Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wobbly Times number 48

Preamble to the IWW Constitution

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.

We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.

These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.

Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."

It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wobbly Times number 47

Published: 27 November 2009
Format: Paperback , 256 pages
RRP: $24.95
ISBN-13: 9781863954563
Imprint: Black Inc
Publisher: Black Inc
Origin: Australia
Categories: Popular Culture Economics, Finance, Business & Management

Raj Patel has written a fine book in which he describes the value of human tenacity, the value of people standing up to their rulers, the value of persistence and the value of solidarity, in other words, the value of nothing. Nothing which has a price that is. Nothing which is a commodity sold for the profit of its owners, unless they’re small owners.

Starting off his critique of the prevailing ideology, which can be summarised in Gary Becker’s concept of ‘homo-economicus’, Patel writes, “The dazzle of free markets has blinded us to other ways of seeing the world. As Oscar Wilde wrote over a century ago, ‘Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.’ Prices have revealed themselves as fickle guides: The 2008 financial collapse came in the same year as crises in food and oil and yet we seem unable to see or value our world except through the faulty prism of the market.” Patel is keen to link Becker’s prescriptions for realism to commodification, making literally every human activity and nature into commodities for sale. He succeeds quite well and this is important in a day and age when becoming a ‘maximising animal’ in the global market is lauded by capitalist apologists world-wide.

THE VALUE OF NOTHING is chock full of useful insights and history. Patel’s summation of Polanyi’s take on the “enclosure of the commons”, that is, the gradual privatising of what had been land held in common by the peasantry during Britain’s Middle Ages is articulated with verve and clarity . His history includes a fine overview of the British peasant revolt of 1381 and is itself, worth the price of the book. But like Wat Tyler, methinks the flaw in Patel’s analysis and suggested practice is to be located in a reverence for the ruling system of contemporary class political power, the wage system. In other words, the capitalist system which springs from the wage system, the system based on the buying and selling of commodities, in other words, ‘the market’.

Patel accepts markets and prices to value useful things. He sees them as being natural, but he also points to the flaws of equating price with its exchange-value. Bubbles occur in the global, corporate dominated economy and when they do price can become out of balance with value. As Patel points out, the 2008 deflation of the financial bubble in real estate was a prime example of a whole lot of pricey nothingness frothing around value.

In THE VALUE OF NOTHING, the reader will also find easy to read explanations of many concepts used in offhanded ways in today’s capitalist media, ‘shorting’ for example:
“Volkswagen was heading for tough times. Imagine you’re a trader who feels in your bones that the stock price can only fall. One way to cash your hunch in is to sell Volkswagen stock today, and buy it back when the price falls. Since you don’t walk around with Volkswagen stock falling out of your pockets, you’ll turn to someone who does, like an institutional investor. You borrow their stock, for a price, and promise to return all of it very soon. The institutional investor is happy because they make money from lending out the stock, which they will get back in one piece. You’re happy because you can sell this stock, wait for the price to fall, buy it back and with the profit, not only pay back the institutional investor, but make the next instalment on your yacht in Monaco. This practice is called ‘shorting’.”

But, here’s the deal. Raj Patel wants the market for commodities to function in less fickle ways, to wit, in grassroots democratic ways. He wants us to examine our concept of value, price and profit, but not through, “the false prism of markets” prone to corporate driven price bubbles which blow out way beyond asset values. Instead, Patel wants his readers to tame the fickleness of market society by making it operate through their own ideals. There will be a lot of subjective commitment required to keep value in line with price; but Patel believes we can do it. Patel wants us to compare our ideals with actually, existing capitalist outcomes. When we contrast the two, he believes that we can then achieve that primary Ideal of left-liberal discourse, social justice. We will attain this Ideal by gradually reforming our way to a more democratic market system, one where the market is more and more controlled by grassroots organisations and less controlled by corporate capital than they are today.

But, of course, we must change our existing ideals first for, as Patel observes, most of us suffer from “Anton’s blindness” in other words, the ideological domination (hegemony, if you will) which most of us absorb as we mature within capitalist class dominated cultures. In other words, Patel wants people to take charge of markets as opposed to letting the markets rip, a la Reagan or Thatcherite inspired neo-liberalist agendas. He believes this can be done, indeed, that it is already being accomplished in various ways by varying NGOs and peoples’ organisations at the municipal level.

Mr. Patel is a democrat and as a democrat, he wants the people to rule. He rightly sees that corporate capitalism is undemocratic and he believes that small, decentralised, democratically run capitalism is the answer to most of our political, economic and social problems. We, the people can do this, if we can develop and maintain our ideals, as he says the Zapatistas have and the workers’ collectives in Argentina have and, as members of Via Campesina have. If we can be like them, we’ve got a shot at saving the planet from almost everything evil, including climate change. Well, that’s what Raj thinks. In short, Patel’s organising vision doesn’t aim at abolishing wage-labour, but of achieving a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and fair price for commodities which issue out of small businesses. He wants workers, farmers, peasants, women, along with assorted nationalities and ethnic groups to self-manage their own wage-labour and capital through small, democratically run businesses mostly at the municipal level. It seems to this reader that he does so because of his sincere belief that there is no ‘realistic’ alternative to making and marketing useful goods and services as commodities and that a kind of populist, municipal socialism is realistic to work for.

As a result of his faith in the value of grassroots, democratically influenced free markets, free-time is not the focus of his programmatic thrusts. Working small farms to gain Patel’s version of ‘food sovereignty’ plays a major role in thinking behind THE VALUE OF NOTHING. It’s a reformist time sink, in this Wobbly’s opinion. Instead of advancing to a new way of organising time, work and industrial production to maximise free-time, Patel seems to prefer spending free-time away from production in achieving consensus at meetings a la Zapatista or Via Campesina. What is not said by Patel is that no matter how democratic small commodity production is and can be made, it usually means less free-time because the production of goods and services, even just for use and need, takes more human labour time, thus reducing the potential of free-time for ourselves.

Of course, we could always shoot for living with a LOT LESS in the way of good and services and this is a solution which Patel strongly suggests. But what is forgotten is that small scale production is where humanity came from historically and there are reasons why most humans don’t want a return to back breaking, time consuming production and consensus politics as a way of life, when it really isn’t necessary. However, if carried out with enough Idealism, Patel argues that the political trajectory he proposes would take us to a free market society, one always kept small by our idealist convictions. Mindless, conspicuous consumption is being critiqued in THE VALUE OF NOTHING and Patel’s Buddhist angle is presented as a kind of ascetic cure, a kind of generalised monasticism as a way out of mindless, conspicuous consumption.

At the same time another denial is operative in Mr. Patel’s thesis. It is a denial of what has actually occured in history and the inner motivation of humanity to gravitate toward freedom as a whole within class dominated societies. Since the dawn of civilisation, humans have wanted and indeed, worked to move away from chaotic domination by nature by creating more efficient modes of wealth production to release more free-time, especially as humanity has been eliminating the vestiges of feudalism and hurtling into full blown, industrial capitalism since at least the times of the great bourgeois revolutions of the 17th and 18th Centuries. The drudgery involved in spending one’s life doing laundry with a washboard down by the river; going from human to horse drawn plough and then to tractors; those and other assorted tasks associated with the reduction of the expenditure of human drudge time, have been historical motivators, based on the human desire for more freedom. Over the course of history, these innovations and economies of scale have led to large scale industrialised production. Granted, in class society up to and including the capitalist system of the here and now, the free-time implicit in large scale production has been available mostly to the wealthy and the unemployed, in great amounts with, of course, different outcomes. But in a hypothetical classless society (such as this Wobbly imagines) where there is equal political power amongst humans and common control over socially produced wealth within collective goals (goals which include most importantly the expansion of free-time and living in harmony with the Earth) a free association of producers cannot make a fetish out of smallness and decentralisation without serious consequences for say, the four hour day. Where de-centralisation and smallness function to promote more freedom, fine; where they end up becoming a time sink, they should be discarded. Certainly, we need to have the self-discipline to curb mindless consumption based on competitive status building i.e. the inanity of keeping up with the Jones. We should do this for our own sanity, if not just to promote environmental health and shorter work time. But, we don’t need to do this by adopting Buddhist ethics of ascetic denial. Rather, a free association of producers can kill overproduction by using already existing productive capacity to reduce the labour time necessary to produce the good things of life. Of course, that would mean taking, holding and operating the existing means of production for ourselves, a goal which Patel doesn’t mention nor, it would seem, endorse. Like the Zapatistas, Patel is NOT aiming for a social revolution where the workers take over the means of production and abolish the State, but for fundamental reform of the capitalist system without taking political power away from the ruling class. In THE VALUE OF NOTHING, he is advocating a ‘smaller is beautiful’, grassroots, democratic, class society, based on a left-social democratic market, within an a-historical, mythical, small capitalism which never grows.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wobbly Times number 46

What I'm proposing:

The wage-system is based on selling labour power, making it a commodity which the workers sell to the boss. In exchange, the worker gives up ownership and control of the product of labour which he or she has produced during their hours of labour time. I think this is a rip off. Wages in no way come close to equaling the the wealth created over the time labour is employed. That social relation has to be broken down, at first by a movement based on shortening the work week and curbing petty authoritarian power trips which bosses bully workers into obeying. The whip they carry is the power they have been given, to dismiss/fire/layoff.
Shortening the work week will not only free workers for more time to do with as they please; it will also shrink the labour power available for purchase at any given moment thus, putting upward pressure on wages. It will also strengthen labor's hand in the workplace in relation to hired wage-slave drivers aka, managment.

In a saner set up where common ownership of the social product of labour is the norm, there should be no classes; but a free association of producers who democratically decide what to produce for their own needs, within the bounds of living in harmony with the Earth. This is what I'm talking about when I use the concepts of socialism and/or communism.
Whether labour vouchers might be used to keep track of the socially necessary labour time expended on goods and services would be up to democratic vote. But essentially, if used, the formula would be four hours in gets you four hours of goods and services out of the social store of socially produced wealth. The fundamental change which communist producers would bring about would be the abolition of the wage system, the system based on selling your skills to an employer for a wage in exchange for giving up all ownership and control of the social product of your labour. Such a socialist system has yet to appear in history.

I work toward common owership of the social product of labour: it goes along with the abolition of wage-labour and the end of commodity production. Production for use/need is something that I think would require planning-from the grassroots level. I also think people can call themselves socialists and communists and never understand that it's actually State capitalism that they're engaged in managing/advocating.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wobbly Times number 45

A political revolution aims at replacing the rule of one class with that of another class. The mode of production within those societies which have undergone a political revolution can remain the same, as it was before the political revolution triumphed or, the mode of production can undergo a change to another mode of production. In contrast, a social revolution reflects a complete change in the mode of production and a change from a classless governing structures to a class ruled, political State or from a class ruled political State to classless governing structures.

The American Revolution was a political revolution which changed the classes who ruled America but did not change the mode of production within the former colony. The American Revolution changed the classes who held political power over the country and its producers that is: the workers, slaves and farmers. Before that revolution, America was politically dominated by the classes who ruled the United Kingdom. The ruling classes of Britain were composed of: landlords, aristocrats and capitalists. After the triumph of the American Revolution, the ruling classes of the United Kingdom no longer held political sway over America. The new rulers of America were native born capitalists, landlords and slaveowners: the classes who led the American War of Independence. Thus, the American Revolution was a political revolution which broke Great Britain's rulers' imperial grip over the country. The American Revolution was also a political revolution which did not change the modes of production within the territorial boundaries of the newly formed union of states. Those modes of production were: capitalism and slavery.

"In studying such transformations it is always
necessary to distinguish between the material
transformation of the economic conditions of
production, which can be determined with the
precision of natural science, and the legal, political,
religious, artistic or philosophic ‘ in short,
ideological forms in which men become conscious
of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not
judge an individual by what he thinks about himself,
so one cannot judge such a period of transformation
by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this
consciousness must be explained from the contradictions
of material life, from the conflict existing between
the social forces of production and the relations of
production. No social order is ever destroyed before
all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have
been developed, and new superior relations
of production never replace older ones before the
material conditions for their existence have matured
within the framework of the old society. "- Marx

"In one point, however, the history of the development
of society proves to be essentially different from
that of nature. In nature ‘ in so far as we ignore
man’s reaction upon nature ‘ there are only blind,
unconscious agencies acting upon one another,
out of whose interplay the general law comes into
operation. Nothing of all that happens ‘whether in
the innumerable apparent accidents observable
upon the surface, or in the ultimate results which
confirm the regularity inherent in these accidents
‘ happens as a consciously desired aim. In the history
of society, on the contrary, the actors are all endowed
with consciousness, are men acting with deliberation
or passion, working towards definite goals; nothing
happens without a conscious purpose, without an
intended aim. But this distinction, important as
it is for historical investigation, particularly of single
epochs and events, cannot alter the fact that the
course of history is governed by inner general laws.
For here, also, on the whole, in spite of the
consciously desired aims of all individuals, accident
apparently reigns on the surface. That which is willed
happens but rarely; in the majority of instances the
numerous desired ends cross and conflict with one
another, or these ends themselves are from the outset
incapable of realization, or the means of attaining them
are insufficient. thus the conflicts of innumerable
individual wills and individual actions in the domain
of history produce a state of affairs entirely analogous
to that prevailing in the realm of unconscious
nature. The ends of the actions are intended, but the
results which actually follow from these actions are
not intended; or when they do seem to correspond
to the end intended, they ultimately have consequences
quite other than those intended. Historical events thus
appear on the whole to be likewise governed by chance.
But where on the surface accident holds sway, there
actually it is always governed by inner, hidden laws,
and it is only a matter of discovering these laws." -Engels

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Wobbly Times number 44


1. Take out a Red Card. Joining the One Big Union is the first step.

a. study the IWW Constitution and consciously digest the IWW Preamble.

2. Once you've taken out your IWW union card, pay your dues.

a. One Big Union cannot function without your active solidarity and that begins with supporting the OBU with your dues. If you don't pay your dues, you've failed to make even a minimal contribution to your own liberation.
b. If everyone who had ever taken out a Red Card had continued to pay their dues, we'd have the Four Hour day by now. War, sexism, racism and wage-slavery would have come to their well deserved end.

3. Once you've paid your dues; agitate, educate and organise your fellow workers to the point where they see the necessity of getting together to support their One Big classwide Union.

a. Paying your dues is the minimum effort you can contribute toward making a social revolution. Only the workers can make a social revolution happen and 'workers' mean you.

4. Learn Wobbly songs and make them up yourself with your fellow workers and sing them at the picketlines and demonstrations you go to.

If all workers who take out Red Cards do these things and continue to do them, the social revolution can happen in our lifetimes. If workers just take out a Red Card and do none of these things,even the MINIMUM thing of paying their dues, they will be able to say, "Look, I have a Red Card." That's all that will happen. That worker will have purchased another cultural icon which can be safely stored with the other junk in the garage.


The job is the only place where you can win your demands.
Organization does not just happen; it is made to happen. Do your part.
The person next to you should be in the union. Have you tried?
The IWW is practical. Let people know about it.
Union literature in your pocket is lying idle. Take it out and put it to work.
If every Wobbly gets a new Wobbly every month, we would have a 4 hour day in a year.
If meetings aren't being held in your locality, you can arrange them.
The activity of the rank and file, and not the "leaders," will advance the cause of labor.
Don't send for a delegate when you can do it yourself.
One who fears is enslaved. To understand the IWW is to know that industrial unionism
will guarantee your protection.
Even on a job that can't be unionized for now there is always something that can be improved,
and collective action can lay the ground work for later organizing.
The strength of workers lies in solidarity.