Some introductory comments from the Angry Workers of the World
Dear libcom crew,
Thanks a lot for inviting us to be interviewed! The answers to your questions are below, but before we start, we would like to take a moment to question your questions! They mainly focus on our collective from the point of view of AngryWorkers as 'workplace organisers’. While this is one of the main things we try to do, it is not the only thing. We think this workplace ‘pigeonholing’ reflects a more general problem within the UK radical left: namely, a separation between ‘organising activities’ and ‘revolutionary debate or strategy. As a small collective, we try to bring these essential elements of working class organisation closer together by:
- gathering experiences and strengthening workers’ self-organisation in workplaces and in the area;
- reflecting on these experiences within the wider context of class relations, state politics, technological changes, crisis - as part of the research and debate about the changing class composition and the question of revolutionary breaking points
- trying to encourage both reflection of working class experiences and debate within the non-statist left on an international level, in our case through discussions around the ‘social strike’ with Plan C or with the IWW about Amazon organising
- taking a ‘local responsibility’ to circulate internationalist positions (e.g. on war and migration) and practical experiences of workers’ elsewhere within the area where we live and work. We try and do this mainly through our political newspaper, WorkersWildWest.
We take inspiration from groups like Big Flame and Solidarity in the UK in the 1970s, Potere Operaio in Italy and The Sojourner Truth Organisation and League of Revolutionary Black Workers in the US in the same period who, at the same time as 'getting their hands dirty' in working class jobs, used these experiences as a foundation upon which to have political and strategic debates and discussions. These discussions were based on real-life necessities of organising and class struggle experiences rather than beard-stroking pontificating. While we try to encourage direct actions at the workplace, we would not hide our internationalist or revolutionary outlook, but try to relate it closely to our workplace experiences.
Our day-to-day little steps within the industrial suburb happen against the background of a wider discussion about the changes in production and distribution and the re-emergence of bigger workplaces, e.g. Amazon, Walmart distribution centres etc. For us this debate was not sectorial, meaning, focusing merely on the logistics sector, but about the changing nature of the working class and work in general. We reckoned that the boundaries between production and distribution were becoming blurrier e.g. a lot of warehouses also process the goods they circulate. Companies like DHL are directly involved in manufacturing automobile plants. Workers involved cannot develop a professional pride based on individual skills, but largely rely on general social experiences: how to operate computers, electronic gadgets, how to cooperate and communicate with workers from all kind of migration backgrounds. Therefore we hope that struggles in this sector can develop power not only because of the size of workplaces and their strategic locations, but also generalise and affect other workers. We don’t struggle as a specific professional group, we all deal with minimum wages and zero-hour contracts, we all have the anti-migrant propaganda on our heads. We think that revolutionaries’ main task is to think about how struggles in the centres of exploitation (bigger workplaces, developed regions) can relate to more atomised areas of working class existence (the domestic sphere, crisis-ridden areas, unemployment) and mutually strengthen each other.
The explosive revolutionary contradiction of capitalism is the fact that an increase of social productivity goes hand in hand with mass impoverishment - but these experiences of high productivity and impoverishment are not evenly distributed within the global working class. Where and how does a class movement evolve that makes the two poles of the contradiction touch and blow things up? For this we need strategic discussions and revisions of old concepts, such as class composition or the theory of ‘uneven development’.
We also need a debate about ‘revolutionary transition.’ In other words, how can a working class in revolutionary situations:
a) Redistribute existing resources in order to level out regional disparities and
b) Undermine the division of labour between manual and intellectual workers, production and domestic workers, rural and urban, infantile and elderly workers as quickly as possible?
This is not a mental trick, this will require a trillion tons of metal to be shifted around and millions of walls to be torn down and rebuilt - a major logistical effort! Whoever thinks that in order to do that those workers who currently work in greenhouses, hospitals, factories, care homes, transport, energy, communications and demolition squads won’t play a specific and scientific role is either a dumb middle-class jerk or a Stalinist who thinks that the party state will solve all this, or both.
Some people will say this is all too speculative and pre-emptive, why talk of revolutionary moments now when we look around us and see that working class self-activity is at a low ebb? But without this strategic thinking, communism remains a pipe dream, something we have already given up on. Discussing these ideas in the context of our shop-floor organising efforts forces us to take a global and broader outlook, beyond the pay deal, to how different groups of workers, within the UK and beyond, can relate to each other. Our role of revolutionaries to facilitate this will then have some direction and vision beyond the ‘mobilisation for the next march’.
Political events or the wider crisis impact on what is happening at workplaces and vice-versa. So it makes sense to discuss these issues in relation to ‘on-the-job’ stuff and not see it as occupying a separate ‘political’ realm, which is distinct from the ‘economic’, so-called bread-and-butter issues of workers. We have therefore tried to encourage a debate about the current stage of crisis in the UK amongst militants of various groups, by visiting people in different towns and inviting them to a meeting in Liverpool in 2014. This seemed very difficult and somehow confirmed that ‘political debate’ and ‘organising activities’ are treated as two separate issues. If we want to figure out the revolutionary potential of our day-to-day organising, we need a clear view of the bigger picture: how strong is the enemy, how divided are our forces? In the UK the main dividing lines within the working class are evolving around a) home ownership and to what degree workers’ are included or excluded from the housing bubble and b) the question of migrant status and whether your access to benefits and to certain segments of the labour market pressure you into the low wage sector. These dividing lines are tested within the working class itself, but they are mainly influenced by ‘big politics’: the development of global real estate finance, the refugee crisis, the sclerosis of the EU. This just gives an example of why we think this debate about the crisis is necessary, also and mainly for ‘workplace activities’.
Within the radical left there is a certain intellectual laziness when it comes to discussing revolutionary strategy: some people retreat into a mystical insurrectionalism and find sophisticated philosophical excuses for it (large parts of the communisation folks); others hope that some technological leap and the ‘creative elite’ will lead us to communism (Mason, accelerationists) - one of us currently works in a 3D-printer manufacturing plant, we can only tell our techno-fetish friends: wake up, guys, the real future out there ain’t no playground, but bad precarious sci-fi!; others shy away from the question of how struggles can generalise by overcoming material barriers between them and instead propose old patronising-lefty formulas of ‘political demands’ (minimum guaranteed income etc.) or electoral tactics (Corbyn). In the face of this we can understand that people ‘just want to focus on organising’, on some ‘honest syndicalism’ without all this political mess attached, and some cry into their anti-intellectual beer, but that won’t cut it either.
© Georgina Rowlands, all rights reserved