The mouse and the monopoly

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

Graphic by MEREK ALAM

Last Tuesday, Disney officially launched their Disney + streaming service. An initially impressive subscription-based service that allows you to watch all the nostalgic Disney works from your childhood along with all the current Marvel and Star Wars movies, along with some new original additions such as The Mandalorian and High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. I’m here to predictably tell you why this is actually bad upon closer inspection.

One might argue that Disney + is good because it gives people another chance to relieve their younger days by watching classic Disney shows like The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Kim Possible, Hannah Montana and even The Simpsons. Even more importantly, Disney + provides a platform to watch older classics such as Fantasia, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin so the younger generation can properly appreciate classics of the past.


I argue that you shouldn’t even need Disney + to watch these at all.

When the United States Copyright Act was first passed, copyrights only lasted about 14 years. This was amended over time, and soon the original author could file an appeal to extend it. By the time the first every Mickey Mouse cartoon emerged, “Steamboat Willy,” copyright had been extended to 56 years (not including renewal). This would not do for Disney, who began immediately pressuring Congress to extend this. In 1976 Congress passed new copyright terms that gave copyright protections for an author’s entire life as well as an additional 50 years. Then, when the deadline for Mickey’s copyright got dangerously close again, Disney pushed Congress to pass the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act which gave corporate-owned works up to 120 years of copyright protection and free reign to sue anyone who hosts or creates something similar.

In addition, Disney has slowly formed a growing monopoly and makes up near 40 percent of all U.S. box office sales. It’s not creatively or democratically healthy to have so many creative works coming out of one corporation. When Disney once again wants more legislative changes to be made in favor of the corporation, they will leverage your love for their unfairly held properties in order to instill in you actual political opinions.

If the government attempts to increase tax margins and it affects Disney shareholders, you’ll get Marvel movies where Peter Parker must stop an evil government from unjustly taxing Tony Stark’s estate. If Disney workers begin fighting for employee rights, you’ll have a Star Wars sequence where Yoda’s ghost explains to disgruntled cantina workers how unions are actually bad for them. If Congress tries to break up monopolies, they will announce a Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Wars crossover movie so you personally rally for Disney to hold on to their copyrights. Occasionally, a LGBT+ subplot will be added into an animated movie so they still seem “progressive,” but the subplot won’t be too heavily emphasized. After all, Disney will need to edit it out so they can still make money by showing it in China.

Disney is playing a dangerous game. As people realize more and more that the company is solely interested in making money, or that it is coming dangerously close to producing a majority of the art and political messages for our society, they might want to monetarily support it as little as possible. They might install a VPN so they can’t be tracked by their internet service provider or college wi-fi. They might look into how or ask a friend to download these shows and movies through torrents so they can keep these nostalgic works on their computers offline or delete them when they’re finished. They might get into seeding, hostin, and uploading art so everyone can view them without the stranglehold of a monopoly dictating the monthly terms of enjoyment.

Alternatively, they might just use their grandmother’s login.

Regardless, it is important to remember these corporations are never your friend, no matter the friendly content they shove in your face and attempt to hold on to forever. Creative works of our childhood should belong to everyone, not merely the Mouse trying to profit off us.

Melt down I.C.E

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

Graphic by MEREK ALAM

I carry my United States of America issued passport card with me at all times. It’s quite cute looks exactly as you would expect it to after some underpaid designer crammed a couple semi-transparent American icons together on a 2×3 inch card an called it a day. When I initially picked it up from the Detroit passport agency the kind woman behind the desk asked me if I had grown out my hair since taking the picture and I had to explain that it was simply tied back in the photo. My only aesthetic complaints about it is that my beard is too long and that I personally believe the background flag should have been flat and not waving in the wind.

The official functions of the card are borderline useless to me. You can use the passport card to drive into Canada and Mexico and get sea-port entry to the Caribbean and Bermuda. I don’t really find myself crossing our northern or southern border all that often and I’m not one for sailing. The real reason I hold on to the card is because of my immigrant mom, who is worried about her son being stopped by the police and detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (I.C.E.). She herself carries numerous documents in order to prove her legal residence and her parental relationship to my sibling and me.


The fear isn’t irrational, ICE constantly detains American citizens. I actually have it pretty good for a first-generation kid, I may be brown but I’m not an explicitly targeted ethnicity. Latino high school student Fransisco Erwin Galicia was stopped at an immigration checkpoint, and he too was prepared with a variety of legal documents including his Texas ID and a wallet-size birth certificate (which probably has even less official usage than my passport card), yet he was still detained by ICE for a month, losing 26 pounds in 23 days and not being allowed to shower. The typical advice to just “follow the law” and “come here legally” is moot when ICE arrests American-born people of color for kicks

Fransisco’s case isn’t unique and even the more infamous family separations are just the tip of the iceberg for the unaccountable agency. While the individual actors inside the system are responsible, it is increasingly clear that the true fault lies with the very system itself. ICE regularly engages in unconstitutional behavior, and the typical process that they rely on can be resisted by local and state governments (In January, the Whitmer administration did not respond when the Almanian asked if they would support similar steps in Michigan). In July, ProPublica reported on a secret Customs and Border Protection (C.B.P.) Facebook group contained roughly 9,500 agents who gathered to joke about migrant deaths and referred to immigrants as “tonks,” which is a reference to the sound a flashlight makes when it is used to bash an immigrant’s skull. The federal government has received more than 4,500 complaints of sexual abuse that have been committed against children in detention centers, which ranged from watching them shower, molestation, and rape. This past week, ICE was spotted in New York driving an armored vehicle to make a single arrest.

Neither I.C.E. nor C.B.P. is there to protect people, and they’re clearly not interested in enforcing the law. In reality both agencies operate as an occupying force designed for maximum terror and abuse. Most importantly: they’re beyond reform. ICE was only formed in 2003 under the Patriot Act and since they’ve enjoyed ample opportunity to spread fear under the Bush administration, caged children under the Obama administration, and now flagrantly break the law under the Trump administration. No matter if the person in the Oval Office is Republican or Democratic, the corrupt mandate of ICE and CBP grows larger and larger with each term. They simply can not be trusted any longer to continue to hold some much power under one roof. Last Thursday, Bernie Sanders became the only democratic candidate to call for the complete breakup of ICE and CBP, but even that isn’t enough. We’re beyond simply abolishing them, the leadership of both needs to be prosecuted on national television and individual agents who participated in misconduct need to be tried before a jury. These officials have degradingly used the flag of the American people to commit horrific abuses and now the American people must rise up and reclaim that flag from those that shield themselves with it.

The law is there to protect people. There are no longer any excuses to be made for institutions that abuse the law to dehumanize people or ignore the law entirely when it suits them. Every time I look at my passport card I get a little more angry knowing that millions of others in this country have to carry around a jumble of legal documents on the off-chance we get stopped by an unrestrained institution and have to appease verifiable psychopaths so they don’t detain us in squalid conditions. No more half-measures.

“Modern Warfare’s” Lost Soul

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

Graphic by MEREK ALAM

What separates contemporary wars apart from the wars of our past? The easy answer would be a fun presentation about the ever-advancing technology that our soldiers use these days, while the hard answer would have to be a long discussion about the changing tactics and morality that our country is now constantly engaged with. How did the original Modern Warfare (2007) nail both easy and hard answers so well and why is the reboot, Modern Warfare (2019), struggling so hard to do the same?

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007) found itself being released four years into the Iraq War. What initially began as America’s short invasion meant to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power and find Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs) turned into a drawn-out occupation turned aimless with the revelation that the Bush administration had most likely lied about the existence of WMDs in the first place (with the real reason probably related to securing rights to the oil in the region instead). Dissatisfaction over the war was so high that in 2006 midterm elections Democrats won both chambers of the house for the first time in twelve years.

As such, Modern Warfare opens with the rise to power of Khaled Al-Asad, a ruthless leader in a fictional “small but oil-rich” middle eastern country who is now unfavorable to American ideals. Unlike Saddam Hussein, the fictional Khaled Al-Asad really does have WMDs. Over the several hour long campaign, you play as Americans heroically securing control of the country block by block. But just as you have him backed into a corner, he detonates a nuclear bomb and wipes out the whole city. The game flashes a scrolling list of instantly killed American soldiers before forcing you to play as an Navy Seal who’s only able to crawl into a desolate street before staring up at the monstrous mushroom cloud and dying painfully in isolation.

The twist is a real gut punch for those who thought that they might get to play a more morally righteous version of the Iraq War but were instead treated to a story where the events turned out even worse. Infinity Ward, the developers behind the game, bluntly told us that we lived in an age where Americans trying to play the good guys would always lead to appalling unintended consequences. The glory days were over, and this was just the nature of modern warfare. The resonant political nature of Call of Duty 4 was what helped secure its status as an all-time classic video game. The sequel, Modern Warfare 2, took clear notice of this success and pushed the political themes even further by having the final bad guy be an American general who created a war in an effort to boost the powers of the military industrial complex.

Like any mediocre disaster, there were clear warning signs about the reboot of Modern Warfare’s campaign. Foremost was when the art director of the game claimed that the campaign was “a very relevant contemporary war story,” but when asked if the game was political said “no” and that “it seems insane to get political to me.”

Modern Warfare (2019) had just as much potential to say something daring like the original work did. They could have taken inspiration from the Abu Graib torture sites, the Obama administration’s disastrous intervention in the Libyan civil war, or the effects that American drone bombings and occupation had on middle eastern civilians. But in an effort to not seem “political” to an American audience the game disgustingly takes American atrocities like bombings and occupation and assigns the blame to Russian forces.

One sequence takes place on “The Highway of Death,” a highway littered with bombed out cars military vehicles that we’re told the Russians bombed while the middle eastern forces were in the process of retreating. The problem is that “The Highway of Death” was a real war crime, and was committed by the American military against retreating Iraqi forces which lead to the deaths of hundreds of real soldiers and refugees. The excuses that this is a fictional country and conflict don’t cut it. To use the name of an actual event and assign the blame to a different country is a prime example of what actual political correctness looks like, and how the government and media cover up or erase hard truths in an Orwellian manner when they get too hard to deal with. A player who has never heard of “The Highway of Death” will now associate it solely with the Modern Warfare (2019) level and the fictional Russian bad guys instead of being forced to question the idea of the American “good guy.”

This one instance of historical revisionism is only emblematic of the larger problems of timidity throughout the reboot. You can play with new weapons like white phosphorus in the multiplayer, but the game isn’t brave enough to question its usage like Spec Ops: The Line might. You can experience an interactive waterboarding scene, but because your assailant is a cartoonishly evil Russian commander instead of an American prison guard at Guantanamo Bay or soldier in Afghanistan, so you don’t really have to challenge your worldview. Even the most morally ambiguous scene only gets a quick “sometimes you have to the wrong thing for the greater good” quip before moving on, presented as an isolated incident instead of the result of any policy or institution.

There’s nothing “edgy” about the rebooted Modern Warfare campaign, instead the whole storyline reeks of cowardice. The reboot only really recreates what the original did at the most surface level, giving us the easy answer to “What does modern warfare entail?” by showing the advancing technology of warfare but refusing to say anything about the moral implications of it like the original would. Without the guts to be political, Modern Warfare (2019) is completely underserving of its legendary title.

Zuckerberg vs AOC

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

There are an innumerable amount of unhealthy activities that one can do on social media, and I frequently do all of them, frequently at the same time. So it shouldn’t be taken lightly when I say that my most favorite––and most damaging––activity is reading the replies to any post by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. No matter what the actual post is, it can be guaranteed that the replies will be a series of low resolution memes that are almost exclusively posted by people who believe Antifa is the secret reason they’re not allowed to see their kids anymore.

 

My favorite of these memes (there’s only 16 total, they all use the same three pictures of the congresswoman, sometimes feature Peter Griffin explaining the joke at the bottom, and all kill your brain cells) are the ones that claim that Ocasio-Cortez is inherently bad because she used to be a working-class bartender before getting elected to office while ironically also complaining about liberal elites. These are the cute little things that turn most social media networks like Facebook into a certified hellsite. 

While Facebook relevance to younger generations has dwindled to helping remind you what birthdays you forgot and letting you secretly read the comments from your mom’s friends hyping you up in incomprehensibly large photo albums, it has unfortunately had devastating effects on our democracy at it slowly morphed into the primary source of news for older folks. Around 2011 Facebook started being used as a venue for your uncle to repost irrefutable proof that Obama was actually the Kenyan anti-Christ. Now this type of posting has now turned into actual disinformation campaigns affecting hundreds of thousands of people at a single time, all because Facebook never took the initial problem seriously enough since they were too busy amassing all your private data in order to market hyper-specific shirts declaring that you were born in July and are not to be messed with. 

The entire video of AOC using her five minutes to grill Zuckerberg on a variety of different problems plaguing Facebook is absolutely worth watching. She opens on asking Zuckerberg when he became aware of the Cambridge Analytica, who were able to harvest the raw data on 87 million in order to persuade them to vote for Trump, which Zuckerberg couldn’t recall. She moved on, posing Zuckerberg with a serious of hypotheticals that exposed the flaws in the websites policy of not requiring that political ads be truthful, to which Zuckerberg was also unable to answer. When AOC concluded by asking Zuckerberg if white-supremacist tied organizations such as the Daily Caller met his standard for a verified fact-checker, Zuckerberg was once again unable to give a straight answer.

The intense questioning went viral, amassing millions of views on a variety of different platforms. The reason is clear: we’re not used to seeing our politicians this effective at cutting through BS and raising issues that are relevant to common Americans. This isn’t the first time AOC had turned congressional questioning into an opportunity to successfully stand up to the status-quo, asking an Exxon Mobil researcher earlier that very same day how much the company knew about climate change as they fought to cover it up.

The reason for AOC’s success is rooted in her anger, anger that she and millions of other working-class Americans feel everyday towards large corporations that ship their jobs overseas, cut their pay and fire them when they press a sexual harassment claim, overcharge for basic products and services, or pump their relatives with hateful propaganda; all in the interest of squeezing a couple more dollars of profit. AOC’s background as a bartender who fought her way into one of the most powerful elected positions in the country enabled her with the perspective that makes her so damn good at her job, and this country would be magnitudes better off if all our elected representatives had lived with that perspective as well.

Both sides of the table

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

Graphic by MEREK ALAM

At the Democratic Debate last Tuesday, candidates faced a simple final question. Instead of devoting time to hearing the candidates plans to address the world melting or perhaps asking how they plan on housing millions of homeless people across the country, CNN anchor and debate moderator Anderson Cooper decided to focus on another story entirely: Ellen DeGeneres hanging out at a football game with former President George W. Bush.

It’s a surprising friendship to some, as DeGeneres is openly liberal, and George Bush is fiercely conservative. “So, in that spirit,” Cooper began asking the Democratic field, “we’d like you to tell us about a friendship that you’ve had that would surprise us and what impacts it’s had on your beliefs.”

The friendship was previously addressed on The Ellen Show, where DeGeneres defended it and displayed a tweet reading, “Ellen and George Bush together makes me have faith in America again” to obedient studio applause. DeGeneres, with the same energy as that sorority alum who comes over to the house too often, says that she is friends with a lot of people who have different opinions then her. She concludes on a moral message, preaching that, “We’re all different, and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s okay.” The sentiment is a laudable one, but disgustingly inapplicable to the situation DeGeneres used it for.

President George Bush isn’t merely your politically incorrect but harmless grandfather. President George Bush is the war criminal who used the power of the Oval Office to start a war in Iraq under false pretenses which killed 5,000+ American soldiers and 600,000+ Iraqi civilians, as well as starting a war in Afghanistan that this nation continues to send its children to die in. His poor (and arguably racist) handling of Hurricane Katrina left hundreds of his countrymen dead and permanently destroyed black communities.

Ellen ignores this to enthusiastically brings former President Bush on her show anyway. If everything Bush did was merely a difference of opinion, then it seems hypocritical of her to go on record to never allow President Trump on her show because she believes that, “He’s against everything I stand for.” It seems even more hypocritical for Ellen to have previously gifted the Trump family an incredibly expensive golden carriage when Trump’s racism was no longer secret, having already been sued by the Department of Justice for housing discrimination against black people. There are numerous “unlikely friendships” like this between those that exploit us and those that legitimize that exploitation. None of them are as inspiring or wholesome as Anderson Cooper believes they are.

Joe Biden holds himself up as a civil rights hero yet gave a loving eulogy at the funeral of segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond, a man who began the longest continuous filibuster in U.S. history in his attempt to oppose the Civil Rights Act. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a close friendship with fellow Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, despite her knowing more than most that his decisions often make life worse for millions of people. The Clinton and Trump family are held up as ideological opposites of each other but are photographed laughing together at Trump’s wedding and while Trump generously funded their political campaigns with hundreds of thousands of dollars. More recently, it was revealed that Hillary Clinton threatened to cancel an interview with journalist and author Ronan Farrow because of his investigation in Harvey Weinstein. And of course, the numerous close relationships that sex trafficker Jeff Epstein held among rich and respected people like Bill Gates and most notably (once again) to the 42nd and 45th presidents.

These are just some of the powerful people actively ruining the world and eroding our faith in American institutions and values that never hold them accountable. Faith that we’re then somehow supposed to gain back as they either have “surprising friendships,” theatrically hate each other for the cameras, or both. There’s nothing surprising or inspiring about a system that tramples us, and it is time we stop looking up and smiling when the people doing it occasionally hold hands.

Our press isn’t free

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

Graphic by MEREK ALAM

On December 15th, 1791, The United States of America ratified the first 10 amendments to our constitution. The first amendment enshrined a right to a free press, one that could not be threatened or controlled by the government. What 18th century America couldn’t have foreseen were the threats that profiteering and corporate control also posed to a free press. Now both are having devastating effects on our democracy.

The problem is simple enough to identify: Profit-driven media is more loyal to advertisers and shareholders than they are to the public good. The advertisers are the real money makers for the company, and thus the news media only needs to remain legitimate enough for there to be viewers watching these ads. Unfortunately, over the last couple decades, media conglomerates have been merged together until everything we watch and read is now being controlled by a handful of corporations with this profit-motive written into their very DNA.

You simply have to tune into one of these channels to watch this in action. Candidates like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders get routinely overlooked by news networks because their policies would require heavy taxes on the wealthy, which includes the controlling shareholders of these very same news networks. They get their health care plans smeared by debate moderators because the commercial break slots for these debates are filled with lobbyist ads from the very health insurance companies Warren and Sanders are trying to abolish. The truth is something that can be disregarded if there’s money on the line.

It turns out that the truth isn’t profitable at all. The President of CNN, Jeffrey Zucker, has been incredibly open about using CNN, not for seeking the truth, but as an entertainment venture. “The idea that politics is sport is undeniable, and we understood that and approached it that way,” said Zucker to The New York Times in 2017. Instead of spending their millions of dollars on longform journalism or serious investigation, CNN spends their time and money platforming talking-heads who scream falsehoods at each other from their respective boxes in gladiatorial-style combat between sponsored breaks where pharmaceutical companies try to sell you heart medication.

It might be tempting to write this off as a problem the progressive younger generation will solve when they get into journalistic positions, but getting these jobs in the first place is increasingly difficult. Undergrad journalists require internships in order to get gigs later on, but very few of these internships are paid. Undergrads also quickly realize that publishing enough articles online to make up this monetary difference is unrealistic. This causes a selfselecting cycle where the type of students who make it into high-level journalistic positions come from wealthier families who have cash to burn through. This means that members of the younger generation who fill these positions often still leans towards reinforcing these profit-driven operations instead of dismantling them.

This also assumes that there will be any journalistic positions left. Another cost of monopolizing media corporations is the bankruptcy or cooptation of important local newspapers and news stations, with more than 1 in 5 local newspapers closing since 2004. A college graduate trying to make a difference in their community may be faced with no job at all or a job under a corporation like Sinclair Broadcasting (who own 193 channels, enough to reach 39% of all American homes), which forces local news anchors to repeat conservative viewpoints verbatim from a script.

Even if your main worry continues to be the government instead of the corporations exerting increasing control and surveillance into our lives, what happens when the interests of the government and these mass media corporations align? What happens when CNN begins merging with a private military company whose best interests are starting a new war? What happens when the MSNBC board decides that tax-cuts would actually be beneficial to them? What happens when Jeff Bezos owns both the Washington Post and Amazon sponsored labor camps funded by contracts through the government?

All we have now is a promise from these media conglomerates that these scenarios won’t happen. Promises that news outlets are completely independent of its legal owners. Promises that these media companies have the American people’s best interests in mind. As long as these corporations are run explicitly for profit, these are promises that we can’t believe. Any quality news story that comes out is a miracle of a corrupt system, and these miracles are getting rarer and rarer. We must strive for the truly independent media this nation set out for, not controlled by the government or these money hungry corporations. We need a news media funded by the American people and for the American people.

“Joker” laughs at society

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

Graphic by MEREK ALAM

“Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” said Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) in one of his opening lines of Joker. The relatability doesn’t end there, the residents of 1980’s Gotham must also grapple with class inequality, slashed social services, a millionaire running for public office and collectively having a crush on Zazie Beetz. In record time, this turmoil from a fictional society spilled over into our (unfortunately) very real society.

The current controversy revolves around the idea that the very plot of Joker––a lonely white guy who devolves into committing murder after experiencing rejection and perceived societal injustice––was too close to the biographies of actual mass shooters. Therefore, a sympathetic portrayal of this kind of person would inspire more potential mass shootings. Phoenix defended the movie, saying that, “I think it’s really good…when movies make us uncomfortable or challenge us or make us think differently.” Others, to put it mildly, disagreed.

Families of the Aurora theater shootings victims protested Warner Brothers. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security issued warnings about the possibility of violence. The NYPD deployed undercover officers and many other law enforcement officials stepped up their patrols around theaters during the premiere. I myself had my ID checked two times before I even got to my designated Joker theater.

I got settled in my seat just in time for that routine Chevy ad where “real people” on the screen fake enthusiasm for a mediocre car and seemingly like each other. Meanwhile, all the actual real people in the theater begin to get vaguely terrified of their temporary neighbors. In between counting the minutes of the presumed bathroom break the guy next to us took, we all might be inclined to wonder: why is our society like this?

After every shooting one side immediately gets embarrassingly stonewalled trying to legislate guns out of the hands of everyone who’s not a cop and the other side calls on the nation to turn every single public-school teacher into John Wick. If there’s any societal analysis of the shooters at all, it’s when we briefly look at their profile to confirm that it is the fault of the other side so we can wash our hands of it. None of this addresses a more fundamental issue.

Mass killers are still unforgivably bad people who have made evil decisions that they alone are responsible for. Yet, by the very nature of their thoughts and actions, they were still failed every step of the way by the society around them. All across the country you have millions of people stewing in their own hate and isolation without any kind of help or outreach. Partially limiting their access to a particular type of weapon or training Mr. Wilson to go beast mode at the sound of microwave popcorn is to be intervening at the last possible second of the last possible hour and only addressing the tip of the iceberg.

These mass shooters do not have to be inevitable in the first place, every one of them that seemingly appears out of the blue is actually the fault of each and every one of us for not doing something sooner. We shouldn’t be so terrified about media that tries to understand these issues better or makes one of the horrifying evils in our society seem more “human.”

I wish I could say that Joker is the film that provides all the answers we are yearning for, but the film itself is just “okay” in the strongest possible sense of the word. Interesting ideas like a visually overworked social worker, social alienation and the demonization of mental illness get bogged down by a weirdly unnecessary girlfriend plot, a quest to find the protagonist’s dad and The Joker himself going off against PC culture like an aging comedian on Netflix. We all probably would have forgotten the movie a week after it came out and watched Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy instead were it not for the film’s attachment to the Batman mythos.

To its credit, Joker and the controversy surrounding it does an excellent job revealing how deeply afraid our society is of mass shootings, to the point of believing that straying from a list of pre-approved partisan talking points means accidentally summoning a mass shooting Beetlejuice-style. If we begin addressing our deeper issues, that is not a society we have to live in.

Union and disunion

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

Graphic by Merek Alam

On Sept. 15th, nearly 50,00 General Motors employees left their stations in order to form a picket line outside of their factories. The union responsible for the strike is the United Automobile Workers (UAW), and they have a long history with Michigan.

“I would say that they are among the central drivers / themes of Michigan history in the 21st century,” explains Professor Benjamin Peterson, who grew up in a union family and worked with the labor movement during college. “It’s really the 1936 Flint Sit-Down strike that inaugurated a new era in labor history and social movements.”

General Motors has yet to answer the UAW’s calls for better job security, profit sharing, less reliance on underpaid temporary workers and better health benefits. The problem isn’t a lack of money.

When General Motors went bankrupt in 2009, taxpayers footed a $50 billion bailout bill which the company claimed they were incapable of fully paying back, leading to the US government to declare an $11.2 billion loss on the endeavor. In 2018, General Motors received $104 million in tax rebates, then payed their CEO $22 million.

In the last three years alone, General Motors has made $35 billion in profit combined. While Americans have stood with the company, General Motors has turned its back on us. Yet, the problem may be larger than corporate greed. Unions themselves are in trouble.

Despite popular support for unions being at a record 50- year high, they have never been in more decline. In 2018, only 10.5% of Americans belonged to a union, the lowest rate of membership since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting data on it in the early 1980s.

Many economists believe that this decline is at least partly responsible for the dramatic rise in income and wealth inequality.

Professor Peterson identifies that one of the issues that lead to union decline was a hostile political environment. Liberal support was eroded by the labor movement’s personal stumblings, some of which involved internal corruption.

“This left the labor movement without any strong defenders in the government, which has led to their inability to fight hostile legislation and, ultimately, to the weakness of American labor law,” said Professor Peterson.

This left unions wide open to attacks from an anti-labor and anti-government coalition that fought to overturn them using endless corporate money. “Under these conditions the labor movement simply could not compete in Washington or in the media and the center of the debate around work shifted definitively against them,” said Professor Peterson.

In addition, automation and globalization made it easier to outsource labor to robots or countries that allow more worker abuse. The Supreme Courts weakened unions even further with its Janus v AFSCME decision, which ruled that employees did not have to be part of unions to enjoy their benefits. This is all exacerbated with the forced adoption of the “gig economy” by younger generations, depriving us of ever obtaining a stable job in the first place.

Despite all this, there does seem to be a new labor movement brewing in the America.

Last February, teachers in 35,000 West Virginian schools organized a strike in order to protest the defunding and privatization of public schools. They shut down 680 schools for a total of nine days, yet students and parents were found standing next to the educators on the picket line.

This week, in addition to the UAW strikes, thousands of nurses in Chicago went on strike and millions of people across the country lined up to participate in a Climate Strike to protest climate denial and inaction from both corporations and governments.

Students can take action themselves. Professor Peterson suggested that students “…attend strikes and rallies, raise money to support the strikers and volunteer with the unions themselves.” He then adds that “…students should also view this strike as an opportunity to examine their own beliefs about work, the marketplace and the law. One of the things I love about studying labor is that it allows for endless discussions about collective action, democracy and how one should pursue a just society.”

More and more, people are refusing to go along with abusive conditions in order to generate money for a profit-hungry system that eats up both workers and the environment with equal disregard. In a machine that thrives on exploitation and destruction, non-cooperation and solidarity may be the perfect wrench in the gears.

 

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