Animal Liberation Through Trade Unions?
Most people are forced to use most of their active time working, selling their labor to bosses. Many times even that is not enough to maintain even a decent level of life. If we use the term class, these people are called working class (that is, people who don't own anything else other than their labor, which they have to sell to whomever wants to buy it). The vast majority of animal rights activists come from working class backgrounds.
If we look at the world as a whole, wealth is extraordinarily unequally distributed. For instance, only 355 of the world's richest people own as much cumulatively as all of the poorest 47% of the whole world combined. So-called "first world" countries consume dozens of times more natural resources per capita than in the poor South. According to the UN, the gap between wealthy and poor nations is widening all the time as the rich get richer and the poor countries remain stuck in poverty.
In this context the animal rights message might sound elitist, something reserved for privileged middle and upper class kids. For many people, the struggle for everyday survival and the frequent feeling of powerlessness over one's personal life creates a distance from themes like GM-food or animal issues.
Trade unions were historically formed to empower working people and to defend their rights against the boss class. Via mass struggle, strikes, pickets, boycotts and sabotage, the workers have won everything we today recognize in labor rights, welfare, public healthcare, better salaries, education, shorter working hours, abolition of racist legislation etc. Without these workers' mass movements, our societies would be quite different and animal liberation or rights wouldn't be on anyone's agenda.
But so much is still to be won. Certainly the animal liberation movement will gain victories as a single issue, non-class movement. But paving the way to a real animal- friendly society needs way more than these minor victories. Some people argue that as long as there is capitalism (the systematic exploitation of other people's desperate situation as a class who doesn't own anything other than their labor, the practice of putting profits over human, animal or nature's rights, etc.), there can't be animal liberation.
Trade unions for animal liberation?
The liberation of the working class is the aim of the radical Trade unions. For instance, IWW in the US aims to abolish wage slavery altogether. But along the road, they intend to empower the workers and inspire them to take more control of their lives both personally and at their place of work, liberating them from the exploitative position under the ruling class.
The IWW is also teaching the working class to be aware of their power. Here is where animal liberation movement should be working together with the workers' movement. This does not necessarily mean that we need to work together as groups, but rather that the animal liberation movement recognizes the necessity of other social movements and at the same time attempts to raise the trade unions' awareness of animal issues.
Look at Seattle for instance; the marginal animal and earth movements couldn't have made their impact without the workers' movement and the farmers.
Words into practice
Promoting animal liberation via trade unions is a two way street.
First, in campaigns we can try to get the workers involved rather than turn our anger and frustration against them (and hence getting them against us). For instance, campaigns against Burlington Coat Factory or other fur selling companies would be much stronger if they had the backing of the organized workforce. The trade unions have organized numerous strikes and other industrial actions for environmental reasons worldwide. I can't wait to see the first one done for the animals.
Second, by joining trade unions and getting more control of our lives in the work place, we can make this world a better place for ourselves and for our fellow workers. Only in society where individuals feel empowered, respected and have their basic needs met, may animal liberation advance.
Industrial Workers of the World
For the uncompromising and radical animal activist, the most natural choice for a trade union would be IWW. IWW is a union based on syndicalism and anarchist ideas, and hence it is in the total control of the members unlike other unions. It aims to liberate people from wage slavery, not just slight reforms like other bigger unions, and uses direct action to get the goods.
Check out IWW on the web at http://www.iww.org/ and judge for yourself.
For human, animal and earth liberation,