Now things are different. They are worse. More people are out of work, more middle income families are closer to living in poverty than they ever imagined they could be, wages have not only stagnated but decreased in real terms while profits for the large banks and corporations have soared, and the world’s wealth has been concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. In just the last year we have witnessed militant protests in Greece and Spain, and large demonstrations throughout Europe against the owners’ universal policy of austerity. The owners’ response to protest has been to lower a heavy blanket of totalitarianism over the people. France’s government has used the Paris attacks of November to establish a state of emergency that revokes the right to assemble and the right to free speech. Germany has used the Middle Eastern refugee crisis and anti-Muslim xenophobia to ratchet up the authoritarian elements of government, aided and abetted by the German press.
In the United States, where police killings of poor and working class citizens, mostly citizens of color, have become sickeningly commonplace, popular outrage has spawned a nationwide movement in Black Lives Matter. Like Occupy, this movement’s primary message is not aimed at the established political channels. This movement directly addresses the police, the militarized domestic army and security apparatus that the owners have been building since the crash of 2007. And like Occupy, BLM addresses itself directly to the citizenry of the country, making use of the democratizing power of social media. All of this is cause for alarm for the powers that be.
In my home state of Michigan, the past two years have been a time of slow seething. First we watched as the City of Detroit, under the anti-democratic control of an “emergency manager” (Kevin Orr), was plundered in a farcical bankruptcy proceeding that, among other things, stole the money of city-employee pensioners. Next the city threatened to, and then did, cut off water service to thousands of residents. Residents who had seen the rates for city water triple in the past year.
Then General Motors admitted, with a perfunctory apology by Ms. Barra, that it had knowingly allowed 242 of its vehicle owners to die. We would never know what degree of murder charge the law would level at those GM executives who were responsible for the decision not to recall the $1 ignition part, because the legal fiction of corporate personhood protects real people—people of power—from the consequences of their decisions. In the end, it was another slap-on-the-wrist fine for another powerful corporation that has displayed the ethics of a sociopath.
Then the autoworkers came to realize that their union, the United Auto Workers, is in fact in collusion with the auto companies and is merely a device used by the auto companies to create the illusion that workers have representation and a chance at a fair deal. The UAW’s sellout contract with each automaker was barely passed by a rank-and-file that had been deceived and then intimidated into voting for it. We should note that UAW and other union executives are represented at Davos this week, rubbing elbows with Ms. Barra and her fellow CEO’s.
Then a pediatrician in Flint let the world know that the city’s children had been poisoned with lead. And the news came out that this was done knowingly by the city’s emergency manager Darnell Earley under the direction of Governor Rick Snyder, with cover-up operations by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. We will see if the rage burning in Flint and throughout Michigan over this crime manages to consume the last straw of the people’s patience.
At the same time Flint has been declared a federal disaster area, in Detroit the public school teachers are staging a series of sickouts, with the support of parents and against their union’s wishes. When a people come to reject the institutions, such as unions and state governments, that are intended to absorb and deflect their frustrations and aspirations, then those in power have cause to worry. And worrying is what is going on in Switzerland right now.
Photo credit: USA Today