The following post is a slightly revised version of a talk I gave at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit on December 28. I’m a member of the congregation and a Board Trustee. Edits are in brackets: [ ] Comments, critiques, questions?
I want to start first by saying I know this congregation doesn’t take things at face value and there is a whole lot of wisdom and truth seeking here – so I hope I to bring something, if not new, to your attention then perhaps something familiar but from a different angle. As I see it, I’m speaking on the basis of the [UU] 4th principle: A Free and Responsible Search for Truth and Meaning. Rev. Paige Getty of the UU Congregation of Columbia, Maryland wrote in part as a reflection on the 4th principle that “As a faith tradition, Unitarian Universalism makes sacred the right and responsibility to engage in this free and responsible quest as an act of religious devotion.” So thank you for the opportunity to address you and allow me to engage in a public quest of some sort of truth behind finding our way in a globalized world….
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I must also say that what I talk about is influenced by my privileged position as a – I want to say middle aged white male – but that would mean I’m living till 116 – so as a, perhaps, “mature” white male with life experiences devoid of racial profiling, gender violence, sexual discrimination and so on. I cannot know first-hand the experiences of African-Americans not only because of my position as a white male but also as a Canadian – and here I do NOT imply some sort of moral superiority; rather, I come from a different history with our own forms of racism – and of course I do NOT presume to speak on behalf of the entire country! I do feel that I have been influenced and inspired in a positive way by the struggles for justice that are ongoing by minorities in this country and my own. I see the world from the – I hope – enlightened white male vantage point as I strive to understand as best I can the reality of those who don’t look like me – so let me start there; and I think it’s important and necessary to signify that starting point.
It’s also increasingly customary in Canada in progressive circles to recognize that a speaker is on traditional territories of First Nations peoples and I recognize that now as well. [Please visit this link for a clarification on terminology regarding First Nations]
I am not credentialed in the formal sense to talk about globalization and internationalism. I speak from my own experience as a somewhat observant formerly waged worker, and now as an unwaged social activist/advocate with the Windsor Workers’ Education Centre where we see non-union workers in low wage precarious work; many of whom are established immigrants and newcomers, and of those they are primarily women. Increasingly we are, at the workers’ centre, drawn into working with migrant and temporary foreign workers and exposed to the fact of their second class citizenship. Probably exposure to such people causes me to consider borders and globalization as much as crossing the border myself on Sundays. Workers cannot sustain themselves in their own countries because those economies are linked to global market needs not domestic ones- and here I’m thinking of food sovereignty as a good example where more and more farmland – especially in Africa but also elsewhere – is being grabbed up by corporations, and also especially by China – a country short on both fresh water and arable land. The farmland is used to grow food for consumption in China, [for example] while creating low wage work on industrial farms.
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In Canada there is a growing concern over internal migrant workers, although they probably wouldn’t describe themselves that way as they are middle class highly skilled workers traveling from Windsor and the east coast to work in the Tar Sands. You see manufacturing has collapsed in southern and south-west Ontario – I see figures published of job losses in the 100’s of thousands – manufacturing jobs lost since free trade leaving the country hugely dependent on non-renewable resources i.e. the environmental disaster that is the Tar Sands. No work at home so they fly out west – internal migrant workers and it’s slipping up on us so quietly because of policies that make it so at the highest levels of government and corporate power – policies that strengthen globalism at the expense of local communities. So I am “credentialed” out of what I have observed as a privileged waged worker and what I have been exposed to as a privileged recipient of a decent pension with benefits allowing me to do unwaged advocacy work. I read a ton of stuff online everyday as well as subscriptions to the Monthly Review – a socialist publication for over 50 years based in New York, the New York Review of Books, Canadian Dimension, The Monitor that is a publication of the excellent Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. On the campus/community radio program I host I also try to examine with interviews social justice and environmental issues
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From a political point of view it’s a little harder for me to clearly describe where I am coming from – there are a lot of anti’s in my vocabulary: anti-capitalist, anti-war, anti-poverty…to the point today that it’s really crucial – for me and others – to also describe what I am FOR and what I want to do to get to someplace else more just socially, economically and politically. My political thinking is socialist, working class, and collectivist – seeking a society based on mutual aid and cooperativism. Also, increasingly, and I’m no expert, but my thinking too is influenced by the First Nations experiences in Canada especially around the Idle No More movement which began with the implementation 2 years ago or so of a series of omnibus bills – I’m not sure if you have experience here of this – bills provincial and federal governments craft that encompass unrelated legislation and run for hundreds of pages forcing the opposition and the media to take quite some time to figure out the ramifications, so news trickles out for days about the effects of the bills. In this case with Idle No More, environmental protections for rivers, lakes, and streams were removed in what was a budget bill I believe, and clearly the federal government was trying to make an end run around its constitutional requirement to consult with First Nations [FN] before enacting legislation that would affect them. Just on Wednesday a court ruled the government breached its responsibilities, but of course the legislation stands. It is quite likely that our version of Ferguson will involve Indigenous peoples and their allies in the struggle against pipelines and other issues on the relationship between First Nations and the federal government.
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So…: finding a place in a globalized world. I’m still fairly new to Windsor/Detroit and it’s a big deal – that is to say not routine – to cross a border as regularly as I do; and here I am reminded of my white privilege since crossing is anything but routine for people of colour and/or are newcomers to the US or Canada. So I think of borders in general that delineate nations and how borders have been drawn by victors of wars and by colonial powers in Africa, North America and elsewhere – those borders are not voted on – they’re drawn by someone in power and the rest of us learn to live with them! They just are…
Globalization was sold as the solution to international rivalries that led to such horrors of the wars in the 20th century. A globalized economy was supposed to lift all our boats: jobs in the global south, the knowledge economy for the so called developed nations, and an end to history with ideology fading into the mists history. Globalization makes borders disappear – for Capital and the super wealthy, but they sure exist for ordinary people. The market – the unseen hand of the market – would ensure there was something for everyone and the human race would be better off. Except…except…rivalries are clearly escalating, why was there 9/11 in a globalized world economy? What happened to the knowledge economy? Where are the jobs? Why are tuition fees through the roof? Education was the solution right?
Herman E. Daly, Emeritus Professor at the University of Maryland, School of Public Policy wrote in 1999 in an article comparing globalization vs. internationalization that “Globalization … is frequently confused with internationalization, but is in fact something totally different. Internationalization refers to the increasing importance of international trade, international relations, treaties, alliances, etc. Inter-national, of course, means between or among nations. Globalization refers to global economic integration of many formerly national economies into one global economy, mainly by free trade and free capital mobility, but also by easy or uncontrolled migration. It is the effective erasure of national boundaries for economic purposes.” He continues: “… the conventional wisdom seems to be that if free trade in goods is beneficial, then free trade in capital must be even more beneficial! In any event, it no longer makes sense to think of national teams of labor and capital in the globalized economy. Instead, we have global capitalists competing with each other for both laborers and natural resources, as well as markets, in all countries.” He wrote this 15 years ago but critics of globalization and the free trade agreements that make it happen were sidelined. I’m going to quote at length here his conclusions of 15 years ago because we can now see how bang on he was:
For all the sins historically committed by the nation, it is still our basic locus of community and unit of policy. The nation, along with international federations of nations, must not be sacrificed to the unexamined ideal of “globalization” which, when examined, turns out to be unfettered individualism for corporations on a global scale. Paradoxically, globalization even undercuts our ability to deal with irreducibly global problems such as climate change, because nations with porous borders are not able to carry out any effective national economic policies, including the ones that they agreed to in global environmental treaties. We must learn to distinguish internationalism from globalism and abandon the latter in favor of the former.
Globalization prolongs the industrial country’s illusion of unlimited sources and sinks, and postpones the shift from “empty-world” economics to “full-world” economics that all nations must eventually make. The worsening condition of labor is met by cries for still more growth based on cheaper resources, and paradoxically, cheaper labor as well, in order to be competitive in global markets.
Free traders say we should become less self-sufficient and more globally integrated as part of the overriding quest to consume ever more. This increased interdependence, they believe, will also help avoid war. Free trade, specialization, and global integration, mean that nations are no longer free not to trade. Yet freedom not to trade is surely necessary if trade is to remain mutually beneficial. War, as well as corporate police action, is more likely to be avoided if nations learn both to consume less and to become more self-sufficient.
Herman E Daly, 1999…..
He is best known for his books and research on steady-state economics, referred to often as slow growth and we’ll hear that term a lot around debates on global warming where the “developed” countries need to curtail emissions by slowing our economies and live within limits, while the rest of the world “catches up” in terms of increasing their standard of living. As we know, that argument is ongoing, and is what is likely at the heart of the increasing conflict in the world.
Most worryingly – well, in the top 10 of worries certainly – is that globalization has made primary the “economy” in the form of The Market where society is best shaped by the ‘rational’ economic decisions of equally informed consumers. This is absurd. No one has all the knowledge they need to make these rational decisions and if we are all acting as individuals in pursuit of our economic ends how can we actually create a better society? Margaret Thatcher gave the answer to that one with her famous wonky remark that there is no such thing as society! Such a notion ignores the realities of racism, class, discrimination and so on that no market economy is designed to change. Globalization has been the biggest con job in human history! It’s a political neoliberal ideology disguised as economic policy. What’s happened is that in general – and here let me stick to Canada, people are de-politicized. I don’t know how many times I have heard someone say ‘oh, you’re just playing politics’ or you’re politicizing an issue’ if poverty, racism, discrimination and so on are brought up. But it’s ALL political! This is the heart of the con game: make economic policy, efficiency, and austerity the primary feature of public life while at the same time denouncing any resistance as simply playing politics. I think the essence of this in the U.S. is the Tea Party, that invention of the super wealthy, a grassroots guerrilla army that seeks to blunt any opposition to the dominant ideology and we have our own version in Canada as well. The de-politicization of society has prevented too many people from being able to analyze what has happened and the media plays a huge role in this. The media has always provided distractions for the times, but the rise of right wing commentators who cry free speech as they promote hate and inequality is utter propaganda and inflames people and polarizes issues preventing real organizing around the economy, work, and growing inequality.
It’s pretty hard to think ourselves out of the political corner we are in. I believe this is why some are turning to violence in our countries: because there is anger at the joblessness, the violence deployed by the state, the obvious lies and dis-ingenuousness of leaders, the utter unfairness! A good example: torture is now ‘enhanced interrogation’. Canada is not immune here – our soldiers handed over captured Afghans during our time there to certain torture and the government covered it up. The Prime Minister – a committed neoliberal market politician – dissolved Parliament in 2009 to avoid having his minority government fall over the allegations of complicity in torture – a still unresolved stain. So there is anger – and righteous anger – if people aren’t angry today they are not paying attention – but where to channel it? While there is certainly organizing going on in Canada we were reminded that marginalized people who seem to have no way of expressing themselves in forums to discuss political and economic issues become so-called lone wolf gunmen and the perfect unwitting tool of the state which is only too happy to impose surveillance and more police because the state has been co-opted by neo-liberal market ideology – the state has been transformed into an agent of corporations and mega millionaires; it does not serve the needs of working people. Our populations are adrift in a utopian nightmare created by cliques of market ideologues who play politics all the time – but the dirtiest kind where power is gained and held at all costs because they have no more ideas, no more markets in a closed planetary loop. They’re done: global warming, the destruction of land air and water and the saturation of markets spell doom for the globalization experiment, while we are all heavily invested in it whether we like it or not.
And here’s the thing – globalization was supposed to end the isolation of traditional societies where women are second class citizens without rights and economies cannot provide for the people and dictatorships abound siphoning off wealth that should be redistributed to the people in the form of services. And here I must be blunt – U.S. governments with the backing of Canadian governments have backed ugly dictator after ugly dictator in an effort to combat nationalists in the Middle East and elsewhere – nationalists, usually socialists who could have secured their own national economies and harnessed them for the service of the people. The globalized world has been led by the U.S. and its western allies. Ostensibly, yes, it is desirous to have countries respect the rights of women, to see an end dictatorships – it’s just that it’s all too selective. Some dictatorships have to go but others fit into the global scheme of things. I’m angry my government counts as its best friends Saudia Arabia, Egypt, and Zionists in Israel who illegally occupy Palestinian lands and so on, but I’m not going to go out and shoot up Parliament…Globalization has been a disaster and a fleet of a million drones ain’t gonna fix things… Globalization has caused Canada to focus on the Tar Sands, attack Indigenous rights and treaties, and made enemies out of political opponents – Stephen Harper has an enemies list – sound familiar? As prime minister he is as autocratic as they come and committed to neoliberal ideology which is at the core of the global economy – nothing is more important to him and his policies show it. B.C. author Donald Gutstein has written the book “Harperism: How Stephen Harper and his Think Tank Colleagues have Transformed Canada” and he wrote that Harper is “gradually moving the country from one that’s based on democracy to one that’s based on the market, which means that the decisions are not made by our duly elected representatives through the laws that they pass and the regulations that they enact,” and he mentions a couple of examples including the temporary foreign workers program where it is actually employers who decide on who comes into the country to work in a market-based society. This is occurring without the knowledge of most Canadians, yet it is a fundamental shift in how government is supposed to work. Market forces are changing the very nature of the country to a closed, racist autocracy.
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One thing I love about Canada is that we set out in the post war years to be a nation among nations, and Canada was front and centre with the formation of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Canada was committed to internationalism and to the idea of government redistributing wealth in the form of a universal health care plan and a system of federal payments to the provinces to run health care and other services – there was/is a power sharing agreement between the federal government and the provinces, and with nationalist Quebec in the mix, a recognition of two founding nations and languages. Someday, if the neoliberal market economy can be sent to the dustbin of history, full recognition of Indigenous rights will come about and even [perhaps] a third level of government which would give equality to First Nations.
Which brings me to interesting writing by John Ralston Saul on Canada and First Nations. In “A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada” Saul “… argues that Canada is a Métis nation [mixed ancestry of First Nations and Europeans], heavily influenced and shaped by aboriginal ideas: egalitarianism, a proper balance between individual and group, and a penchant for negotiation over violence are all aboriginal values that Canada absorbed.” He adds that “Canada has an increasingly ineffective elite, a colonial non-intellectual business elite that doesn’t believe in Canada.”
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Saul has just written “The Comeback” a short book in which he argues that all Canadians are treaty people not just First nations people, and “When it comes to Aboriginal peoples, sympathy from outsiders is the new form of racism. It allows many of us to feel good about discounting their importance and the richness of their civilizations. Sympathy is a way to deny our shared reality. Our shared responsibility. Sympathy obscures the central importance of rights.”
So I bring up First Nations because the globalized neoliberal world is closing in on any hope of establishing Canada as not only a nation among nations but as a nation composed of nations. Already China owns mines in B.C. and has a huge stake in the Tar Sands industry. It’s not hard to see that foreign corporate ownership in a de-politicized, rights denying, neoliberal globalized economy will eventually erode the nation to nation relationship that should be developed with First Nations in order to strengthen the national character of Canada. I will step out on a limb and say most Canadians are not aware of this and may even welcome foreign investment because they buy into globalization. I also bring up First Nations because of what Saul has written about our national character that has been shaped more than we know or our children taught, by aboriginal values that Canada absorbed: egalitarianism, a proper balance between individual and group, and a penchant for negotiation over violence. This is the kind of nationalism I want to live by and the kind of Canada that could be an example in a fractious world.
Egalitarianism, a proper balance between individual and group, and a penchant for negotiation over violence are values that are the antithesis of the neoliberal global economy.
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So let me take stock at this point: the neoliberal global economy is raping the earth, exploiting workers, leading to more conflict, creating an ever widening gap between rich and poor by destroying the middle class; and the state that should be serving the needs of citizens is now in the service of the global economy, reserving for itself powers of surveillance, policing an increasingly unruly and angry populace, and deploying military force against a panoply of shifting enemies who won’t submit to the approved global script: the Taliban, Al Qaeda, ISIS and so on. Our leaders are technocrats and increasingly defensive and belligerent, and if that isn’t bad enough – they’re out of ideas. We teeter on one hell of a precipice…
A turn to an internationalism I have attempted to describe seems unlikely any time soon, and frankly I believe there will be a collapse and that things will get worse before they get better. Detroit however has already seen that future globalization has wrought and is in the thick of the struggle between neoliberal development: and citizen led revival: whose city is it indeed. Most Windsorites – out on a limb here again – don’t see the similarities yet with Detroit because we still have enough of a vestige of government that redistributes wealth. However another 4-5 years of Stephen Harper (we have a federal election next year) and our country will be toast – I really believe that. The regions won’t hold with a weakened federal government.
So as I contemplate these things from my white male, working class, socialist perspective I find myself on common ground with the James and Grace Lee Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership here in Detroit where they say ‘we are the leaders we are looking for’. I find myself pulled toward the New Work New Culture movement which is the life work of Frithjof Bergmann in Ann Arbor. From his website: “New Work, New Culture is a philosophical, political, and informational response to our current, dysfunctional job system. With increasing automation, the number of jobs decreases. Instead of relying on economic growth to churn out more jobs, New Work proposes that we instead reconsider the central role that jobs play in our culture, and pursue practices that will free us.”
Generally I avoid the word ‘job’ and use instead ‘meaningful work’ which I thinks speaks to Bergmann’s idea that the ‘job’ system is not the answer but work producing what a community needs is what’s at hand. At a conference here in Detroit in October the themes of NWNC were explored with people from across North America – mostly young people to explore the uses of technology, urban agriculture, permaculture, time sharing and so on in meeting the needs of people: community production using digital fabricators is now possible to meet many of our material needs but the challenge is how to organize ourselves around new thinking of work outside the corporate driven profit model.
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A herculean task and one not made easier by the status quo: where schools replicate the existing hierarchical social order, and the power of those with money control the agenda using the propaganda model of the corporate media (well documented by Noam Chomsky and Edward S Herman). It’s very intriguing stuff and while not the answer to all problems NWNC is certainly part of the solution. Even if all the jobs exported to China and elsewhere came back there would not be enough of them because of automation. And speaking of privilege as I have, the NWNC conference was as diverse a gathering as it could be and questions of access to technology were important points since the very communities and persons marginalized by the mainstream economy will need access to the technology that can transform their lives. Someone like me can assume I’ll be able to use digital fabricators, for example, but what of young African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, women, First Nations, or people I know on social assistance where having a cheap cell phone on a cheap plan is barely achievable? Those in complex times who’ve not been included in discussions of race, poverty, privilege and so on need access to the dialogue on NWNC.
On our side of the river there are numerous farmers in the county who are growing and selling locally, people investigating micro-financing and those including myself trying to keep a local lefty bookstore and community newspaper going by forming a non-profit social enterprise or worker co-op with some kind of cafe or shop that could make enough to sustain the paper and bookstore. From there we hope to attract young people who do want to ‘get political’ and maintain an active government while creating our own version of NWNC.
Points to ponder in closing
• Globalization and the destruction of local economies we never owned in the first place: we work in a global economy but live locally: June of last year in Northern Ontario Business: “Rayon maker Aditya Birla of India signed a three-year partnership deal with Pays Plat First Nation [on Lake Superior ]to harvest wood from the Kenogami Forest to the company’s Terrace Bay mill. The company is in the process of converting the mill on the north shore of Lake Superior into a dissolving pulp operation used in textile manufacturing. The company plans to employ 350 once the conversion is complete in 2016. Pays Plat is one of a number of suppliers selected to feed the mill’s daily fibre needs of 2,000 tonnes. Birla purchased the mothballed pulp mill in June 2012.” I imagine that pulp sailing right by us in the unemployment capital of North America: that’s global capitalism for you:
• meaningful work, family, culture, connectedness to nature & each other = community: Windsor motto: “the river and the land sustain us” and Detroit’s: “We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes” seem to call us to action in resistance and building something new.
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• Large scale manufacturing is disappearing in Windsor/Detroit: In a major report [on Dec 27] the Windsor Star newspaper posted that “Over the past ten years, more than 30,000 people between the ages of 15 and 29 have left Windsor and Essex County. They are migrating out of a region where household incomes have been dropping in sync with the shrinking number of good paying jobs in the dominant auto industry. The result: the number of 25 to 44-year-olds in Windsor’s workforce declined by more than 6,000 from 2007 to 2012.” The thing about this article is that it is devoid of any analysis of WHY people have to fly out west to get work, nor would the paper dare to call these workers internal migrant workers, but that’s what they are [in a globalized economy that wrecks local communities.]
• The numbers are even more staggering in Detroit of people who have migrated out. Windsor may not look like the worst areas of Detroit but take a look at Indian Rd on the west side by the bridge in Windsor and you’ll see a version of Detroit’s reality thanks to global millionaire Matty Maroun who bought up streets of houses that stand derelict today – community renewal means affordable housing and that means land trusts for the common good, not empire building for millionaires.
• What must we do? Re-building community means re-imaging new social relationships because those relationships are largely formed by the work we do, waged or unwaged… Maybe not ‘new’ social relationships so much as ‘Re-newed’ as we come together in a common cause instead of being driven apart and estranged from each other as we see happening – the inequality gap creating rich and poor.
• A recent email yesterday from the Boggs Center speaks to what I’ve been describing: “We … recognize that we are in an emerging revolutionary period, demanding much deeper thinking and organizing from us. In October, our New Work New Culture Conference brought together activists, artists, and intellectuals to advance our thinking about decentralized production and encouraging local economies. Local production for local needs is not abstract, but emerging in our city. Urban gardens, fish farming, new forms of education, art, and consciousness are visible among the cracks in the corporate order.”
• Coming from northern Ontario which can seem light years away from this area – but it’s not – I keep thinking of the connectedness of Lakes Huron and Ontario and the rivers that connect them – I already mentioned the astonishing fact of pulp being shipped in Indian factories where rayon will be used in the textile industry thousands of miles away…national boundaries, political realities, and a public reeling from the historical upheaval that is occurring cannot get organized quickly enough to capture the agenda for a local, national economy that can restore the idea of nations among nations built on strong resilient and organized communities. But we can start with where we are with what we’ve got as Detroiters are doing. One thing that always terrified the power elite was the organization of the masses in a common cause. The common cause I’ll say is fairness, equality, egalitarianism, freedom of expression and a willingness to accept our responsibility to each other – this I believe is our greatest challenge. We all seem to know our rights, but as those rights are whittled away by an increasingly authoritarian state out of ideas but armed to the teeth it’s our shared responsibility to each other that will save us.
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