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 the right not to work!

by Steve Ryan

The recent right to work conference was apparently a great success with some 600 people attending, a demo in support of BA workers after and a call to demonstrate on 22nd June, Budget Day.

technology has not reduced the workload, but rather increased its pace

All very good, but steps towards a truly communist society surely should recognise that work in itself is not the be all and end all of life. Continue reading “for the right not to work!”

action around unemployment

by Brian Rylance

For those who experienced the deprivation caused by the recession of the 1980s, and were galvanized by the strength of the fight against it, there can be a feeling of hopelessness at today’s relative lack of organisation and militancy to defend the position of the working classes as many are pushed into unemployment again.

Vast numbers of people who struggled against Thatcherism will have used one of the many unemployed workers centres and heard the unions protest on behalf of those without work, but what of this 21st century global recession? It must be admitted that the fightback has been slow in gathering strength, but there now appear to be three main strands of resistance appearing. At a national level there are campaigns to protect the rights to benefits and protest against erosion of the safety net welfare state legislation. This is linked with an attempt to revive the unemployed workers centres that have shut. At a grassroots level there are attempts to create action groups with a more combative approach – some of these have been remarkably successful.

Continue reading “action around unemployment”

unemployment, salaried work and “the right to a job”

Ricardo Noronha explores the limitations of the objective of a full employment economy

Italian mural: "no work, guaranteed income and all production automated"

“Holloway against the right to work”. It was under this heading that Francisco Louca published an article in the online journal Vírus, critiquing in a polemical tone an intervention by John Holloway at the International Colloquy “May ’68: Politics, Theory and History” which took place at the Franco-Portuguese Institute in April 2008. The notes which follow look to contextualise Louca’s article in the wider politics of the party he leads – the Bloco de Esquerda [‘Left Bloc’, a reformist party in Portugal established by Trotskyist and Maoist groups] – and a political conception common to the ‘anti-capitalist’ or ‘anti-neoliberal’ parliamentary left in Europe. We will avoid using the terms in which Holloway puts forward his views and those Louca uses to critique them. For the purposes of what interests us, we will limit ourselves to explaining their analyses. Continue reading “unemployment, salaried work and “the right to a job””

introduction to marx’s understanding of work

An essay by David Broder on Marx’s understanding of wage labour drawing together notes for a recent meeting of our London reading group on workplace organising.

Capitalists pursue development to accumulate capital: they do not invest in the production of linen because they want lots of linen or in the extraction of oil because they want lots of oil, but because they believe that putting capital into the production process will allow them to accrue capital by selling the end product.

Although wealth exists in nature and not just thanks to human endeavour, capitalist development must depend on investment in a commodity which can itself produce further value – this means human labour, our mental and physical energies. In this framework our work must create some goods or services which satisfy some human desire or need (‘use value’) but also be sold as a commodity to those able to pay for it (‘exchange value’). Continue reading “introduction to marx’s understanding of work”