In the midst of the current "final colonial pillage" for natural resources and a bombardment of "there is no alternative" to austerity messages, Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein urged the left to seize this "crucial moment" to build real resistance movements that offer a "message of critical hope."
Speaking this week at the Vio.Me worker-run factory in Thessaloniki, Greece, Klein, who is in the country doing research for a book and film, said the building materials factory was the perfect place to be speaking as it is "known in resistance movements around the world" and provides an example of what she said is "the anti-Shock doctrine"—a situation where rather than bowing down to the forces at hand, the crisis has put a fast-forward on coming up with creative alternatives, where workers "refused to have their lives and livelihoods sacrificed on the altar of economic crisis, and instead found reserves of power and ingenuity."
Describing Vio.Me, economist Marjolein van der Veen explained:
In May 2011 when the owners could no longer pay their bills and walked away, the workers decided to occupy the factory. By February 2013, after raising enough funds and community support, the workers started democratically running the company on their own. (They do not intend to buy out the owners, since the company owed the workers a significant amount of money when it abandoned the factory.) They established a worker board, controlled by workers’ general assemblies and subject to recall, to manage the factory. They also changed the business model, shifting to different suppliers, improving environmental practices, and finding new markets. Greek law currently does not allow factory occupations, so the workers are seeking the creation of a legal framework for the recuperated factory, which may enable more such efforts in the future. Vio.Me has received support from SYRIZA and the Greek Green party, from workers at recuperated factories in Argentina, as well as from academics and political activists worldwide.
In Greece, Klein said, "alternatives to austerity are presented by media as apocalypse."
"Our environment is under vicious attack."But the Vio.Me factory is an example of an alternative "that must be known, must be disseminated .. because many factories are now being closed as the crisis unfolds, and workers are not being given the opportunity to reshape the ownership, when in fact the workers should be the first ones asked if they want to be the creditors and run the factories themselves."
Klein slammed the Greek media for "not doing its job" in letting the people know an such alternatives do exist, instead repeating the mantra: there is no alternative (TINA), showing that "Margaret Thatcher is alive and well and living in Greece and working for the mainstream media."
In addition to the toll austerity has taken on people and communities, nature is on the chopping block as well. "It's not only people who are being attacked," said Klein, "it's also the natural systems on which we all depend."
"Our environment is under vicious attack," she said.
Case in point: Canadian company ElDorado Gold's mining plans in the Halkidiki region of Greece.
Such projects are portrayed as necessary during crises; nature must take a back seat to "growth," Klein explained, so that nature and natural resources can be sold to the highest bidder.
"We really are in the midst of what I've come to think of as a final colonial pillage for the hardest to reach natural resources in some of the most beautiful protected parts of the world using some of the most dangerous and damaging extractive practices."
It is in this context that projects like the Eldorado mine should be seen, one that allows economic growth to trump entire communities' needs.
This is the same logic that sacrifices human lives in the name of austerity, she continued.
Sharing observations from time she just spent in Halkidiki, an area she said was so militarized and filled with checkpoints it reminded her of Gaza, Klein noticed the juxtaposition of two models—one of taker, the other of caretaker.
In the "extractivist point of view," it takes an outside force to create "wealth"—wealth from extracting natural resources even at the expense of water and other essential resources, essentially "mining for money."
This kind of system is so violent, Klein said, "it needs the repression of the state to back it up." In contrast, the other model in Halkidiki looks inward, at wealth that is not created, but is already there—in soil, water, even people's hands. This is truly "the wealth of life," she said.
To confront this assault is to confront not just the mine but the mindset that there is no alternative.
What we need, Klein said, is an "interweaving of resistance" movements—seen in moments like when the farmers from Halkidiki sell at the market in Thessaloniki—building a bridge between those in the city and those more rooted in the land.
"Only when the alternatives look tangible, look real, look credible and inspiring will the fear of saying no, of standing up to the troika begin to fade."Importantly, resistance "now can't just be about saying no, no to austerity, no to privatization." Those who have accepted it have been "terrorized" into doing so by fear, and it has made people feel "utterly powerless."
Now "is a crucial moment for the left."
What we must offer, she said, is a "message of critical hope". We must say no, but also "show the yes."
We must counter the "hypnosis" performed by the TINA pushers "with an array" of other options for people.
"Only when the alternatives look tangible, look real, look credible and inspiring will the fear of saying no, of standing up to the troika begin to fade." Moving forward, we must reach for real transformation, and not let the crises be decided for us.
We need to have our ideas ready to move forward in a new way, she said.
It's time to build.
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Videos of Klein speaking in Thessaloniki were posted by Youtube user teacherdude and can be seen below: