Comrade Equus: Anti-authoritarianism and Unions

30 03 2011

Editors note: Trusted sources have reported sightings of the good Comrade Equus in around the American Midwest, fomenting dissent and acting as a general public-nuisance in his fight against the forces of evil. The good Comrade has taken notice of recent discussion in libertarian and Anarchist circles denouncing unions and collective action.  He is not pleased.  He has taken time off his subversice activities to contribute the following to the discussion as part of his role as special contributor on this blog. Comrade Equus reports

 

Here in the US there’s all kinds of talk right now about recent legislation in the Midwest that restricts or eliminates the power of unions.

Most Libertarian and Anarchist bloggers reported on Madison and offered some opinion on the matter. I was surprised to see how many were willing to throw public sector workers under the bus.

Basically the argument is that unions are hanging onto government ensured privilege, followed by a laughable assertion that your high school teacher makes six figures every year, while the regular private sector worker toils under the stress of the system.

There are a few things that need clarification.

There is a difference between asking and taking

The labor movement started in opposition to The State and the employing class.

They slowly but surely calmed down and more or less became puppets of the Democrats. However, they are markedly separate from The State in that they have demonstrated a willingness to act outside of legal channels when attacked. This is not a matter of holding onto government given privilege, but an example of unions fighting The State.

The State has tried to strip them of collective bargaining rights, and they are fighting back.

Perhaps they would bend to similar concessions under a Democratic governor, but perhaps next time they will not.  After seeing unions stand up like this, I am beginning to think that the labor movement is not as dead as we once thought.

Workers in the US died for the rights they have now.  Unions (at least the rank and file members, not so much the leadership) are starting to realize they cannot just ask The State to give them something. They are perhaps beginning to just take it.

These bills empower The State

The anti-union legislation in Wisconsin that took away collective bargaining gave more power to The State.

The laws passed in the Midwest did not stop the government from employing people, and at best simply set up a way of contracting private sector companies. The State is still in a position of employment. Instead of having to bargain with unions as a whole they can now deal with each worker individually, resulting in pay discrimination and benefits being taken away. This will only stratify society more, give some more political, economic, and social powers over others and basically expand authoritarianism in general.

Public Sector Unions have certainly been subservient to The State, and their leadership deserves a lot of criticism.

However, these bills have taken power from the unions (which would continue to exist independent of The State) and given it to The State. No doubt that unions have their own hierarchies and problems, but now all they have fought for (wages, 8-hour days, benefits) are directly in control of The State and the companies with which it contracts.

Where we are

As it stands, Democrats have been pretty good at saving face. I wouldn’t jump to any conclusion too quickly though.

Students have been some of the most ardent fighters lately, and they are the future union members and workers. It is, after all, their future that’s being fucked.

If young people can go beyond just protesting and begin to build sustainable, anti-authoritarian alternatives to The State, then we’re starting to get revolutionary.

I, for one, would expect much more fighting from the Midwest. I visited there once. If I learned anything important, it’s that Midwesterners can do two things better: brew their own beer and fight.





Far-right vigilante’s “take over” town in Hungary

29 03 2011

The Hungarian far right looks set to roll out a campaign of Roma intimidation after meeting little resistance to its vigilante “law and order” mission in Gyongyospata, a Hungarian village of 2,800 people 80km north-east of Budapest.

For A Better Future, a paramilitary organisation deriving its name from a Nazi youth movement slogan, entered the village at the start of the month. It conducted foot and car patrols, followed Roma around and stopped them from entering shops.

On March 10, the intimidation reached its peak when 1,000 black-uniformed neo-Nazis marched through the village, some reportedly armed with dogs, whips and chains.

Many Roma were afraid to leave their homes or take their children to school. The local mayor, Laszlo Tabi, who is not officially allied to a political party, allegedly offered his seal of approval, while the police sat on their hands.

“I cried when I saw them marching,” says Janos Farkas, the spokesman for the village’s 450-strong Roma community which centres around a dirt road in a shallow valley at the edge of the village. Many of the dilapidated homes do not have mains water and few of their occupants jobs.

“I can’t see how this could happen in a democratic country? The police are now present, but why did they let it go on for three weeks?” asks Farkas.

Nothing has been done to stop the vigilantes from restarting their activities here or to prevent them springing up elsewhere.

“Roma have lived here for 500 years and have always stuck to the law. Only one or two youngsters have done anything wrong,” says Farkas.

There is no evidence that even petty crime has risen in Gyongyospata, but the financial crisis has driven up the significance of people’s everyday possessions and the far right is only too happy for the chance to profit from the heightened sensitivity.

Care of Al Jazeera.  Read the full version here.





Union members and Anarchists join forces in Lansing, Michigan

20 03 2011

According to sources, the Lansing protests seem to have lit a spark.  Union members demanding their rights have shown a willingness to work outside legal and bureaucratic channels as they worked side-by-side with young people and Anarchists.

Below are two videos recorded during the protests.  They document the resistance protesters gave to police as they began to remove those who had been arrested.  After a while, the police just start arresting people in the crowd.

The first video documents the resistance of protesters to the police as they began to remove those arrested students.  Eventually they just arrest those in the crowd.

The second video is a better quality footage of the above.

The Lansing protests saw union members stood with Anarchist radicals, even while union bureaucrats denounced them.  Streets were blocked and students were arrested, however there is unfortunately no footage of these acts.





On Libya

14 03 2011

A friend recently asked me my thoughts about the African and Arab uprisings and whether or not they will lead to more dictatorship.  I responded with the following:

I’ve been following what’s been happening in the Arab world since reports starting coming in about the demonstrations in Egypt. Everyone here, much like the rest of the world, barely heard about Tunisia until it happened.  It wasn’t even rated as a news story.

These are very significant events in the history of the post-colonial world, and the tendency for the news media, except maybe, Al Jazeera, to gloss over them or badly report them is a crime.  The same can be said for the international community that has been working very hard to find out what each uprising means for them and their interests before trying to decide how to turn the situation to their benefit.  It is destroying the huge potential of these uprisings.

Colonialism never truly died in these countries. The colonial powers formally relinquished control, but their presence remained. The eager revolutionaries and organisations that took their place instituted authoritarian rule, and the same Western powers that once colonised these countries for their resources or strategic military value, simply made friends with the dictator to open the doors to commerce. Large corporations then moved in to extract resources from the country, export them home, and pay the dictator millions of dollars while the people remained in poverty.

Part of the reason these authoritarian regimes have been able to come to power is because the people of these former colonies have never had a chance to “birth” a new national identity, one based on honour, respect and equal rights.  Colonial rule ended suddenly, and the institutions that lead to oppression under colonialism, generally, remained in place.  As such, no new identity was born.  While the French were able to do it in the face of their monarchy, and the Americans did it in the face of Britain, the colonial power, in the countries now experience unrest there is simply a perpetuation of the privilege, humiliation and abuses that occurred under colonialism.  These uprisings are the next step in the process, where the people rise up, kick out their petty tyrants and establish an identity that is not based in humiliation and subjugation. This is why all these uprisings have had a nationalist bent — and while I’m against nationalism as an oppressive, divisive concept often aimed at achieving conformity and suppressing difference, I accept the nationalism of these uprisings as an attempt to re-express an identity.

It is a fundamentally good thing.

The next thing that is necessary to consider is that not all country’s in Africa and the Middle East are the same.  Tunisia and Egypt were similar because both governments tried to maintain a thin veil of legitimacy to the international community and world.  They were also strong Western allies.  So when the people no longer feared the para-state security apparatus that Ben Ali and Mubarak had created, it was easier to force them out of the country.

Libya was the next in the chain, particularly given that it sits right between Egypt and Tunisia.  Unrest had spread to many countries, but you could tell Libya would be next.  The only problem is that Gaddafi would never step down.  He has less to lose than Ben Ali and Mubarak did.  Better yet, he never tried to maintain a veil of legitimacy to deal with the rest of the world.  People know he’s a brutal authoritarian ruler and they engaged him anyway.  That they are now saying “OMGz What are you doing to your people?” is really a farce.  Further, the internal structures and institutions of Libya are different to Tunisia and Egypt in that Gaddafi did his best to marginalise the military to prevent a coup, so it’s little wonder many in the military have defected, play the tribes off against each other and therefore keep the people subjugated.

There is this point you will find in all these uprisings where the reports you read will cause fear.  You can see the videos of what is happening in the street, read the twitter feeds giving on-the-ground accounts and then you read the news reports.  There is that point where you fear for the people and think, maybe, just maybe, their momentum is finished and the State may now crack down, hard.  Your first thought is that there will be blood.  There was that moment in Egypt, but the protesters made one final push, with the help of the military, and Mubarak was gone.  In Libya, there was that moment exact same moment, but unlike in Egypt, the protesters in Libya faced far heavier repression.  The Egyptian security forces would try to run down demonstrators in the street but the army never opened fired on demonstrators.  The servants of the Libyan state shot protesters dead.  In dozens.  Indiscriminately.  With RPG’s and bullets all too often, aimed at the head.

It is not hard to see the lies and great efforts the regime in Libya has gone to in order to hide their brutality.  I watched a video just the other day, where a reporter went into a town recaptured by Gaddafi forces.  In the centre, the week before, there were 19 bodies that were buried.  These were people killed in the uprising.  The graves had been demolished, and apparently a bull dozer had been brought in to remove the bodies.  A coffin lay smashed open on the ground.  Relatively peaceful protests, as seen in Egypt, never had a chance.

I also do not think it is right to call what is going on a ‘civil war’.  The “rebels”, as they have been called in the media, have no organised army or weapons, except that which has been liberated from Gaddafi’s security forces.  What we are seeing is a continuing response to the brutality of the crackdown on an attempt at a relatively peaceful protest and revolution.  The people picked up guns liberated from the security forces and rushing to help protect others in neighbouring towns because it is their only choice.  Libya is in revolt.  For those who began the revolt, everything is on the line and if Gaddafi is able to reassert control over the country there will be a continuing, brutal repression against anyone who was involved.

Make no mistake about it.  People have disappeared.  The injured have been removed from hospitals, the young have been arrested and dissent has been crushed in many places.

Too many pessimists are already saying nothing good can come from these events.  I disagree.  Strongly.  I am optimistic about what these revolutions, if successful, will achieve.  As I pointed out earlier, the capacity for a people to stand up from a long period of subservience and humiliation to establish a new identity is inspiring.  It is a positive thing and may very well yield positive result.  But in saying that, you can never know with revolutions.  Uprisings, rebellions and revolutions are fickle creatures.  Often the question is not whether you will be successful against the forces of great evil, but whether or not you will become them yourself.  Those who start out fighting for honour, dignity, integrity and justice all too often end up becoming what they hate.  But this is not to say that revolutions should not be fought or attempted, it is just that you cannot know the future until you’re living in it.








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