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December 1999, Volume 7 Nr. 4, Issue 76,

WTO WHO?

The Battle in Seattle has come and gone, only the first volley in what is shaping up to be the new millennium of activism. The upcoming 00's will be much more than that.  They will be a decade of mass education, mass participation in people's democracy, that is, democracy will experience a growth of, for, and by the people as contrasted to what it has been, of, for, and by the corporate masters and other ruling rich elite.  Everywhere there are signs that young people, particularly college age youth, are no longer willing to allow the greedy elders and olders run the show in the nonchalant, cavalier and unenlightened manor that has for the past thirty years posed as an exemplary style worthy of duplication.  The top-down strategies of inculcating worldwide capitalism through globalization has finally marketed one straw too many - that being the straw that is breaking the camel's back.  And, the camel is pissed.

On Tuesday, November 30, known in many circles as N30, I heard a story about a conversation two teachers were having around the photocopying machine.   One of the teachers taught social studies, the other home economics.  The latter commented about how the contemporary issues class was about to have much to discuss in the next week as the WTO was meeting in Seattle.  Instead of sparking at least a small give-and-take over this grandmaster meeting of ministerial minions she was asked, "What's the WTO?" 

In a recent musical and story release of a CD by Utah Phillips and Ani DeFranco, Utah talks about the social studies that he was taught while in high school (it's not much different today).  He talks about being presented the history of the ruling class and the wealthy and the fact that the history of the people, the workers who created all the wealth was ignored.  Thus one learns about the Rockefellers, the Pullmans, etc., but not about Mary Harris, Lucy Parsons, Haymarket or The Wobblies, the Ludlow, Colorado strike, Matewan, West Virginia, and so on.  Why not?  The answer is obvious.

If we had our druthers on N30 JeanneE and I would have been in Seattle.  So would have many of our friends.  We were fortunate enough to be able to participate in a small way by testifying at the Vermont Statehouse in front of the Legislature's Summer Study Committee Living Wage in Vermont hearings.  I did so at the request of the Vermont National Education Association's Civil Human Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Human Rights Committee.  I had dozens of leftover Bernie96 congressional campaign buttons for which I designed, printed and affixed a "NO WTO" makeover.  These proved very popular at the Statehouse meeting where they quickly circulated and were affixed.  Three-hundred people came out for the hearing and over fifty testified forcing the meeting to move to a much larger room..

While the meeting at the Vermont Statehouse was not designed as a WTO event, the testimony given that evening was directly related.   Teachers, paraeducators, nurses, clerks, electrical workers, college and high school students, activists, cashiers, bank tellers, laid off professionals, just about anyone from any employment, walk of life and position were testifying to the effect that accepting the global corporate model of exploitation was a major contributing factor to people not being able to make enough income off of which to live.  Unlike the "educated" colleague at the photocopying machine these working people know their labor history and are aware of the consequences of the so-called "free trade" policies that have made their lives so difficult.  The surprising and soon-to-be shocking awakening for many up-to-now unaffected professionals, such as teachers, is that this show is coming to play in a theater in their home town.

In previous issues of Metaphoria I have written about the lack of working-class solidarity within the community of "professionals."   What is it that makes someone with a degree, or two, believe that they are not part of the working class rooted in the strikes and struggles that have granted them such priveleges as an 8-hour work day, 40-hour workweek, healthcare and pension benefits, etc.  Since I am most familiar with education I make my observations from that perspective though I believe the same may be generalized for many working people in the country.  Why is it that only an occasional working person amongst dozens or perhaps hundreds understand what the phrase. "harm done to one is a harm done to all" means.  An equal few, or worse, are willing to entertain "rising with the ranks" as contrasted to "rising from the ranks."  This is why few people actively show much interest in helping those who are  less fortunate than they.  Many would even cross a picket line.  Others, ignore inequity even within the same employment community, seeing those that are being severely taken advantage of as someone else's problem.  It is to these issues that I addressed my remarks at the Statehouse. 

I spoke of the statewide situation confronting hundreds of instructional aids, those often referred to as paraeducators.  Before I expound further, I would liken this situation to masses of U.S. workers who wear clothing manufactured by child slave labor in the world's sweatshops without a single thought as to their purchase being a tacit acknowledgment that such horrid working conditions are fine with them.  What is it that U.S. college students know that their parents and teachers are ignoring?   Many of them participated during N30 in Seattle and are not willing any longer to separate themselves from the working masses of the world who create all the wealth for those who control it.  Similarly, it is paraeducators who do the hard work, perhaps, making the most difference in a child's life, yet, being paid and treated as if their work was so much less important.

It was a paraeducator who saved our son's life when as a consequence of a decade's worth of medical trauma including 20 surgeries, multiple medications and illness, he became suicidal.  It was a paraeducator who helped him get beyond the anger that unavoidable abuse by the medical establishment produced.   It is yet another paraeducator who continues to guide him through adolescence into adulthood while at school.  As a parent and as a teacher I have the utmost respect or paraeducators.   What I do not have respect for is a system which denies them a living wage.   A living wage is more than a minimum wage.  It is also more than what on the surface appears to be a reasonable wage. 

The Vermont Labor Party website's link to the Vermont Living Wage Campaign states:

The three fastest growing jobs in Vermont are cashiers, retail salespeople and waiters/ waitresses. These positions usually don't pay well, don't include benefits, and often are part-time.

The minimum wage is $5.25 an hour, but the Vermont Job Gap Study has documented that a minimum wage that would cover the cost of living for a single Vermonter is $7.98 an hour! Of course, it would be more if you have children.

Meanwhile corporate profits went up 50% between 1990 and 1995. The richest 1% of Americans own 40% of the national wealth. That's more than what 92% of Americans have, combined.

Every human being has the right to work that pays enough to cover the basic necessities of life for themselves and their family.  Food, shelter, education and health care should not be used as weapons of control.   Their denial or their lack thereof is often used to attain the lowest wages possible by those who most need them.  Who would refuse a job when in dire need even if that job barely paid enough and had few benefits?  No one.  Thus one is trapped easily enough.   I believe the frustration over these  issues, the disregard of the environment, material greed, genetic manipulation of the food supply, heath care, corporate domination of everything have reached critical mass.  Seattle was not an accident for those who were paying attention. 

I heard a friend recently say that people with low paying jobs can always better themselves and then qualify for better paying jobs.  The paraeducators that I spoke with around the State of Vermont make between $7.83 and $9.75 per hour and they already have college degrees.  That's above the Vermont minimum wage of $5.25 and appears to be a good deal.  A close examination reveals that there is no health insurance coverage for many.  For those that have health insurance the employee is only insured, not the wife nor any member of the family.  A paraeducator's contract typically calls for pay according to an hourly wage.  Take your child for a medical test or treatment and you get no pay.  Have a snow day and you get no pay.  Paid holidays are for the staff personnel only.  For paraeducators, no work, no pay.  During Thanksgiving many schools had five days off.  Imagine for a moment if the Monday after Thanksgiving break were a bad weather day causing school to be closed.  How does one survive on a no or minimum benefit wage of between $7.96 - $9.75 with six consecutive days of no income.  It's much worse if someone in the family is sick.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving and don't forget to spend lots of money on Black Friday, the busiest retail splurge day of the year.

It is elitist to separate working people into categories where those that benefit most feel financially and psychologically better off and then suggest that those folks whose jobs are important in the performance of our own "elevate" themselves to a higher "class" one which puts them on a par with us.  This kind of thinking and its concomitant lack of working class solidarity is exactly what is wrong with the WTO, the ultimate  corporatizer and cooptor of solidarity - unless of course one is part of the rich where solidarity comes through wealth and its privilege.   Make no mistake about it, greed capitalism fears worker, peace and social justice solidarity.  If that were not the case, the ruling elite and the powers that be would not have used martial law tactics against the peaceful protestors in Seattle this past week.  Nor would they have attacked local residents not part of N30. 

Why are police departments across the United States   militarizing themselves so quickly and to such a big extend.  Many towns, even small ones, now have a  SWAT team.  Then there are the "wars" on everything from poverty to drugs.  We fight the war on this.  We fight the war on that.  We fight the war on everything except the causes of the war itself.  We fail to recognize that inequity is the cause of poverty, that alienation is the cause of drug abuse and violence, that exploitation is the cause anger. 

Events in Seattle and in millions of places like the Vermont Statehouse are evidence that apathy's limits have been overextended and it caught the corporate structure by surprise.  After all, it was solidly believed that the people were apathetic.  The failure is to believe that Seattle is a  new happening.  Activism and organization by many  movements and hundreds of thousands of people has been going on for a long time.  Ignore them and they'll go away was the mindset.  Don't report on it and no one will know was corporate directive.  That mindset is now shattered.  Although the televised pimps of profitability will continue to paint a happy world of "ticker tape" wealth, the cult of greed capitalism will never be the same.  Seattle is not a sixty's   style revival of activism.  Seattle is the Y2KBTP, that is the new millenium's Boston Tea Party.  Not only has symbolic steel been thrown overboard into the Pacific by steelworkers, so has the motis operandi that profits come before people.  So has the belief that police and the military protect people over profit.  So has the belief that corporations are benevolent and will trickle down their wealth to the people where a rising tide will lift all boats.  N30 has shown that more and more people are willing to act on the conviction that the rising tide has lifted all yachts while the paddle boats lose their oars in turbulent waters.  Thanks to Seattle the WTO is no longer the WHO?  Skeptical?  Consider the quote from the following Reuters news report dated Friday, December 10:

About 1,000 students from 50 grammar schools, high schools and universities, carrying signs that read ``Gap Will I Grow Up to Be Exploited?'' or ``No More Sweatshops, Shame on Nike,'' protested outside Nike's large NikeTown store and The Disney Store, as they marched along Fifth Avenue. They ended their protest at Rockefeller Center with songs and speeches."

The full story can be found at CLICK HERE.   Welcome to the 21st century.

1999 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski

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