The only weapon working people have against the power of concentrated wealth is a contagion of Solidarity. Elites live in the same neighborhoods, vacation in the same resorts, send their children to the same schools, belong to the same organizations. They increase their political influence, and find new opportunities to expand their wealth, without changing their routine and can do so behind closed doors.
Working people by contrast, are scattered and diverse, living in different neighborhoods, often speaking different languages, sending their children to different schools, practicing different faiths. Unlike elites, they have to project their power in the public way, through picket lines, rallies and marches; through the mass lobbing of public officials, and on the cultural front, through music and social media, and at times through election campaigns
They have to use these weapons to give people who often feel weak and vulnerable as individuals a sense that when they join together, they are truly powerful. It often takes years of mass activity to create this feeling of strength and possibility, but when it happens it is a beautiful thing! We have seen this recently in the form of strikes and walk outs from people who work at Wal-Mart, and fast food workers, people who have been regarded by most experts, and even by some labor leaders, as unorganizable.
But these protests did not come out of nowhere. They follow on the heels of an Occupy movement, which made public protest visible in every city in this country and for a three month period captured the imagination of the media and change the nation’s language for speaking about economic inequality.
The suppression of this movement did not erase the example they provided of ordinary people changing the course of history and striking fear in the rich and the powerful. An example that has been followed and taken to heart, by come of the nation’s lowest paid workers.
It is too soon to say whether these movements will lead to significant improvements in wages and working conditions for America’s working poor, much less their representation by unions of their choice. But it does show that Solidarity is contagious and that poor and working people were watching carefully when Occupy took to the streets and captured the nation’s imagination, and are beginning to apply the lessons of that movement to their own situation.
With A Brooklyn Accent
Sunday, 2 December 2012