photo by SG

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Day in Work (while avoiding work)

Round-up from my attempts to read magazines and escape from writing my research paper:

1. The Nation reports on the rise of militancy in the white-collar communications trades. Interesting article, particularly because it highlights the mobility of skilled temp workers. Precarity isn't only a condition for the educated bohemians or the unskilled marginals, but Republicans too!

All kidding aside, I'd like to know more about the organizing drives that WashTech, a CWA subsidiary, undertakes. Apparently they have a lot of at-large members. Which makes me wonder: what do these at-large members do? Are they ideological unionists in hostile workplaces, or perhaps activists salting in disparate areas? Or, more encouragingly, are they the mobile-yet-militant high-tech hobos that I dream about when I hear folks talking about "organizing the worker before the workplace," organic organizers from within the industry?

Either way, this whole sector should be something that Wobblies should think more seriously about trying to enter into. Obviously red-baiting would be more of a problem than with our organizing drives with immigrant and/or youth workers. But our ability to think outside of the NLRB box could give us a leg up with these deregularized workers.

2. Fascinating, but problematic, perspectives from the pseudo-Trot journal New Politics. The first, an article explaining Latin America's Third Left, a concept I like very much. While the article says nothing new, it helps make clear the fissures and relationships between this (our) Third Left and the other Lefts, particularly the old Communist Party-style organizations.

Embodying these dangerous liaisons, the article repeats the very disconcerting idea that the way forward for this Third Left is to try and manage the state apparatus. Odd, since the authors point out how the neoliberal state in Latin America makes control of the state less important than its ever been before. Manage it? Why not continue what they've been doing, trying to stay as far away from it as possible?

The second article, a really interesting interview with a leading dissident Chavista unionist breaks open a little more ground in the fertile territory that I've been calling "Chavismo sin Chávez." The scary labels show up again: the interviewee, Orlando Chirino, describes himself as a Trotskyist, he is struggling for reform within the party, etc. He kind of struck me at first like the leftists who suggest that we should jump on to Obama's train until it runs off the tracks, then pick up the pieces. The similarities to the two men are pretty striking: populist "outsiders" who mobilize in non-traditional political constituencies. But the clear difference is that Chávez is actually some weird kind of socialist, sort of a Eurocommunist actually, where Obama is obviously nowhere near that position.

I think that left-Chavismo (which unfortunately refers to a variety of tendencies, so I prefer my term) has a palpably better strategy than the left-Obamaites, because Chávez has already illustrated his inability to inspire an authentic revolutionary alternative to capitalism. (Not like this surprises my fellow anarchists in the crowd, of course.)

What's most interesting about this article is the strong language in which Chirino denounces Chávez: "But if this [expropriation] doesn't happen we will not be moving towards socialism, but only towards some kind of state capitalism with a developmentalist perspective." Between the lines, Chirino is basically calling el Presidente a counter-revolutionary. Again, nothing new for anarchists, but for Latin American leftists from within his own party to be engaging in this type of name-calling is an example of the gulf between official Chavismo and Chavista workers. While Chirino is ultimately a labor bureaucrat, albeit one with a good analysis, the people he represents may yet turn against the rising behemoth of the party's state capitalism.

3. This summer's issue of New Labor Forum has a bunch of cool-looking articles, which I will delve into (and maybe critique?) in the coming days.

4. Remembering a conversation with an FW, I had a brief conversation with a coworker and SDSer today about the role of coffeeshops in the reproduction and speed-up of labor. Particularly interesting was what my friend suggested about how corporate coffee, with its regular practices, is perfectly adapted for this speed-up process. I'm sure my brothers and sisters in the Sbux Union have spent a lot of time considering this during the morning rush. I can attest that at the coffeeshop in my hometown, independent and quaint as it was, regularity was increasingly stressed during the course of my year and a half there. We served mostly commuters to the Twin Cities from our bedroom community. Obviously, things move slower to rural areas, so this process of speeding-up no doubt occured earlier in other places.

But it gets me thinking about reproducing labor. What other services industries have changed as they become monopolized by corporate chains? Obviously, the whole price/wage issue, but I mean more qualitatively. How has the service industry adapted to serve the needs of an increasingly speed-up workforce? Fast food and restaurants stick out as a great example, but they're old-school. What industries are changing as we speak?

5. From the people who brought you Processed World, comes Nowtopia, which is a badass book I've been reading recently. It records the struggles of workers outside of work, creating non-capitalist means of communication. Obviously, it doesn't represent everyone (notably absent so far are anyone who is not a white person or white-collar worker) but it doesn't aim to. It highlights the resistances of a specific section of the population and places them in a really great analytic context. Also, it makes me wanna learn way more about permaculture, which sounds so awesome. I love gardens and hate capitalism, so it seems like a good combination. The book will be in the Macalester Infoshop in the fall, or is available now by contacting me, caretaker of the Infoshop-in-Exile in my basement.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

re: #4, that's a really interesting question. I think any sort of answer should also take into account that some of those sort of changes are responses to working class demands or struggles. (Someone, maybe Fredric Jameson, comments someplace that fast food is in a sense a response to the demand for wages for housework, though probably far from the response that the WFH folks wanted.)