life as a ‘chugger’ – owing money to your boss

An ex-fundraiser recounts life working in the charity sector, where employers’ ‘ethical credentials’ are far from the reality

As a bête noire of the mainstream media, right-wing and liberal alike, street and door-to-door charity fundraising is something that has had a lot of column inches and broadcast time devoted to it over the last few years. Unsurprisingly this coverage has almost exclusively sought to lump together workers with their employers and paint a picture of one homogenous group of ‘chuggers’ (charity muggers) collectively scamming charities and donors out of money.

With the vast majority of fundraisers aged between 18 and 30 and either without qualifications, or working the job to pay for studying, the image the media have sought to create neatly fits into both the on-going campaign of media hate directed at working-class youth, and populist rhetoric that portrays bankers, public sector workers and benefit claimants as somehow collectively conspiring to rob the rest of the country.

Continue reading “life as a ‘chugger’ – owing money to your boss”

the workers’ inquiry: what’s the point?

Joe Thorne looks at the history of the “workers’ inquiry” idea: from Marx, to Italy in the 1960s, to the present day.  This fairly long article touches on debates amongst those influenced by operaismo about how we should relate to the modern workplace.

What can we learn from focussed investigations of contemporary working class reality?

The point of these notes is: to understand what the term ‘workers’ inquiry means; to argue that it has come to mean at least two different things; to characterise the political objective of these different projects; and to evaluate both the importance of those objectives and how well they are met by the methods in question.  The point is to articulate what place I believe the inquiry ought to have in the ideas and practice of revolutionaries.  It will also say something about research into class composition more generally. Continue reading “the workers’ inquiry: what’s the point?”

the wire faces inwards: ‘the security is to keep us in!’

Sharon Borthwick reviews Rivethead, a ‘book of tales from the assembly line’

Revealing a talent for writing poetry at school does not relieve Ben Hamper of his birthright.  Duplicating his father and his father’s father he awaits, ‘to be pronounced fit for active drudgery’ by the medics. It wasn’t the plan. As a child at factory open days, he bore witness to his father’s crappy lot at the General Motors plant in his hometown of Flint, Michigan. But failed stints at other ventures led him through GM’s grounds, past the barbed wire. Later a fellow “prisoner” becomes absorbed by the fact that the wire faces inwards, ‘the security is to keep us in!’

Other means to incarceration are the good wages, ‘that pay stub was like a pair of concrete loafers.’ Not that the security lasts, the men are regularly laid off due to economic downturns, though Jimmy Carter tops up their dole packets to the extent they can make light and even party right in the face of unemployment. Not so in the Reagan years, of course. Back at the plant amidst the noise,’very close to intolerable’ and the heat,’one complete bastard’, the men are ground down by still more humiliations. ‘Quality’ becomes the company’s new byword and a man donning a cat costume becomes quality’s personification. Continue reading “the wire faces inwards: ‘the security is to keep us in!’”

for communist workers’ inquiry

A working paper for our 11th September assembly examining communist potential within the crisis and challenges for revolutionaries.  All are welcome to the event – click here for more details.

The following notes are an individual contribution, they are not particularly sharp or structured, neither are they too funky in style. Nevertheless, they might help as a general ‘point of reference’ for the debate at the conference trying to phrase some thesis about how the ‘different class aspects’ (workplace, migration, university) are related both in terms of ‘class struggle’ and in terms of ‘crisis impact’. The social experience present at the conference will hopefully contribute to this open debate.

We start with looking at the ‘communist potential’ of this crisis and how the main problem for capital is to disguise the ‘abundant productive core’ of the crisis by segmenting the social cooperation of global labour. We then summarise some of the concrete crisis-induced changes in the different spheres of class. We end with a short polemic about the current stage of the left and challenges for working class revolutionaries. Continue reading “for communist workers’ inquiry”

from meltdown to upheaval: 11th september assembly

The Commune are hosting an assembly on Saturday 11th September, debating the effects of the crisis, the existing resistance and the questions it raises regarding how we organise. We have now filled in more of the timetable and blurbs for workshops, see below.

All welcome. We will be soliciting and publishing local and industry-specific reports in the lead-up to the event, see below for examples and see here for the questionnaire. Workshop details below, followed by timetable. The event is from 10am on Saturday 11th September at LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 (Aldgate East tube). Continue reading “from meltdown to upheaval: 11th september assembly”

local report from hackney, london – crisis in the city’s ripped back-yard

Written for debate at The Commune’s assembly on September 11th 2010 in London.

1) Intro 2) Class/Capital Structure in Hackney 3) General Re-Structuring in the Working-class Terrain 4) Overview of the Cuts 5) Recent Strikes / Resistance 6) Initiatives of the Left 7) Open Questions for Communist Strategy 8) Questionaire for Local reports 9) Footnotes

Continue reading “local report from hackney, london – crisis in the city’s ripped back-yard”

workers’ report: general conditions and the conditions for generalisation at hackney street cleansing department

Here follows a report about working at Hackney Street Cleansing Department – waste collection and street sweeping –  as part of the preparation for the ‘From Melt-Down to Upheaval’-Assembly of ‘The Commune’ in September 11th 2010 in London. For details of the meeting click here.

The scope of the report is limited in itself, a work-place story. Nevertheless, looking collectively at these ‘individual experiences’ and to debate the common tendencies is a necessary step if we want to go beyond lefty campaigning and preaching. Working at the depot de-constructs certain myth about the ‘monolithic public sector’, which is currentlly undermined by private contracts, agency work and day labour.

While unions and the left focus on certain ‘issues’ (single status agreement etc.), the actual conflicts evolve around the question of work-intensification and work-force re-composition. While the left still sees the union as the main door-knob for getting in touch with ‘the working class’, the influence of the union is rather limited. Continue reading “workers’ report: general conditions and the conditions for generalisation at hackney street cleansing department”

from meltdown to upheaval: 11th september assembly

We are hosting an assembly on Saturday 11th September, debating the effects of the crisis, the existing resistance and the questions it raises regarding how we organise.

All welcome. We will be soliciting and publishing local and industry-specific reports in the lead-up to the event, see here for the questionnaire. More details on each workshop and timings to follow. The event is from 10am on Saturday 11th September at LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 (Aldgate East tube). Continue reading “from meltdown to upheaval: 11th september assembly”

organisation and class struggle: august london commune forums

August will see a series of London public meetings on different historical experiences of communist organisation and class struggle. The meetings are open to all, and are all on Monday evenings from 7pm at the Artillery Arms, 102 Bunhill Row, near Old Street.

We have chosen three historical examples of organisations which – in our political view – represent a highly developed experience and practice, mainly due to the high points of the movement at the time. We invite you to debate the past and present of Faridabad Majdoor Samachar/Kamunist Kranti in India (2nd August); the history of   Potere Operaio in Italy (late 1960s – early 1970s; 16th August) and Big Flame in the UK (1970s; 30th August).

We will try to debate these experiences both in terms of their historic background and their current relevance for our search for an organisational practice within the proletarian terrain. Both Potere Operaio and Big Flame transformed and finally dissolved themselves at general social breaking-points of crisis, namely the 1973 and 1979 convulsions of global capital. What does that mean given that we now pose the organisational question while looking into the open void of recession (or even a double dip recession)?

More details on first meeting below.

Continue reading “organisation and class struggle: august london commune forums”

‘to act in union…’

… on the changing composition of the working class and the implications for class struggle, by Sheila Cohen

The statistics will come later, but in advance of the talk I have been asked to give at The Commune’s summer school, I would like to look at the broader political sweep of how changes in class structure and composition interact – or don’t – with issues of consciousness and resistance.

Mostly the story is one of almost complete unpredictability – a “trend” which should be seen as being to the advantage of those who seek socialist transformation. While the left is often preoccupied with attempting to map out the precise nature of the “epoch” and its relation to possible action on the part of the working class, history teaches us – or should – that such predictions are often worthless. Here, I would like to examine a selection of them. Continue reading “‘to act in union…’”

the commune’s december aggregate meeting

report by Mark Ellingsen

The Commune held its quarterly national aggregate on 12th December. The first item on the rather packed agenda was a discussion on the organisational principles of the network (see the paper here). The meeting re-affirmed the pluralist nature of the group. It was agreed that members should encourage diversity by embracing different ‘schools of thought’ that were compatible with our platform. The Commune had members who were influenced by various Marxisms and non-Marxist thought, so it would be wrong to characterise the Commune as belonging to a specific tradition. Meaningful pluralism has been rare in the history of the communist movement which has too often been ridden by factionalism and fragmentation. Members are communists who recognise that communism is a movement from below and not a bureaucratic imposition on workers self-organisation. However, it was recognised that there was a need to clarify what communism meant as a specific form of society and that more theoretical analysis of this was required. Continue reading “the commune’s december aggregate meeting”

from workers’ self-inquiry to communist re-composition

In the following some general thoughts and a concrete proposal for The Commune’s 12th December aggregate meeting, relating to the article on ‘communist re-composition’ in the current issue. The main point is:

The crisis of workers’ representation is an expression of an accelerated re-structuring within the process of exploitation. New political initiatives have to be developed in relation to these changes and to the already existent embryonic forms of proletarian day-to-day organisation within social cooperation/production. The process of analysing these changes is a common effort of ‘communists/workers’ and in itself a process of organisation: detailed interviews, collective conversations, assemblies and publications. The current task of a class-related revolutionary left would be to re-organise itself in a process of workers’ inquiry: what are the concrete attacks of re-structuring? What (new) forms of conflicts are emerging on the shop-floor, in the estates? What are the lines of possible generalisation based on daily experience and direct power, but going beyond professional or sectorial boundaries? Continue reading “from workers’ self-inquiry to communist re-composition”

the “workers’ enquiry” and call centre communism

Jack Staunton reviews Hotlines: Call centre – Inquiry – Communism

When we pick up a left wing paper or magazine and scan its contents we can be fairly sure that its editors will not have failed to offer a piece on shifts in the world’s stock markets, analysis of the businesses felled by the recession, and a take on the latest wheeling and dealing by the world’s statesmen. Whether dry, rational and down-to-earth commentary, or grandiose predictions of the final crisis of capitalism and vast forces of chaos sweeping across the globe, we can be sure enough that developments in the activities of the ruling class will be recounted in some detail.

But ours is not a movement which limits itself to attacking the dominant system: it is a movement for the self-emancipation of the working class. To put that in the language of the current crisis: no-one simply wants capitalism to ‘collapse’ chaotically in a heap of bankruptcies and mass redundancies. Quite obviously, the unravelling of the irrationalities of capitalism will not in itself create a better society. Rather, we have a better, alternative vision for humanity: we want the working class to organise to displace those who control the levers of political and economic power and re-organise society from below on an egalitarian, collectivist and democratic basis.

So surely it should follow that the left ought to privilege understanding the state of the working class – the people and the movement who are actually going to revolutionise society.  This is all the more the case since although no-one would deny the existence of capitalism, for the last two decades it has been a commonplace assertion of much of academia and the media that the working class no longer exists.  For such ‘commentators’, the term ‘working class’ is itself merely a label for a narrow cultural stereotype: for example, in March 2008 the BBC’s White  season featured a documentary ‘Last Orders’, detailing the lives of white working-class pensioners in northern working men’s clubs, proclaiming that a few of this “endangered species”, the working class, do in fact still exist. Continue reading “the “workers’ enquiry” and call centre communism”