Fed Up Followers – Week in Review

Evidence that the way the world works is determined not only by leaders – but by followers.

• American Airlines and its pilots’ union agreed this week to resume talks. But not before the airline, which has declared bankruptcy, and the pilots (they total some 10,000) nearly came to blows. The pilots are furious at management for, among other reasons, continuing to reward itself handsomely while pilots are suffering lost jobs and reduced wages and benefits. As a result, pilots have done everything but formally call a strike. They called in sick. (On one day American had to cancel 2% of its flights, more than twice the industry average.) They took part in what was called “informational picketing.” And they insisted on hyper-fastidious maintenance, resulting in an airline on-time rate that sank to below 50 per cent. (Pilots at some other airlines are similarly fed-up. Pilots at Spain’s Iberia have called 18 strike days so far this year; a March sickout by Pilots at Air Canada left travelers stranded; and pilot unions at US Airways and United Airlines are under court orders not to disrupt operations.
• As if to attest to their recent crackdown on Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule, Chinese authorities sentenced four protesters to between 7 to 11 years in jail. The Tibetans were linked to the self-immolation of more than 50 people since 2009, each an act of desperation in Tibet’s long-standing but persistent quest for self-government. The struggle between Tibetan independence on the one hand and Chinese control on the other shows no signs of abating. Both sides have dug in and there is no evidence of compromise. Nor is there any sign that Tibetans hell-bent on challenging Chinese rule, no matter the consequences, will surrender their struggle.
• If an ordinary Saudi has a gripe, it’s hard for him or her publicly to complain. The country is an autocracy run by a monarchy that bans political parties, unions, and public protests, and that tightly controls all old media. However, in Saudi Arabia as in most of the rest of the world are new media, social media, Twitter in particular, which has come to serve as national sounding board. Abeer Allam writes in the Financial Times (10/4) that “Saudis regularly take to social media to vent their anger, organize campaigns and question state decisions. Twitter has become a virtual ‘Saudi street’ which the government sometimes aims to appease.” This week’s issue – rising poultry prices – might seem trivial. But the government has nevertheless been put in the uncomfortable position of having to defend itself against a restive public tweeting complaints about “living standards that have forced citizens of one of the richest countries to worry about the price of chicken.”
• Keep your eye on Catalonia. Some weeks ago, Catalans took to the streets by the hundreds of thousands threatening to secede – yes, secede – from Spain. As preposterous as it sounds to the uninitiated, the struggle for Catalonian independence dates back hundreds of years, and was exacerbated during the 1930s, under the authoritarian rule of General Francisco Franco, who repressed Catalonian self-expression. Now, not surprisingly, the situation has been exacerbated by Spain’s recent economic woes, the Catalans feeling strongly that their region, which is relatively prosperous, is being looted by the central government. As a result of the widespread discontent, the Catalan prime minister called for new elections in November, which could strengthen the secessionists’ hands. This is not to predict that Catalans will secede, or that the government of Spain would simply allow them to do so. It is, however, to point out that these particular followers have it in their power to trigger a serious constitutional crisis. It’s just what Spain now needs.
• Finally, fed-up followers erupted in, of all places, Iran. Infuriated by Iran’s collapsing currency and other economic tribulations, most the result of sanctions imposed by the West, Iranians took to the streets. Their numbers were not huge, and it’s not clear that the protesters will do anything other than fade away. But after the Green Revolution was brutally aborted, it’s been rare as well as risky for Iranians publicly to show their ire.

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