TENSIONS RUNNING LOW

Video of angry Air France employees, perhaps as many as 3000, getting rowdy outside of the company headquarters to the point that two executives had their clothes nearly ripped from their bodies were popular on cable news and around the Internet on Monday. Nobody appeared to be seriously hurt, and news reports made no mention of anyone requiring medical treatment. Tailoring, on the other hand, appears to be necessary for some of those involved.

I wish we saw more of this in the U.S. I really do. I have no desire to see anyone injured. I do, however, have a strong desire to see people react to the slow dismantling of their middle class existence with human emotions – anger, maybe – that are perfectly natural under the circumstances. I'd like it if people didn't take everything done to them in the name of quarterly earnings lying down, or like dead-eyed cattle following the ass in front of them into the slaughterhouse. I think it would be nice if the people who make these decisions had to pause, even for just a moment, to wonder if they're going to be mauled by a crowd of people they've just decided to fuck, and thereby decide to be maybe just a bit less draconian in their decision-making as a result.

It's not that rowdy behavior like this accomplishes anything substantive; it's that this is how this is supposed to work. People should get mad when they get screwed. They should get mad at the people who screwed them, especially if it was done to increase their already substantial compensation even further. This is what bothers me about American labor. Everyone from the unions to the media to the workforce itself approaches these economic upheavals with listless resignation. "Well, we did the best we could" counts as fiery labor rhetoric now. It's probably your fault, the rest of society says to the newly unemployed. The laid off have been convinced that they're powerless – and they're not wrong now – and whatever anger they have is re-routed by the media and their social betters. They get mad, but they get mad at the Mexicans or affirmative action or liberals or "banks" (read: Jews) or ivory tower academics. Even worse, their emotions are redirected toward things that explicitly have nothing at all to do with their situation or economics (Kim Davis, someone a-comin' for their guns, unisex bathrooms at a college they can neither afford nor get into, War on Christmas). They just know that their mad, and like any angry person they look for something to be angry toward. Leading them there isn't rocket science.

In other countries there are still competing messages. They have the same Murdoch journalists telling them to be angry at immigrants or the gays or Big Government. But they also have union leaders and other figures in their lives telling them that The Company is screwing them and The Boss is not their friend but rather someone who will fleece them at every opportunity for no reason more nefarious than that is exactly how this system works. Call me a crackpot or a sadist, but I think our nation and our economic system would be a lot healthier if the CEO class endured the occasional smashed windshield. That is preferable, at least to me, to a reality in which the working class of this country hero-worship the same group of people who are forever kicking the rungs out of their economic ladder.

30 thoughts on “TENSIONS RUNNING LOW”

  • "They just know that their mad, and like any angry person they look for something to be angry toward. Leading them there isn't rocket science."

    Nail on the head!

  • If we do that in America, the police come and set fire to the tents our families are living in or gun us down with machine guns or crack our skulls with tear gas canisters.

    The police have turned into a paramilitary organization tasked with keeping the proles out of the streets so that our betters don't have to drive past them. Our major media are propaganda outlets for the corporate state. More jobs disappear every day, wages get cut further, and benefits don't exist anymore.

    I'm an industrial electrician and I make $27/hr with benefits. If they sent every factory overseas, I could still do residential or commercial electrical work, but that would involve starting up my own business, which is costly and risky and pays substantially less, not to mention I have only the benefits I can afford. I tell people the skilled trades are still mostly safe, but we're clutching the dying embers of the manufacturing sector hoping desperately that they won't go out before we can retire.

    It breaks my heart to see this country, which I love, ripped up and sold to the junkman. It breaks my heart even further to see half her citizens cheer this destruction on in the name of increasing the wealth of the already obscenely wealthy. It absolutely enrages me to see the resulting negative effects of this destruction blamed on the lowest in our society.

    I just don't know what to do anymore and I don't know how this ends without a lot of blood running out to sea through the sewers.

  • wow, other bill and Delbort, you stole the words right off my keyboard.

    Someone explain to me again how we're more free than the Chinese?

  • Zombie Jay Gould just checked in to remind me,

    I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.

  • I've no facts to back this up, but I've always believed that the malaise you're referring to stems from the general physical comfort we've achieved as a society. In most places (so, ruling out the terrible parts of Detroit, Baltimore, back hollows of Kentucky, etc), most people are comfortable enough to not bother rioting. Not worth the jail time out the beating you might get. That's reserved for when your kids go hungry most nights and you can barely find shelter, not for when you have to cancel your cable subscription.

    It seems that the really destitute have gotten to that point by living in systemic poverty, not the result of a downsizing (e.g. caterpillar), and, as a result, don't have a single event to respond to. But I think we're getting there. The tea party seems to forget why things like anti-trust regulations were created, and that really efficient capitalistic systems lead to things like factory towns and worker barracks (hello, foxconn). If we just turn the knob a little more, we can just go full 1800 on the labor market and reinvent the last 200 years. Except this time the Pinkertons will drop an army of soulless androids to shoot you down in the next Ludlow massacre.

  • Australians have but of that same attitude.
    However, most of their problem is that as long as there's sport on the telly, beer in the fridge and a snag on the barbie they won't pay attention to much else until it's way too late.

    I learned this pretty early on with the East Circular Quay development.
    When I first arrived there were these dirty big holes in the ground. All I could think was "why is no one protesting the size of the buildings that they were putting there?" It wasn't until *after* scaffolding went up—and too late to stop/change the development—that people started to complain.

  • US in the EU says:

    I love the title of the video at the bottom "Losing Your Shirt: How the French Conduct Labor Relations".

    They are *French* (spits)! Not civilized like Americans who take the ax to the neck without a whimper.

  • Roux Brownwell says:

    For several years after the financial meltdown in 2008 I looked for stories like the one cited in the OP. I can recall hearing of only one incident–some hedge fund guy was punched in the face at a health club. I think part of the reason this doesn't happen in the US, in addition to the excellent points raised by earlier commenters, in that the real villains are completely out of reach, insulated from the workforce not only physically in ways that large amounts of money can buy, but also legally, with layers of interlocking phantom corporations making it nearly impossible to bring anyone to account.

  • Protests used to work because if you showed up with signs one day and nothing happened, the next day you showed up with torches.

    Strikes used to assault the scabs, because a strike was the ultimate threat.

    Cops are bad today? Google "Pinkertons" and get back to me.

    This country used to have balls. If the next executive who decided to 'offshore' his factory was dragged into the street, don't you think they'd all think twice. But you know — class warfare blah blah blah

  • define&redefine says:

    What Mr Brownwell said, unfortunately. Things would probably be a bit different if Kenneth Lay and Martin Turing were sparring over who gets to run the next train on the banking CEO's in a federal prison somewhere in the badlands.

    No, instead we reward their low-level sociopathy with severance packages…

  • Here's a telling comparison:

    From 1948 to 1973, the productivity of American workers increased by 96.7%. Hourly compensation pretty much kept pace, rising by 91.3%.

    But in the decades that followed (from1973 to 2013), while productivity grew by 74.4%, hourly compensation lagged far behind, up by just 9.2%.

    Who was benefitting from the higher productivity of the past 30 years? It sure as hell wasn't the people who made it possible.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    At least the Idiocrats rioted when President Camacho and Not Sure shut down the Brawndo Corporation.

    Orwell 0, Judge 0, Huxley 1

  • Poultine, you may be right. I once saw a graphic detailing the political ideology of Spaniards today and at the time of the Spanish Civil War. They were nearly identical. So, the ideological makeup of the country was the same but everyone was now comfortable enough not to kill each other over the differences. Might have helped that the horrors of the war and Franco were within living memory.

  • Lester Holt calls THAT violence????!!! ????
    Pushing and a torn shirt?

    Looked like a typical walk home from school for me on the Mean Streets of Schaumburg in the 1970s.

    And another thing: braking store windows and burning down an occupied building isn't violence either. Vandalism and arson, yes, violence, no. Fuck this corporate Newspeak.

  • The reason is that the Europeans, for the most part, still have functioning unions. The unions in the US have been under assault for over 80 years and have been so weakened that they're are virtually useless.

    The corporatists were petrified of the unions in the 1930s and sought to destroy them. They weren't coy about it. In fact, they were quite open. As others have posted, the police and special police forces were employed to break heads and break up strikes and demonstrations. (So, the notion of today's police violence being a recent phenomenon is hogwash.)

    Another big idea in '30s was "The American Dream." The corporatists advanced the idea of universal home ownership. This wasn't because they had the best interests of the working person at heart. Quite the opposite. They thought, and even said, that if a worker was up to his earlobes in debt, he couldn't strike, at least not for long. On the other hand, home ownership in Europe is significantly lower than in the US.

    Then, along came WW2, and the anti-union forces had to go underground so as not to interfere with war production. But, after the war, they went to work again. The Taft-Hartley bill was designed to destroy unions. One of the provisions of the bill was that the unions had to get rid of any "lefties" in their ranks. Remember that this was in the midst of the "Red Scare" in the US. If you didn't live through that, you have no idea how frightening it was.

    One day, as a high-school student, I borrowed a book from the local library. My father thought the book would be a black mark against me were anyone to investigate. He marched me down to the library and made the librarian expunge any record of my having had that book in my possession.

    Anyway, the "lefties" that had to be expelled from the unions were the intellectual heart and soul of the labor movement — the thought leaders and organizers. This left a huge leadership vacuum, which gangsters and opportunists were more than willing to fill.

    This set up the unions to be depicted as crime-ridden, self-serving, and ineffectual. So, with 30 years of that propaganda being "catapulted" on a daily basis, it was a cakewalk when Reagan came along to administer the coup de grace. People to this day, still think unions are useless.

    So, the unions in the US are a pale shadow of what they were 70 or 80 years ago. In Europe, they're still quite strong, and especially in France, a general strike is out of the question – unlike the US, where it will never happen.

    Imagine if American woke up some day to find that the grocery stores weren't open, public transportation didn't run, trash wasn't being collected, and so on. They would freak. But it would never happen because there aren't enough union people tyo pull it off. In Europe, the unions can still do that at will.

  • Within days of marching with Rebublic Windows Unionized Workers who stood up to management and the banks who illegally closed the factory and tried to steal their wages, Governor Rod Blagovich was taken from bed, charged with twenty felonies and sent to a gulag for 14 years.

    Within days of marching with striking garbage men in Memphis, Martin Luther King was assassinated, and his killer was allowed to escape the country.

    Never underestimate how much the ruling class hates unions.

  • paintedjaguar says:

    In the 1980's, Poland's Solidarność was lauded in the U.S. (because they were fighting the Evil Empire, see) but labor solidarity in the form of general and sympathy strikes was specifically outlawed in the U.S. by the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. So unlike in France and most of Europe, the most effective non-violent union tactics are illegal — however it's perfectly legal for the government to send in troops to break a strike.

    It's my understanding that strikes and boycotts of this sort are also illegal in the U.K. and Australia — it's no accident that unions are so much weaker in these countries and the U.S. than in countries like France.

    As Skipper says above, there was a concerted effort after WW2 to purge leftists from unions and any other positions of influence, including government and private businesses. SF author David Brin likes to refer to the purge of "reds" from the Democratic Party as the "Miracle of 1947". The curriculum of my High School in 1960's Florida included a mandatory semester of "Americanism versus Communism" and teachers were required to take loyalty oaths. This was still state law as late as the 1980's. A lot of people who grew up post-Reagan really have no idea to what extent U.S. society has been systematically propagandized by the Right.

  • I like this quote regarding boss napping at the end of a Guardian story on the protest:
    “This happens elsewhere, but to my knowledge, taking the boss hostage is typically French. It’s the nature of the social dialogue in our country.”

    I also am perplexed by the French politicians all trying to say that this is barbaric, a "caricature" of the French people and not at all French. Really? REALLY? Dudes. French Revolution? Reign of Terror?

    And Xynzee, Americans are the same, except we have the fine feature of having so many citizens in desperate poverty who just are not able to pay any attention to anything other than making it through each day intact.

  • I work for a French company. There are days when we get into our US offices, and find that France has disappeared overnight. No answers to emails, no answered calls. Eventually we find out that due to some small affront, our French colleagues have staged a walk-out. Sometimes it could just be a RUMOR of a site closing. To compare and contrast, when they announce actual layoffs in the US, we just shrug and coordinate farewell luncheons.
    On the flip side, when things are good and we're hiring, WE NEVER hire in France. Anywhere but France.

  • Carter Adams says:

    I want to say that liberals do this to, in different ways.

    My organization hosted a community forum and we broke down into small groups to have people talk about their experiences in our town, and there was this one woman who kept talking about all the bad things that were happening to other disadvantaged groups. But with some prodding, it turned out that her hours had been cut, she didn't have a car, and she was relying on our shitty public transportation to get to and from work and to get her kids to school and to other appointments, and a looming fare increase made her wonder how she was going to get by at all.

    We on the left sometimes are so well trained at feeling outrage on behalf of other people, we can't see our own place in the line for the slaughterhouse.

    My colleagues in IT are doing OK right now, but there's going to be a big correction in this industry – like law had in the 00's. We should unionize, but any time I try to have that conversation with coworkers, it gets nowhere.

  • It is this, this here, this resignation, that represents the point at which you either turn toward reform, or accept feudalism. It's incredibly tough when the deck is stacked against you from so many angles, the job, the news and the off-the-clock conversation that follows (which usually parrots the talking points rather than attempt consideration much less refutation). It permeates everything. And this is how a society hardens into the few with much and the much with little. I don't know what the answer is, don't think anybody does or we'd be doing it. Well, I do know, but given how far things have gone we can't just throw them up against the wall, as it were; well, we could – and maybe it'll still come to that – but it'd be ne'er easy. But that's where we are.

  • Clockwork Prof says:

    The organization of a police force in this country was created with the intent to control the population–to "Serve and Protect" the ruling class from the rabble. The rampant corruption exposed by Lincoln Steffens at the turn of the 20th century–the way that ostensible public servants were in the pockets of the monied class–has never gone away. The cops aren't here to protect us, the regular people. They're here to protect property and interests of the rich and the powerful. The brutality of the response to the Occupy protests and the Solidarity Sing-Along arrests of singing grannies in the Wisconsin capitol during the ACT 10 protests, which were peaceful gatherings of thousands of people in Madison, made that clearer than anything else I've ever seen.

    Bill Hicks was right. "I'll tell you who the threat to freedom … no, no, not to freedom. I'll tell you who the threat to the status quo is in this country: it's us. That's why they show you shows like fucking COPS. So you know that state power will win and we'll bust your house down and we'll fuckin' bust you anytime we want. That's the message. Why don't they just have a show called "Stormtrooper"?"–"IRS Bust" on Rant in E-Minor

  • Joseph Nobles says:

    One problem here is that the demographic most likely to rise up and knock the bosses' heads together would also happily burn crosses and bomb abortion clinics.

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