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(en) "Workers in Control or Under Control?" by Brian Oliver Sheppard

From blacknovember@onebox.com
Date Mon, 3 Dec 2001 04:46:53 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

 A[n anti authoritarian] Journal of Applied Radical Social Theory
 Issue IX, Vol. III

 Which will it be?


 Brian Oliver Sheppard

 Clusters of small white domes stretch across the countryside,
 gleaming in rows that resemble massive, neatly laid eggs. There are
 over 4,300 of these "eggs," and each of them are about 40 feet tall.
 The impression from a distance is one of an otherworldly hatchery
 rather than a community of humans. But New Oroville is a city, and it
 does not have a mayor. Instead, it has a CEO.

 The "cubicle domes," as one libertarian cyberculture journal referred
 to them, house human beings, shops, temples, and most importantly,
 places of work. The co-founders of the town call it an "information
 technology township," and it exists to house, train, and provide
 leisure for at least 4,000 high tech workers. The founders of the
 town are three former executives of Microsoft who left to form their
 own company, called Catalytic Software. They needed cheap labor, and
 they needed it in one place, where it could be regulated, structured,
 compartmentalized, and renewed indefinitely, as business needs
 demanded. That led to the creation of this 21st century experiment
 just outside Hyderabad, India. "New Oroville is our place," Catalytic
 CEO Swain Porter declared to _Wired_. "We set the rules. We enforce
 them. We're not going to have a lot of discontents."

 This total environment is one blueprint for workers' control.
 Unfortunately, it is the kind of workers' control that represents
 control of workers rather than control by workers. It is one possible
 future, and it is approaching quickly.

 Another possible future is one that working people may find a little
 more desirable: that of their own determination, in solidarity with
 other workers, both manual and intellectual, skilled and unskilled,
 to develop communities and indeed the future history of the planet as
 they see fit.


 Far from being a cultural anamoly, New Oroville represents more
 clearly than many other places the attempt of corporate chieftains to
 establish totalizing controls over communities and their workers.
 Attempts to completely control the lives of community inhabitants in
 the First World are usually held in check by cultural dissidence. But
 in India and elsewhere, where many live in abject poverty,
 corporations have freer rein to implement their vision of a perfect,
 total community. This is why New Oroville serves well as an example
 of a community built from the ground up by those whose only
 consideration is maximizing profit. In an important way it is the
 crystallization of the phenomenon of entire living experiences
 consciously planned around the exploitation of labor.

 But the New Oroville model is not entirely particular to the Third
 World, either.

 In privileged parts of the world, enlightened, New Age corporations
 have developed corporate "campuses" complete with well-manicured
 parks, fountains, libraries, and cafes. Such corporations readily
 admit that they structure the working and living environments of
 their workers thusly to keep them "happy," since happy workers are
 more obedient and productive. This extraordinary admission of
 psychological manipulation, with its revelation of a presumptuous
 shaping of employee behaviors to those most desirable to corporate
 controllers, passes with little remark. The corporate campuses and
 company  towns of the First World are what happens when a company
 becomes large enough, audacious enough, to directly engineer social
 life beyond its 9-to-5 operations.

 What we are led to, again, is a schema of controlling workers, so
 that they might produce reliably, efficiently, and with as little
 deviation from the goals of corporate managers as possible. Some
 employees are no doubt satisfied with this sort of relationship, as
 it provides a paycheck, which in turn provides the means to life.
 They seem to be satisfied with the power relationship between their
 employer and themselves in the sense that some prisoners are
 satisfied with prison since it comes with free food and housing.

 New Oroville is a prototype for the colonization of the planet in the
 image of unabashed profit. Looking every bit _like_ a space colony,
 it is perhaps doubly appropriate this way. New Oroville and other
 less-developed sweatshop compounds in Asia are colonies of non-stop
 labor, where architecture, family, and indeed any living experience
 outside of work, are merely ancillary to work. New Oroville may be
 a "dream town" to some (as Ziff-Davis India called it), but it
 represents the graveyard of any meaningful movement against
 authoritarianism, and certainly the graveyard of any meaningful labor
 movement. Every new New Oroville that pops up across the face of the
 planet should be considered another tombstone for workers, another
 necropolis that houses not free humans but lifeless drones locked
 into a lifestyle of toil.


 The New Oroville model for the future of workers' control resembles
 closely the "plague city" that Michel Foucault describes in Part
 Three of his _Discipline and Punish_. The "plague city" is a town run
 under totalitarian controls, controls necessitated in Foucault's
 example by fear of infection and disease entering the community. The
 plague city, writes Foucault, "lays down for each individual his
 place, his body, ... his well-being, by means of an omnipresent and
 omniscient power that subdivides itself in a regular, uninterrupted
 way even to the ultimate determination of the individual, of what
 characterizes him, of what belongs to him, of what happens to him."

 "A proper place for everyone, and everyone in their proper place": an
 array of neatly ordered cubicle domes, inside which are nested cube
 farms of compartmentalized human beings, babysitting servers or
 plugging in code, their lives inextricably tied up into the
 perpetuation of the corporate apparatus that surrounds them on all
 sides and at all times. In this world, the worker is no longer a
 person; he is an appendage of profit and his being is
 indistinguishable from that of the corporate entity in which he is

 Or, alternately, resistance: the collaboration of workers not for
 making corporate overlords wealthier, but for making their own lives
 freer; cooperating to, in the first instance, withdraw their own
 producing power from the productive process in order to win some
 demands, and then, in the second instance, to wrest control of the
 entire apparatus from totalitarian hands, to be transferred to the
 democratic administration of the community at large. This second
 option is resistance; it is revolutionary; and the corporate process
 will regard it as a plague entering the community, to be eradicated.

 If employees are happy living regimented lives, in perpetual
 receivership of whatever living conditions corporations give to them,
 there will be no use in convincing them to form revolutionary unions
 for the act of democratizing their workplaces and then society at
 large. If, however, working people suspect that there is something
 more to life than what the company provides - or allows - they may
 find forming revolutionary labor organizations their only hope. If
 what the corporation wants is diametrically opposed to the freedom of
 its workers, then joining a revolutionary labor organization may be
 the only definite way that workers can defend their autonomy and push
 the tide backwards towards a comprehensive social freedom.

 So: a planet dotted with congeries of corporate labor colonies,
 mining earth and human alike for the resources needed to perpetuate
 the rule of impersonal profit? Or a global force of workers organized
 industrially to resist this exploitation, and to eventually take for
 the workers of the world what they themselves created?

 Which will it be?


 Brian Oliver Sheppard is the author of _Exploitation and How it
 Affects You_ (Barricade Books: Melbourne, Australia, 2000). He is an
 anarchist writer & poet who writes regularly for the _Industrial
 Worker_. His work has appeared in _Anarcho-Syndicalist Review_,
 _Onward!_, _Kontrapunkt_, _San Francisco Bay View_, _Black Business
 Journal_, and many others. He can be reached at
 bsheppard@bari.iww.org or at (972) 993-2020 x1943.


 Copyleft for not-for-profit, grass roots social organizations.
 Copyright (C) 2001 for other media and usage.

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