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The Rise of Disaster Capitalism on Political Media Review

By Bill Templer

Political Media Review
University of Malaya

Investigative journalist Naomi Klein speaking on “The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” is a PM Press DVD produced by Bonobo Films.

It consists of a brilliant 65-minute talk Naomi gave on May 19, 2008 at the Friends Meeting House in London introducing the paperback edition of her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York, 2007), plus a remarkably insightful 10-minute interview with Naomi done in London the next day.  Some sections of the talk are on youtube (1), but the whole is not, and is worth having in its entirety.

The talk was part of a fundraiser organized by the ‘Hands Off Iraqi Oil’ coalition (very active in 2007-2008, http://www.handsoffiraqioil.org/), along with activists from the Britain-based ‘War on Want’ associated with Hands Off Iraqi Oil, and many other anti-war and environmental groups. War on Want is a non-profit organization long committed to the struggle against neoliberal globalization, world poverty, Israeli apartheid and much more (www.waronwant.org).

Many of you will know Naomi’s book, and its thesis of how casino capitalism in its present phase is using ‘shock’ tactics — from 9/11 and the ‘war on terror,’ to natural disasters like the Dec. 2004 tsunami, Katrina, resource wars in West Asia, the serial disasters of climate change — as a platform for taking over markets, raking in spectacular profits, extending corporate control in the wake of disaster and its aftermath, and the “collective vertigo” it often leaves people in.  For Naomi, “The market is the disaster itself and the response to it,” emphasizing the utter bankruptcy of the current economic model, a “class war waged by the rich against the poor,” and the need for “deep democracy” and a people’s alternative. 

In the states, she stresses, 9/11 is key to understanding how we got to where we are […] People know they’ve been living the ‘shock doctrine’ since Sept. 11. That shock, that blow to the psyche of this country, was expertly harnessed by the administration to push through policies that they could not push through otherwise (2).

In the May 2008 interview on the DVD, Naomi emphasizes that she wrote the book:

precisely to make people more resistant to the shock doctrine I hope the book would be a kind of ‘shock shield’  in a way, because these tactics are all about lack of information and disorientation,  What we need to get out of shock is a story, a narrative that explains what is happening around you.

The most ‘opportune time’ for deregulation and neoliberal restructuring, Naomi convincingly argues, is during severe crisis and its aftermath. And the architects of such free marketeering in the midst of chaos – the “privatization of disaster response” — know how to rationalize their greed full well, putting a ‘moral veneer’ on their rapaciousness. Naomi begins her talk with data from a 2008 empirical study on how corporate execs and conservatives are very good at ‘rationalizing’ inequality to justify their own actions, part of their own “ideological tranquillizer,” the psychology of guiltless greed.

The London talk centers more on theses and facts drawn from the Part 5 of the book: “Shocking Times: The Rise of the Disaster Capitalism Complex,” Part 6 “Iraq Full Circle; Overshock,”  Part 7 “The Movable Green Zone: Bugger Zones and Blast Walls,” and the conclusion “Shock Wears Off: The Rise of People’s Reconstruction.” Naomi also talks a lot about what’s happening in New Orleans by big capital developers, a “city that’s been stolen,” where public housing has been destroyed to make way for expensive new condos, and charter schools are enjoying a huge boom. Not in her book is a whole section in the London talk on crony capitalism in Burma and the push there in 2008 by the military junta to sell of much of the state-owned economy, and push privatization of prime agricultural land in the wake of the powerful cyclone that ravaged the coast, exemplifying what could be a neoliberal catchphrase across the crisis-ravaged planet: “the more people die, the more land there is to grab.”

These past months, the BP oil spill and its aftermath (3), the record heat and fires in western Russia and the incredible monsoon flooding across much of northwestern Pakistan are prime examples of serial crises of ‘extreme weather events’ multiplying under our eyes. What big bucks will be made off these crises, what new development projects railroaded through?  Naomi’s thesis will be reflected there too. As well as the idea that when most people respond to a disaster, it’s the expression of mutual aid, helping each other — not profiteering or looting. People show incredible resilience in the face of disasters. Disaster capitalists tend to see just the opposite of that: a blank slate, a clean sheet, an opportunity to invest and earn big profits.

The core idea for the book was sparked in part by the collapse of the Argentinian economy, which she experienced directly, and the “shock and awe” attack on  Iraq and what has ensued there since. Her concrete vision of people’s alternatives touched on in the book briefly and at the end of the London talk was shaped by “the movement of ‘recovered companies,’ two hundred bankrupt businesses that have been resuscitated by their workers, who have turned them into democratically run cooperatives” in Argentina.

She and Avi Lewis made a powerful documentary film The Take (2004) about this movement, though the film goes unmentioned in her book. You can download it cost-free and show widely, to students and activists (4). Naomi likes to see such indigenous responses by working people to the violent inroads of Capital as a form of what a New Orleans activist friend of hers calls “disaster collectivism,” the art of resilience in solidarity.

At the end of her talk and the very end of the book, Naomi highlights efforts by indigenous Thai ‘stateless’ fisher communities along the Andaman Sea coast, known as Moken or Chao Lay, who spearheaded a people’s movement to reclaim their own ‘undocumented’ land by direct action and rebuild their own settlements, a people’s resistance to the corporate developers poised to move in, She notes: “a manifesto drafted by a coalition of Thai tsunami survivor communities explains the philosophy: ‘The rebuilding work should be done by local communities themselves, as much as possible. Keep contractors out, let communities take responsibility for their own housing” (Klein, 2007, p. 465).  A year after Katrina, activists from New Orleans met with Thais in the grassroots reconstruction efforts, and told them: “In New Orleans, we’re waiting around on the government to do things for us, but here you all are doing by yourselves […] When we go back, your model is our new goal” (5).

Naomi also reminds us that resistance to neoliberalism has been led by indigenous groups in Latin America, like the Zapatistas. I think that her entire argument, and several strands of analysis on the broader left, would be strengthened by looking in depth at the work of political anthropologist James C. Scott, in particular his most recent study The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (2009), and his earlier path-breaking studies (6). Scott’s ideas on how simple people resist hegemony and the state are very relevant to what is going on, maybe even in working-class school classrooms. As is his critique of “high modernist ideology” and the failed mega-schemes of the authoritarian state.

Naomi ends both her book and talk on this upbeat note:

Such people’s reconstruction efforts represent the antithesis of the disaster capitalism complex’s ethos, with its perpetual quest for clean sheets and blank slates on which to build model states. […] local people’s renewal movements begin from the premise that there is no escape from the substantial messes we have created and that there has already been enough erasure—of history, of culture, of memory. […]

As the corporatist crusade continues its violent decline, turning up the shock dial to blast through the mounting resistance it encounters, these projects point a way forward […]  Radical only in their intense practicality, rooted in the communities where they live […]  they are building in resilience—for when the next shock hits (p. 466).

As a social historian, Naomi also knows this disaster capitalism complex is another high-tech chapter in Western imperialism, and that the “shock doctrine” is nothing new. She notes in her London talk that in colonizing Massachusetts, the Puritans saw the spread of smallpox as a kind of “Divine plague” that helped cleanse the ‘Heathens’ from the land the settlers coveted. God was on the side of these ‘new Israelites,’ using disaster as murderous sickness to assist in the ‘conquest of New Canaan’ (7). And we are in deep denial about the history of this country, and the myths it was founded on. History, and understanding it better, is, Naomi reminds us, our “shock resistance.”

Buy the DVD. It is a lecture, the camera mainly on Naomi. But can serve as a good introduction to Naomi Klein’s ideas for students, local activist groups, and anyone interested in changing this System. She’s a remarkable speaker. There are other lectures of Naomi’s on youtube (8; see also [2]), but this one is special. Part of the proceeds from the sale of this first-rate DVD are being passed on by PM Press to War on Want.

Notes

1. London Talk, first 10 minutes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tFkMay6R2Q  ; excerpt on climate change: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrQq8wGAA6I&feature=related ; excerpt on ecological debt, ‘the key idea of our time’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOuJv5cJ1-M&feature=related .

2. Naomi Klein, Portland, 54-minute talk, April 28, 2008: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zj0Qc0Yz2w&feature=related

3. See comments by Naomi on the BP oil spill, May 28, 2010:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lF5mrIU52S4 ; idem, Gulf Oil Spill; A Hole in the World, The Guardian, 19 June 2010 http://www.naomiklein.org/articles/2010/06/gulf-oil-spill-hole-world

4. See  http://tinyurl.com/2u8cnfx . The Take  (English subtitles).

5. Klein (The Shock Doctrine, 2007), p. 466. On the Moken/Chao Lay ‘sea gipsies’ struggle for reclaiming land and land rights, see http://www.seapabkk.org/newdesign/fellowshipsdetail.php?No=442 ; but Naomi probably knows this positive light she ends her book on is largely unresolved even today, and the current situation is full of uncertainty regarding the land claims of the ‘landless’ and ‘stateless’ Chao Lay, see http://speakupblog.typepad.com/speak_up/2009/12/chao-lay-update.html . Thailand remains awash with inequity, especially for its many indigenous minority peoples, largely in the northern hills, and the bottom 70% of its working families everywhere.

6. Scott, James C. (1987) Weapons of the Weak: Every Day Forms of Peasant Resistance (Yale UP); idem, (1992). Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (Yale UP); idem, (1999). Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed  (Yale UP).

7. See Templer, Bill (2006). The Political Sacralization of Imperial Genocide: Contextualizing Timothy Dwight’s The Conquest of Canaan, Postcolonial Studies 9(4), 358-391.

8.  See talk in Vancouver, Feb 27, 2007  http://tinyurl.com/266pkeh ,  6 parts.

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Dispatches 6- "a worthy successor"

By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review
August 1, 2010

Big Noise Films continues its tradition of blistering journalism in volume six of its Dispatches series, the latest of which features some of the best reporting of the DVD releases.

Dispatches 6 starts with a punch, in telling the story of nine-year-old Ali Kinani, killed in a massacre of Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square, Iraq, following the U.S. invasion of the country. Military contractor Blackwater was largely blamed for the internationally notorious shootout in a civilian-filled district in 2007, though the company cast aspersions on everyone from insurgents to the U.S. military for civilian deaths. The massacre is a crime for which no one to this day has gone to jail. Journalist Jeremy Scahill, who authored the sublime Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, does a masterful job in “Blackwater’s Youngest Victim.” In this short documentary, he helps to convey a grieving family’s search not for money, but justice — in this case, an apology from Blackwater for the boy’s murder. The stoic recounting of Ali’s death by his father, Mohammed Kinani, is likely one of the most wrenching things you will see this year.

In Scahill’s nuanced storytelling, Mohammed Kinani presents a man who at once welcomed U.S. troops as liberators and the mix of dignity, determination and quiet anger that the killing of his son and subsequent denials by Blackwater have brought out in him. The segment is absolutely riveting, and a powerful beginning to this installment of the series.


A mini-documentary that has gotten a fair bit of coverage, “White Power USA,” is the best-known part of Dispatches 6. Its premise — that the tea party movement, anti-immigrant uptick and hate-rock scene are part of a resurgent white nationalism taken hold since Barack Obama’s election and as a response to diversification — is not new, but some of the footage is chilling. Unabashed racists speak cynically of exploiting economic uncertainty and fears of the unknown to lure white people to a cause and a means of converting them to extremism. Longtime bigot buster Chip Berlet connects the dots here, reminding viewers that, when tea party activists and neo-Nazis talk of taking back “their” country “back,” the overtones are not without ahistorical assumptions of America as a white, Christian nation. Fading global Caucasian political, cultural and economic muscle, anti-racist organizers explain, generates disquiet among whites who fail to hold accountable the truly powerful who have exported jobs and bought off politicians. If you don’t believe the tea party is racist, it is doubtful you will be swayed by praise from people waving queer banners that look like Confederate/SS/U.S. flag mashups and admirers of Adolf Hitler. For tea party critics, those same declarations will only give fuel to views held already. In this sense, “White Power USA” does not make for an especially convincing case, but nonetheless the program is provocative in chronicling a political flashpoint.

A fascinating look by Greg Palast at the economic situation in Liberia rounds out Dispatches 6. Specifically, the woes created by debt speculators based in the United States, who essentially prey on one of the poorest countries in the world, are shocking. In his typically bombastic style, Palast goes that extra mile to find the “vultures” wherever they are to ask them tough questions. What Palast reveals is just as insightful, however. And finally the fight to save East St. Louis, once revered by Stokley Carmichel and H.Rap Brown as a perfect training ground for what a Black revolutionary town could be but now facing its end due to the death of industry, is profiled.

Big Noise’s Dispatches documentaries have brought some of the finest short documentaries to wide audiences. These stories have included racism and the drug war in Tulia, Texas, Israeli crimes in Lebanon, South American struggles against Chevron and so much more. The newest edition is a worthy successor to previous volumes.

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Maria's Story is "mesmerizing" says Aguilar on PMR

By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review
August 2, 2010

From 1980 to 1992, the Central American country of El Salvador was embroiled in a civil war between the military-led government and the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional. The United States supported the Salvadoran government under the guise of anti-Communism and, according to many human rights groups, lent aid to paramilitary death squads in the process. Thousands died before officials and guerrillas signed peace accords and the FMLN became a recognized political party. Today, the FMLN has only recently ascended to power.

Maria’s Story: A Documentary Portrait Of Love And Survival In El Salvador’s Civil War, a newly reissued DVD of the documentary released some 20 years ago, tells the story of Maria Serrano, an activist and mother engaged in the armed struggle of the period on the side of the FMLN. Serrano, a onetime campesino organizer pushed into the revolution by government repression of the citizenry, gives a very personal account of El Salvador’s fight for resources for the poor. If you told her years ago she would be carrying a gun and leading military operations for the FMLN, Serrano says, she might have thought you crazy. But as the government became more intolerant and violent, hundreds of Salvadorenas and Salvadorenos linked up with revolutionaries in hopes of a better life and an end of measures that strangled with country’s underclass.

Credit is due to the filmmakers for avoiding the dewy romanticism that oftentimes accompanies stories of women, particularly mothers, in political movements. Life is hard in El Salvador’s jungles as seen in Maria’s Story. Serrano sardonically talks about the boots she must wear in spite of holes simply because they cost so much. And she and her children, who are with her in the forests out of necessity based on fears of death squads, treat their lives not as a hero’s journey, but a measure of seeking freedom. As Serrano tells the story, El Salvador’s civil war is not about the government versus socialist insurgents, but about economically disadvantaged people who have nothing fighting because they have everything to gain. Even if the fight means giving every child and every drop of blood, Serrano says, the guerrillas of this moment believe they have no choice but to take up weapons and force a change for the Central American nation’s desperately hungry and destitute people. Serrano warmth and devotion to the cause, in spite of the very real military threats guerillas faced in these days, is nothing less than stunning.

However, Maria’s Story avoids making this a tale of a woman humanizing the revolution through her gender, but of a fighter humanizing the revolution by seeing what poverty and suffering have wrought upon her people. This approach has a variety of effects, but most notably in Maria’s Story, viewers get a glimpse into a movement where gender is a consideration, but clearly so many women are actively involved in the revolution that relegated roles or gendered assumptions are tossed aside, at least in the film. Serrano effectively articulates the objectives of the revolution of the time, and reminds viewers that the guerrillas’ world is hardly glamorous. That larger purpose, she indicates, pushes them forward despite the miseries they face.

Maria’s Story gives a brief update of the protagonists featured in the film, but is fairly thin in terms of extras to the original documentary presented on the DVD. Nevertheless, the documentary is mesmerizing.

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Abolish Restaurants on dotrad.com


By Ernesto Aguilar
www.dotrad.com
August 7, 2010

Restaurants serve millions of plates of food each year. Even as food service technology gets more modern and state-of-the-art, many traditions of the food service industry have held sway over the world of wait staff and cooks for years, virtually unchanged. Maybe, as the old adage goes, exposing ancient and troubled eatery practices with the light of transparency can force change. Though Abolish Restaurants: A Worker’s Critique of the Food Service Industry (PM Press, 2010) argues for an end to eating establishments, wide reading of this book could inspire something altogether different: reforms in how things are done.

In this persuasive chapbook, author Prole.Info utilize words and illustrations to tell two intriguing parallel stories: first, what the food service industry entails for those who work in the restaurants themselves, and then, the political and social implications of eating establishments on local economies and working people.

Some of Abolish Restaurants reads a bit like a Situationist coloring book, with a fair chunk of the text relating how miserable food service workers are in their jobs, how aggravating it is to deal with rude customers, or to be nice to people one does not like, and how fundamentally dispiriting restaurant employment can be. Although one can be sure food service can be a hard, challenging job, work unhappiness is a dominant theme that can eclipse and detract from other points. Can’t such be said of many customer-service-oriented jobs? Bundle the daily grind with corruption at varying levels of the business model and it is no surprise why the author so openly criticizes restaurants, even if the real beef has to do with an internal culture that accepts indignity as inevitable and an external culture presumed to not care about what workers must endure.
What makes this short read so interesting, however, are explanations for the uninitiated about how restaurants operate and the behind-the-scenes issues that the average customer probably takes for granted. Practices like tipping out are old hat for workers, but it is safe to say most patrons have no idea what it means. If you are not familiar with how restaurants operate on a daily basis, this book will be illuminating.

A subject needing exploration is how the spending environment is shifting. Surely cost comes on the radar of most, but the terrain of the business and the corporate aesthetic are also growing in importance. In this age of conscientious consumerism, it is wholly tenable that Abolish
Restaurants will make you think of how you spend your eating-out dollars. After all, in an age where buyers will spend more on meat from grass-fed cows, milk without hormones, locally made crafts and organic fruits and vegetables, labor practices are very much on the table for plenty of buyers. Disparities between kitchen and wait staff, for instance, are invisible to those looking at menus, but chances are such business practices may actually be of interest. Will this be the next great battlefield for those who have largely claimed victory in the mainstreaming of green products? Not all are shills boosting multinational businesses. A few behind the movement pressing consumers to spend their money ethically believe such spending can force businesses to treat employees better. And in this time where the need for jobs is converging with the expectation of workplace justice, is it really that far-fetched to wonder if works like Abolish Restaurants can help the public clarify these matters for themselves? One can only hope so.


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Signal: 01 "Visually delectable and politically pointed..."

signal:01By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review
September 4, 2010

Visually delectable and politically pointed, Signal: 01 bills itself as “an ongoing book series to documenting and sharing political graphics, creative projects and the cultural production of international resistance and liberation struggles.” Lofty much?


In all seriousness, all you need to know is that Signal: 01 is a beautiful chronicle of political posters, fliers and rebel art, along with incisive interviews with the artists who made them.


Edited by Alex Dunn and Josh MacPhee, Signal: 01 is anchored by a fabulous interview with Jesus Barraza, Melanie Cervantes and Favianna Rodriguez, three artists creating the most important works galvanizing the movements against Arizona’s SB 1070. No doubt those familiar with other upsurges have seen their efforts, though. From Palestine solidarity to urban farming, Barraza, Cervantes and Rodriguez have created the most iconic pieces since Emory Douglas took up the pen for the Black Panther Party. Though the interview was conducted before the Southwest struggle came to full boil, the trio talk about the process of art development, their diverse range of campaigns for which they have created art, and, as Cervantes puts it, the role of the artist as organizer.


An examination of Mexico City’s visual art inspired by the political movements of 1968 is a potent application about which Barraza, Cervantes and Rodriguez speak. National Public Radio referred to the Tlatelolco massacre of that year as a moment “cracking the system it was intended to preserve at all costs.” Militant and artist Felipe Hernandez Moreno, a veteran of the self-proclaimed ‘propaganda brigades,’ relates what those heady days were like in Mexico, and how the art of this time — a year which also featured the renowned Black Power salute by John Carlos of the Summer Olympics held in Mexico City — came to walls, buses and street lights everywhere. Peppered here are also tactical choices radicals made in production, art placement, actual distribution and evasion of the authorities. Although of a distinctly different time, Hernandez imparts knowledge for those not only making the art, but the craft that composes repression, inspiration and resistance.


Signal: 01 is dotted with stunning photography that will certainly reel in many people who are into unusual art. Political graffiti gracing trains, unique playground designs and the covers of the defunct Anarchy: A Journal of Anarchist Ideas are among the features here. Clocking in at just under 140 glossy pages, Dunn and MacPhee do an impressive job of conveying not only what is new and relevant in political art, but also its history and its presence in the everyday.

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Calling All Heroes on Political Media Review

By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review
August 19. 2010

“What do you read for fun” is indubitably one of those questions for which answers are reserved for fiction writing, Garfield and celebrity gossip magazines. Fun. Harmless a word, though loaded with assumptions.

How fiction ended up among cartoons and whispering about pop stars in the kingdom of frolic is largely the purview of large commercial presses, more than happy to serve up enough romance hokum, serial killer mysteries and made-for-wannabe- angsty-indie-film pap to keep lots of people happy while besmirching Eduardo Galeano’s presence in the process. Even political fiction, stories of a particular context and story arc, is a victim to profit demands. Thus North American political fiction is generally occupied by FBI staffers, legislators and spies. Chalk the agent/double agent popularity in U.S. political fiction up to authors who seemingly write for the lucrative world of film rights as well as an audience. Patriotism most certainly plays into this genre as well.

Mexican author Paco Ignacio Taibo II’s writing is exhilarating because he demonstrates what great topical fiction can be. Creative, imaginative and textured, The latest Taibo offering in English, Calling All Heroes: A Manual for Taking Power (PM Press, 2010), is equal parts history as fantasy. Here, the Mau Mau converge with Old West gunslingers and anti-colonial guerrillas in a period in Mexican memory ripe with promise as tragedy: 1968, a time of Black Power salutes that would go down in history books and of massacres those in power tried to get Mexico’s people to forget. Here a wounded journalist, two years after the slaughter at Tlatelolco, attempts to scrape from the ashes of the dead new hope for a revolutionary uprising against the oppressive system under which he lives.

Startling in its telling, Calling All Heroes is at times moving at a speed that punctuates the heat of the moment. Images of Musketeers and assorted radicals pass through dreams and delusions, and the prose skips quickly from storytelling to notes to polemical teach-ins. Over his 50 books, Taibo is best known as a political historian and documentarian of struggles. His stories have traditionally been about what could have been as they are about what transpired. In this work, bored militants and dashed dreams find solace among eighteenth century purloined museum pistols, poisoned water and insurrectionary betrayals. Though steeped in the urgency of the times, Taibo, writing in his native Spanish language, has previously composed books that also spoke of melancholy, humor and loss. In this English translation, much of that spirit is gently maintained by Gregory Nipper. Although brief in this telling, Taibo reminds us what a real tragedy Tlatelolco was in the hearts of Mexican youth in 1968. With many liberties, he also gives us a new ending had familiar sprites come to the rescue like a ghostly cavalry over the horizon.

Reading Calling All Heroes requires a release of the known for a moment. Some images here are forever associated with particular places, and their relocation to Mexico in 1970 to cross swords with the country’s authoritarian regime of the period is rather jarring. Political fiction, so often wedded to the grime of reality and human frailty, makes such an effort no light task. If you can step away though, Calling All Heroes will beckon you in, as all great fiction should.

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Solution for the Great Recession? Check out the Sandwich Workers at Jimmy John's

By Daniel Gross

With the political elites and professional pundits awaiting President Obama's proposal to boost the economy next week, a far more compelling path to safeguard the financial health of working families emerged in an unlikely place. Whichever tepid government plan moves forward won't alter, in the long run, the economic decline of America's hard-working men and women. Because the problems facing this country's working class are problems that government can't and certainly won't fix - can't because the problem is a lack of self-organization among working people and won't because the politicians side with the monied interests who fund their campaigns, not with workers.
 
Look for the Union Label
 
So the well-intentioned people calling for this or that economic initiative from the President next week, ought to look instead to the good folks who prepare and serve sandwiches at the Minneapolis locations of national fast food chain, Jimmy John's. (If you live in one of the 11 states that the company hasn't expanded to yet and haven't heard of it, you can think of the Jimmy John's brand as Subway with an irreverent, college-town vibe).
 
The solution implemented by the Jimmy John's workers is both beguiling in its simplicity and stunning in its power. They decided not to petition government, run away from a bad situation and find another bad job, or keep making futile pleas as individuals for change from their bosses. On September 2, in anticipation of Labor Day weekend, workers at nine Minneapolis Jimmy John's stores announced that they had formed a member-run union with the most innovative labor organization in the country, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
 
The workers are seeking to create good jobs at Jimmy John's instead of the minimum wage gigs with no benefits and fluctuating schedules that currently prevail at the chain. By the way, the corporate public relations-speak for these kinds of jobs was ably demonstrated by Rob and Mike Mulligan, the owners of the nine Minneapolis Jimmy John's locations. The millionaire Mulligan brothers angrily reacted to the workers' decision to organize by explaining that they, “offer competitive wages and good local jobs.” So remember, next time fast food executives talk about “competitive wages”, they mean minimum wage, currently $7.25 per hour. “Good” means the jobs are good for the boss's bank account. And “local” means the company executives were kind enough not to outsource the sandwich making function to China or India.
 
Tea Parties and Class Wars
 
In February of last year, CNBC's Rick Santelli called for a Tea Party rebellion after he disparaged homeowners who had been duped, misled, lied to, and generally defrauded into sure-to-explode mortgages fueled by derivative trader-gamblers at the likes of AIG, Deutsche Bank, and Goldman Sachs. While Santelli was off the mark of course, his call for an upsurge of dissent would be well-placed in the workplaces of America like Jimmy John's.
 
Warren Buffet famously remarked, “There’s class warfare all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” He's right. And the only way working people will stop losing this war is if we stop looking up at government and start looking around to our co-workers on the job.
 
That's what the Jimmy John's workers did and they didn't wait for a union to come around to them.  They were proactive and got organized on their own with the support of the IWW. And thank goodness they didn't just wait around, given the mainstream labor movement's apparent lack of interest and even greater lack of success in organizing the millions of workers in fast food. It's telling that the workers chose to connect with the IWW, a very different kind of union, where rank & file workers on the shop floor do the research, planning, organizing, and actions in a union campaign, rather than the union being run by a professional staff not present in the workplace. This organizing model has been best articulated by legendary scholar and attorney, Staughton Lynd, who also gave the approach its name: solidarity unionism.
 
Building Forward
 
Labor Day has become the official day for hand-wringing over the decline of organized labor (just over 7% of private sector workers are union members). And President Obama has chosen next week to announce his new economic stimulus proposals.
 
But it's the workers at Jimmy John's who have put their finger on the real source of the economic, political, and social problems facing working families today: the lack of sufficient working-class organization and the collective action on the job that comes with it.  Without an organized, mobilized working class, the large corporations and their agents in government will continue their multi-faceted assault on working families with no serious opposition.
 
Far from hand-wringing, the Jimmy John's workers are organizing, undaunted by the huge swath of unorganized workers in the fast food industry. Indeed, the workers seem energized and excited to enter this largely uncharted territory and assist or inspire others to do the same.
 
So this Labor Day, I'm not going along with the illusion that change comes from above and I won't be watching President Obama's announcement next week. I'm throwing my lot in with the sandwich workers at Jimmy John's.

Daniel Gross, a member of the IWW, is a workers' rights attorney and the director of Brandworkers, a non-profit organization protecting and advancing the rights of retail and food employees.

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Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas on dotrad.com

beyond elections

Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas

By Ernesto Aguilar
www.dotrad.com
August 26, 2010

In his film South of the Border, Oliver Stone dreamed of the potential for the progressive movements taking hold in Central and South America to visit U.S. shores. This idea may be far fetched, but it is optimistic.

One has to keep in mind that it is a country’s often middle and upper classes, generally the disaffected groups when populist leaders ascend to power, who have the resources to travel Stateside. The poor aren’t rushing to the U.S. for college, work or because family resources provide for such luxuries. Nice idea, though.
 
While Stone provides a tantalizing if not pragmatic look at leaders like Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Lula da Silva, Cristina Kirchner and Raul Castro, among others, another film worth revisiting discusses how national populism is applied.

Movements in Latin America have drawn curiosity globally for the ways in which they have organized. The film Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas attempts to give understanding to the method of and approach by what is happening in South America particularly.
 
Shot on location across South America, Beyond Elections is a powerful film that shows the sprawling poverty that wracks many cities in the Southern Hemisphere. Although sadly the film talks less about active struggles against the capitalism that has created such poverty, but does offer a glimpse into some of the daring grassroots reform movements that present interesting though at times politically questionable views. Herein the film’s title is a somewhat of a misnomer in the sense that, by going ‘beyond elections,’ the struggles profiled largely present the implication democracy is a matter of looking at existing political frameworks and using them in a different way rather than an expressly revolutionary fashion or one that sees the dominant systems as needing to go. As well, though less time is spent on the national elections issues that draw international corporate media, much of this documentary is concerned with how democracy plays out on a neighborhood level, which is in itself influenced by city and regional races for political office. A debate in Brazil between the elected mayor and those in an opposition party with demands for services is just one instance here.
 
Some of the more intriguing bits of Beyond Elections come from how the voices of those from communities and populations affected by political corruption and disenfranchisement are interspersed with those who give the statistical or other views oftentimes presented when people talk about challenging oppression. While intellectual classes always get camera time, and impacted neighborhoods have become the new go-to documentary cameos, Beyond Elections manages to make that dynamic engrossing to watch. The premise of the documentary is not without assumptions. While many of the organizers profiled describe a desire for solutions from below, talking out after the film is over what they are doing reminds the viewer of the relevance to national and international struggles. The message seems to be to focus on how local grassroots activism can change lives, but less time is devoted to ways capital and globalization are fought against. Images of Mexico, Brazil and remote areas of South America are stark in their material poverty as they are ideologically important for the ways people organize.




Green And Red: Diario De Oaxaca

diariooaxby
The Comics Journal
September 1st, 2010

Diario De Oaxaca may be Peter Kuper’s greatest accomplishment as an artist.  It flatters all of his strengths as an artist and limits his flaws.  The simplicity of the project and the mere fact that it didn’t start out to be anything other than a journal of his two years spent in Mexico with his family were keys to the book’s understated impact.  Kuper is a wizard with his colored pencils and has a fabulous eye for detail.  His years spent thinking and drawing stories related to his own political activism certainly informs that eye and his writing.  He’s also more than proficient with all sorts of storytelling tricks.

The problem with Kuper is that he sometimes tries too hard and hammers too many points home with text.  It’s as though he has so much to say that he doesn’t trust his ability to convey it visually.  That was sometimes a problem with his striking memoir Stop Forgetting To Remember, where Kuper overwhelmed his visuals by his incessant need to talk through his memories.  Kuper’s at his best in his silent work, but Diario De Oaxaca manages to bring to life the best aspects of all of his comics.  Moving to Oaxaca in the middle of a teacher’s strike that turned into a frightening & violent government crackdown, Kuper provides the audience with background detail through text essays, but really brings them to life in his drawings of burned-out buses acting as barricades and a colorful array of street graffiti protests.  That certainly gave the activist/journalist in him an opportunity to sink his teeth into living history.

For the most part, the Diario was an opportunity for Kuper to exercise his autobio artist muscles.  Other than a few short essays, most of the book is taken up by Kuper’s drawings of the stunning natural wildlife and endless array of insects (a childhood fascination of his).  Much like one of his ComicsTrips stories, it’s another opportunity for Kuper to sink or swim in brand new waters.  This time, however, that experience was greatly mediated by having his ten-year-old daughter with him.  It seems as though Kuper has always periodically needed to make himself uncomfortable physically by turning his environment upside down in order to achieve a different kind of comfort in coming to terms with himself at various points in his life.  Kuper has an uncanny sense for understanding just how and when the routines that make up his life threaten to strangle it and finds ways to create a new steady-state.

The political intrigue and autobiographical nature of what he chose to draw provide a loose framework for page after page of beautiful (and sometimes humorous) renderings.  Kuper was obviously taken by the ruins in the area and the various civilizations they represented; that kind of continuity and history in a single small area is particularly powerful for an American to experience.  Kuper was clear in saying that he wanted to talk about the flames of protest as a way of discussing the recent lives of Oaxaca’s people, but he also wanted to portray the beauty of an area that has, in many ways, remained fundamentally unchanged for quite a long time.  That is certainly true of the luscious greenery and the exotic insects and critters he loved to draw.  The only full-length comics story in the book, “Going For A Walk”, concludes the book and recapitulates Kuper’s view of Oaxaca in terms of its gritty everyday aspects (like fighting off wild dogs), its sense of community, its identity as a hotbed of resistance and its sheer, weird beauty.  In essence, Diario De Oaxaca is a journal of deeply personal aesthetic experiences, rendered in such a way as to record those experiences for himself as much as they would be for any particular reader.


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Signal: 01 on Five Leaves

signal:01by
Five Leaves
September 1st, 2010

Colin Ward keeps getting mentioned in this blog. Fans of his will know he edited the journal Anarchy for ten years. People (well, me and a handful of of others) are still collecting the back issues. Virtually all featured wrap round covers designed by Rufus Segar. For some time now Dan Poyner has also been collecting the series, with a view to something - a book, an exhibition, a website - featuring the covers of the magazines. The new American "journal of international political graphics and culture", Signal, features many of the covers and a long interview with Rufus by Dan, about the design process primarily. He was sent a postcard (oh, those innocent days) listing the articles and given a free hand to produce the cover. This is the first time I've seen so many of them together, other than on my shelves, making a good start on Dan's bigger project, which is about the art, but also the politics that made Anarchy such essential reading, even for those of us who were more interested in marbles than politics when the mag first started in 1961. Copies are available from http://www.pmpress.org/.


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