Each day we wake up to the reality of the past feeding off the future. As each day is ushered into the present, corporate vultures repeatedly feast on the organs of the future. We rip off shreds of our national wealth and feed them to the vultures. Their hunger remains. We push more and more student and housing debt onto the next generation struggling to make its stand in the world. Still the vultures want more. We push the costs of ecological clean up to a future we imagine will never arrive. Still the vultures hunger. They will never be satisfied. The seemingly perpetual present of the Prometheus cannot continue. It is a cycle that dooms us to oblivion.
To save the future, we cannot wait for it to arrive. As Octavio Paz wrote, “the future is a deceitful time that always says to us, ‘Not yet’, and thus denies us.” It is not, however, the future’s fault. When it is being continually consumed it will never arrive of its own accord. It is up to us to act in the present to save the future. The current federal budget does not incite rage because it goes to new levels of violence against the Australian people and our future. People are incredibly strong and adaptable – we can adjust to live with previously unimagined levels of suffering and be thankful for it. The federal budget incites rage because its violence is so blatant. The gap between the treatment of a transnational mining corporation and a chronically ill pensioner is laid bare for all to see, uncovered by even the most modest pretence of a narrative of national interest. Aside from the briefest of budgie smuggglers, the Emperor has no clothes. It is this inability to project a narrative which highlights the weakness of the Abbott government. It is a government which either acts in an irrelevant or cruel manner.
If the rage maintians, the Abbott government will fall sooner rather than later. The question is whether it will occur in an educative manner for the people. Will it be an opportunity for people to realise their own power to remake the world around them or will it pass in the dead of the night with yet another party room coup? Will the violence at the heart of the budget pass with this government or will we see yet more attempts to cover that very same violence with move convincing attempts at narrative?
That is why the time for action is now. That is why the action needs to be universal – people need a taste of the power they can truly exercise. That is why the action needs to be at the point of production – people need to experience how much the system is dependent on their ongoing consent and obedience. It is time for a general strike. For it is this which will not only bust the budget but bust the violence at the heart of the budget.
There are many who would oppose the calling of a general strike for ideological reasons. We will never see eye to eye on this. There are, however, others who would oppose the calling of a general strike for a more practical consideration – does the union movement have enough power to pull it off? We have to recognise no matter how militant or moderate a union, there is a structural contradiction at the heart of a union organisation. On the one hand, a union must make the truly radical claim that its members are agents who must be treated with dignity and respect within the economic process. On the other hand, a union must adopt a defensive posture to maintain its organisation and assets in a hostile environment. Union leaders will structurally have to consider the risk that the failure of a general strike poses an existential threat to their unions. The consideration of this risk, though, comes back to the root question – does the union movement have the power to pull it off? Probably not today but I want to put forward an idea of what we can do today so that we have that power tomorrow.
As Hannah Arendt wrote in On Violence, power comes from people cooperating together. To put it the other way round, people acting together creates power. This is why those who imagine themselves to have the hardest heads when it comes to politics usually have the least understanding when it comes to power. It does not come directly from the control of the State or the ability to control the use of force. Having power and being in government are not the same thing. Building for and taking action leads to power.
I would propose a decentralised and networked exercise in direct democracy. You would need a union peak body, or an alliance of a few unions and other known groups/organisations hosting a website which contains a resolution on a general strike. The data that goes into the site would need to be kept absolutely secure, the site would need to be clean, simple to use and easy to share, and it would need to be able to keep running even under the adversity of potential hacks. It would need to be done in alliance with the internet activist community – otherwise it wouldn’t work.
A key part of the website is that it would work like Kickstarter – the resolution on the general strike would not be initiated unless it hit a set critical mass within a discrete geographical location. For the sake of example only, 200,000 people within the greater Melbourne area. What this means is that failure is built into the organising process. If the resolution does not get initiated in an area or at all we have still:
- Undertook a large scale process in deliberative democracy that cuts through the bottle neck of existing hierarchies
- Got many people to take part in an educative process to imagine their own power as a group of workers
- Built a community people who are willing and prepared to take such action and campaign for it next time
The key with this process is that it allows the participation of those who are outside of the traditional employment relationships. Someone who is a freelancer or runs a small business which is substantially dependent on their own labour has a way to voice their support for such action and organise for it within their communities. Someone who is a student can take their resolution around to their class mates. Anyone who is a member of a community group or organisation can go around to their fellow members and volunteers to start a discussion.
I’m not going to pre-empt what a resolution would look like other than to make two comments. Firstly, it needs to be simple, short and displayed prominently across the top of the website. Secondly, it needs to contain a pledge to take further action should any individual person be subject to retribution for taking part in the general strike.
I’ve set out below a first draft attempt at some of the data fields that would need to go under the resolution to further illustrate what I mean.
The time for action is now. If you think I’ve outlined at least the starting point for a realistic process whereby we can organise a general strike then share this so we can start the discussion, and leave your comments so we can make this better. We can only do this together.