Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Arc of Justice

The great Dr. King said (though I believe the quote originated elsewhere) that the ‘arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.’ But if the arc does indeed bend toward justice it does not do so without our constant struggle and vigilance. We move toward justice through the constant effort of countless people who make a continual effort to fight prejudice, inequality, and the arbitrary exercise of power.

We have a bus strike going on here in Ottawa and I am amazed at the degree to which people condemn the workers for the labour strife. The bus drivers are basically striking to retain the right to play a roll in determining their own work schedules. In order to ensure that the Union would have no public sympathy for the struggle, the employer put a $2000 signing bonus in their offer, an effort at bribing the majority of workers and which, if unsuccessful, would ensure that the public would have no sympathy for the transit workers. The right-wing radio hosts are livid at the thought that transit workers (people they constantly belittle as ‘mere bus-drivers’), receive a living wage in a time of economic troubles and then have the gall to want to take part in their own scheduling. And much of the public just mimics the right-wing talking points. Yet these are the struggles which workers have been waging for centuries. Most average people enjoy the basic rights and working conditions that they do because average people have sacrificed their lives for generations in an effort for rights and protections. Most people are unable to see the big picture of history and their place in it, and they forget that when workers struggle for their rights, they are struggling for everyone; because it is only when people win their rights through struggle that these rights and protections become generalized. Furthermore, many people imagine that things are different now; that age when workers were forced to work countless hours under terrible conditions, sometime literally chained to their machines, for little pay, is now over.

“That’s all in the past,” people will tell you, “no one would do such things today.” But the appearance of civilized behaviour by capitalists and corporations in Western countries is only ensured through constant diligence. Simply travel to a country like Guatemala and you will see that, in the absence of laws and unions, workers are still treated like slaves. The arc of justice only bends toward justice if we pull hard on it. It is so sad that so many average people are so quick to buy the right-wing demonization of unions. Every struggle of every worker is made in the name of all people. The arc must bend toward justice for all of us.

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