Posts Tagged ‘protests’

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Protest of the day

Posted: 17 September 2013 in Uncategorized
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More than 100,000 Polish workers [ht: sm] marched through the capital, Warsaw, on Saturday in the last of four days of protest against proposed changes to existing labor laws.

The protesters demanded a higher minimum wage, greater job security and the repeal of a law raising the retirement age to 67.

Many carried banners calling for Prime Minister Donald Tusk to resign.

 

Today is the second anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. To judge by the lack of coverage of the OWS movement in recent days, you’d think the movement was a failure.

But you’d be wrong. Wrong because it put the issue of economic inequality on the political map in the United States. “We are the 99 percent!” continues to resonate, especially given the return to the unequalizing pattern of growth that caused the crash of 2007-08 and marks the New Gilded Age.

And wrong because, as Allison Kilenny explains, many of the former Occupards continue to work to change things around—in activities like Occupy the SEC and Occupy our Homes.

There has been little talk of a mass gathering to celebrate the two-year anniversary of OWS, but that’s not unusual (anniversary protests are notoriously underwhelming).

But the lack of organizing may also stem from some of the best and brightest organizers having moved on to instead channel the spirit of Occupy elsewhere: in the battle to keep schools from closing, to lend solidarity to striking fast food workers, to fight to keep people in their homes and to hold officials accountable.

The “Occupy is dead” trope is ridiculous precisely because all of the elements that led to the movement’s birth are still in place—if not worse now. The rich are richer, the corrupt live without fear of going to jail, and everyone knows institutions aren’t coming to save us.

Occupy’s spirit of resistance may be scattered, but it can never die. Not as long as a sense of injustice lives.

That sense of injustice is what galvanized the initial OWS movement in the first place. Now, two years later, much work remains to be done.

Update

Speaking of ongoing work, Lisa Pollack provides a sympathetic commentary on (and an actual copy of) Occupy Finance, produced by the Alternative Banking Group of Occupy Wall Street. This is from the introduction:

This book is our reckoning. Some of us have long experience in the world of finance, having worked in banks or hedge funds or as financial advisors. Others of us are teachers, lawyers, students, or Teamsters who started out with a limited understanding of “securitization,” “credit default swaps,” and “collateralized debt obligations” but have taught ourselves about these instruments because we recognize their importance within our current economy. We have found that you do not need a PhD in math or economics to understand what is happening. We have also learned that it is imperative for us to know as much as we can about the workings of the financial system because some of the most interesting facts never get reported. Contrary to what the 1% would have us believe, the way things are is not the way they once were, not the way they have to be, and most importantly—not the way they should be. . .

We know that the way it is is not the way it has to be. Economic arrangements, however complex, opaque, and interconnected, are created by human beings and can be changed by them—by us. Taking on this responsibility is daunting, but also exhilarating. It is the first step in the direction of economic justice.

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Many years ago, in a seminar on the transition to democracy in Portugal, all the presentations were about how the middle-class played the key role in participating in protests against the old regime and demanding democratic rights. I suggested, instead, that workers had been the catalyst of the protests and their demands for new forms of democracy, not the ready-to-compromise middle-class, represented the real challenge to the existing political and social order.

While I cited numerous other examples of the role of the working-class in demanding and expanding democracy—from the British Chartists through working-class organizations’ challenging race- and gender-based exclusions in the United States to unions in the struggle for democracy in South Korea—the modernization thinkers in the seminar scoffed at the idea and went back to talking about the middle-class as the real basis of democracy.

What about now, in the protests we’ve been seeing in recent months in Turkey and Brazil? While the news reports and political commentary I’ve been seeing (like this special Reuters report on “Why Brazil’s new middle class is seething”) emphasize, like the Portugal seminar participants, the role of the middle-class, my own view is they’re overlooking the resentments and desires expressed by members of the working-class (alongside poor people and students).*

As it turns out, even Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (whose work I have criticized repeatedly, such as here and here, in the past) find it necessary to contest the middle-class modernization story:

not only in recent examples, but throughout history, democracy emerges and takes firmer root because of protests and demands from the previously disenfranchised or excluded —-or at least so we argued in our first book, The Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy.

Though the middle class does play a role in the democratization process, it is often not the driver of the protests or even their main catalyst. Democracy arrived in high-growth authoritarian regimes such as South Korea and Taiwan not because of the wishes or the actions of the middle class, but because of the effective protests, in the face of repression and sometimes violence, organized by students and workers. In Britain, even the landmark First Reform Act of 1832, extending voting rights to the middle class, resulted not because of middle-class protests but because of the Captain Swing Riots organized all over the country by agricultural workers as we suggested in The Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, and a recent paper by Toke Aidt and Peter Jensen documents.

It’s time we move beyond the fixation on the middle-class and give workers their due in creating and then expanding democratic rule in the modern world.

*To be clear, I’m not saying middle-class people aren’t involved in these protests, just that they don’t play the key role modernization thinkers ascribe to them. Also, part of the discrepancy may be a matter of misrecognizing the class positions occupied by the protestors. In my view, the “middle-class” couple that is the center of the Reuters story—a healthworker and a sales clerk who together earn three times the minimum wage in Brazil—are clearly members of the working-class.

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24.06.13: Martin Rowson on privatisation

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As many as 200,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Brazil’s biggest cities on Monday in a swelling wave of protest tapping into widespread anger at poor public services, police violence, and government corruption.

The demonstrations are the first time that Brazilians, since a recent decade of steady economic growth, are collectively questioning the status quo. . .

For President Dilma Rousseff, the demonstrations come at a delicate time, as price increases and lackluster growth begin to loom over an expected run for re-election next year.

Polls show Rousseff still is widely popular, especially among poor and working-class voters, but her approval ratings began to slip in recent weeks for the first time since taking office in 2011. Rousseff was booed at Saturday’s Confederations Cup opener as protesters gathered outside.

Through a spokeswoman, Rousseff called the protests “legitimate” and said peaceful demonstrations are “part of democracy.” The president, a leftist guerrilla as a young woman, also said that it was “befitting of youth to protest.”