25 August 2010

Greater than the might of atoms - Part II

Read more at the Detroit News
Part I - "Greater than the might of atoms magnified a thousand fold" can be found here.

The picture you see to the left is a picture taken during the General Motors Sit Down Strike of 1936. You may be asking a very good question at this moment. "If it's a sit down strike, why is everyone standing up outside?" If you actually did ask this question or want to know the answer, the please keep reading today's blog.

As always, my point is not to offer a history lesson (I will point you to some good links throughout the blog) but to draw your attention to important events in history that are important to our campaign for better research of and access to stem cell based CURES.

In brief, the Flint Sit Down Strike was just just that, the workers sat down and occupied their factories. Instead of striking outside (and give control of the physical production facilities to the employer), the workers stayed inside to prevent the employer from moving out equipment or trying to restart production. It wasn't the first but it was probably the biggest and most successful and in the end General Motors (the biggest employer on earth at the time) was forced to concede and recognize the United Autoworkers Union, which in turn led to improved wages and working conditions for the mass of US society as workers in other industries were emboldened by this victory.

But the sit down part was just the most dramatic part. If it wasn't for union and citizen supporters who encircled the factory blocking the way of police and later smashing windows to let out the tear gas fired by the police, the strike would have ended very differently.

I also think that it's an important event to study just because of the nature of sitting down. Many of us who could benefit from stem cell therapies are already sitting down (a lockout as opposed to strike) with tremendous impact on the economy. But this is for another blog.

I think that there are three main lessons that can be applied to our campaign for stem cell based CURES for a wide host of diseases.

End the isolation of disease communities
We often hear talk of the FLINT sit down strike and the sit down strike at Fischer #1 plant, but in reality there were strikes and sit down strikes in many different auto plants that were going on at the same time. The basic concept behind the United Autoworkers Union was an industrial union with workers from the whole of the auto industry. This is the exact reason why the UAW was and has been successful.

A search for stem cell advocacy groups leads us almost nowhere, but search for disease specific groups advocating stem cell research and you'll find thousands. Many of these groups do more than just advocate, they fund their own research which means competing against other disease groups for dollars and influence.
This is one of the reasons why industrial unions organized workers in entire industries - to stop the competition amongst workers to undercut wages and conditions in a race to the bottom for jobs.

We are closer than we have ever been to stem cell based cures, it's time for unity, not competition that will leave all groups empty-handed.

Building support among both the inflicted and the healthy
150,000 rally in Cadillac Square
Regardless of how many diseases stem cells could possibly cure, the sick, thank God, are a minority. Any movement which refuses to reach out past a minority will fail. Regardless of how big and powerful the UAW is, workers in the auto industry are still a minority in society and the workers who won the historic sit down strike in the Fischer #1 plant would have lost with out the 150,000 workers that rallied in Cadillac square and the 5000 supporters who ringed the plant when the police tried to stop food deliveries.

How did the UAW get 150,000 people out to a rally to support what was a very small group in comparison? They didn't appeal to people's greed or fear, they appealed to people to see what was right and just. People are remarkable in this way, they react to positive messages.

What is more just than making sure the sick are healed? If the UAW in 1936, a small group, get 150,000 people out to support a strike why can't we in the stem cell advocacy business do the same?

Mobilizing supporters
Which brings us to my final point and what I would love to hear your comments about.

I'm not one to criticize new technology, but I can already hear the voices of some people I know saying, "You can't blog your way to a cure." All I can say to that is; I know, but our ability to reach out to massive audiences is better than it's ever been, so we should be able to get out more than 150,000 supporters in support of stem cell therapies. The big question is, why can't we?

The one reason I can think of is the message that it being put out by many groups advocating stem cell cures. The basic message is, "fund stem cell research because it will cure the diseases that we have." Of course during the Flint sit down strike the UAW had concrete demands about work and pay, but there was also a societal message. It was a movement for a democracy at work. In a society when company totalitarianism was acceptable, the UAW spoke to the democratization of work and society. The 150,000 demonstrating in Cadillac square were not only there to support the Flint workers, they were also there to demand a fundamental change in society.

The pro stem cell groups need to take a page from these battles. Demands need to be more than just, "give us stem cell treatments", we need to be putting out messages about the waste of science for destructive purposes, like atomic bombs. To demand a society where people are given priority, and not just in the developed world. A world where walking on Mars will take a back seat to first getting people in this world to walk on land. The fight for stem cell CURES needs to be about a society where people are put first.

This is why I didn't start today's blog about the sit down strike with a picture of people sitting. If the only people involved in the strike were those sitting in at Fischer #1 the story that we would have been talking about today would have been the Flint Massacre.

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