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Structural violence comes first – anything else renders its effect invisible

Biyanwila 8—University of Western Australia (Janaka, Re-empowering labour : Knowledge, ontology and counter-hegemony, http://www.tasa.org.au/uploads/2011/05/Biyanwila-Janaka-Session-59-PDF.pdf)
An essential component of union power and issues of empowerment is the production of knowledge. The disempowerment of labour under the neo-liberal intellectual hegemony highlights the need for new forms of counter-hegemonic knowledge. The dominant unions, both in the global South as well as the North, maintain a mono culture of knowledge that situate unions primarily within the realm of production, systems of industrial relations and formal labour markets. In subordinating the realm of social reproduction, and ‘informal’ labour markets, this approach to knowledge evade the lived reality of those, the majority, enduring multiple forms of violence, from hunger to social exclusion in their every day lives. The re-empowerment of unions relates to elaborating union approaches to knowledge or epistemic frameworks that encourage a deeper understanding of union practices as well as communication with other movements. This paper suggests a return to the realm of ontology, the domain of being, in terms of prioritising and transforming the insecurity and violence in everyday life, particularly in the global South. An emphasis on ontology suggests reinforcing social and democratic approaches to knowledge, in order for unions to engage as a counter movement revitalising their identities as civil society actors. ¶ Introduction ¶ Central to debates around union renewal and empowerment is the development of counterhegemonic knowledge capable of organising and mobilising workers (Moody 1997; Lambert, 2002; Waterman, 2005; Clawson, 2003; Hyman, 2004; Webster et al., 2008). Most dominant unions, or the consolidated segments of the labour movement, are compromised within hegemonic knowledge, creating consent to positivist instrumental approaches to knowledge. This mono-culture of knowledge (Sousa, 2003), despite a discourse of diversity and organising ‘new’ workers, represents unions as economic actors, restricted to the workplace, within systems of industrial relations based on a formal economy of exchange. Meanwhile, the less consolidated segments of the labour movement, such as new unions and worker organisations, rely on counter-hegemonic knowledge, or ecologies of knowledge, elaborating their collective identities as a social movement within civil society. The realm of civil society involving organisations, networks and movements, is a space of hegemonic and counterhegemonic struggles, interrelated to the state. Unions as actors within civil society foreground a social and moral economy which is central to strategic theoretical perspectives of ‘community unionism’ and ‘social movement unionism’ (Moody, 1997; Lambert, 2002; Waterman, 2005; Clawson, 2003; Webster et al., 2008). The representation of unions as actors within civil society, emphasise the movement dimension of unions as well as new approaches to knowledge. Nevertheless, these perspectives often fail to factor in the experience of violence in the everyday lives of workers, particularly in the global South. The “South” refers to a status of subordination, in the core-periphery hierarchies of uneven capitalist development, where the historical experience of colonialism, racism, anti-colonial struggles, as well as disillusionment with post-colonial state forms influence the Southern trade union identities (Lambert, 2002).¶ An often ignored significant structural effect of neo-liberal globalisation, particularly in the South, is the spread of violence and insecurity. Under neo-liberal ideology, the spread of “flexible labour markets” and the privatisation public goods, depends on authoritarian state forms that prioritise ‘national security’ over ‘human security’. The generative mechanism of this violence and insecurity are structures of power that reproduce conditions of exploitation, oppression and subjugation (Das, 1990; Galtung, 1996, 2004; Moser, 2001). Various manifestations of violence that permeate multiple scales and temporalities are generated by structural coupling of capitalism, patriarchy, racism and imperialism (Das, 1990; Moser, 2001; Panitch, 2002; Ali and Ercelan, 2004). The adoption of new coercive domestic and international measures by the US in the post 9-11 context, under the ‘war against terrorism’, reflects the restructuring of the coercive apparatuses of all states to coordinate and maintain the US global hegemony (Panitch, 2002). These authoritarian state strategies often depend on ‘uncivil’ actors in civil society for reproducing structures of violence. Of course, this structural violence is debilitating and undermines individual and collective agency. Nevertheless, it is also at the root of social protest and mobilisation (Panitch, 2002). The multiplicity of struggles from Communists Maoists in tribal areas of India to the Zapatistas in indigenous areas of Mexico, illustrate collective struggles forced into violent modes of resistance. ¶ Violence as an expression of power relations involves structural and cultural dimensions. Structural violence (of hunger, poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy) and cultural violence (patriotic, patriarchal, etc) are embedded in power hierarchies based on class, gender, ethnicity, region, caste, age, (dis)ability, and sexuality. These structures of violence are stratified and differentiated with visible and invisible effects. While direct violence, physical and/or verbal, is visible, they emerge from the more invisible cultural and structural violence (Galtung, 2004). Indeed the resistance to structural violence of state and capital by counter forces also appropriates cultural meanings to legitimize their use of violence as the mode of struggle (Ibid.). According to Galtung (2004), transforming violence through human agency requires a counter discourse of peace and non-violence which must be “built in the culture and in the structure, not only in the ‘human mind’”.

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