Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Some other recent writings by others on work to complement "Union of Arsonists"

The most recent piece on work "Union of Arsonists" has been getting a pretty interesting response and getting some conversations going. I deliberately tried to avoid a lot of theory in writing it, trying to write in a more straightforward way. However, for people interested in following up on some of the ideas in a more academic way, there's a lot of older theoretical works that I could point people towards, since workers and others have been grasping with the new organization of work under late era capitalism since at least the Italian autonomist movement and the Situationists of the 60's and 70's.

But rather than link to those older works (which are certainly well worth checking out), in order to further contribute to that discussion I'm going to link to some recent articles on work that I have found interesting of late. As some may know, I've had a forced vacation recently thanks to a cop-induced broken arm, so I've had a little time to delve into some of the more recent developments in the anti-work field, so to speak. From these writings I have culled a few pieces that I think folks who found the "Arsonist..." piece interesting would find worth checking out.

(1) Bone Idle: or Work Doesn’t Work! An Interview with Ian Bone and Ray Roughler Jones

The first is an interview with Ian Bone (Class War) and Ray Roughler Jones on their relationship to work growing up in England's working class. The most interesting bit here is their explanation of the general refusal of work that permeated that time and the way that the UK welfare state allowed for a general shirking of work.

An excerpt:
H: And when did you both take against work?

RRJ: It’s just that nobody worked, none of our friends worked.

IB: No one ever worked… in Bash the Rich there’s a story about “turning to the working class” but we didn’t know anyone who was working! We were all on the dole so we started a Claimants’ Union, a union for people on the dole. We would fight to get you all your entitlements. The classic line was: “If they get you a job, we’ll fight your case!” There were all the jokes about what occupation you gave when you were signing on: Father Christmas, snow clearer. and so on. One job I gave was “Coronation Programme Seller”. “What’s that then, Mr Bone?” asked a puzzled clerk. “Very long hours. On the day, you’re up at five in the morning till all hours,” I countered — not mentioning I hadn’t had the luck of securing such a position since 1953.

(2) Sisyphus and the Labour of Imagination:
Autonomy, Cultural Production, and the Antinomies of Worker Self-Management

The Second piece is an academic by Stevphen Shukaitis published this month in "Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action". Shukaitis takes the analogy of Sisyphus and applies it to the struggle for workers self-management in the modern era, bringing in his own experience working at the collective record label Ever Reviled Records.

This combination of history and experience allows him to look at the problematic relationship between workers control that doesn't topple the overarching capitalist system outside it. Of particular note is the way that, absent a total break with capital, workers self-management can sometimes recuperate capitalism and turn workers from their natural tendency to develop means of resistance to work into self-police watching each other for those same traits under self-management. That, of course, suggests that a complete break is in order to reap the full benefits from it and that previous limited experiments only hint at its potential.

An excerpt:
And so where does this leave the conceptual territory and practices of self-management? Best consigned to the dustbin of history? Tempting, perhaps, although to do so would be a bit hasty, and likely an instance of throwing out the baby with the bathwater of our discontent. WSM can play a vital role in social resistance, but one that is more limited than I thought several years ago when I started thinking about this more deeply. WSM can play an important role in creating networks of knowledge and cooperation laboratories for experimentation and the development of resources and skills for “building the new world within the shell of the old,” to use the old Wobbly phrase. But it is important to never forget that this new world is being built within the shell of the old, within the iron cage of capitalist rationality, which is far more likely to impinge upon its growth than to be torn asunder by other forms of social life developing within it. Practices of WSM exist in a cramped position as a form of “minor politics” and composition. Their radicality rests in this position, in WSM’s capability to create resources and time, and in consciously avoiding becoming a “major” or representative form.[45] In other words, WSM can help to create space and time that foster the cultivation of other possibilities--for other possible worlds emerging. But that does not mean that we can just “buy back the world” from the capitalists, or that WSM can serve as a means to overcome without difficulties the vast arrays of power that still exist. WSM is not an unambivalent outside to the realities of capitalism. But it can create time that partially is one.

It is also fundamentally important that self-management, as an affirmation of the creative potentiality of non-alienated labour, does not unwittingly find itself sliding back into an affirmation of “the dignity of work” that has haunted various forms of labour organizing and radicalism from times immemorial and that has been the target of radicals more prone to celebrate the refusal of work and argue for its reduction, from Paul Lafargue to the Italian autonomists, Bob Black to the Situationists. The idea would be rather to extend and deepen the relation between the refusal of work and its self-management, as when Vaneigem called for the unity of workers’ councils and the refusal of work.[46] This is not nearly as paradoxical (or silly) as it might seem at first. Rather it is an argument based on the realization that socialized labour’s potentiality is revealed most clearly by its absence, which is the basic concept underlying strikes after all. Therefore, the way to affirm such potentiality is not under conditions which limit it absurdly within the present but by the constant immanent shaping of a collective imagination and creativity that will not allow itself to ever be totally bound within a fixed form

(3) Nowtopia: Strategic Exodus? by Chris Carlsson and Francesca Manning

Finally, I've made no secret here about my affinity for the recent work of Chris Carlsson, which I think tries in a very interesting way to bring together Marxist concepts of composition into play in a period in which the demands of workers for control over labor increasingly manifest outside the workplace. This is the result of thirty or forty years of de-skilling, professionalization, automation, computerization and the transfer of productive work overseas.

In such an environment, the working class increasingly finds itself seeking to attack its own class position -- that is, to leave the fight for control of the means of production (such that they are) behind and to develop new means of attacking capitalism outside the workplace. Carlsson and Manning here do a good job of providing a fresh context for the emergence of a variety of tools of resistance often maligned by leftist revolutionaries as drop-out or lifestylist. This article draws extensively from Carlsson's relatively recent book "Nowtopia" which PCWC distributes.

An excerpt:
Nowtopia is a term that attempts to describe the myriad efforts to reclaim and reinvent work against the logic of capital. Nowtopia identifies a new basis for a shared experience of class. Specifically, the exodus from wage labor on one side, and the embrace of meaningful, freely chosen and “free” (unpaid) work on the other. No longer can our waged jobs be assumed to define us, and no longer can they be the primary basis for politics. Precisely because so many people find their work lives inadequate, incomplete, degrading, pointless, stupid and oppressive, they form identities and communities outside of paid work—in spaces where they are not working class. It is in these activities that people, who are reduced on the job to “mere workers”, fully engage their capacities to create, to shape, to invent, and to cooperate without monetary incentive. They “work” or “labor” in a way in which the particular substance of their activity is meaningful. These communities may not look much like the working class organizations of the past two centuries, but it is important to recognize that in this topsy-turvy period of system breakdown and transition, new political forms are emerging to reshape the endless struggle between capital and humanity. In the face of widespread dismissal of nowtopian movements as “lifestyle” politics or irrelevant “dropout” culture, we argue that they are in fact new political forms that are addressing directly many immediate problems of capitalist society.

Today basic needs are going unmet for millions. Urgent efforts at long-term and medium-term planning to adapt to the increasingly visible collapse of natural systems are rejected out of ideological blindness. But individual human ingenuity flows over government and corporate obstacles. The solutions to social and ecological crises of our time are frequently coming from unwaged work that is done because people want and need it, rather than in hopes of monetary remuneration. Still at the margins of modern life for now, many people and communities are taking more of their time and care out of the market and making ways to live together, to get our needs met and desires engaged, by working together, working hard, and not working for money.

Nowtopians engage in a wide variety of labor-intensive projects, from organic gardening, bike repair, or coding software, to making music, writing fiction, producing radio shows, or painting a mural. Permaculturists, the quintessential nowtopian technologists, have initiated various epistemological challenges to basic scientific paradigms through their unpaid, passionate work. A semi-conscious war between these life-affirming, self-emancipating behaviors and the coercive domination of money, property, and survival is the kernel of a potentially revolutionary transformation.
For those interested in more from Carlsson on the concept of Nowtopia, I recommend watching the video below, in which he lectures, of all places, at the Google headquarters. Quite interesting indeed!


No comments: