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Crisis of democracy: the Virginia hunger strike

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opednews.com Headlined to H2 3/8/12

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On March 1, 2012, a hunger strike consisting of 26 students at the University of Virginia came to a close. The Living Wage Campaign at UVA made an unprecedented decision to initiate a hunger strike to achieve its goals of raising worker wages from the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hr to to $13/hr. Though the University has a minimum rate of $10.65, this official rate does not apply to contracted workers that fall outside of this stipulated minimum. Contracted workers imply temp laborers supplied by staffing agencies such as those run by Schneider Logistics who coordinates manual moving labor for Wal-Mart's supply chain. It's a clever way of getting around regulatory mechanisms established for humanitarian purposes.  

Living Wage at UVA on Hunger Strike
(Image by jillstein)
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Let's examine what is going on at the University. The Living Wage Campaign "declared a hunger strike to publicize the unjust wages paid to UVA employees, and to urge the administration to take action on this issue." Twenty-six students denied themselves nourishment for 13 days to make a statement about injustice. Blacks and latinos living below poverty is alright because it's "part of the plan," but well-off students at an elite university playing Bobby Sands is a deviation that arouses decision makers. Our nation's future leaders need to focus on getting in line and learning how to play the game. Too much concern for the underprivileged is pathological and risks spreading.

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Symbolic demonstration in the U.S. has a long history, but it is undeniable that this hunger strike was inspired by the Occupy movement. When the disenfranchised lose the ability to participate in the electoral system, they find other means to enforce their demands. When the subjects--who make up the majority--of an institutional system peacefully and quietly request a change in the operational framework, it's very easy for administrators in power to refuse: the incentive is negligible. But sometimes these requests are made a second time through demonstrations that are loud and visible. They capture the public eye and the administrative officials begin to fear collective mobilization. This is nonviolent resistance. This is the crisis of democracy.

In 1973, the Trilateral Commission was formed by state-capitalist elite members of North America, Japan, and Europe as a discussion-based think tank "to foster closer cooperation among these core industrialized areas of the world with shared leadership responsibilities in the wider international system."  The North American co-author was Samuel P. Huntington, perhaps the most influential American political scientist in the late 20th century.  In 1975, the Commission published a book entitled The Crisis of Democracy: on the Governability of Democracies which examined and attempted to rationalize the unpredictable power shifts in the socioeconomic fabrics of the three societies. The authors conceded that "the viability of democracy in a country clearly is related to the social structure and social trends in that country" and that "a social structure in which wealth and learning were concentrated in the hands of a very few would not be conducive to democracy." Their analysis of social movements in the 1960s draws uncanny parallels to the present American consciousness. They called it "a decade of democratic surge and of the reassertion of democratic egalitarianism."
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The intellectual elite at the time recognized that decreasing popularity for foreign interventionism coincided with increasing support for government intervention in domestic programs. There was a clear disparity between the interests of the government and ruling elite and the interests of middle and working class people. Disillusioned with jingoistic and anti-communist propaganda, the general population tried to curtail American imperialism in Indochina and demanded that it prioritize social imperatives: "a shift in values is taking place away from the materialistic work-oriented, public-spirited values toward those which stress private satisfaction, leisure, and the need for belonging and intellectual and esthetic self-fulfillment." We could call this a desire for a meaningful life with creative pursuits. As per the Commission, "The vitality of democracy in the United States in the 1960s produced a substantial increase in government activity and a substantial decrease in government authority" which it viewed as paradoxical. The authors could not understand the attempt to reorganize the government's focus away from imperialist and ideological pursuits and more towards social and humanitarian goals. All of this should sound familiar. Wall Street and the military-industrial-complex come to mind.

They viewed it as a crisis when "authority [had] been challenged not only in government, but in trade unions, business enterprises, schools and universities, professional associations, churches, and civic groups" which were significant as "institutions which have played the major role in the indoctrination of the young in their rights and obligations as members of society." There was too much concern for everyday people rather than national interest and they attributed this problem to a failure on the part of universities, instruments of elite indoctrination: "The more educated a person is, the more likely he is to participate in politics, to have a more consistent and more ideological outlook on political issues, and to hold more "enlightened' or "liberal' or "change oriented' views on social, cultural, and foreign policy issues." Group actions such as the civil rights movement, the sexual enlightenment, and the feminist movement were symptoms of "excess democracy."

In any institution, there are always two major parties with opposing interests. The students participating in the hunger strike at UVa with their liberal and humanitarian indoctrination have goals that are opposed to top-down administration who have been forced to meet and discuss demands. The students are demanding money. It is a dangerous demand that confuses capitalist elites because they are demanding money for poor workers that are not involved in the strike. People fear what they do not understand. And centers of power, as demonstrated by the Trilateral Commission's report, are very much aware of the contagiousness of popular demonstration.
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The hunger strike in Charlottesville, VA is an inspiring domino in wave of popular movements all around the globe. Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and the Wisconsin protests are interconnected surges of uprising in response to systematized and falsified greed. It's one thing to pay workers an indecent wage, but it's more sinister to resort to alternative and perfidious means of getting around wage regulations. The University's minimum entry-level wage is $10.65/hr, which was the case when I myself worked there. But they can get around this rule by hiring contract workers that are not direct employees of the University and can be paid as low as the federal minimum wage -- $7.25/hr -- which is so ridiculous I won't even bother discussing it. Walmart is another example for blue collar workers. For white-collars, the late pandemic of unpaid internships should be quite familiar. It takes loud voices and forceful movements to get the machine in line and under control. Machines, like universities and like corporations, are not people and don't need the money as much.

 

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The stick and the carrot.

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