As I read news stories, read blogs, skim headlines, one question keeps coming to my mind, over and over. What are people supposed to do?
Wages have been slashed or have been stagnant for years. Corporations continue to eliminate jobs, forcing the survivors to work much harder for the same (or lower) salaries, while the unlucky into a job market that is more like an empty larder.
Jobs that were once full-time and included benefits have been transformed into part-time jobs or contract work, with lower pay, no benefits and no security.
Good jobs are scarce and getting scarcer all the time. We can't all work in retail. Those who manage to get themselves through university and beyond, hoping for more meaningful employment, are burdened with debt for decades.
For those unable to work or unable to find decent employment, social assistance is more difficult to access. For those who do qualify, it provides a level of support that cannot rightfully be called subsistence.
What are people supposed to do?
The higher and higher cost of living
While wages plummet or stagnate, everything costs more, seemingly every day - not only extras and luxuries, but the price of basic survival. Food, shelter, and fuel account for an increasing share of whatever income we have. Many people can't afford gas or public transit to even look for a job. Governments cut public services that are needed for meaningful participation in society, forcing more people into social exclusion, be it from lack of health care, child care, elder care, therapies, basic nutrition, or a decent public library.
And what about extras? What about recreation, leisure time, fun? Increasing numbers of people work two and three jobs to support their families, which means they have less time, patience, and energy to nurture those families and enjoy time together. Living a good life that includes leisure time should not be a luxury that only the wealthy can afford.
When wages are cut by 50%, what are people supposed to do? When the price of food and fuel is more than the family's budget, what are people supposed to do?
This is not an act of god
The condition we find ourselves in is not inevitable. It is not found in nature, not part of some biological or geological system that cannot be altered. These stressful conditions are the product of a system made by humans, and that system is called global capitalism.
When a condition exists all around us from the moment of our birth and is never questioned - when we are not taught that there are alternatives - and when those who do teach alternatives are marginalized - we tend to think that the condition is inevitable. This describes many aspects of our lives. Gender roles. Up until very recently (and still in many places), heterosexuality. The naturalness and inevitability of war. And the naturalness of capitalism.
Step back from a moment and think about this. Why should food be sold for profit? In Canada and other advanced nations, it is recognized that health care should not be a profit-making enterprise. If we have a universal right to health care, why don't we have a universal right to not be hungry? Why don't all people have all the food they require for themselves and their families?
Why should the cost of fuel include profit? Why should fuel, which all people need, be subject to speculation, investment and profit?
Why should the people who toil to produce wealth for others struggle for basic survival, while the people who design systems of speculation and profit reap fabulous riches?
Why must we accept this system as inevitable? And when we begin to question this system, when we reject it, how can we begin to dismantle it and create an alternative system?
There is enough food to feed every person on this planet. There is enough human ingenuity and determination to halt and reverse climate change. There will always be people who want to make war, but there are many more people who want to end war. How can we achieve these goals?
I don't know the answers to these questions. But I want to discuss them with others who believe, as I do, that a better world is possible.
So then, what are people supposed to do? I don't know. I just know they can't do it alone.
That's why I'm attending Marxism 2012.