Wednesday, January 26, 2011

NGO's: the trojan horse for market, corporate and state power?

 David Harvey in his book A Short History of Neoliberalism:
The rise of advocacy groups and NGOs has...accompanied the neoliberal turn and increased spectacularly since 1980 or so. The NGOs have in many instances stepped into the vacuum in social provision left by the withdrawal of the state from such activities. This amounts to privatization by NGO. In some instances, this has helped accelerate further state withdrawal from social provision. NGOs thereby function as "Trojan horses for neoliberal globalization."
 Mike Davis in The Planet of Slums:
Third World NGOs have proven brilliant at co-opting local leadership as well as hegemonizing the social space traditionally occupied by the Left. Even if there are some celebrated exceptions--such as the militant NGOs so instrumental in creating the World Social Forums--the broad impact of the NGO/"civil society revolution"...has been to bureaucratize and deradicalize urban social movements.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Honoring those who work for a better world

French film Director Bertrand Tavernier's  film It All Starts Today  is a beautiful testament to the commitment and humanity of teachers (and other front line workers) who work with families and children suffering the consequences of neo-liberal market  and economic "reform". 

Like Pierre Bourdieu's  book The Weight of the World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society  Tavernier's film documents the new forms of social suffering that characterize not just French society, but the economies and societies of the western world.

Tavernier's deeply moving film tells the story of a kindergarten teacher in an impoverished region of France struggling to educate children of families devastated by unemployment, grinding poverty, deprivation, depression and economic hardship. These are children whose families are the casualties of neo-liberal market reform and economic and corporate restructuring.

The film shows the heroics and dedication of teachers, education aides, volunteers, health workers and social welfare workers who give themselves fully and devote their lives to improving the well being of the children and families in their care. They do this despite poor pay and appalling conditions, budget cutbacks and hostility, indifference and neglect from elected officials, politicians, some government agencies and workers, business groups and those who hold power.

 In Australia we accord little respect and honor to those front line workers and volunteers who work for a better world. We forget and ignore the teachers, child care workers, teachers aides, carers, aged care and disability workers, social welfare workers, aboriginal health workers, volunteers, family support workers, refuge workers, domestic violence counselors and millions of  other front line welfare and community workers who dedicate themselves to the care and well being of others, and who through their efforts make our society and communities better places.

Instead they are poorly paid and usually berated and stigmatized, labeled as do-gooders and bleeding hearts, or dismissed as rent seeking, vested interests who breed dependency and a welfare mentality in people.

No, in Australia we honor soldiers who fight in imperial wars, celebrities caught in the glare of their own importance, sportsmen who are paid exorbitantly and businessmen and corporations who pursue and accumulate wealth and power at the expense of the common good.

Jim Johnson has taken up a similar theme in a recent post on his excellent blog Notes on Politics, Theory and Biography and I thank him for his insights:
"I find it obsequious and cloying to hear the radio show hosts and politicians offering a "Thank you for your service" whenever they encounter a veteran or military personnel. What about the social workers and parole officers and teachers and, yes, scientists and artists, who work in underpaid professions for years and decades in order to contribute to a better world? After all, they could be out there peddling sub-prime mortgages (or some other form of snake oil) and making real money. When was the last time you heard someone - anyone - publicly thank those folks for their service? No, instead we are taking aim at them (the teachers and parole officers are, after all members of those dastardly public sector unions) in the misguided quest for fiscal responsibility"