Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chomsky -- sit-down strike is just one step before taking over the factory

Noam Chomsky spoke at the RMC (Rebellious Media Conference) opening session about the #Occupy Wall Street events taking place in the last few weeks and his views on how this movement could become more efficient, more radical, more permanent and more focused on obtainable goals. He left no doubt of his support to this "end of apathy" as the most important thing happening today.


Image by: Wikimedia Commons
Noam Chomsky (Wikimedia Commons)

Pressenza london, 10/11/11 Noam Chomsky was the keynote speaker at the conference organized by Peace News in London with the sponsorship of the Joseph Rowntree foundation and Quaker Peace and Social Witness. The central theme was how to progress the radical agenda through an equally radical Media.

Instead, Chomsky decided to focus his opening presentation on the #Occupy Wall Street movement and its offshoots in the US and other parts of the world, acknowledging but not giving much weight to the roots of this movement in the Arab spring and others. He celebrated these important events as the end of apathy, stressing that the inadequacies of the system are to be filled by those who have radical priorities. However he found some unusual mainstream support for this movement rather curious. The head of the Federal Reserve has declared the mobilisations "understandable". The Financial Times carried a front page story: "thousands rally against US inequalities". The Unions have joined in and again he stressed this is very rare as they tend to always support the government, e.g. with "the New Deal" of the 70s in which radical labour activity aimed at achieving more control over their workplace and dignity. He also mentioned the feminist labour movement. However in his view it all came to an end very quickly by the end of the 70s. For the last 35 years the Reagan/Thatcher ideology has been undermining workers rights and increasing inequalities.

He gave some insight into US peculiarities about class consciousness. The term "working-class" seems to be unmentionable in polite company. "My father is in jail" means underclass, "my father is a janitor" means middle-class.

In terms of the demands being made by the Occupy Wall Street movement Chomsky stressed that it is necessary to separate the obtainable from the unobtainable in the near future. He strongly supported the demand for regulation and taxation of the hedge funds, stressing that it had been the Clinton Administration that had broken the law that separated investment from speculation. However the more radical demand to end the two party Plutocracy, dismantle the Federal Reserve and the banking system he found that it would destroy the country and that such thing is not possible. In his view what appears to be deterioration during the last few years with corporations buying elections and the manifest corruption of the economic system has in fact been happening for more than 100 years. So if reasonable and doable demands are too far away from the more radical ones, if there is no awareness that only a long-term effort can achieve things, then his fear is that people will get discouraged and "give up to become a stock broker", as happened with the anti-war effort.

Perhaps this was his central concern, having seen so many radical movements rise and fall, like in the 30's with the New Deal (when management really feared that the workers would be taking over the factories). The same happened with the civil rights movement and its long hard struggle, with Martin Luther King's popularity starting to wane when he moved from race to class issues. He stressed that in relation to the Arab Spring things happened in an interesting way where there had been previously a militant labour movement.

He highlighted the need to instil consciousness and understanding on the general population. For instance, more could have been done when local factories were closed by the multinationals that owned them. Although those small industries were in fact profitable, they were not profitable enough for the multinationals' standards. The workforce could have bought them with public support. Similarly, the bailed out US auto industry could have seen the government, now its owner, handing it over to the workforce. They could have converted the technology to build much needed trains.

In response to the question: how to separate the "predators from the producers", he stated that banks in fact have a function, if they did what they are supposed to do, e.g., taking unused savings and putting them into production as it had happened during the 50s and 60s, then things could have been okay. In the 70s everything changed.

In relation to health care he said that the US system is an international scandal, private, unregulated, cruel and savage, with 50 million people who have no cover of any kind. "If the US had a system like the one the UK is destroying there would be no deficit. 85% of the population supports the change but Obama gave it away".

With respect to the nuclear issue he acknowledged that some of his friends see it as a moral issue but he regards it as a technical one, where it is necessary to evaluate the choices available. However in terms of nuclear waste he views the problem of Somali pirates, for example, as a consequence of the destruction of fishing in the area by the dumping of nuclear and other toxic waste.

He criticised the "intelligent minorities" for keeping the "ignorant masses" out of the decision-making. The Media pick on this and replicate it. He suggested that blaming the Media for undermining the left was like blaming the banks for making money.

When asked for his advice to the Assembly that was taking place on Westminster Bridge (by the Houses of Parliament) in support of the NHS and preparation for the October 15th mobilisation he suggested not to get trapped in a litany of complaints but to focus on feasible objectives. Leave the unobtainable goals out for now, the demonstration can spark efforts to gain understanding and organisation that end up making unattainable goals feasible. "Let us set up the structures, it is not a matter of instant gratification".

As for the market system, its inherent nature is to ignore externalities, "Even if that means the destruction of a species."

chomsky keynote talk @ rebellious media conference

October 08, 2011 23:00

noam chomsky gave the keynote speech today at the weekend-long rebellious media conference in london

packed hall

chomsky speaks

milan rai and michael albert listening

chomsky and rai

michael albert looks through written questions

q & a session

conference stage

heated discussions

Introductions came from conference organiser, milan rai, and znet founder, michael albert, who was noam's student and became a life-long friend. then noam chomsky stood at the lectern in front of a packed hall at the institute of education, while the speech was also beamed to a further overflow audience by video.

unsurprisingly he chose the wall street occupation as his main subject throughout the hour-long lecture, but while saying he didn't want to seem negative, he criticised the demands being made by the demonstrators, and characterised their fledgling movement as naive and ill-thought out.

i suppose having lived through, taken part in, and commented on the peace and revolutionary movements of the sixties, he may well have a realistic view of what is possible and what is not, but i couldn't help feeling that he might be ignoring or unaware of a new paradigm, an emerging global consciousness.

however, he was on good form with some ascerbic and witty comments, pointing out that demands for corporations to put people before profits would be asking them to behave illegally, since their whole purpose is to make profit, and any other interests would fall foul of company law.

he also answered a question about the role of the left-wing press and their failure to get behind protest movements with the quick-witted soundbite that "blaming the media for trying to keep people passive doesn't make any sense - it's like blaming banks for making money".

as well as questions from the hall, some written questions were chosen by michael albert that had been brought over from the overflow room.

chomsky was due to make an appearance later at the trafalgar square rally against ten years of war in afghanistan, and the conference continued with a multitude of smaller lectures and workshops during the afternoon. it is fully subscribed and there are no tickets available for tomorrow, where john pilger and noam chomsky will join others in a final plenary.

the conference is packed with great speakers, workshops and networking opportunities, and has been put together by a small group of organisations, instigated by 'peace news' magazine which is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

in a spirit of transparency and openness, they have published the accounts, and it shows they will be relying on such things as dvd sales to help fund the weekend. the dvd will contain highlights from many of the workshops as well as the key sessions, but they are looking for advance orders this weekend in order to make the editing and manufacture sustainable, so i'd urge people to take a look at the website and consider purchasing the dvd now.

Noam Chomsky: 'involvement of workers is key'

posted: 6.47pm Tue 11 Oct 2011

Writer and campaigner Noam Chomsky told an audience of over 1,000 that the new occupation movement has a "rare" level of mainstream support. He called the protests "mass popular demonstrations against capitalism".

"These are extremely important events, not least because of the initiative and participation of a lot of young people," he said.

"They're really the force that organised this. It's spread all over the country and it's growing every day."

Chomsky was speaking at the Rebellious Media Conference held in London last weekend. He commented on the occupiers' tactics.

The Wall Street protesters say they are inspired by the Arab Spring and the US

sit-down strikes of the 1930s.

Chomsky compared the movement to those. "Take the sit-down strikes," he said.

"They had a huge effect. They terrified owners and management, and there's a very good reason for that.

"A sit-down strike is just one step before taking over the factory, kicking out the bosses and the managers and saying, 'We'll run it ourselves'."

Chomsky went on to talk about the uprisings and revolutions that have swept across the Arab world.

"A critical fact about them is that they are taking place successfully where there is and has been for years a militant, active labour movement," he noted.


"The main successes are Tunisia and Egypt, where there have been major labour struggles for years which have finally broken through.

"It's when the labour movement began to seriously participate that the gains of these movements really became noticeable.

"That ought to be known if the occupy movements, spectacular as they are, are going to have real success."

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posted by u2r2h at 12:07 AM


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