It is 5 am on a Saturday morning in Toronto. I am awake and thinking about the student protests in California. Yesterday I was walking with an activist union sister to a meeting to discuss how to support a group of locked out workers. We started discussing the events in Berkeley and on other campuses in California, and how significant they are, particularly how these collective struggles raise consciousness among young people as to the destructive and violent , the “real,” nature of capitalism.
I watched a video clip yesterday, of a student at UCB condemning the police for using a taser gun on a protester. She was angry at the “inappropriate” use of tasers. My immediate response was “when is it ever “appropriate,” for police to use tasers or any form of violence against students, poor and working people?” Clearly this use of “excessive” violence on protesting students was a real eye opener for her. She may not yet have made all the implicit connections, not right now be able to generalize on the violent nature of the capitalist state, but perhaps she is on the way. Images of the state execution of student protesters in Kent State popped into my mind for the first time in years and I wondered where those images, burnt into the minds of my generation, had gone. I remembered also watching a video on the UK miner’s strike in 1984-85, during the brutal days of the Thatcher regime, and the rage I felt watching the police brutally beating the miners whose only crime was to go on strike for their jobs and their families. The degree and extent of reaction and violence on the part of the state, when they deploy the police and the army against unarmed protesters and on workers is always an indicator of how effective and important these kinds of protests and occupations and strikes are.
And when a few protesters pick sticks up to defend themselves against the blows, I am sure they are often surprised at their own actions. Fortunately violence was not a dominant feature of the California student protests. However the students will learn quickly and will be forced to extend this experience with the police /state to an expanded and deeper understanding of how violent capitalism by its very essence. Underneath the statistics on foreclosures, and escalating unemployment, the attacks on education and other public services; as we peel away the layers and layers of lies and deception, we see the violent nature of this system. It is not just the more obvious manifestations like war, it is the everyday examples that we often fail to drag to consciousness and articulate in a coherent fashion. It is the children and youth who seek escape in drugs, when they see no future. It is the mothers and fathers of these children who for no fault of their own are often unable to see a way forward- a way to help. It is the hundreds of thousands without health care who get sick and are left without care-sometimes to die.
It is the suicide rate among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, the increase in domestic violence among those who return and wonder what has happened to them, why they are no longer the same. The rage that overflows onto families and friends when there is no way or place to say what they have seen and what they have done and had done to them. It is the women who will die or live a life of poverty because they cannot have an abortion. It is the assault experienced by every worker called into the bosses’ office(s) to discover her/his job is gone or notified by the bank or mortgage company that they no longer have a home. It is thousands of everyday acts of violence against our minds, emotions and bodies every minute of the day by capitalism. Because of its very nature, it inevitably forces the genuinely productive forces, working people and youth into battle against it.
So once again we have to be prepared to defend these courageous youth coming into struggle, and help turn campus revolt into a mass anti-capitalist movement. We need to support them and join them in the streets and into the offices, homes and institutions of the elite and the bosses on and off campuses. Working people, rank and file trade unionists need to recognize that the student’s fights are our fights, and prepare ourselves to join them, to take these battles into our workplaces and communities and to defend them and ourselves collectively when the state bears down on us using every method and tactic at its disposal.
Still there is joy and immense potential surrounding us. This was seen and heard in the faces and voices of the students on campuses across the state of California this week.
My hat is off to them all and thanks for waking us up!
- The Future International
- Preparing for Revolution: A discussion document
- The Workers' International Network: Questions and Answers
- Reflections on the History of the CWI
- Some Comments on the Left Alliance in N. Ireland
- University of California workers and Unions
- AFSCME Local 444 negotiations assesment 1997
- On the slogan for a United Front to fight Fascism in Greece