[This entry was also published by Postmedia Network Canada.com’s The Real Agenda blog under the title, Occupy Wall Street in Canada: The smell of hypocrisy.]
I’ve been following the Occupy movement for the past month and am no closer to an understanding of what is really behind the spread to Canadian shores of this global expression of outrage at bankers in particular and corporate greed and social inequality in general.
In just four weeks, the movement has spread from a relatively small demonstration—1,000 people or so—on New York’s Wall Street to tens of thousands spread over 900 cities around the world. While there are some common threads tying these groups together, they appear to be, at best, only loosely affiliated, with the exact targets of the demonstrations differing depending on the city and the country in which the protests are held. Each movement seems to have its own local flavour.
United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon has said the global financial crisis was the trigger. “What you are seeing all around the world, starting from Wall Street, people are showing their frustrations,” he said. But how real/justified are the frustrations of the protestors, which seem to be growing into wave of global anger at perceived social and economic injustice?
In the United States, Europe and South American countries like Chile, I believe the movement will have a measurable impact.
In the United States, where they are just over a year away from presidential and Congressional elections, politicians will ignore such a wide-spread movement at their re-election peril—though some will find it hard to get behind protestors who are showing a nasty tendency toward anti-Israel, anti-Jewish sentiment. Clever politicians will mine the speeches and slogans to find the “calls to action” they can use in their upcoming campaigns, just as Barack Obama’s spokesman Josh Earnest adopted the protesters’ “the 99%” terminology when he said, “The president will continue to acknowledge the frustration that he himself shares about the need for Washington to do more to support our economic recovery and to ensure that the interest of the 99% of Americans is well-represented.” And, if the Democrats retain the White House and win back the House of Representatives, expect more regulation of banks and corporations in general.
In Europe the situation is more dire. There, as in Israel and Chile, the Occupy Movement seems to owe more of its inspiration to the Arab Spring. Spain’s “indignados”, for example, begun camping out in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square in May, and at least 200,000 people turned out on the streets for last Saturday’s round of protests. The Spanish flavour of the movement is targeting the November general election when it could help defeat the socialist party of the prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
While the Israelis targeted housing, the high cost of living and need for “social justice”, in Greece, there was a backlash against austerity measures being imposed. What Ilias Iliopoulos, general secretary of Greece’s civil-servants’ union called, “heartless economic policies.” In Greece, we have seen the most focused public anger, with strikes, work stoppages and sit-ins as well as a two-day general walk-out. And, I fear, the worst is yet to come. The country is flat broke and other European countries with more frugal and industrious populations are the ones bailing them out—yet Greek civil-servants riot in their streets.
As far as Canada is concerned, the movement, so far, has been underwhelming. The backing of major unions is, though, cause for concern. It is curious indeed that a movement that claims to represent 99% of Canada’s population should be so strongly supported by powerful and wealthy public sector unions, which represent workers who are a privileged segment of our population that has actually grown in size and, in some cases, pay-cheque since the global financial crisis triggered the recent recession with which the whole world grapples.
Rather than being part of the 99%, the several hundred-thousand Canadian public sector employees and their union representatives make up their own privileged “per cent.” They are recession proof, lay-off proof and have fat pay-cheques and generous sick-leave, vacation and pension plans. These folks are no more part of the 99% than are our politicians, the top echelons of the banks and other large corporations. Do they join these protest groups because they hope we won’t notice how well-off they are compared to their fellow Canadians? They sure have nothing in common with the needy, the jobless and the victims of social injustice.
As far as I’m concerned, there are many people in many countries who can be characterized as victims of the social order; but not so much in Canada. And, for the most part, the Occupy Movement here is a sham and a shameless display of hypocrisy.