The world faces a number of acute crises at the moment, intersectional and interlocking. These include the ongoing financial crisis (which is a system-wide crisis related to the floundering of capitalism itself), environmental crisis, the crisis of political representation and fresh manifestations of war and terror.
The mainstream media is owned and controlled by big corporations and doesn’t provide an adequate view of what is happening in the world – much less what can be done about it. The voices of the rich and powerful dominate. The news cycle also means that actions are divorced from consequence, and little context is provided to explain why things are the way they are.
Social media allows a wider diversity of online voices. It gives us the space to tell our own stories in our own words, and also learn about other people’s struggles without the mediation of the mainstream media.
It is clear that the system of capitalist accumulation is in crisis. Whether this crisis is terminal or can be reformed into something more sustainable depends on your political and economic views: Marxists like David Harvey see this crisis as final and permanent: we are witnessing the death throes of capitalism, and it is becoming increasingly unequal and authoritarian as it collapses; those in the Keynesian tradition, including Michael Hudson and James K Galbraith, argue that neoliberalism has derailed the system, and suggest ways to bring it back under control. This largely amounts to “recycling excess capital” – in other words, taking the obscene wealth generated by the elite and investing it back in communities and the lives of real people. The primary mechanisms for this are higher progressive taxes (those who earn more pay more), and higher wages.
Whatever your view, it is clear that a financial crisis has become a political crisis. As elites shore up the collapsing edifice of their system, the veneer of democracy is slipping from many societies. Ordinary people are seeing their living standards decline and social services under attack as we are made to pay for this crisis.
The neoliberal assault
Unions face unprecedented attacks from employers and right wing governments across the world. We face our biggest challenge for a generation. There is a concerted assault on all the conditions we have won, especially the social democratic reforms won after the Second World War.
The global financial crisis unleashed shock doctrine capitalism that aims to fundamentally undermine the rights and conditions of working people, and oversee a massive transfer of wealth and power to the elite. There is an ideological attack on trade unions and the public sector. The right have managed to shift the blame for the financial crisis from the banks to public sector workers and welfare programmes. The result is that even people who are sympathetic to unions will often say we need to be “realistic” in the “current economic climate”.
To challenge this, we need to take the union narrative to the public, and tell our story in clear, simple language.