My new piece is up at On This Deity.
It is late June 2011 as I write this. The news media – on the rare occasions it’s not discussing the sex lives of professional sportsmen – offers us a running commentary on an Arab Spring, now turned summer. We’re presented with images of disaffected Chinese workers rioting in Guangdong while dissidents with pixelated faces hold secret meetings in cramped apartments. In Peru an alliance between environmental campaigners and indigenous activists has seen its members injured and even killed in an attempt to prevent an expansion of mining in their region. And here, in the relative safety of our liberal democracies, we find ourselves dismayed by the violence, the oppression and the painful struggle for basic rights playing out on our screens and newsprint. And we often forget – because it’s so damned easy to do – just how recently our own nations experienced similar upheaval. And we don’t realise – as the forces of capitalism once again begin to squeeze the worker, marginalise the army of unemployed and bind entire nations with chains of debt – just how close to a return to those days we are, and just how cheaply our acquiescence in this return is being purchased.
One hundred and six years ago today, on June 27th 1905, a couple of hundred anarchists, socialists and vagabond activists gathered in a hall in Chicago for what would later become known as the First Annual Convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Like activists in China, Peru, North Africa and elsewhere today they would find themselves targeted by the authorities, imprisoned and even murdered for the crime of disagreeing with those in power. They spoke out. They organised their dissent. Sometimes they withheld their labour. Often they demanded radical change. They united beneath a simple slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all”… a worldview simply incompatible with free-market capitalism; a philosophy which happily externalises all manner of injury in the pursuit of personal gain; a philosophy that dismisses collective responsibility unless there’s a profit to be made commodifying it.