Chinese factory workers protest.
Yesterday the New York Times ran the headline: "Job Losses Pose a Threat to Stability Worldwide." The article focuses on the pressures that the busted worldwide economic bubble places on nations to protect their economies from global capitalism. That is, the Times defines stability as governments resisting pressure to intervene to protect local jobs from foreign competition; workers interpret interpret the same facts a race to the bottom that screws them.
Preserving globalization is not the greatest danger most people worldwide see in the current economic implosion. They are getting hammered and they want the powers that be to fix things. Der Spiegel reports from Europe:
- France: On January 29, schools were closed, and so were railroads, banks and stock markets. Theaters, radio stations and even ski lifts were shut down temporarily. Trash receptacles were set on fire in Paris once again, and a crowd gathered on the city's famed Place de l'Opéra to sing the Internationale, the anthem of revolution.
- Britain: workers protested at a refinery near Immingham in Lincolnshire, triggering solidarity strikes in 19 other locations in the United Kingdom.
- Russia: dismal labor statistics have driven Communists and anti-government protesters into the streets from Pskov to Volgograd in recent days, and in Moscow members of the left-wing opposition even ventured onto Red Square. They ripped up pictures of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, until police arrested and removed them.
It's getting hot out there.
According to the same New York Times article, 3.6 million people in the United States have lost jobs in the last year. Where are the protests here? About the only one we heard of was Chicago workers who sat in their factory to demand severance benefits.
Some pretty random thoughts on why U.S. people aren't more vocal in demanding government help -- yet.
- As a history professor says, protests "are rare because they violate the everyday laws of property, and for the most part American workers are law-abiding people. They occur only when workers feel morally aggrieved, when they sense that ownership has itself violated the law, when the boss has become the outlaw in their eyes and in that of the community as well." Note: we've made effective protest tactics illegal here. But should many former workers conclude that their former bosses were law-breaking scum ... watch out.
- Maybe the laid off are protesting widely, but the media just doesn't cover them. There are damn few labor reporters left in the dying dead tree media. That trend is not limited to the States. Here's some British commentary on what is simply no longer known because of the demise of labor journalism.
- Maybe so many U.S. workers have been suffering falling real wages for so long (since 1970), cushioned only by more two income households and unsustainable debts, that they have had the starch kicked out of them. Do they believe "resistance is futile"? Will there come a moment when they think instead "nothing left to lose"?
- A huge fraction of the U.S. low wage work force consists of immigrants, with and without documents. Both sorts face harassment and even being simply snatched up, imprisoned, and deported, if they stick their heads up. On the other hand, our immigrant workforce often has a stronger belief in the dignity of their own labor than we see from longtime citizens these days.
- Many of last year's layoffs hit the "FIRE" sector (finance, insurance and real estate) hardest -- these workers haven't thought of themselves as needing collective protest action and, compared to other unemployed folks, sometimes have some cushion to fall back on -- for awhile.
- Folks are hoping in President Obama and giving him a chance. Their protest was to elect him to fix things. How long will they wait?
U.S. veterans set up camp to demand benefits in the 1930s.