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A timely historical refresher.

The working conditions we have today were born in struggle and paid for in blood.  We don’t understand the sacrifices others made for us these days.  Not completely our fault as the Powers that Be have employed several strategies against the working class, most notably, divide and conquer, to ensure that the mass movements of the past do not crop up again and threaten the established norms of society.

Take note, single day marchers, that what you are doing is almost completely for your benefit.  Your single day of action is meek, unoffensive, and for the most part condoned by those who make the rules.

Why?  Because everything goes back to normal once you go home.  You benefit from venting and feeling like you’ve done something (as insipid as it happens to be) and life goes on.  Problem NOT solved.

Effective protesting is not convenient, short-term, or easy.  It requires a dedicated mass of people who are willing to put their lives on the line and make the society around them,most inconveniently, grind to halt.   The press will demonize you, the anti-union thugs will beat you, and the police will most likely end up killing you because you are not falling in line with the elite’s rules and expectations.

In 1919, workers in Winnipeg said, “Enough”.

“A combination of social and economic inequality and a growing awareness among the working class of these disparities led somewhere between 25,000 and 35,000 workers to walk off the job for 42 days, beginning on May 15.

The reasons so many people put their livelihoods at risk by striking in a harshly anti-union climate were manifold.

Poor work conditions, inadequate wages and the refusal by many employers to recognize and negotiate with unions culminated in the unrest that spilled into the streets and left two men dead by the end of the six-week strike.”

The willingness for people exploit other people is almost unlimited.

 

“Employment offices sprouted up across Winnipeg to connect those workers with jobs. Some agencies “lived to fleece newly arrived immigrants” by charging them steep job-finding fees and locking them into contracts with measly salaries and steep room and board charges, Doug Smith wrote in his book Let us Rise: An Illustrated History of the Manitoba Labour Movement”

Fresh and new to Canada? Let’s exploit you and your family, ASAP.  This is the base standard for human behaviour in society.  Not pretty, but unless we organize against it, it is what we will get.

“The railway yard-adjacent communities were also a public health nightmare.

Unsanitary, crowded conditions meant infections and diseases spread with impunity. There were annual outbreaks of typhoid due to the unclean water supply in the late 19th century: nearly 1,300 Winnipeggers just over five per cent of the city’s population were diagnosed with the bacterial infection in 1904.

The Spanish flu of 1918 killed 1,200 people in Winnipeg, and the working class and immigrant neighbourhoods of the north were worst hit.

“It was a deplorable area in which to live: communicable diseases were rampant; it had one of the highest child mortality rates of anywhere in the country; up until the aqueduct [from Shoal Lake] came through, the water supply was a serious danger to the citizens,” Siamandas said.

“These were the seeds of what led to the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919.”

Without equal access to health care, suitable housing, fair wages and education opportunities, and with few of the creature comforts enjoyed by the upper crust, a great unrest was brewing in blue-collar Winnipeg.”

If you ever wondered how bad it has to get before people will act, it is like this.  Gross inequality, squalor, disease and high child mortality.

The Barretts were staunchly anti-union and against collective bargaining. As a matter of principle, the brothers said, they would only deal directly with their workers on an individual basis.

“This is a free country and … as far as we are concerned, the day will never come when we will have to take orders from any union,” Leonard wrote in 1916, refusing to meet a committee of his employees over concerns related to wages and work conditions.

“There was fierce resistance from all employers, public and private, to unionization, and if you dared go on a picket line in Winnipeg, there were injunctions slapped on you and you were in the courts,” said Paul Moist, former national president of Canada’s largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

This antagonism toward unions continued as working-class tensions deepened during the war.”

Indeed it is a free country.  Freedom has different means depending on which social class you happen to inhabit.  I’m guessing most of my readership is not in the business elite, and as evinced in 1919, the business class has its political shit together we currently do not.  The structures of society are on their side, along with the coercive elements like the police and army.  This is what we have to acknowledge and prepare for if we want to society for the better.

“Leonard scoffed at the suggestion and declared, “God gave me this plant, and by God I’ll run it the way I want to.”

About 45 firms and 1,000 employees went on strike July 22, 1918, after the trades council proposed wage increases and eight-hour days for auto and metalworkers. Though a few of the shops complied, most refused to negotiate with the council, so it was back to work — but the men’s dissatisfaction became a catalyst of the Winnipeg General Strike.

Workers at Vulcan and two other metal shops declared on May 1, 1919, that they would strike again for the right to unionization and a collective bargaining process. The strike started the next day.”

The rest is history, but people today need to know the attitudes that are behind the levers of power.  They cannot be negotiated with when they think they have all the power in the situation.  Power will never cede power willingly.  Only through organized resistance en mass can gains be made.

Please consider this the next time you schedule your appearance at a one day march : who is it benefiting and will your actions change the social bedrock of society.

[Source: cbc.ca]

 

 

 

 

 

Need a quick refresher? Poof, here it is. :>

I do like reading Aeon magazine.  In his essay Jeremy Adelman describes some of the competing historical narratives.  I like that his arguments intersect with another venerated historian, Ronald Wright conclusions’ about civilizations and their paths toward modernity.  Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress dovetails nicely with the thesis of Adelman’s essay.

“The real failure then of that financial mayhem was that its makers couldn’t see how their heroic story of decontrolled Homo pecuniaria was responsible for the crisis – and instead compelled bystanders and taxpayers to pay the price.

The beneficiaries of the doomsday narratives have been snarling nativists and populists, propped up by Fox News sages such as Jonah Goldberg and Yuval Levin who champion the old decline story: a dirge for ‘Western’ civilisation. The New YorkTimes’ David Brooks weeps about America’s inescapable demise. For Donald Trump in the US, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Viktor Orbán in Hungary, there is only one, stark, self-serving choice: cosmopolitan catastrophe or rescue, with themselves as uniquely mandated to liberate us from an apocalypse designed by global plutocrats. Meanwhile, liberals and cosmopolitans feud over whom to blame – thereby further fuelling the crisis consensus.

It’s important to recognise one of the catastrophist’s rhetorical moves. Stories of doom thrive on turning a tension into an incompatibility. A tension implies two forces at odds – like hot and cold, like price stability and jobs, like helping strangers and assisting neighbours; while they pull in different directions, they can be mixed. Earlier big narratives used to explain choices in terms of tension and unstable compromise. In the 1950s and ’60s, debates focused on how much the developing world could advance while being part of a wider global economy. A decade later, the tension was how to co-manage a troubled global commons.

Nowadays, the chorus of catastrophe presents differences as intractable and incompatible, the choice between them zero-sum. It’s globalism or ‘nation first’, jobs or climate, friend or foe. The model is simple: earlier leaders muddled, dithered, compromised and mixed. In their efforts to avoid hard decisions, they led the nation to the edge of disaster.

Pessimism helped exorcise post-1989 triumphalism; Piketty and Tooze are right about structural features of inequality and how the makers of catastrophe became its beneficiaries. But we also need to see how the consensus of catastrophe that straddles the ideological spectrum – but grows more dire and menacing as one approaches the extremes – favours the politics of the strong man glaring down the nation-doubters.

The alternative is not to be wistful about flat-world narratives that find solace in technical panaceas and market fundamentalisms; the last thing we need is a return to the comforts of lean-in fairy tales that rely on facile responses to a complicated world. To learn from collapses and extinctions, and prevent more of them, we need to recover our command over complex storytelling, to think of tensions instead of incompatibilities, to allow choices and alternatives, mixtures and ambiguities, instability and learning, to counter the false certainties of the abyss. If we don’t, it really will be too late for many people and species.”

Both Wright and Adelman champion a rational and reasoned approach to altering the self-destructive paths we’ve chosen collectively as civilizations on earth.  It is unfortunate, as Adelman notes, that the current political climate seems very well defended against the nuanced and complex solutions necessary to alter the calamitous course of our civilization.

 

In Defying Hitler, Sebastion Haffner’s disturbing 1939 memoir chronicling the rise of Nazism, the author, a law candidate, describes the insidious day-to-day changes in attitudes, beliefs, politics, and prejudices that began, for Germans, the slow descent into a “trap of comradeship” in which this culture of cruelty flourished as many of them become “owned by it”.  “Comradeship” as the Nazis meant it, became a “narcotic” that the people were introduced to from the earliest age, through the Hitler Youth movement (Hitlerjugend), the SA, military service, and involvement with thousand of camps and clubs. In this way, it destroyed their sense of personal responsibility and became a means for the process of dehumanization:

‘It is even worse that comradeship relieves men of responsibility for their actions, before themselves, before God, before their conscience.  They do what their comrades do.  They have no choice.  They have no time for thought (except when they unfortunately wake up at night).  Their comrades are their conscience and give absolution for everything, provided that do what everybody else does.’

Haffner goes on to describe how this comradeship, in just a few weeks at camp, molded a group of intellectual, educated men into an “unthinking, indifferent, irresponsible mass” in which bigoted, derogatory, and hateful comments “were commonplace, went unanswered and set the intellectual tone.”  The Nazis used a variety of psychological stimulations and manipulations to this end, such as slogans, flags, uniforms, Sieg Heils, marching columns, banners, and songs, to help create a dangerous, mindless “group think.”  One of the most disturbing aspects of this comradeship was how the men in the camp began to behave as a collective entity, who “instinctively ignored or belittled anything that could disturb our collective self-satisfaction.  A German Reich in microcosm.”  This collectivity is the “and” in Arthur Eddington’s mathematical formula.  The bullies and the bystanders become a deadly combination that is more than the sum of its parts.

[…]

 

In all three genocides [Armenian, Jewish, Tutsi], it was found that if one person (or small group of dedicated people) refused to go along with the genocidaires, some others who were potential witnesses actually became witnesses, defenders, and/or resisters themselves.  This group readily admitted that if it were not for those who took the lead in desisting, they probably not would have had the courage to do so themselves.  In his research in “atrocity producing situations,” Robert J. Lifton came to the conclusion, “There’s no inherent human nature that requires us to kill or maim…  We have the potential for precisely that behaviour of the Nazis …or of some kind of more altruistic or cooperative behaviour,  We can go either way.  And I think that confronting these extreme situations is itself an act of hope because in doing that, we are implying and saying that there is an alternative.  We can do better. ”

 

‘It is immensely moving when a mature man [or woman] – no matter whether young or old in years- is aware of a responsibility for the consequences of his conduct and really feels such responsibility with heart and soul.  He then acts by following an ethic of responsibility and somewhere reaches a point where he says: “Here I stand; I can do no other.”  That is something genuinely human and moving.   [Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation]

-Barbara Coloroso.  Extraordinary Evil – A Brief History of Genocide.   pp. 85 – 87

 

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