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The dangers of the rising global protest movement

Eleanor Hall, The World Today, ABC (Australia)
Professor Guy Standing on job insecurity and the precariat

ELEANOR HALL: They’re disillusioned, they’ve got no job security, they’re registering their anger around the world at demonstrations like the Occupy Wall Street protests, and now they have a name.

‘The precariat’ is the term that British academic Guy Standing uses to describe millions of people who say they’re living in economic insecurity and are increasingly disengaged from mainstream politics.

In his new book, The Precariat, the professor of economic security at Bath University says that these are the people behind a global surge in protest from the European austerity riots to the Occupy protests to the Arab spring uprisings.

But he says while their goals may not always be clear, the rise of this new class is dangerous.

Professor Standing is in Sydney this week and spoke to me about his concerns:

GUY STANDING: We’ve got an elite at the top, these abysmally rich people, then you’ve got people still in salaried, long-term jobs and it’s below that that this group that’s emerging across the world, ‘the precariat’ I call it – people basically who are in precarious circumstances, not just in their jobs but in their housing and in their conditions of life and so on.

And it’s quite clear that millions and millions of people are moving into this status.

ELEANOR HALL: So to what extent are movements like the Occupy movement part of this?

GUY STANDING: Well the Occupy movement is an interesting symptom of the development. There’s an angst and a real sense of anger, particularly among young educated people who have been sold a lottery ticket in terms of their education.

And I think that the Occupy movement – I call it primitive rebels, in the sense that many people know what they’re against. They’re against the massive inequalities and the insecurities, but so far not quite sure what should be done about it.
(9 February 2012)
An audio interview was posted with Dr. Standing a few days ago at ABC (Australia). -BA

Occupy Movement Regroups, Preparing for Its Next Phase

Erik Eckholm, New York Times
The ragtag Occupy Wall Street encampments that sprang up in scores of cities last fall, thrusting “We are the 99 percent” into the vernacular, have largely been dismantled, with a new wave of crackdowns and evictions in the past week. Since the violent clashes last month in Oakland, Calif., headlines about Occupy have dwindled, too.

Far from dissipating, groups around the country say they are preparing for a new phase of larger marches and strikes this spring that they hope will rebuild momentum and cast an even brighter glare on inequality and corporate greed. But this transition is filled with potential pitfalls and uncertainties: without the visible camps or clear goals, can Occupy become a lasting force for change? Will disruptive protests do more to galvanize or alienate the public?

Though still loosely organized, the movement is putting down roots in many cities.
(11 February 2012)

We’re More Unequal Than You Think

Andrew Hacker, The New York Review of Books
The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger
by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett
Bloomsbury, 331 pp., $28.00; $18.00 (paper)

The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good
by Robert H. Frank
Princeton University Press, 240 pp., $26.95

The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics
by Thomas Byrne Edsall
Doubleday, 272 pp., $24.95

Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others
by James Gilligan
Polity, 229 pp., $19.95
(23 February 2012)

Imagine a giant vacuum cleaner looming over America’s economy, drawing dollars from its bottom to its upper tiers. Using US Census reports, I estimate that since 1985, the lower 60 percent of households have lost $4 trillion, most of which has ascended to the top 5 percent, including a growing tier now taking in $1 million or more each year.1 …

All four of the books under review … are informative, original, and offer unusual insights. None accepts that social divisions are inevitable or natural, and all make coherent arguments in favor of less inequality, supported by persuasive statistics.

The Spirit Level is a prodigious empirical effort directed to a moral purpose. It ranks the quality of life in twenty-three countries, mainly European, but with Singapore, Israel, and the United States also on the list. To evaluate the well-being of each society, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett use indices ranging from obesity and incarceration rates to teenage births and the feelings people have about their fellow countrymen. They then relate these variables to how income is distributed in each society. Here they deploy the Gini ratio, a three-digit coefficient purporting to measure the extent of income inequality within any grouping for which figures are available. Their national Gini scores range from .230 in egalitarian Sweden to .478 in highly stratified Singapore, with the United States second highest at .450. Linking social indicators to economic disparities, the authors conclude that “reducing inequality is the best way of improving the quality of the social environment.”

Punishing Protest, Policing Dissent: What is the Justice System For?

Erik Hoffner, Common Dreams
This year promises to be another historic year of people calling for change worldwide. Citizens took to the streets for a wide variety of reasons, from the Wisconsin Capitol to D.C., which hosted many actions last year including the highly visible civil disobedience of activists seeking to halt the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. The resulting mass arrests, totaling over 1,200 by early September, surely played a large role in President Obama’s decision to delay approval of that climate- and water supply-threatening project.

The climate justice movement also experienced a low point this year, though, when its most visible young leader, Tim DeChristopher, was sentenced to two years in prison for disrupting a Federal oil and gas lease auction by peaceful means. Even though the auction was later shown to be illegal, DeChristopher’s case proceeded in a manner that made it clear that the government’s prosecutor sought to make an example of an activist who showed no remorse. [] Tim DeChristopher (photo:

For his part, Tim saw it as a necessary action to protect his future from runaway climate change, and seemed ready to prove that his movement is unafraid of such retribution when he refused to apologize or take a plea deal. As he told Terry Tempest Williams in Orion recently, “…it’s important to make sure that the government doesn’t win in their quest to intimidate people…They’re trying to make an example out of me to scare other people into obedience.”
(12 February 2012)