personal leave, parental leave and a maximum level for ordinary hours of work - to form a new 'no disadvantage test' against which collective or individual agreements will be assessed.
Under these arrangements Australian workers could be lawfully stripped of basic conditions such as public holidays, redundancy pay, weekend and night-time penalty rates, overtime pay, annual leave loading, casual loading, pay for work on public holidays and reimbursement for work related expenses.
Agreement making will follow the laws of the jungle. The weak will have to cop the terms dictated by the employer in individual contracts (called AWAs), and face the sack if they refuse. The notion that individual workers will be able to stave off the pressure to cut pay and conditions that will be created by these changes is ridiculous. As soon as the economy slows down there will be no safety net to fall back on.
Research conducted by
For example, employees on AWAs working in labouring, clerical, service and trade related jobs are already paid between 16.5% and 18% less than workers doing the same jobs who are covered by collective agreements.
The Federal Government also wants to bully the States into handing over their industrial relations powers, creating a single national unitary industrial relations system. If the States don't agree, John Howard has said he will legislate away the State industrial systems.
Unions will fight to protect the rights of working people. We will do this on three fronts. We will build a disciplined workplace campaign to protect the pay and conditions of Australian workers. We will build opposition to the changes in the wider community, including using paid advertising. And we will work with the State and Territory governments and other organisations to build a wall of opposition against the Government?s plans.
John Howard has made very clear that now he has control of the Senate he is prepared to sacrifice working families at the expense of big business.
For the last 25 years we've been living under a corporate-driven ideology called neo-liberalism. It's neither new nor liberal in the American sense, but rather a return to the old mid-19th century liberal school of economics, the era of raw, unregulated, vulture capitalism that was thoroughly discredited by economic disasters like the Great Depression. It was 'liberal' only in insisting that capital be 'free' of any regulation.
More recently, powerful men gather periodically to write and (rewrite) the rules for managing the world economy at the G8 Summit (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, Britain, the United States); the annual World Economic Forums in Davos, Switzerland; and the forthcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Hong Kong.
The World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the WTO (since 1995) comprise the Holy Trinity managing the global economy. In the United States, dominant elements within both major political parties have embraced the catechism of global neo-liberalism and serve as faithful acolytes.
The essential canon of neo-liberalism includes:
* The market is sacred and should dictate rules and even ethics to society. If the market is left alone, everyone will get what they deserve. Survival of the fittest and inequality-producing competition are virtues. According to Friedrich von Hayek, one of its founding theorists, "... in the new economic development model it will be an embarrassment to talk of social justice."
* Market fundamentalists preach that "There is no such thing as society or the public welfare. The poor, the vulnerable, all those who aren't winners must fend for themselves." This was the mantra of the Thatcher-Reagan era, carried forward with minor modifications by Blair-Clinton and ramped up by Bush II.
* Environmental protection laws are "unfair trade barriers" and interfere with "free markets."
* Public expenditures for the welfare of citizens must be abolished, including health care, education, water, and transportation. Everything should be privatized, including social security and any remaining social safety nets should be shredded.
* The only role for government is to assist wealth creation through abolishing all restrictions on investors. It should lower taxes on the wealthy and corporate profits, abolish all regulations on international capital flow and foreign ownership, and employ force, if necessary, to enforce the rules.
* Systematically dismantle the rights, power, and eventually the very existence of labor organizations.
* It's consonant with human nature that only rugged self-reliance offers any prospect for personal advancement. If for any reason things won't work out, it's the individual's own fault.
* Portray any critics of "free trade" as naïve protectionists, global village idiots, and unpatriotic.
[Note: Every successful wealthy nation today did so by protecting its markets and fledgling industries. They rejected neo-liberalism for themselves.]
After two decades the undeniable result of imperial neo-liberalism has been to severely exacerbate income and wealth inequality both between and within nations. Under privatization, wealth has been massively transferred from the public sector to a miniscule minority of private investors.
Global income has been redistributed upward to the top 20 percent who receive 87 percent of the world's gross domestic product and a handful of billionaires now own more wealth than some half of the world.
In the U.S., according to American University economist Robin Hahnel, neo-liberalism means that "For every wealthy beneficiary of rising stock prices, rising profit shares, and rising high-end salaries, there were 10 victims of declining real wages, decreased job security, and lost benefits."
Under IMF-enforced policies in the late 1980s, some 500,000 children under five years of age died each year in Africa and Latin America and some 11 million are dying from poverty around the world today.
In South Africa, for example, Nelson Mandela's economic justice vision has been put on indefinite hold by the external imposition of the neo-liberal blueprint and the poor majority is actually worse off today. Political democracy without economic democracy is tolerated by neo-liberals in poor nations like South Africa precisely because their political power is neutered by foreign capital. As a bonus, elected national governments become the scapegoats for economic failure.
As Arundhati Roy, an Indian development expert argues, "Democracy has become the Empire's euphemism for neo-liberal capitalism." It's the new face of neo-colonization for the Third World. But not just there.
Under neo-liberalism in Russia a fabulously wealthy oligarchy has emerged, but the overall economy is now smaller than that of the Netherlands. As early as 1997, economist David Kotz could conclude that "... the majority of Russia's population has been impoverished by the neoliberal experiment. (Russian joke: What did neoliberalism accomplish in seven years that communism couldn't do in 70 years? Make communism look good).
The endless repetition of these depressingly predictable outcomes prompts one to ask: Is another world is possible? First, none of the above is inevitable. Neo-liberalism isn't God-given, the natural state of human beings, common sense, or a fact of life. The notion that neo-liberal economic systems function like a fine Swiss watch is pure fiction and exists only within the rarified world of economic models and mainstream college textbooks.
Second, contrary to neo-liberalism's protestations against big government, the key question is: Government acting on whose behalf? Mega-capitalists need the state to plan and enforce their design for global control,including war,if necessary. Their abiding fear is that ordinary folks will catch on about how the world works and the state will fall into the wrong hands." The primary reason that neo-liberal propagandists have tried (mostly successfully) to keep people in the dark is because genuine democracy is such an unnerving prospect. The elites understand, as British journalist George Monbiot writes, that "Everything has been globalized except our consent."
Enormous resources are spent persuading people to stop looking toward "big government," as a solution to their plight -- leaving them totally vulnerable to the machinations of concentrated private power.
Therefore, as predisposed as I am toward decentralized power and less government, that dream must be temporarily deferred. Only strong and responsive democratic government has the potential to protect us from neo-liberalism's global onslaught and bring footloose capitalist globalization under social control.
For better or worse, this means thinking about alternatives to an inhuman and immoral system. It means thinking about how to achieve political power and return the state to our side. A tall order but absolutely indispensable to contemplate for anyone serious about creating a better world.
Gary Olson, Ph.D. is chair of the Political Science Department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. Contact: email@example.com
International Monetary Fund
- Howard Zinn, Spelman College commencement address, Atlanta, 2005.
Politicians are elected and selected, but mass movements transform societies. Judges uphold, strike down, or invent brand new law, but mass movements drag the courts, laws and officeholders all in their wake. Progressive and even partially successful mass movements can alter the political calculus for decades to come, thus improving the lives of millions. Social Security, the New Deal, and employer-provided medical care didn't come from the pen of FDR. The end of "separate but equal" didn't come from the lips of any judge, and voting rights were not simply granted by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. All these were hard-won outcomes of protracted struggle by progressive mass movements, every one of which operated outside the law and none of which looked to elected officials or the corporate media of those days for blessings or legitimacy. It's time to re-learn those lessons and build a new progressive mass movement in the United States.
Mass movements are against the law
Mass movements exist outside electoral politics, and outside the law, or they don't exist at all. Mass movements are never respecters of law and order. How can they be? A mass movement is an assertion of popular leadership by the people themselves. A mass movement aims to persuade courts, politicians and other actors to tail behind it, not the other way around. Mass movements accomplish this through appeals to shared sets of deep and widely held convictions among the people they aim to mobilize, along with acts or credible threats of sustained and popular civil disobedience.
Not all mass movements are progressive. The legal strategy of "massive resistance" to desegregation on the part of southern whites, in which local governments across the south threw up thickets of lawsuits, evasions and new statutes, closing whole school systems in some areas rather than integrate, was implemented in response to and backed up by the historically credible and ever-present threat of armed, lawless white mobs long accustomed to dishing out violence to their black neighbors and any white allies with impunity. They operated in a context of popular belief in white superiority and black inferiority that was widespread among whites of that region and time. Undeniable proof of the existence of a violent, white supremacist mass movement was broadcast around the world when thousands of local white citizens showed up to trade blows, insults, and gunfire with federal marshals in places like Little Rock, Arkansas in '57 and Oxford, Mississippi in '62.
Likewise, courts and public officials who enforced desegregation orders were under relentless pressure from a civilly disobedient mass movement for equality and justice. 89 leaders of the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott could not have been surprised when they earned conspiracy indictments for their trouble. Tens of thousands of mostly southern, mostly black citizens defied unjust laws and were jailed in the waves of mostly illegal sit-ins, marches, freedom rides and other mostly illegal actions that swept the South for more than a decade. This movement in turn relied on the deep convictions of all African Americans and growing numbers of whites that segregation and white supremacy were evils that had to be fought, regardless of personal costs. For many, those costs were very high. Some are still paying.
Mass movements are politically aggressive
Mass movements are kindled into existence by unique combinations of outraged public opinion in the movement's core constituency, political opportunity, and aggressive leadership. The absence of any of these can prevent a mass movement from materializing. In a January 20, 2005 BC article occasioned by the death of visionary James Foreman, one of the masterminds of the mid-century movement for civil and human rights, which contains many useful insights on the characteristics of mass movements, David Swanson recalled a recent lost opportunity in the wake of the 2000 presidential election: "Various small groups did act, and Rev. Jesse Jackson became a leading spokesman for those objecting to a stolen election. The coalition cobbled together was surprisingly successful in moving Congress Members and Senators to at least give lip service to the matter. The seeds of something may have been sown. But a mass movement was not organized. Civil disobedience was not used."
Democratic party leaders instructed Jesse and the crew to go home and await the results of court decisions. The black leadership acquiesced, and a chance to galvanize a civilly disobedient mass movement around issues of voting rights was missed.
Mass movements are based on widely held beliefs, reinforced by dense communications networks. Mass movements are nurtured and sustained not just by vertical communication, between leaders and constituents, but by lots of horizontal communication among the movement's constituency. This horizontal communication serves to reinforce the constituency's and the movement's core values. It emboldens ordinarily non-political people to engage in personally risky behavior in support of the movement's core demands, and builds support for this kind of risk-taking on the part of those who may not be ready to do it themselves.
Forty and fifty years ago, African American print media like the Chicago Defender, the California Eagle, Baltimore Afro-American and the Pittsburg Courier carried news of resistance to Jim Crow to millions of black readers. Like white communities of that era, black neighborhoods supported and were supported by a dense network of voluntary and social organizations. Large numbers belonged to fraternal societies such as Masons and the Eastern Star, and many more blacks than today belonged to labor unions. Within these networks, the freedom struggle was on everyone's lips as far down the chain as youngsters at Boy Scout meetings in church basements on the south side of Chicago in 1964. It was in places where these networks were weakest, or where institutional gatekeepers like pastors could not be persuaded to take part that the mass movement was slowest to take hold, as this passage from the January 20, 2005 Cover Story of BC illustrates: "Contrary to current mythology, the Black church was never a great fountain of social activism. More often, suspicious and small-minded clergy shut their doors against the winds of change... In the years following the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott, church doors were slammed shut in King's face throughout the South. As a preacher-led organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) required a local church base in order to set up operations. The same problems of Jim Crow and brutality existed in every southern city, yet in town after town, King could not find a single church that would open its doors to the SCLC. The 'movement' was sputtering. Rather than mounting a grand sweep through the region, King found himself hemmed in by the endemic fear and even hostility of Black clergymen."
The current environment presents a different set of challenges to those who would build the dense horizontal communications networks needed support a mass movement. Far fewer Americans belong to social, civic and voluntary organizations now than 50 years ago. Sprawl forces us to live further from and travel more hours getting to and from work, school and shopping than ever before. To lift a revealing quote from www.bowlingalone.com, the web site of Robert Putnam's highly recommended book of the same name, "...we sign fewer petitions, belong to fewer organizations that meet, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less frequently, and even socialize with our families less often. We're even bowling alone. More Americans are bowling than ever before, but they are not bowling in leagues."
If a progressive mass movement is to be built in this era of sprawl and locked down media monopolies, organizers must develop and deploy alternative communications strategies to get and keep the movement's message into a sufficient number of ears to sustain its influence and momentum.
No mass without masses and no movement without youth
Mass movements don't happen without masses. A mass movement whose organizers cannot fill rooms and streets, and sometimes jails on short notice with ordinarily non-political people in support of political demands is no mass movement at all. Organizers and those who judge the work of organizers must learn to count.
A progressive mass movement is inconceivable without a prominent place for the energy and creativity of youth. The finest young people of every generation have the least patience with injustice. SNCC was the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, after all, and included high school and college students across the South. The average age of rank and file members of the Black Panther Party was 17 to 19. SCLC's leading ministers in the early 60s were mostly under 30. The 1960s movement for civil and human rights was spearheaded, and often led by young people. Neither Martin Luther King nor Malcolm X lived to be forty. Fred Hampton was only 21.
Any mass movement aiming at social transformation must capture the enthusiasm and energy of youth, including the willingness of young people to engage in personally risky behavior.
What is a mass movement?
Mass movements are creations of the political moment, rooted in the shared values of their core constituencies, nurtured by dense communications networks among a supportive population. They are sustained by aggressive leadership, and youthful enthusiasm. Mass movements inevitably employ civil disobedience, and the civilly disobedient components of mass movements must be carefully calculated in such a way as to maintain support from broad sectors of the population it aims to mobilize, and to increase support if they are violently repressed.
To enumerate some of the typical qualities of mass movements:
Mass movements have political demands anchored in the deeply shared values of their core constituencies.
Mass movements look to themselves and their shared values for legitimacy, not to courts, laws or elected officials. A mass movement consciously aims to lead politicians, not to be led by them.
Mass movements are civilly disobedient, and continually maintain the credible threat of civil disobedience.
Mass movements are supported by lots of vertical and horizontal communication which reinforces the core values of the constituency and emboldens large numbers of ordinarily nonpolitical souls to engage in personally risky behavior in support of the movement's political demands.
Mass movements capture the energy, enthusiasm and risk taking spirit of youth. Nobody ever heard of a mass movement of old or even middle aged people.
In the absence of any of these characteristics, no mass movement can be said to exist.
Applying the mass movement yardstick to real-life cases
Reparations? The reparations movement undoubtedly speaks to widespread beliefs among African Americans. But the last big reparations demonstration in Washington, DC might not have drawn ten thousand souls. A mass movement should be able to fill rooms in neighborhoods, not just in whole cities. With no broad masses in motion over reparations, no civil disobedience, and not much traction among black youth, it's safe to say that there is no mass movement for reparations.
The anti-war movement?
With the ability to put hundreds of thousands in the streets several times a year in New York City, in DC, and the Bay Area, one to twenty thousands in scores of other US cities and towns, and hundreds more vigils, demos and meetings still happening each week the antiwar movement passes the numbers test. But in contrast to a generation ago, today's antiwar movement has so little respect for itself and so much reverence for the two-party system that it practically shut down months before the presidential election to allow most of its leading lights to actively campaign for a pro-war candidate. There is not much evidence of broadly popular antiwar civil disobedience yet, either.
When the antiwar movement loses its reverence for judges and elected officials, and discovers some creative and popular ways to break the law, it will be a mass movement.
The Million Man March and the Millions More Movement?
While certainly big enough, the 1995 MMM was only a single day's event. Although the still-existing policy of selective mass incarceration of black men was in full swing, the MMM made absolutely no demands for the transformation of society. It was, its leader said, all about "atonement." There was no civil disobedience, and no intent to sustain any militant action. Organizers of the MMM remembered to collect money, but somehow neglected to pass around a signup sheet, something even the most amateurish organizer knows must be done. What an organizing tool a million man mailing list might have been!
The organizers of the 1995 affair who are driving the bus again this year, haven't criticized themselves for not taking attendance, or for coming to Washington to ignore political issues like health care, voting rights and mass incarceration, or for excluding gays and women. What kind of mass movement excludes women? Neither version of the MMM looks like a mass movement.
Union rights, pensions, Social Security and health benefits were won by a struggle with all the hallmarks of a mass movement. But that was two or three generations ago. Today's labor movement isn't capturing youth, doesn't do civil disobedience, is unsure of what its core values are, and collects dues to give to the "least worst" politician instead of trying to make politicians follow its lead. Whatever else it is, labor is not a mass movement any more.
The women's movement, pre-Roe v. Wade
Both in 1970 and a hundred years ago, this had all the characteristics of a mass movement. Political demands, big numbers, leaders not afraid to call politicians to account, and a fair amount of public, popular civil disobedience. They eventually forced courts and politicians to follow them rather than the other way around, and with some of their key demands met, creative civil disobedience ceased, replaced by reliance on courts, elected officials and corporate sponsorship. Right now, there is no mass movement for the full equality of women. A new Supreme Court, if it overthrows Roe v. Wade will make the re-emergence of such a movement much more likely.
The religious right
The religious right possesses a mass base, along with ambitious and profoundly scary leaders. With corporate support it has been successful in building its own communications networks and influencing or seizing outright control over many civilian and military institutions. The religious right does not follow politicians. Politicians pander to it. Whenever the religious right starts being civilly disobedient, we will see a mass movement with the potential to take us far down the road toward fascism.
The Black Consensus, the next progressive mass movement, and Gary
There is only one place America's next progressive mass movement can come from. There is only one identifiable constituency with a bedrock majority of its citizens in long term historical opposition to our nation's imperial adventures overseas. This is America's black one-eighth. While majorities of all Americans do believe in universal health care, the right to organize unions, high quality public education, a living wage, and that retirement security available to everyone ought to be government policy, and many even believe America is locking up too many people for too long, support for these propositions is virtually unanimous among African Americans.
More than two years ago, Black Commentator named this phenomenon the "Black Consensus":
"African Americans remain in remarkable, consistent agreement on political issues, a shared commonality of views that holds strongly across lines of income, gender and age. The Black Commentator's analysis of biannual data from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies confirms the vitality of a broad Black Consensus. Most importantly, the data show that Black political behavior has not deviated from recent historical patterns, nor is any significant Black demographic group likely to diverge from these patterns in the immediate future.
"In newspaper terms, there is no "split" among African Americans on core political issues..."
The original article, from which the above paragraph is lifted, is well worth reviewing in its entirety. It is the statistical persistence of the Black Consensus over decades of polling data and across classes, generations and regions which marks out America's black one-eighth as the likely origin, and the first indispensable core constituency of any progressive mass movement to transform American society. If such a mass movement is to succeed, it must not allow itself to be contained within the black community. But that's where it has to begin, around the core political demands of the Black Consensus.
Hence African American elected officials and candidates for office on every level, from the Congressional Black Caucus to local sheriffs and prosecutors must be forced to address themselves to the Black Consensus. They must be summarily judged for their positions on such issues as racially selective mass incarceration, the unjust war in Iraq, American complicity in the apartheid-like policies of Israel, universal health care, equality of educational opportunity, and voting rights, and these judgments made to stick. Mass movements do not and cannot follow political office holders. A mass movement is an assertion of popular leadership by the people themselves. It makes politicians into followers.
The Black Consensus, and the cohesive communities of color from which it arises must give birth to America's next progressive mass movement. Laying the intelligent groundwork for such a movement will be the task before us in our next historic meeting - "Going Back to Gary."
Four decades later, the anti-terror rationale is not just another argument for revving up the U.S. war machinery. Fighting "terror" is now the central rationale for war.
"The contrast couldn't be clearer between the intentions and the hearts of those who care deeply about human rights and human liberty, and those who kill, those who've got such evil in their hearts that they will take the lives of innocent folks," President Bush said Thursday after the London bombings. "The war on terror goes on."
A key requirement of this righteous war is that all inconvenient history must be deemed irrelevant. "By accepting the facile cliché that the battle under way against terrorism is a battle against evil, by easily branding those who fight us as the barbarians, we, like them, refuse to acknowledge our own culpability," journalist Chris Hedges has observed. "We ignore real injustices that have led many of those arrayed against us to their rage and despair."
In the aftermath of 9/11, writer Joan Didion critiqued "the wearying enthusiasm for excoriating anyone who suggested that it could be useful to bring at least a minimal degree of historical reference to bear on the event." Overwhelmingly, politicians and pundits were quick to get in a groove of condemning any sensible assertions "that events have histories, political life has consequences, and the people who led this country and the people who wrote and spoke about the way this country was led were guilty of trying to infantilize its citizens if they continued to pretend otherwise."
Voices of reason, even when they've come from within the country's military establishment, have been shunted aside. In late November 2002, a retired U.S. Army general, William Odom, told C-SPAN viewers: "Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic. It's about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we're going to win that war. We're not going to win the war on terrorism. And it does whip up fear. Acts of terror have never brought down liberal democracies. Acts of parliament have closed a few."
Two years after 9/11, Norman Mailer asked: "What does it profit us if we gain extreme security and lose our democracy? Not everyone in Iraq, after all, was getting their hands and/or their ears cut off by Saddam Hussein. In the middle of that society were hordes of Iraqis who had all the security they needed even if there was no freedom other than the full-fledged liberty offered by dictators to be free to speak with hyperbolic hosannas for the leader. So, yes, there are more important things to safeguard than security and one of them is to protect the much-beleaguered integrity of our democracy. The final question in these matters suggests itself. Can leaders who lie as a way of life protect any way of life?"
The president who lied his way into an invasion of Iraq is now exploiting Thursday's atrocities in London to justify U.S. policies that are bringing daily atrocities to Iraq. Bush is intent on sending a message to "the terrorists" by continuing the Pentagon's war effort.
The idea of communicating by killing is very familiar. There's nothing new about claiming to send a righteous message with bullets and bombs.
In his book "War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning," former war correspondent Chris Hedges writes that he saw such transmissions up close: "Corpses in wartime often deliver messages. The death squads in El Salvador dumped three bodies in the parking lot of the Camino Real Hotel in San Salvador, where the journalists were based, early one morning. Death threats against us were stuffed in the mouths of the bodies." Hedges adds: "And, on a larger scale, Washington uses murder and corpses to transmit its wrath. We delivered such incendiary messages in Vietnam, Iraq, Serbia, and Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden has learned to speak the language of modern industrial warfare."
And Hedges notes: "It was Robert McNamara, the American Secretary of Defense in the summer of 1965, who defined the bombing raids that would eventually leave hundreds of thousands of civilians north of Saigon dead as a means of communication to the Communist regime in Hanoi."
Forty years later, with a "war on terrorism" serving as the central theme of pro-war propaganda, the United States and its military allies are routinely sending lethal messages. It should not surprise us when such messages are returned to sender.
Norman Solomon?s latest book, ?War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death,? was just published.