The 1% are claiming we have it out for them; that if we don’t tone down the rhetoric and stop calling them names like “the contemptuous rich,” we might end up starting a class war. But they already know there’s a class war, and it’s been going on for generations. Today, the rich are winning because they have more solidarity than we do. The year 2014 is a battleground and the currency is solidarity. If we don’t start organizing together, quickly, and far more effectively, the contemptuous rich will continue to come out on top.
For centuries, the 1% were the nobility, the aristocrats, the old money, the patriarchy. Then Adam Smith pitched capitalism in his 1776 book Wealth of Nations, and liberated the entrepreneurs to join the blue bloods. Today, every January, corporate and government leaders from around the world – the people who literally rule the world – meet in the winter-wonderland of Davos, Switzerland, to launch the annual World Economic Forum. There, they plan the global agenda. This year’s sexy new idea was advancing “social entrepreneurialism.” That sounds so kumbaya, just like public-private partnerships, but it’s just spin for privatizing social services.
The World Economic Forum is just one of the most recent venues where the global elite show their solidarity with each other, and plan how to maximize shareholder wealth and minimize global social, economic and political equality. Beyond Davos, our rulers have also created a roadmap for undermining the democracy of nations through secret trade agreements like NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and CETA (the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement). These agreements are designed to give right-wing governments the excuse to deregulate industries, privatize public services, and elevate shareholders’ and investors’ “right” to profit above the needs of society.
How does this translate in Harper’s vision of Canada? April Fool’s Day this year marked the end of the 10-year Canada Health Accord and the beginning of a 12-year fiscal plan to cut $36 billion from federal Medicare funding. This manufactured disaster is textbook Shock Doctrine, designed to impair the public health care system in order to drive more demand for private alternatives.
THE RISE OF THE 99%
The Occupy Movement helped us understand the 1% and the 99%. One of the movement’s critical failures, however, was its inability to frame its core message in the face of a hostile corporate media, and a well-coordinated network of police and intelligence service agencies working together to discredit, mock, beat, arrest, and terrorize the Occupiers. The Occupy Movement’s message was, and is, merely equality: a demand for political, social and economic equality, plus, a healthy environment. This simple message manifested itself in dozens of demands, but whose message won? The 1%. After all, they own the guns and the corporate media. But, there is hope for the 99%.
On March 19, for instance, 650 people gathered in the Maritime Labour Centre to formally kickstart the Metro Vancouver Alliance, a solidarity catalyst if there ever was one. Its birth was inspired by the Industrial Areas Foundation community organizing model, active in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Australia and the UK. The MVA is a coalition of labour, community and faith-based organizations who share common progressive goals.
On April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, the Occupy Movement rebooted itself in a worldwide “Wave of Action.” Its goal is a three-month rolling wave of activism at former Occupy sites, designed to reinvigorate the solidarity started in 2011. And there are other solidarity catalysts in Canada, including the Greater Edmonton Alliance.
These coalitions are fantastic, but they risk irrelevance if they can’t evolve to the next level of solidarity. These alliances need to grow more intense, both inwardly and outwardly.
The member groups of progressive coalitions need to find ways of connecting their individual members to better support each other. And the coalitions themselves need to support each other. I believe such an effort at deepening and broadening solidarity has, so far, been lacking. Meanwhile, the 1% are deeply well-connected, from community chambers of commerce right up to the World Trade Organization. They’re all spouting the same spin and rhetoric on their members’ behalf, while we, the 99%, can often not get past “letterhead coalitions,” a term introduced to me by Amanda Tattersall, one of the founders of the Sydney Alliance in Australia. What good is it to have a coalition when the extent of union, or faith, or community organization activity is merely a letter of support?
We need to seed more alliances in Canada. And we need to help union members themselves understand why unions matter. Labour campaigns like these can only help: the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) campaign, Together FAIRNESS WORKS; the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) campaign, Unite for Fairness; and the National Union of Public And General Employees (NUPGE) campaign, All Together Now.
We need to then connect union members with social change coalitions, like Occupy Version 2 and the upcoming Peoples’ Social Forum in Ottawa (August 21 to 24). Our window is opening again. It’s time to leap through and convene the big gatherings.
This piece originally appeared in Our Times magazine.