Noam Chomsky Speaks to Occupy: If We Want a Chance at a Decent Future, the Movement Here and Around the World Must Grow
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Well, now the world is indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat, again in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1 percent and the 99 percent. The plutonomy is where the action is. It could continue like this, and if it does, then this historic reversal that began in the 1970s could become irreversible. That’s where we’re heading. The Occupy movements are the first major popular reaction which could avert this. It’s going to be necessary to face the fact that it’s a long hard struggle. You don’t win victories tomorrow. You have to go on and form structures that will be sustained through hard times and can win major victories. There are a lot of things that can be done.
I mentioned before that in the 1930s one of the most effective actions was a sit-down strike. The reason was very simple: it’s just a step below a takeover of the industry. Through the '70s, as the decline was setting in, there were some very important events that took place. One was in the late '70s. In 1977, US Steel decided to close one of its major facilities, Youngstown, Ohio, and instead of just walking away, the workforce and the community decided to get together and buy it from US Steel and hand it over to the workforce to run and turn it into a worker-owned, worker-managed facility. They didn’t win, but with enough popular support they could have won. It was a partial victory because even though they lost it set off other efforts now throughout Ohio and other places.
There’s a scattering of hundreds, maybe thousands, of not-so-small worker owned or partially worker-owned industries which could become worker-managed. That’s the basis for a real revolution. That’s how it takes place. It’s happening here, too. In one of the suburbs of Boston something similar happened. A multi-national decided to shut down a productive, functioning and profitable manufacturing company because it was not profitable enough for them. The workforce and union offered to buy it and take it over and run it themselves, but the multi-national decided to close it down instead probably for reasons of class consciousness. I think they want things like this to happen. If there had been enough popular support, if there had been something like this movement that could have gotten involved, they might have succeeded.
There are other things going on like that. In fact, some of them were major. Not long ago, Obama took over the auto industry. It’s basically owned by the public. There were a number of things that could have been done. One was what was done. It could be reconstituted so it could be handed back to the ownership, or very similar ownership and continue on its traditional path. The other possibility was they could have handed it over to the workforce and turned it into worker-owned, worker-managed major industrial system that’s a major part of the economy and have it produce things that people need. And there’s a lot that we need. We all know or should know that the US is extremely backward globally in high-speed transportation. That’s very serious. It affects people’s lives and it affects the economy. It’s a very serious business.
I have a personal story. I happened to be giving talks in France a couple months ago and ended up in southern France and had to take a train from Avignon in southern France to the airport in Paris and it took two hours. That’s the same distance as Washington to Boston. It’s a scandal. It could be done; we have the capacity to do it, like a skilled workforce. It would have taken a little popular support. That could have been a major change in the economy. Just to make it more surreal, while this option was being avoided, the Obama administration was sending its transportation secretary to Spain to get contracts for developing high-speed rails for the United States. This could have been done right in the Rust Belt, which is being closed down. There’s no economic reason this can’t happen. These are class reasons and the lack of political mobilization.