Sunday, 15 June 2014

Scapegoats United

From FDR’s New Deal to Attlee’s Welfare State, wise leaders have recognised that the strength of nations comes from the solidarity of their citizens. They know there is no upside in handing power to a superrich elite. Divisive polarisation feeds insatiable greed and suffocates those in need. And it inevitably breeds the grotesque practice of scapegoating – goading the poor to turn on the vulnerable, deflecting attention from bankers’ reckless gambles and wider corporate irresponsibility.

Instead of bowing down to this pernicious con, and conceding ever more to the malicious and the misguided, it is time for citizens to join forces. The attack on any one of us is an attack on us all. To lay the foundation, here is a simple five-point platform around which unions, cooperators, anti-poverty, anti-discrimination, sustainability & disability activists can rally and fight as one:

1. Poverty (Want)
When people cannot even afford basic necessities like food and energy, we shall not allow them to be cast aside and disparaged as scroungers.
We will work together for universal social security, and access to low-cost mutually owned renewable energy & local sustainable food supply.

2. Disease & Disability
When people are sick, frail or disabled, we shall not allow them to be mistreated just because they cannot pay for private care.
We will work together to secure quality healthcare for all, prioritise public resources for the care of children and the elderly, and extend user-controlled health and social care.

3. Squalor & Homelessness
When people end up living in cramped space, squalid conditions or out on the street, we shall not allow them to be blamed for their predicament.
We will work together to build enough affordable homes for the citizens of the country, and expand co-operative & commons-based housing and land tenure.

4. Ignorance & Prejudice
When people face prejudice and abuse because of their ethnicity, gender or sexuality, we shall not allow them to be mocked or insulted by others who should know better.
We will work together to educate everyone about the importance of mutual respect & cooperation, and build shared understanding through school & community activities.

5. Redundancy
When people organise unions to ensure everyone can earn a living wage under safe working conditions, we shall not allow them to be demonised as anti-business.
We will work together to support those who strive to defend working people and steer investment to responsible enterprise respectful of all stakeholders.

By coming together as Scapegoats United, instead of competing with each other along single-issue lines, activists will be able to help each other:
• Unite behind a more powerful voice in countering lies and denigration;
• Keep public attention on the key policy issues that really matter to people; and
• Encourage voters to back candidates who will most effectively address their concerns.

Niemöller warned us that if we let oppressors pick off others one by one, then by the time they came for us, there would be no one left to turn to for help. So the need to join forces is paramount. The time to act is now.

[William Beveridge’s vision for a civilised society calls for the slaying of the ‘five giants’ of: want (poverty), disease, squalor, ignorance, and idleness (redundancy). For more on Martin Niemöller: see]

Sunday, 1 June 2014

In Solidarity or In Solitary

Remember the iconic photograph of the man standing alone in front of a convoy of tanks about to enter Tiananmen Square?

A symbol of the power of individual defiance? Or a reminder of the futility of acting alone?

It was June 1989. Young protestors had gathered in Tiananmen Square in Beijing to press the country’s leaders to adopt democratic reforms. On the fourth of that month, the government ordered troops to clear the square. The protestors were isolated. There was no visible support from the rest of China. Some fled, some surrendered, and many were shot.

But what if, instead of just the students gathered in an easily targeted area of the capital, numerous other citizens from all provinces and diverse sections of society had openly backed the demands for democratisation, would the outcome had been different?

On the other side of the world, on the very same day – June the fourth, 1989 – members of the Solidarity movement, which had for years been banned for daring to criticise the ruling regime, achieved widespread success in the open elections that were finally held in Poland.

Solidarity did not win democratic reforms overnight. It had built up support across the whole country over a long period of time, and true to its name, it was a mass movement that developed a clear, united front to challenge the iniquitous concentration of power in a few.

In the months following the triumph of Solidarity in Poland, collective demands for power redistribution became unstoppable, and one-party dictatorship vanished across Eastern Europe, culminating in the historic fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Before long, the Soviet Union itself broke up and in its place came republics with multi-party elections.

Unfortunately, the dismantling of one party rule, though crucial, was not enough to guarantee that power would henceforth be spread amongst the citizens as equals. Power all too often ended up being concentrated in a plutocratic elite. Through their possession of the vast proportion of available resources and their privileged position to dictate terms on how future resources were to be distributed, they could make decisions to benefit themselves at everyone else’s expense.

Not only has this happened in both the established and newly formed multi-party regimes, it has emerged in China’s one-party system where, as in most parts of the global economy these days, it is not tanks, but banks, that hold the citizens to ransom.

The iron curtain may have been lifted in 1989, but in its place, there is now an electrified fence keeping us away from the gated communities of the wealthy elite.

The only way to counter predatory exploitation is to join forces as a progressive electoral force to reclaim our democratic power. Random protests and proliferation of parties that just keep splitting the vote, simply leave the plutocrats in charge.

We must act in solidarity. Or else, too many of us will be confined to a solitary future that will be wretchedly poor, nasty, and short.