the unions on new grounds: when the workmate becomes a client

The next of The Commune’s London reading group series is on the subject of “‘Schools for communism?’: workplace organising and theories of trade unionism”. We will be looking at different conceptions of how unions are formed, their role in the structures of capitalism and their limitations, and then studying  more concretely various aspects of organising in the 21st century. A full agenda will be published shortly. This piece from Prol Position is on the reading list, and takes an interesting view of the current brand of organising initiatives.

Militant Research, self-interviews, workers’ centres, campaigning and organizing: currently there is a part of the left that gets enthused by ‘undogmatic approaches’ which tackle the question of resistance within waged work. Study trips to the US, visits at workers’ centres and at organizing campaigns all give the impression that these new instruments of union struggle will shake up the rusty white-dominated union landscape in Germany because the target of these initiatives are principally young immigrant workers, women and employees in the service sector. Is a completely new and different union in the making? Or, to put the question differently: does the crisis of the institution “union” open up spaces for new forms of organising? Does the union apparatus provide help for opening new doors or do lefty activists let themselves be instrumentalised in order to provide the institution with a new and up-to-date outfit? Continue reading “the unions on new grounds: when the workmate becomes a client”

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”