“Intimidation and Violence”

November 21, 2008

Yesterday the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) released its Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights Violations and the results are revealing but hardly surprising. 91 unionists were murdered around the globe, often by or with the support of “their” governments. Many more cases of firing, threats, and imprisonment to quash organizing are detailed in the report. As usual, Colombia, friend of United States’ economic imperialism, was the worst offender; 39 union members and supporters were killed in the country.

Worldwide, governments continue to suppress their people, through union busting legislation, bad deals with international corporations, and police and military action. They will keep on doing this. It’s one of the reasons grassroots union organizing continues to be so important. Working people cannot trust their governments to look out for their interests; not when there are people (and in my country, corporations are legal persons) out there with opposing interests and money. It is up to the workers to defend themselves, by democratic organizing into unions, against their bosses and, it is sad to say, their governments.

Some workers are making things as democratic as possible under the current system. Some workers are taking control of the businesses where they work, through direct democracy. The Hotel Buaen in Buenos Aires is probably the most famous example and from what I’ve read it seems that Argentina is the Autogestion Capital of the World. There, hundreds of factories and other companies are now directly in the hands of workers. There’s a great documentary, entitled The Take, made by Naomi Klein and her husband Avi Lewis that focuses on the abricas recuperadas movement in Argentina and elsewhere. I highly reccomend it.

This is a struggle against capitalism and, all too often, against governments. The U.S. government supports nations like Columbia that continue to oppress its people for the sake of profit. When a government fails to succumb to economic imperialism, Washington will do its best to overthrow it, be it covertly or with full military force. No doubt Obama will continue this strategy; all the Democratic saviors in the White House for the past fifty years have done so. I do have a (rare) good word for the man, though. I was impressed and heartened to see him directly address the murders taking place in Colombia on national television during a presidential debate. It would be good to see him initiate real action (and dare I say it, change), in our foreign and domestic affairs when it comes to unions, but he won’t. It is our job to do that, here in the U.S. auto plants and Starbucks and schools, and everywhere, in solidarity with all workers. If we want change that we can believe in, we have to believe in ourselves and our own power to create that change. Unions are our power, and I think autogestion, direct democracy, is the best way forward to a real, post-capitalist society.

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