Evidence that the way the world works is determined not only by leaders but by followers – by ordinary people with little or no obvious power or authority.
• Two weeks ago, the unionized musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra voted unanimously to reject what management declared its final contract offer. As a result, one week ago, management of the Minnesota Orchestra locked out the musicians. Though the immediate impact of the lockout is negligible – the season is scheduled to begin only on October 18 – it’s not clear when the dispute will be settled. Moreover this particular standoff suggests the larger problem. As Detroit Free Press reporter Mark Stryker put it, “The … rising costs, and the recession, and the long-range cultural forces that pushed classical music to the sidelines of civic life – these forces created unsustainable models in many cities.” He would know. In 2010, musicians from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra staged a strike and stayed on strike for six-months, before an agreement with management was finally reached.
• As if Chile does not have enough problems – the constant anti-government protests, primarily by students. Now political unrest affecting indigenous groups across the South Pacific has hit Chile’s particular paradise – Easter Island. Tensions between Chileans and the Rapanui – Easter Island is known to its indigenous people as Rapa Nui – have grown significantly in recent years. And now they have escalated into a struggle for Easter Island’s independence from Chile, which they increasingly experience as a colonial occupier. So far, the more oppressive the Chileans, the more resistant the Rapanui. It’s a contest between two immovable objects that is being fought both in the courts, and in the streets.
• Workers employed by China’s Foxconn continued their intermittent but persistent protests. Things got out of hand when some 5,000 security guards were sent to quiet some 2,000 angry workers. 40 or more ended in the hospital.
• A band of Walmart workers staged a one-day strike in California. For all its public prominence and phenomenal growth, Walmart has a record of labor unrest, of which this most recent case was a minor example. (A relatively small number of employees charged their employers with regularly retaliating against those who dared complain about working conditions.) In the past, though, Walmart provided proof that the long arm of the law can be used in a big way, by workers to tame managers. In 2008, in order to dispose of some 63 different lawsuits against the company, Walmart agreed to settle to the tune of $640 million, and to electronically document its compliance with labor laws. Walmart has also been on the receiving end of the largest civil rights class action suit in U. S. history, a federal gender discrimination case, Dukes vs. Walmart. Though the Supreme Court ultimately decided (in 2011) in favor of Walmart and against Betty Dukes, the story is not over. Dukes has said she will continue to press her case, and Walmart has felt compelled to make significant changes aimed at supporting its working women.
• Panhandler Steve Ray Evans, whose sign reads “Starving Please Help,” has successfully sued Utah cities that cited him for begging near busy streets and highways. (The authorities claimed such begging was dangerous.) As reported by the New York Times, the 54-year-old Mr. Evens insisted he would continue to sue the state as he deemed it necessary. Said Evans, “I do it for survival purposes. I feel as though a lot of other individuals depend on it, too.”