Striking the right way

There is nothing new here: When mass mobilization stirs up society, governments try to turn it against the workers, knowing that hardship in daily life creates discontent. Here, then, is the paradox: While everyone claims to believe in the right to protest, they are effectively asking that it be annulled. They are asking workers to strike in a way that doesn’t discomfit them, in a way that is ineffective. The force of pressure counts more than the validity of demands in this competitive society. Professional sectors, for example, which by nature do not have a lot of leverage and therefore cannot create wider problems, have a lower scale of unionist action and limited negotiating power. They cannot even defend their hard-earned labor rights. The Constitution protects industrial action, giving workers a weapon in the uneven battle with employers and the state. In Western democracies, the purpose of the labor movement is to protect workers’ rights, not to ensure the smooth operation of the system. It contributes to social equilibrium by pulling the rope from one end, given that, as a rule, more powerful forces are pulling it from the other. In other words, it is part of the problem, not the solution. Limits are shifted in social conflict. In the past especially, union leaders abused their strength, either in order to ensure special guild privileges or to consolidate their own informal role in the power game, and occasionally as a means to wealth. This is just one reason why they are held in contempt. Another is the fact that individualism succeeds at the expense of collectivism. The hypocritical rhetoric about the interests of society is part and parcel of the propaganda of social conflict. Unbearable, yet unavoidable. Anyway, neither political dialectics nor aesthetics can flourish on such ground.

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