We are assailed from all directions with the view that austerity is necessary: the reason for the financial crisis is, we are told, excessive spending on public services. Nominally independent media sources such as the BBC, and even those that claim a progressive tradition, such as the Guardian, do little to challenge this view.
The right wing media – which dominates a lot of discourse – is worse. We are encouraged to focus on scapegoats: immigrants, “shirkers”, single mothers.
Most of us have a sense that this is false, but the relentless onslaught of this falsehood from all corners is difficult to resist. To challenge this, unions and progressive organisations need to develop an alternative narrative – a different story to tell about what is happening in the world. It isn’t enough to oppose this or that cut, or to express solidarity with a distant struggle. We need to tell the story of a complex and multifaceted international resistance movement that is comprehensible to ordinary people, and gives them easy ways to engage and get involved.
We don’t have the money, but we have the numbers. How do we mobilise? The elite have resources, but we have integrity and values.
There is an alternative: in the post-war era, despite dire economic circumstances created by the destruction of warfare, Europe was able to create its welfare states, while the US entered its golden age. Newly independent former colonies in Africa and Asia saw strong economic growth in the decades before structural adjustment programmes decimated them. The issue facing us is ideological, not economic.
We are not going to let them get away with this; and across the world we are fighting back: through renewed and reinvigorated union structures, but also in new forms, such as Occupy, the Indignados and YoSoy132 . Around the world, the social democratic parties that provided reform through parliament are losing credibility, and working people are returning to the streets and shop floor to defend their conditions.
Much of the media is controlled or heavily influenced by right wing ideologies, and it is difficult to make our voices heard above the relentless calls for cuts. New technology, with its networking potential, can help us to bypass the traditional media and speak directly to people.
How can technology help us in this? How will it hinder us?
The right seems determined to finish what Thatcher and Reagan started, and to decimate the public sector and the unions. To survive in this climate, we need to build the broadest possible coalition against austerity and articulate a new vision for society. To do this, we need to communicate with each other, to share ideas and build alliances. We need to use every tool in our arsenal – and new media provides plenty of useful tools.
An few years ago, you needed a certain amount of technical expertise to use new technologies – for instance, to create a website you needed to be able to code HTML, understand Internet infrastructure and so on. However, the development of web 2.0 has changed this. Easy to edit, dynamic and participative content can be created by just about anyone with a computer and Internet connection. This opens up a whole new world of communication for trade union activists – for the first time, we can develop our own web presence and communicate directly with each other.
Smart phones, like iPhone, Android and BlackBerry mean we can have web 2.0 technology while we’re mobile, too.
All you need to mobilise is a mobile!