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Anti-G20 Riots in Toronto, Capitalism and Labour Disputes

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.

(this is actually a response to the thread Rank-and-file labour activists, CLC Pres square off over G20 to contirubute to a dialogue based on solidarity)

Martin Luther King Jr, who was devoted to non-violent action understood even though there are conflicts internally in resistance movements, without a certain degree of acceptance of each other, it is outside adversaries who win. While many people quote MLK Jr saying “Riot is the language of the unheard,” the full context of that quote is:

"Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non­-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I'm absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity."

He is clearly opposed to rioting and violent action. And similar to proponents of nonviolent action or ‘peaceful protest’ today,  he states he thinks rioting only fuels the dominant power structure. But at the same time, he very clearly and pointedly humanizes the rioters in a compassionate frame while externalizing his condemnation of the corrupt ruling structures and status quo.

In the spirit of non-violent conflict resolution, I was researching what are some differences between union organizing and anarchist organizing that might lead to such divergent positions present in the build up to and the reactions to the Toronto G20 Get off the Fence action and Union’s People First! march.

I happened upon a couple of excellent articles that are beginnings to start understanding the bigger picture of what occurred on the streets of Toronto on June 26 --from the perspective of labour/union movements. Even from --or especially from-- a critical perspective of the direct action march and the activity of the black block, it is useful to take some time to look beyond the slander and disinformation and get educated about the deeper social conditions in and around it.

The first two paragraphs are opening and closing paragraphs from a longer paper about youth, the globalized labour market and neoliberalism. It was published in the ‘Journal of Youth Studies’ in 2008.

The second two paragraphs are excerpts from a longer paper published by UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education in 2002; reviewing the rise ad fall of U.S. and Canadian Unions' youth drive in the globalizing economy.

From: ‘In the Best Interests of Youth or Neoliberalism?  The World Bank & the New Global Youth Empowerment Project:’

"Ticking time bombs, social dynamite, boiling over frustrations, pent up anger, violent conflicts, political insurrection and instability, disease and death. These are some of the representations of youth that are now being widely circulated, as youth returns to centre stage in poverty and development discourse in global centres of power and across the developing world. Two generations ago, in the 1960s, the threat of poor, unemployed, black, Asian and Latino youth in inner-city ghettos in the developed world became a central preoccupation of Western elites. Today, it is youth living in excluded and so-called 'non-integrating gap' states in the global economy (in Africa and the Middle East especially) who are presented as the central political security and economic development issue of our time. 'Terrorism', says former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, 'is often bred in places where a burgeoning youth population see hope as more of a taunt than a promise'.

"Alongside this negative, fearful and violent portrayal, there co-exists a second and contrasting set of representations of the young. Youth are also being spoken of now, in international development reports, as agents of change, citizens and leaders, participants and activists, nations’ most important assets, the best hope and promise we have for our collective future development and prosperity. This would seem to be a paradox. Yet any such paradox is resolved when we consider the place that youth are occupying in contemporary political and economic development discourse. What is at stake here is the incorporation of youth in a global, neoliberal economic system. When youth stand inside this system as willing and enthusiastic participants, their identities and voices are to be welcomed and celebrated; standing outside this system, questioning or challenging its basic precepts and promises, they become framed instead as global society's worst nightmare.

"Throughout the World Bank's World Development Report 2007, there is constant concern with making sure that the opinions of youth are included and heard. 'Young people often lack voice in the design and implementation of policies that affect them', the World Bank writes, 'Governments at all levels ... need to be more open to listening to young people'.  The Bank even criticises conventional attempts to include youth as not going far enough: 'Institutions meant to reflect the voice of young people, such as national youth councils, often fail to do so.... Efforts to give young people voice need to go beyond the tokenism that often characterises such attempts'.  Despite this emphasis, and the fact that the text, margins and side bars of the World Bank's youth report are filled with profiles of exemplary youth initiatives and youth leaders, many recent, prominent examples of collective youth voice and action from around the world are conspicuously missing: for example, the protests of youth in France against the lack of good jobs, decent housing and government attempts to bring in substandard wages and workplace rights for youth; the anti-globalisation movement that began in Seattle and has hounded the meetings of the WTO ever since; the mass demonstrations against draconian and dehumanising immigration laws and proposed legislative reforms across the United States; the worldwide student protests and strikes against university tuition increases; the anti-sweatshop movement; the organising efforts, walk-outs and marches against American and Israeli war and occupation, and so on and so forth. These examples of youth voice and action are not only missing from the World Bank’s youth report, but indeed, constitute the very youth threat to political, social and economic stability that it worries so much about throughout the report’s pages. When the World Bank speaks of giving youth voice, it is precisely to replace, silence and contain these movements with the Bank’s own voice of neoliberalism, to be inculcated in global youth through a steady diet of Bank proscribed education, employment and development programming."

Excerpts from: 'The Canadian Labor Movement's Big Youth Turn'

"Union decline and youth crisis in the 1990s were, of course, closely related. But the shared timing of raised consciousness about both youth and labor in Canada made it that much easier for union leadership to connect the dots and recognize the importance of focusing on the plight of youth as they attempted to understand and address their own misfortunes. The picture that emerged was alarming. Young workers were unionized at a rate of less than a third of that of older workers: a study by York University’s Centre for Research on Work and Society in 1997 found that 'only 10.7 per cent of workers in Canada between the ages of 15 and 24 are union members, compared with 34.9 per cent of those 25 years and older.' Young workers tended to work in the kinds of jobs, worksites and industries that were least likely to be unionized and that were proliferating at the fastest rates in the country – in part-time, casual and contingent jobs in small workplaces in the low-wage service and retail sectors. Moreover, when young workers in such worksites had tried to unionize during the early 1990s, they had frequently been met with rejection and indifference on the part of organized labor. In 1993 – to take one celebrated example – Sarah Inglis, a seventeen-year-old who came very close to successfully organizing the Orangeville, Ontario McDonald’s in which she worked, had to contact four different unions before finding one that would take on her case."

"What happened to make the young worker organizing drives of the late 1990s such a disappointment? In part, organizing momentum faltered because of shifts in the economy and in the political playing field. Youth workplace organizing was only just getting going in Ontario when the right-wing government of Mike Harris started gutting the provincial labor code with a run of anti-union legislation, beginning with Bill 31 in 1998; in the spring of 2001, Gordon Campbell’s Liberals were swept to power in British Columbia with a parallel anti-union labor law reform agenda modelled closely on the Harris program in Ontario. Organizing drives were further stymied by the structure of the low-end service and retail sector itself. The combination of a majority part-time workforce, high turnover rates, low wages and small worksites often proved to be lethal for traditional union campaigns. 'The problem,' explains the CAW’s Gavin McGarrigle, 'is that restaurants often have small staffs. So if even two or three people leave, it can skew the whole union percentage and result in a decert.' Union organizers found that organizing young workers required large infusions of money and staff time that were almost impossible to recoup from members' dues – even assuming that the union would eventually be successful in winning employer recognition. 'It's one thing to organize a big factory where workers make $21 an hour,' says Nikki Hill, 'but it's another thing to organize Starbucks with seven or eight people working there at minimum wage.'"


**"In the Best Interests of Youth or Neoliberalism?  The World Bank & the New Global Youth Empowerment Project"
By Mayssoun Sukarieh & Stuart Tannock, from Feb. 2007
(opens as a word docuemtnt)

**"The Canadian Labor Movement's Big Youth Turn"
By Stuart Tannock & Sara Flocks, Summer 2002

**"The Other America"
Speech by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Grosse Pointe High School - March 14, 1968

also of interest:
"Why Do Working Youth Work Where They Do?"
Stuart Tannock, March 2002

My rather scathing analysis of Big Unions and their alliance with the state while they  fail to confront the problems non-unionized workers face in globalized capitalism as it relates to anarchists in the workforce.
"Big Unions Little Black Block"

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