Monday, November 07, 2005

Collective bargaining by riot

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The title of this piece comes from the term used by some left sociologists following various inner city riots in the late twentieth century.

I've noted before the implicit gift relationship modelled in some liberal democratic discourses (we have given you X through our policies, please give us your vote, etc.).

The rioters in France seem to be engaged in a different gift relationship. Presumably they either cannot vote or do not feel it is sufficiently powerful to shift the policy of the government.

So, they riot. And what seems to be mindless destruction does have a rational core. You give use something we want (jobs, less repressive policing, etc. etc.) in return we will give you social peace. We will respect your authority. Even in areas in which your writ dos not run, we will maintain the appearance of governance. Further saying - we have the power to defy you to be unpoliceable.

The usual aftermath of riots is government spending - projects, policies, changes. It is a very effective way to negotiate with government. Governments, however, still have to bargain with voters as well as rioters, and so they will talk tough about the riot as it happens, march some police around until it blows over, and then get into the position of paying off the rioters. Remember - riots cost votes.

Now, the political upshot of this is very nasty. The rioters are not emancipating themselves (compare with Argentina or Bolivia, for recent examples) they are explicitly saying you are in charge you deal with us - it is lumpen plebeian politics. The politics of saying we are the little people treat us well, o giant. So the rioters get bought off, the government grows more authoritarian to appease the voting public and a cycle of dependence and repression follows.

To be clear - rioting is a rational response (that doesn't mean a good response) and is not a natural or instinctive act. Think - why would you go onto the streets and burn schools, cars, buses? Why would you do it night, after night, after night? These people are cut from the same cloth as you. Remember that.

Update: Wikpedia has the facts.


Blogger daggi said...

To suggest that "Wikipedia has the facts", is according to my experience, overplaying Wikipedia's competence level a bit too much.

11:35 AM  

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