Monday, January 23, 2012

"What the Hell do We Want Anyway?"

John's Speech to Occupy Regina on 22 October 2011

By John F. Conway
January 23, 2012

Some very powerful and influential people are very, very unhappy with what you are doing and saying.

John Manley, CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives – the group which designed the blueprint for the mess we are in – calls you “ridiculous” and just a bunch of “wanna-bes.” He speaks for the 150 largest Canadian corporations with assets of $4.5 trillion and annual revenues of $850 billion. They are the real rulers of the business dictatorship that now oppresses us.

Some of the movers and shakers in the media have been reasonable, though careful and equivocal, but many more have not.

The Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente, after a brief visit with the Toronto occupiers, concluded, “So much for the voice of the oppressed masses. They need pacifiers.” She opines that they are not to be taken seriously until they attract as many people as the New York Halloween parade or the Toronto Marathon.

Our very own John Gormley also thinks you are not to be taken seriously since an acquaintance of his visited your campsite at 8 am one morning and found you still sleeping. Meanwhile the bankers and financial manipulators were up at the crack of dawn, presumably looking for more pension funds to loot and finding new ways to increase our debt slavery.

In the US Occupiers have been referred to as “mobs,” “anti-American” and are described as “jealous” people who should “get a job.”

The biggest recurring rant from our corporate aristocrats and their political and media puppets has to do with what the hell we want. Just what will make you shut up, go home and roll over?

The fact is they know what you want and they are worried, very, very worried. And they are getting more worried as the occupation goes on and as the world, the world they have constructed in last thirty years, erupts. There is a dangerous political virus loose and it must be stopped. They are searching desperately for an antidote before the political epidemic gets bigger and perhaps spins the world out of the crushing embrace of their less than tender tentacles.

We want to take away their power to rule and give it back to the people. We want to replace this business dictatorship with the democratic rule of the people.

Oh yes, they know what we want. And we know what we want. We want everything to change. It was most succinctly put on a hand-made poster carried by a student on Wall Street in New York: “Unfuck the world.”

They want details? Here are a few.

First, we want an end to the economic terrorism that haunts us all every hour, every day, every week, every month, every year…and doesn’t end until we find peace in our graves. Yes, we want a quite different War on Terror.

What is this economic terrorism?

The terror of those whose pension funds have been looted, of those who have seen their jobs shipped out of the country to a low wage area and see their once vibrant neighbourhoods, cities and towns turn into war zones of despair, of those who struggle to meet their mortgage payments and fear foreclosure and homelessness.

The quiet terror of the young couple with a new baby who look to a future with little hope, of the debt ridden university graduate who can’t find a job let alone the career they were promised, of the welfare recipient or the unemployed whose food budget runs out early and then faces the degradation of food bank line ups and going cap-in-hand to private charities.

The terror we all share in this society where if you lose your job, your house or apartment, sufficient income to live with dignity…then you begin to be remorselessly excluded from full membership in civil society and the right to a life with dignity.

Second, we want a new social and economic morality to guide our system…and we want laws to enforce that morality. People should come before profits. The environment should not be raped and pillaged by the profit seekers. The public interest should trump all other interests. Our food and drugs should be regulated and rendered safe. Our public infrastructure should be funded and inspected so that bridges don’t fall on our heads and natural gas lines don’t blow up in our neighbourhoods. These rules should be law and those who break them should be put in jail and stripped of their power over others.

Question: why did it take American laws to put Conrad Black in jail. Answer: the US has slightly stronger laws relating to white collar corporate crime. Well, we want some tough laws and a war on corporate crime and wrong doing.

Third, we want a better life….good well funded schools and day cares, a universal public health system and an end to the nibbling delisting and privatization that continues, universal access to university education, secure jobs with benefits and pensions, the ability to live in an apartment or house within our means, a future for our kids – a future our efforts will make better for them than it was for us….need I go on? We all want this…and we were working slowly towards it before the corporate wrecking crew took power in the 1980s.

Fourth, not only do we want a better life in the future, we want it now. We want the lives that have been torn from those over forty restored to them intact. We want them made whole again. We want the promised future lives of those starting out on their working lives in their 20s and 30s to be restored and the promises fulfilled. And we want a massive investment in our children….this is a wealthy society and if we plan it properly and fairly and democratically, it could be the New Jerusalem the old CCFers talked about.

Finally…the big one…we want to turn today’s world upside down, just as the corporate coup in the 1980s turned our world upside down for 30 years. We don’t need a plan…the business lobby provides us with one. We just do the opposite of what they did starting in the 1980s. In fact, it is a good rule of thumb in democratic politics…when the business lobby asks for something, it is a pretty good bet that the public interest is best served by doing the opposite. That was my guiding principle while I was on the public school board.

Here was their agenda, and ours today:

Theirs: cutback on social spending to erode the social security net.
Ours: increase social spending to expand the social security net.

Theirs: attack the incomes of wage and salary earners and increase the total share
of the society’s wealth flowing to capital and its servants.
Ours: increase the incomes of wage and salary earners and dramatically decrease
the total share of the society’s wealth flowing to capital and its servants.

Theirs: weaken the central government and avoid national programs.
Ours: strengthen the central government to ensure national programs with national
standards can be delivered.

Theirs: deregulate, privatize public assets and move to free market forces as the
engine of social and economic development.
Ours: regulate, develop public assets and democratically plan our social and
economic development in the public interest.

Theirs: free trade with the US and Mexico
Ours: withdraw from the free trade agreement and negotiate sectoral agreements
that do not take away our sovereignty and democratic rights to govern ourselves.

Theirs: hamstring and discredit governments with huge annual deficits and
crippling debt, while shifting the tax load from the rich and the corporate
sector to the middle and working classes.
Ours: take our governments back into the hands of the people and use them as tools
to realize the public interest; create a fair and progressive tax system; impose a tax on financial transactions; take public debt out of the private sector and use the Bank of Canada for all public borrowing.

Theirs: smash trade unions any way you can; change the laws to give employers’
big advantages in preventing unionization; make it hard as hell to organize a union; take away the right to strike.
Ours: encourage the organization of unions; make it easier to organize; strictly
enforce better labour standards and labour relations laws; prevent
employers from blocking unions through threats and intimidation.

The main tool used now against the movement is ridicule – it is essential to delegitimize the movement in the public’s mind. It deeply worries our masters that a recent poll reported that 54 per cent of Americans supported Occupy Wall Street.

So far ridicule has not worked – the movement is a disorganized rabble; they don’t know what they want; they are a bunch of trouble makers on a lark; a mixture of entitled middle class brats, disgruntled unionists and aging hippies…and on and on it goes.

Then there is the more elaborate guilt trip. Just what are you whining about? You live in the richest society in the world with the highest standard of living. The poorest of the poor in North America live better than most of humanity. Just look at the misery around the world…why are you complaining?

Well, that red herring is not working either. Oppression is not just about starvation, or about living under a brutal dictatorship – oppression is simply the imposition of unjust burdens. And that is what has happened here – an accumulation of unjust burdens over the past 30 years and a future where we are told it will only get worse.

It is a question of justice, of right and wrong. And this society is unjust and morally wrong in the way it has organized and distributes social, political and economic power. And the reality is, as we all know, you can only change the world in which you live and work.

A measure of our life’s work is can we change it for the better for those who come after us?

1 comment:

  1. Jeez, corporate here in the US usually come out pretty good, I would say, so if your laws are even weaker, the execs must love their Canada.

    This was a great post.