Fighting To Win Course

Submitted byJohnnew onFri, 06/07/2024 - 21:02




A Twelve Week Course for Union and Community Activists

   Between September 9 and November 25, I am going to be running a course for activists who are interested in developing a greater level of historical and political knowledge and who want to help develop the strategic perspectives that our movements need in these uncertain and volatile times. Though donations will be gratefully accepted from those who are a position to provide them, there will be no fee for those who participate.

   My own experiences led me to develop this course. For many years, I have been involved in anti-poverty struggles, particularly as an organizer with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). For the last five years, I have also been teaching courses on social movements as Packer Visitor in Social Justice at York University.

   Both the struggles I have been involved in and my efforts to assess them in an academic setting have led me to draw some lessons but also to ponder some very major questions that are by no means fully resolved. In looking at the historical record and the present situation, something became very clear to me. Movements have arisen, many of them incredibly powerful and deeply threatening to the power structure that they challenged, that have sometimes been able to win very substantial concessions. Yet, it is striking how employers and governments have been able to grant those concessions in ways that have contained and often demobilized the resistance that was pitted against them. They have given some ground but, at the same time, have preserved the lion’s share of their wealth and power.


Guide to action

   Today, moreover, those containment strategies are especially strong and efforts to win major gains or even to mount effective defensive struggles are being very seriously undermined. There is an urgent need to consider the strategies and tactics that this situation calls for and how to apply them in the movements we are part of.

   These are the questions the course will address but it will seek to do so in a way that is anything but abstract. Though there will be some presentations and material on a series of social movements will be considered, the sessions will place an emphasis on discussions, in which the views and experiences of the participants will be of decisive importance. Though I hope we will all learn a lot, the object of the exercise is apply that knowledge in a way that can take forward our struggles. The idea is to hammer out insights and conclusions that can become a guide to action.

   I’ve also come to believe that some knowledge that is not immediately learned in the course of social movement activity is of great importance in the building of those movements. As we encounter and challenge oppression, the practical activity we engage in will teach us a great deal but there is much about the systems we are confronting that may still not be readily apparent.

   For example, if you have to apply for social assistance benefits, it will become clear very quickly that you are obtaining a grossly inadequate income under conditions that are deeply intrusive and intentionally punitive. However, the history of these oppressive mechanisms won’t reveal itself and the way in which they reinforce the economic coercion that the job market rests upon will remain hidden. In this sense, the course will also be devoted to deepening an understanding of what we are up against.

   I have already put out a couple of announcements about this course and it’s obvious that there is considerable interest in it. I intend to include thirty participants in my test run in September and finding that number of participants would not be hard. However, I’m holding off on completing this process because I realize that, if the course is to live up to its potential, the question of who attends it is just as important as how it is designed.

   If we are to properly discuss our struggles and the challenges we face, it is essential that the communities that are on the front lines of social resistance are involved in those discussions. We are confronting a system that is based on economic exploitation but this society oppresses people in a range of ways that must be addressed in our discussions and in the struggles we take up. On this basis, I want to ensure that a very serious process of outreach happens that can lead to a successful course and lay the basis for it to continue and develop.

   I see this first attempt as a contribution to something much larger and I’d like it to be a catalyst for other efforts. If it works well, I very much hope that modified formats and online versions will develop out of it. Certainly, I hope that others will be interested in playing facilitating roles and that we can expand the scale on which this can happen. The sessions will be recorded to advance these objectives as much as possible as well as to assist those who are not able to attend all of them.

   I hope that this initiative will begin to meet a need for our movements and those who are working to build them. Certainly, this is a moment when the question of how we can fight to win is a burning issue. I would urge those who agree with this perspective, to circulate this information as widely as possible. If you are interested in taking the course, would like to see a course outline, have suggestions with regard to promoting it or simply want more information, please email me at