A worker died on Monday. Early in the morning, in the subway somewhere between York Mills and Davisville. The media’s reaction seemed to be subdued, muted. No, I don’t mean about the train stoppage; no, that, after all, was a big deal. The coverage seemed to be more about those who were inconvenienced by the stoppage of transit than about the man who died.
And that got me thinking, this man died so that I could get to school. It’s that simple, that real, that concrete.
He’s not a solider who died supposedly defending an abstract notion (freedom; read: our own brand of terror) in some concocted war on an abstract noun (terror; read: someone else’s brand of freedom). He didn’t die protecting liberty, justice, civilization, or what have you.
It’s nothing that complicated, it’s very simple really: This man died so that you could go to school. Or so that you could go to work. Or to an interview. Or to a restaurant, a club, a bar, a party, a friend’s house, a shopping centre — from point A to point B — so that you could get to your university.
The man was crushed to death so that we could get to school.
Are any students at UofT going to get together and hold a vapid, self-indulgent, self-inflating vigil to commemorate his death? Are they going to start facebook groups and online ribbon campaigns about him?
Do you even know his name?
And yeah, what happened at VTech was bad, but it’s strange to imagine that the life of students in the United States somehow means a lot more than the life of students in, say, India, or Iraq, or Palestine, or Nigeria, or Indonesia, or Chile, or Peru, or Bolivia, so on, so forth — but most of their stories never get heard, they never get put on the front pages or even the back pages.
Or, like the worker in the subway, their stories are crowded out. How many times have you heard stories about oilfields in various countries being disturbed by local populations? Consider this NYT headline: “Growing Unrest Posing a Threat to Nigerian Oil” — that’s what it is, really, at the end of the day, it’s just business.
How many times have people complained about TTC Staff being overpaid? Can you look this dead man’s wife in the eye and tell her that her husband was overpaid? Tell their children that?
TTC Staff aren’t overpaid, they’re underpaid. And everyone else who doesn’t have a half-decent union fighting for them, or who are getting swept away by the tides of global capitalism, they’re even more underpaid. You want to know who’s overpaid? Some big fat old stupid white man (increasingly being replaced by others, other races, people from other parts of the world, etc.) sitting in an air-conditioned room far above the proceedings of the you and the me, the people on the streets, signing papers that signal the literal deaths of thousands and the slow deaths of thousands more. Those are the people who are getting overpaid. They don’t even earn the money they make, they steal it. They wouldn’t know a hard day’s work for a fair day’s pay if it bit them in the ass. Those are the same people we, you and me, aspire to be.
No, instead, we look at the man on the street — standing in front of aggressive College St. traffic with a sign between him and hundreds of people with places to go and things to do in cars and a huge truck pulling tons of dirt out of an excavation site — we look at the man on the street and complain that he doesn’t do anything. Or we complain that he’s holding a coffee cup. Or we complain that he’s taking an extended break. Or we complain about there being more than one of them — you know the joke, there are three men, one to do the work, one to direct traffic, one to hold the coffee cups — what ignorance, what stark ignorance. What self-indulgent ignorance.
I saw this big, white, bearded guy on the subway once — he was wearing glasses, too. I was trying to read a book, and he was trying to engage people in conversation. He was trying to talk to them, and they were politely ignoring him or brushing him off. He seemed jovial. His hands were blackened, his clothes were, too. But he wasn’t a bum, no, he was obviously a manual labourer. At Kennedy station, when I put on my Spider-Man hat he commented on it. He talked about how he used to read the comics when he was young. How he couldn’t afford them anymore. How it was good that I was going to university. How I could get a good job. How money troubles hit you when you have a family to support. He worked for Toronto Hydro, fixing cables, lines, poles, or something. He was trying to talk to people to make them smile. He thanked me for talking to him, and he told me to keep on smiling.
And we complain about workers getting overpaid. When really, they are the ones who keep us afloat, who keep our miserable, fat, starved skinny, superficial, ignorant, self-indulgent, Starbucks latte, MP3 player, Cosmo magazine, Gucci glasses, shiny laptop lives afloat.
And when they ask for their rights, when CN workers strike, the placid, corporate bought government makes their strike illegal. It legislates for them to go back to work. So that the economy doesn’t suffer. “The economy.” The almighty economy. Yes, other workers will suffer, they’ll lose business. Yes, the wheels of industry will be interrupted and impeded. Yes. But really, that’s not the problem the government has — it couldn’t care less about the workers in the first place, or it wouldn’t have gotten rid of regressive labour legislation and it would enforce whatever is left, rather than passing ad hoc legislations to protect “the economy” — which really means protecting the fat pigs and keeping them in power as well. That’s “the economy.”
Yeah, a worker died on Monday. He was crushed by a machine the size of a car. They couldn’t move his body for several hours.
And we don’t even know his name.
So that we could get to school.
So that I could hand in a paper — on Marxism, no less. How hard is it, really, to theorize or imagine class struggle? It is here, it is now, it is the lives we live and the deaths we die — the lives we ignore and the deaths we ignore. That is class struggle. That is sexism. That is racism. That is the nature of our shallow lives.
Antonio Almeida died on Monday. He had a wife, a son, and a daughter, a mother and a father, friends and colleagues. He was 38 years old.