Work

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CFP The Politics of Workers’ Inquiry
May 2-3, 2013 @ University of Essex

Workers’ inquiry is an approach to and practice of knowledge production that seeks to understand the changing composition of labor and its potential for revolutionary social transformation. It is the practice of turning the tools of the social sciences into weapons of class struggle. Workers’ inquiry 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.

Mario Tronti argues that weapons for working class revolt have always been taken from the bosses’ arsenal. But, has not it often been suggested, to use Audre Lorde’s phrasing, that it is not possible to take apart the master’s house with the master’s tools? While not forgetting Lorde’s question, it is clear that Tronti said this with good reason, for he was writing from a context where this is precisely what was taking place. Italian autonomous politics greatly benefited from borrowing from sociology and industrial relations – and by using these tools proceeded to build massive cycles of struggle transforming the grounds of politics.

The Strike Wave and New Workers' Organisations: Breaking out of Old Compromises
Leonard Gentle

Over the past weekend, the striking mineworkers of Amplats gathered at a mass rally in Rustenburg and howled their defiance of a series of ultimatums issued by the company. At De Doorns, farm workers are on a wildcat strike - the latest of a series that has become a feature of the South African landscape over the last three months, knocking Mangaung off the front pages. Something is stirring from below…and it is time we got beyond the fear and trepidation that have become the stock response in the media.

After the Marikana massacre President Jacob Zuma appointed the Farlam Commission and also convened an emergency Social Dialogue meeting of Business, Labour and Government in October. The partners released a statement calling on strikers to return to work and for the police to defend law and order and noted that “the wave of unprotected strikes…[could]…undermine the legal framework of bargaining.”

Ten Years After and a Global Crisis Later… – Preface to Indian Edition of ‘Hotlines: Call Centre, Inquiry, Communism’, by Kolinko
Guragon Workers News

Call centres were the archetype of a workplace for the capitalist cycle between the early 1990s and late 2000s. Located in the dominant sectors of the cycle in the global north, e.g. banking, insurances and personal services, they were able to absorb and combine both surplus capital (which had escaped the shrinking profit margins in the industries); and surplus labour (in form of the unemployed graduate and dismissed industrial worker). Call centres became de facto outsourced university departments where students were forced to work off their student debts and get used to their future perspective as precarious wage dependents. The call centres’ outer-face resembled less the factories of the past; but rather their culture of ‘work-time/leisure-time’-balance was supposed to turn the collective experience of work into a question of individual life-management. They formed part of the general propaganda proclaiming the ‘end of the working class’, which prevailed since the 1980s – while at the same time concentrating and ‘proletarianising’ large sections of previously ‘white-collar’ workers under one roof and subjecting them to a Taylorised ‘factory-mode’ of production. Instead of individualising neo-liberal subjects, call centres simply extended the industrial system into the office world and collectivised a section of the working class who previously saw themselves as ‘educated employees’, such as bank clerks or administrators. As a labour intensive and mobile industry, call centres quickly combined labour in different parts of the globe.

The Factory of an Urban District
FelS AG Soziale Kämpfe

A “Militant Investigation” at the Jobcenter in Berlin-Neukoelln

The “Jobcenter” is the largest provider of income in the Neukoelln district of Berlin. It is here where people from the district come together – the young and the old, those with a Ph.D. and those without a school leaving certificate, those who have been around forever and the newest district residents. For this reason, the Jobcenter as an institution has not only a great influence on the district – it is also a (potential) place for intervention against disfranchisement and exploitation.

Since their inception in 2005, Jobcenters have been in constant crisis. This is evident in the long waiting times, late payments, a much too high mentoring ratio (the number of “customers” to be mentored per caseworker), as well as in the appeals and legal actions filed against Hartz IV decisions. In Berlin-Neukoelln, there are around 1,500 appeals each month. The ground is shaking, yet each struggle remains individualized and invisible. How to overcome individualization?

The Meaning of Mondragon
Bernard Marszalek

A picturesque town in the Basque region of Spain has become a Mecca for progressive pilgrims, videographers and journalists. And every few months a glowing report announces that this town, nestled in a lush valley encircled by wooded mountains, holds the future. A future of responsible capitalism, or future socialism, or future, whatever. The tag line depends on the visitor’s agenda.

What’s so special about this town? Something extraordinary for a town with fewer than 25,000 inhabitants, it happens to be headquarters for a complex of modern manufacturing enterprises, a bank – one of the largest in Spain, a university, and more. All these enterprises are tied together to form the Mondragon Corporation, which ranks in the top ten of industrial conglomerates in all of Spain, and it’s a cooperative enterprise.

The Metropolitan Factory: Worker’s Inquiry & Creative Labor Today

Minor Compositions is launching a workers’ inquiry into the shaping of creative, cultural, and artistic labor in the metropolis. We are currently searching for accomplices and comrades to take part and further develop this investigation. Description and more information below.

The Metropolitan Factory: making a living as a creative worker
Short survey on creative labor here

Surviving as a cultural or artistic worker in the city has never been easy. Creative workers find themselves celebrated as engines of economic growth, economic recovery and urban revitalization even as the conditions for our continued survival becomes more precarious. How can you make a living today in such a situation? That is, how to hold together the demands of paying the rent and bills while managing all the tasks necessary to support one’s practice? How to manage the tensions between creating spaces for creativity and imagination while working through the constraints posed by economic conditions?

Worker Co-operatives and Ownership
Bernard Marszalek

The popular slogan “People before Profit” adopted by worker co-operatives begs the question how people, in this case members of worker co-operatives, can trump profit in a profit-driven economy. The predictable response is that the democratic organization of co-operatives, where decisions are guided by the interests of the members and not exclusively by the imperatives of capital, amply validates the truth of the slogan. But is this so? If the members of a worker co-operative democratically vote to cut their wages during an economic downturn, are they demonstrating their supremacy over capital? How does this decision, albeit arrived at democratically, significantly differ from a boss telling his staff that he regretfully needs to cut their salaries due to a lack of sales? Does collective decision-making become farcical because it is unable to challenge the ultimate power of capital?

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Towards a Workers' Organisation
Gurgaon Workers News

In this and the following issue of GurgaonWorkersNews we debate the question of 'workers' organisations': how do workers' bodies formed in the daily struggle relate to 'political' coordinations of workers, in continuity with the struggle against the existing social system?

This debate has to be firmly based on an analysis of a) the actual current workers' experiences of struggle and the problematic and promising tendencies within; b) the relation between particular struggle and general conditions of the capitalist cycle; c) the changing composition of work-force and the relation of workers to the immediate and social production process - as material basis for self-organisation.

This first part consists of general political theses concerning the question of workers' organisations and, in relation to this, we present six longer reports on recent struggles in Delhi-Faridabad-Gurgaon industrial areas. The second part will focus on current developments at Maruti Suzuki and its supply chain regarding the re-composition of workers' collectivity after the struggle in 2011. On this background we will raise general questions on the relation between workers' organisations and workers' inquiry. Please contribute to the debate.

Our Operaismo
Mario Tronti

The italian operaismo of the 1960s starts with the birth of Quaderni rossi and stops with the death of Classe operaia. End of story. Thus goes the argument. Or alternatively—si le grain ne meurt—operaismo is reproduced in other ways, reincarnated, transformed, corrupted and . . . lost. This text originally sprang from the urge to clarify the intellectual distinction between operaismo—‘workerism’ the inadequate but unavoidable English translation—and post-operaismo, or the autonomia movements of the late 70s and after. Then the sweet pleasures of remembrance did the rest. Whether this ‘rest’ is in good taste or of any use today will be for its readers to judge. This is my truth, based on what I believed back then and which I only see more clearly today. I don’t want to provide a canonical interpretation of that project; but this is one of the possible readings, one-sided enough to support the good old idea of partisan research, that indigestible theoretical practice of ‘point of view’ that formed us.

Worker Co-operatives and Democracy
Bernard Marszalek

Members of worker co-operatives necessarily live schizophrenic lives. On one hand, we must function as owners of small businesses and contend with all the insidious forces of capitalism – the anti-ethic of profits before people. At the same time we are members of an egalitarian corporate entity that most people can’t imagine existing, much less thriving. Here we are, a diverse group – some friends, some OK folks and some who we don’t socialize with after hours – working together day-in-and-day-out dealing with all the tensions arising from individual personality quirks, the aforementioned forces of the marketplace, unexpected emergencies, and, when everything else is under control, the boredom of daily tedium.

A collective life like this for those who have drunk the Kool-Aid of individualism – also called the Great Ape theory of human nature – think that it must be hell. Of course, when we face “challenges” in our co-operatives, especially during contentious meetings, the thought crosses our minds that, in fact, hell is other people. We all have doubts and wonder, at times, if we have taken the wrong fork on the path of life and have foolishly placed ourselves on a trajectory heading towards a nervous breakdown. Luckily for most of us, this fear passes and we realize that we wouldn’t want to trade our bizarre lives for confinement in a cubicle of some “friendly fascist” enterprise – even if it paid more.

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