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New issue of ephemera on ‘The politics of worker’s inquiry’
The Politics of Worker’s Inquiry
ephemera: theory & politics in organization
Volume 14, Number 3 (August 2014)
Edited by Joanna Figiel, Stevphen Shukaitis, and Abe Walker
This issue brings together a series of commentaries, interventions and projects centred on the theme of workers’ inquiry. Workers’ inquiry is a practice of knowledge production that seeks to understand the changing composition of labour and its potential for revolutionary social transformation. It is a practice of turning the tools of the social sciences into weapons of class struggle. It also seeks to map the continuing imposition of the class relation, not as a disinterested investigation, but rather to deepen and intensify social and political antagonisms.
Workers’ inquiry developed in a context marked by rapid industrialization, mass migration and the use of industrial sociology to discipline the working class. It was formulated within autonomist movements as a sort of parallel sociology based on a radical re-reading of Marx and Weber against the politics of the communist party and the unions. The process of inquiry took the contradictions of the labour process as a starting point and sought to draw out such political antagonisms into the formation of new radical subjectivities. With this issue we seek to rethink workers’ inquiry as a practice and perspective, in order to understand and catalyse emergent moments of political composition.
Including essays from Fabrizio Fasulo, Frederick H. Pitts, Christopher Wellbrook, Anna Curcio, Colectivo Situaciones, Evangelinidis Angelos, Lazaris Dimitris, Jennifer M. Murray, Michał Kozłowski, Bianca Elzenbaumer, Caterina Giuliani, Alan W. Moore, T.L. Cowan, Jasmine Rault, Jamie Woodcock, and Gigi Roggero; an interview with Jon McKenzie; and book reviews by Craig Willse, Stephen Parliament, Christian De Cock, Mathias Skrutkowski, and Orla McGarry.
The International Gathering of “The Workers’ Economy” Mexico City November 7-8
Following the first four encuentros internacionales (international gatherings) of the “Workers’ Economy,” held in Argentina, Mexico and Brazil from 2007 to 2013, and after the first Regional Gathering of Europe and the Mediterranean, held in Marseille, France in January 2014, it is now proposed to conduct Regional Gatherings in every even-numbered year and International Gatherings in odd-numbered years. Following this plan, the 1st Regional Gathering of the North America, Central America and Caribbean Region of “The Workers’ Economy” will be held in Mexico City, Mexico on November 7th and 8th, 2014; the 1st South American Regional Gathering of the “The Workers’ Economy” will take place in Argentina on October 3th and 4th, 2014; and the 5th International Gathering of “The Workers’ Economy” will be held in Venezuela in July, 2015.
We invite you to attend the 1st Regional Gathering of the North America, Central America and Caribbean Region of “The Workers’ Economy” in November 2014.
Conducting an encuentro in the North America, Central America and Caribbean Region on themes pertaining to “the workers’ economy” entails enormous challenges for the emerging struggles of workers building an alternative economy. First, there is a huge gulf between the developed countries of North America (Canada and the USA) and those further south (Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean) — in technological development, economic organization, and standards of work and life. Second, the imperialist role and agenda pursued by American capitalism has meant economic and political dependence among most capitalist governments and countries in the region. Third, the region’s workforce continues to experience enormous disparity and dispersion.
Arbeitselig, or, Blissful Work
Originally published as “Arbeitselig”, Der Sozialist, May 1, 1913.
Translated by Gabriel Kuhn
Every era of a people has different cultural layers, next to and above one another. This applies to the words that are being used as well. Words are full of nuances that have strong effects, yet people do not pay attention to these unless someone points them out. The word Heim (home/house), for example (a word that is slowly disappearing from everyday speech, entering the realm of “poetic” language), no longer evokes feelings of joy and comfort, but of yearning and alienation. We just need to look at the word Heimarbeit (housework), which refers to something unpleasant, shameful, full of privation. It is not that the home loses grace, comfort, and tranquility because of the work, but the work is considered dishonorable and dangerous instead of acceptable and endurable, as it would be if it occurred outside of the home. If we pay attention to these subtleties, we understand more deeply what the bare facts should already tell us, namely that, today, the home is a beautiful reality to some, the object of occasional nostalgic longing to all, and a cause of great concern to parts of the working class.
How about the word Arbeit (work)? In itself, it has become a neutral term. What is important is how it is used, that is, the sentence, in which it appears. This is what makes the implications clear; implications that may differ greatly. On the one hand, there might be an artist who, after domestic quarrels or problems with friends, pulls himself together, flexes his muscles, and says with utter conviction: I still have my work! On the other hand, there might be a factory worker who, after spending a few minutes in the early morning hours with his wife and children, tears himself away from the family by explaining: I have to go to work.
"Work: The Great Illusion"
[An edited extract from the English translation of the late author's L'Horreur Economique. Viviane Forrester, a co-founder of ATTAC, died in April 2013.]
We are living in the midst of a deception, where artificial policies claim to perpetuate a world that has in fact gone for ever. Millions of human lives are devastated and annihilated by this anachronism, which asserts the immutability of our most sacred concept: work.
Work is the foundation stone of western civilisation. The two seem so much a part of each other that even now, when work is vanishing into thin air, no one ever officially questions it. Doesn't it order all distribution and thus all survival? The networks of exchange deriving from it seem as indisputably vital as the circulation of blood. Yet today, work, regarded as our natural driving force, has become an entity without substance.
Our concepts of work, and thus of unemployment, around which politics revolve (or claim to revolve), have become illusory. Our struggles with them are as much of a hallucination as Don Quixote's tilting at the windmills. Yet we still ask the same phantasmal questions, allowing us to ignore the disappearance of a world where there was still some point in asking them. The climate of that world remains in the air we breathe. We still belong to it viscerally, whether we profited or suffered from it. We are still fiddling with the vestiges of that world, busily plugging gaps, patching up emptiness, fudging up substitutes around a system that has not just collapsed but vanished.
Meeting on Workers' Inquiry in the Logistics and Warehouse Sector in London
Angry Workers of the World
@ LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street
Wednesday 18th September, 7pm
We are planning a militant worker inquiry in the distribution networks around West-London. The initial plan is to continue to research and discuss the situation in the global and local logistics and warehouse sector, to get jobs in strategically interesting places and to potentially make some interventions. Of course all this would be decided by those who choose to join.
Labor Day, May Day, What’s to Celebrate?
I suspect that more than a few people would accept as historic fact that Stalin created May Day, and to checkmate Stalin’s evil, communist attempt to influence US workers, FDR initiated Labor Day. Two utopias in conflict: the Workers’ Paradise vs. the American Dream. The Communist Manifesto or FDR’s Second Bill of Rights.
Oddly enough, there is symmetry at play here as both leaders corrupted the original meaning of these workers’ holidays. Neither Stalin nor FDR cared two figs for the historic struggle of the working class; their intent, like the Fathers of the Church before them, was to seize dissentsion, drain it of its original content and fill it with a conformist ideology.
May Day grew internationally to memorialize the struggle of the working class as exemplified by the Haymarket Martyrs, however, in America, the home of this infamy, workers were expected to “Honor Labor.” In other words, on Labor Day the workers celebrate work, while on May Day workers commemorate the struggle to gain control of it, in fact, to abolish it.
An esoteric interpretation of the IWW preamble
From The International Review, 1991
People who think that they know our politics, who know that we are individualists (or even worse, “neo-individualists”), will no doubt be shocked to discover us taking an interest in the IWW. They’ll be even more flabbergasted to hear that Mark Sullivan & I joined the NY Artists & Writers Job Branch of the IWW this January at the urging of Mel Most (who subsequently went & died on us!). Actually, we’re a bit shocked ourselves. “Never complain, never explain” ......; but perhaps this time we’ll relax the rule a bit – hence the apologia.
The Mackay Society, of which Mark & I are active members, is devoted to the anarchism of Max Stirner, Benj. Tucker & John Henry Mackay. Moreover, I’ve associated myself with various currents of post-situationism, “zero work”, neo-dada, autonomia & “type 3” anarchy, all of which are supposed to be anathema to the IWW & syndicalism in general. Other members of the NY Artists Branch are also individualists or pacifist-anarchists (in the Julian Beck line of transmission); some unease has already been expressed during meetings about the Preamble & other IWW texts.....; so, aside from making a sentimental gesture in honor of Mel’s memory..... why are we collaborating with the IWW?
4th International Gathering of the 'Workers' Economy'
Self-management and Work as Alternatives to the Global Economic Crisis
July 9-12, 2013 - João Pessoa, Brazil
In an international context where the global capitalist crisis is increasingly affecting European countries, especially in the Mediterranean region, the only response from governments has been to implement the usual austerity measures. But austerity—tried and tested in other parts of the world—has, yet again, not only failed to regenerate economies, it has also led to further impoverishment, structural unemployment, marginalization, and insecurity for the majority who must work to earn a living. In response, large protest movements have begun to emerge in the “developed” countries, where the effects of the crisis are being felt the most. These movements underscore the need for changes in the economy’s management—changes that not only contemplate the welfare of workers, but that also assure workers’ management of the economy.
In the so-called “developing” countries—particularly in Latin America—social movements, people’s organizations, and labor movements have been spearheading self-managed organizations at a grassroots level for some time now. We can think of, for example, the worker-recuperated enterprises in various South American countries, or other forms of workers’ control, both urban and rural. In some instances, these movements have gained recognition and support from governments, bringing into question the role of the state and the relationship between state power and the autonomy of popular movements. On the one hand, the state can potentially facilitate the processes of workers’ control. On the other hand, it can be seen as an antagonistic instrument of traditional power with the potential to limit the autonomy of self-managed organizations.
My Encounter with the "Precarious and Service Workers Assembly" of Occupy Oakland
In early spring of 2012, announcements appeared at various internet sites calling for a “Workers Against Work -- Precarious and Service Workers Assembly,” ostensibly connected to or an outgrowth of the Occupy movement in Oakland, California.
The first leaflet I saw for it said this:
“As service workers, we are often both overworked and underpaid; with Management forcing workers to work ever faster in an ever shorter amount of time. Productivity and speed-of-service requirements increase while hours per week are slashed. It’s clear: The harder we work, and the less we get paid, the richer they get! Many of us are already in tough situations as parents, immigrants, young people and students. Racism is blatantly apparent at many of our workplaces, with Latino and immigrant workers confined to back of the house positions, maintaining a racial hierarchy to keep us separated. For some, a job at a restaurant or a café is a 2nd or even 3rd job, a result of the declining wages of other careers. Even worse, we often find ourselves forced into student loan and credit card debt because of low pay. All the while, rent, food, and transportation costs climb through the roof.