Oh dear me. First Brexit, then Trump. The fact that the pundits didn’t see either coming means the databases they were using were out of date. Something big has happened. But let’s not get mad. Let’s get even.
It’s inequality at the bottom of it. There is always inequality; now it is visible. It is flaunted. The people of the poor world – I was in Uganda this month – can see the prosperity of the world I come from. Tourists fly in, get on an air-con bus, go to their air-con accommodation, and go on safari. I was with family, and I got hot, bloody hot, we had punctures and stood by the roadside in the heat of the day – good fun, but even so the differences between our lifestyle and that of our new family are obvious. Very few people are employed, most work damn hard for very small margins without any prospect of advancement. Oh dear me, the warld’s ill divided. Them that work the hardest are aye the least provided. Meanwhile, people in Sunderland and Ohio see their livelihoods moved overseas, leaving them resentful in the Rust Belt.
Never mind diversity. It doesn’t help if a few more black people join the ranks of the super-rich. It doesn’t help if people can be openly gay and no-one cares. It doesn’t help if people of different religions live and work happily side by side. Diversity is all to the good, and we’re not going back on it. But it’s economic inequality that does the damage. In my lifetime in my country we have had mostly strong governments that have funded key infrastructure and services out of taxation. But government is becoming increasingly irrelevant and powerless. This is a world governed by the powerful. It was ever thus, this is a reversion to type, to the base instincts of humankind. My generation born in western Europe is the most fortunate in the history of homo sapiens.
So how do we get even? Don’t ridicule the Brexit-voters and the Trump-ists. Listen to them. Take them seriously. Address their needs. Their cheer-leaders would encourage them in a civil war with their own neighbours. The enemy is not the neighbour, nor the worker in another country who is now doing the work they did. The enemy is the corporate world, which exploits the workers around the world to the advantage of a very few who are unaccountable, who live the life of luxury and don’t pay tax. We have seen this throughout history. The answer is solidarity and collective action. Trade unions were formed to protect communities and individuals from the worst effects of capitalism. Capitalism has morphed into corporatism. Unionism needs to change shape too.