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(en) WORK AND THE FREE SOCIETY - A UK AF pamphlet I (1/2) (www.af-north.org/work.htm)

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 16 May 2003 07:58:03 +0200 (CEST)


________________________________________________
A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
http://www.ainfos.ca/
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Although the work of many hands and minds, we
would particularly like to thank Dave Graham, a
long-time activist influenced by autonomist-inspired
readings of Marx who contributed to the early part of
the pamphlet and provided insightful comments to the
work in progress
> WORK
"It has become an article of the creed of modern
morality that all labour is good in itself; a convenient
belief to those who live on the wealth of others"
William Morris, Useful Work vs Useless Toil 1885

Let's face it, work as we know and loathe it today,
sucks. Anybody who has worked for a wage or a
salary will confirm that. Work, for the vast majority of
us, is forced labour. And it feels like it too! Whether
you're working on a casual or temporary basis and
suffer all the insecurity that involves or are 'lucky'
enough to have a permanent position where job
security tightens like a noose around your neck, it's
pretty much the same. Work offers it all: physical and
nervous exhaustion, illness and, more often than not,
mind-numbing boredom. You can add the feeling of
being shafted for the benefit of someone else's profit
to the list.

Work eats up our lives. It dominates every aspect of
our existence. When we're not at the job we're
travelling to or from it, preparing or recovering from it,
trying to forget about it or attempting to escape from
it in what is laughably called our 'leisure' time. Work is
a truly offensive four-letter word too horrifying to
contemplate. We sacrifice the best part of our waking
lives to work in order to survive in order to work. It's a
kind of drug, numbing us, clouding our minds with the
wage packet and all the 'benefits' of consumerism it
brings. Apart from the basic fact that if you don't work
and would rather not accept the pittance of state
benefits you don't eat, wage slaves are dragooned
into 'gainful employment' by ideologies designed to
persuade us of the personal and social necessity of
'having a job'.

Of course there is resistance to work, refusal to work,
revolts against work, if largely unreported. Its an
interesting fact that in 2002 in Britain, there were 33m
working days lost to stress, 60 times more than the
550,000 lost to strikes. That is more than the number
of days work lost to industrial action in the
supposedly dark days of the late 1970s, a period of
'industrial chaos' that led to Thatcher's rise. A
generation of political battle, legislation and public
policy to destroy the trade union movement and
suppress industrial conflict has been spectacularly
subverted. Well, what did they expect?

ANCIENT IDEAS ALIVE TODAY

"If work were so pleasant, the rich would keep it for
themselves" - Mark Twain

The western model of civilisation is riddled with the
idea that progress derives from a privileged and
leisured class supported by a toiling, managed and
controlled under-class. Ancient Greek civilization, the
model for modern democracies, depended entirely on
a captive population of helots, or slaves, to maintain
it's aristocrats, thinkers, poets, artists and soldiers in
luxury and leisure. Across the ancient world, slavery
and many forms of bonded labour were the 'norm'
and many of the so-called great civilisations were
built on the toil and misery of millions of powerless
and despised workers.

An identifiable ideology of work began to take shape
with the decline of slavery and the emergence of
feudalism. Many medieval peasant uprisings and
heretical movements proclaimed the poverty of Christ
and tried to reclaim the 'common bounty' of the earth
from the priests and nobles who had stolen it. They
proclaimed earthly utopias where the power of church
and nobility to enforce work through taxation would
be ended by sharing out the wealth of both amongst
the poor. This new ideology of equality and equity
was deeply threatening to both Church and State. In
response, the idea of work as a divinely ordained and
spiritual activity began to be preached from the
pulpits. Those who worked gained a new status in a
divine hierarchy that had nobles and priests at the
top, sturdy yeomen in the middle, peasant below. The
free spirits who resisted domestication, 'the sturdy
beggars' of our history books, were vilified and
persecuted by draconian laws against vagrancy and
vagabondage. Individuals who had not been
integrated into the economy were portrayed as lazy
and ungodly outlaws and forced into what would
eventually become the embryonic working class.

The ideas of the Reformation contained within them
the source of our current problem. Work was divinely
ordained but the reward of work, wealth and status,
would set us free to perform God's good works.
Members of the 'new' religions, like Calvinism,
dedicated themselves to working hard and
accumulating wealth, mute witness to the favour God
had bestowed upon them. This single-minded,
methodical and disciplined ideology was highly useful
to the emerging capitalist classes who were, in many
countries, the religious classes as well. It also
provided a theory of society that persuaded people
that it was better to be 'free' (by which they meant a
wage slave at the mercy of the master who needs
labour) than the benighted serf of medieval times. As
a result capitalism fundamentally changed the nature
of work.



SURPLUS VALUE & THE CREATION OF TYRANNY

The universal conversion of life into labour is the
capitalist means of domination

For two hundred years industrial capitalism
consolidated it's grip on society (though not without
considerable and violent working class resistance).
It's almost impossible now to realize that virtually
everything produced by society (except those
requiring collective effort like mining, brewing or
baking) was owned by those who produced it, who
were able to control the value of their labour through
the price they were prepared to sell it for. The
'success' of the factory system meant that capitalism
had a means to create vast numbers of jobs but at the
price of workers surrendering this power and with it,
freedom itself.

New laws were passed which restricted the ability of
people to work on a temporary or casual basis.
Existence without means of visible support became a
crime as the industrial masters sought to discipline
free peasants and artisans into docile factory armies.
To the stick of social stigma, the workhouse and
prison for those who refused to work, the bosses
added the carrot of permanent employment for the
loyal and humble worker, wage differentials for skilled
and semi-skilled labour, a mythic social prestige for
the 'kings of labour' (miners, steelworkers and the
like). The 'job for life' became our dream and was
offered in periods of healthy capitalism then withheld
when recession or the need to restructure capitalism
arrived. Wage labour became 'normal'.
Unemployment became a moral not social problem
and those without work weren't lucky but 'victims',
poor unfortunates who deserved to be 'helped'. This
ideology persists despite the best efforts of people
like ourselves to get across the basic fact that
unemployment is created by capitalism and no-one
else. Large numbers of people continue to blame
themselves for their unemployed state, for their
poverty and lack of any human worth, an attitude the
state sees no reason to change.

The work ethic was further reinforced by encouraging
workers to identify themselves with their work.
Miner's villages, working men's clubs, factory
leagues, trades unions, the occupational pension;
they were all a kind of tribal loyalty to ourselves and
our master that divided workers from each other as
much as it united them. This tribalism was reinforced
by craft and trade unionism that encouraged skilled
workers to regard themselves as a special case and to
practice mutual aid and solidarity only within their
own trade.

This deliberate attempt to create a homogeneous
working class whose (apparent) self-interest was
deeply entwined with that of the ruling class, through
certain institutions like social democratic
governments, the church and trade unions, reached a
peak in corporatist states like Franco's Spain and
Peron's Argentina in the 1950s-1970s. But towards
the end of this period it went into reverse. Capitalism
needed to increase demand for its products following
the massive contraction of credit (which funds most
purchasing in the West) in the 1970s due to the
oil-related hyper-inflation and credit squeeze. It did so
by using the relative weakness of the working class at
the time and the opening of factories in low-wage
countries to massively expand the range of goods
available. At the same time it promoted the idea of the
consumer as an individual, somebody whose identity,
status and sense of self-worth was determined by the
things that they bought and displayed, whether on the
body, the road or in the home.

This process, which has created an apparently
fixated, mass consumption society defined primarily
not by demographics but by patterns of consumption
also destroyed the homogeneity, identity and
solidarity of the working class. Of course, this process
was not started everywhere at the same time. May
corporatist states such as Japan, South Korea and
Malaysia still exist though some of their ruling elites
complain about the increasing fragmentation of
society and alienation of the citizen from anything
other than consumption. At the same time, the
commodification of society has not spread throughout
every society and sometimes does not reach into
every community. There are still many places where
people may wear the no-longer fashionable tee-shirt
or locally-produced fake trainers and still riot when
the ruling class turn the screws too tight! But
capitalism continues to try and spread its message
about the personal value of work and consumption to
the individual, rather than to society or within a social
context, stealthily undermining the ideas and power
of community and mutuality.

Work in its present state is, then, an entirely artificial
condition. It is not freely chosen, is not a universal
and integrated part of family and society, provides
neither intellectual nor spiritual fulfilment for most
people and is extremely harmful to mind, body and
spirit. Everything that was a good about work - the
sense of vocation, personal choice, creativity,
fulfilment, the sense of value of the
individual-in-society - has been destroyed for all but a
relative handful of artists, craft workers and a few of
the 'professions'. For the rest of us it has become
meaningless drudgery from which only death releases
us. It is a prison without cages (except for those being
worked by the prison-industrial complex) whose
governors are the ruling class and whose warders are
the bosses, teachers, social workers, employment
agencies, police and judicial systems.

WHY WORK TODAY IS A TERRIBLE

ORDEAL

"The tragedy is that those who work, work so much
they are no longer human. Those who don't work are
reduced to a miserable existence amidst the spectacle
of plenty".

How old are you when you first realise that having to
work for a living is crap? Maybe you've always known
that work -as described by parents, teachers or
politicians - was not for you. Perhaps the utter futility
and meaninglessness of work, in personal terms, has
come crashing into your life, or crept up on you year
by miserable year. Whichever and however you've got
to here, you're now, perhaps, aware that most people
hate work and spend their lives in a constant struggle
against its imposition. They battle to get beyond and
out of being 'only' working class. They may succeed,
but at what cost?

INDUSTRIALISATION & MECHANISATION

In an earlier period, when capitalism was not securely
established, workers battled against it in the hope of
avoiding it altogether. Very largely they did this by
smashing machines and threatening their owners
[others attempted to create model communities -
sometimes it was the same people]. Today the word
'Luddite' - used to describe these people - has
become an insult, a way of avoiding raising the
question of work at all. It just shows how much we
have lost control over our own history. When it
became clear that capitalism could not be avoided,
then our struggle became one of trying to minimise its
impact on our lives. The 'standard' eight-hour day, the
weekend off, premium payments for night and
working anti-social hours were all a product of these
struggles. If capitalism is so endlessly productive and
beneficial, why have these 'rights' largely
disappeared, been reclaimed by capital? Is it because
capitalism can only make profit by driving down the
cost of labour or exporting jobs to places where
labour costs a few pence per day? Industrialisation
and mechanisation was not introduced simply to
increase production and profit, spreading this bounty
to the four corners of the world. It was introduced
deliberately to control and discipline workers (to the
needs of the machine, the rhythms of production).
New technology does not liberate workers, it cages
them, reducing their power to resist the demands of
capitalism and is always a response to the struggle of
workers either to free themselves from the power of
the bosses or to seize a greater share of the wealth
they themselves create. What drives industrialisation
is not progress or profit-making but the need to
dominate and control a fiercely resisting working
class and discipline them to the acceptance and
necessity of work.

TAYLORISM & FORDISM

This process began with the very first machines and
factories built during the Industrial Revolution. It
provoked a hundred years of struggle against the
factory and against the fact that workers could no
longer say when and where they would work, the
factory master did. This resistance was never
defeated and, in fact, intensified right up to the start
of the Great War. This was the period when the
industrial working class challenged capitalism most
strongly, the age of the mass strike and working class
insurrections against both state and capital.

Capital's response, once it conceded that it could no
longer absolutely exploit our living time, was to bring
in technology so that the time it could get from us
could be used more effectively. The scientific
approach to analysing work and maximising
productivity by controlling it was called 'Taylorism'
and was one of the main shackles placed on workers
(along with factory work, employment contracts and
the conveyor belt). But Taylorism merely aroused
fierce antagonism and resistance within the industrial
working class, especially the powerful craft unions. In
order to bypass these powerful obstacles to
profit-making, new technology was introduced to
increase the productivity of workers and replace craft
working.

The greatest exponent of this trend was Henry Ford,
who dramatically demonstrated the concept of
relative surplus value by doing what at the time - the
early 20th Century - was considered impossible. He
paid workers 4 or 5 times the 'going rate' (actually the
bare minimum that could be screwed from the
bosses), yet still made a huge profit. By vastly
increasing the production of relative surplus value
through the use of the assembly line, coupled with FW
Taylor's 'scientific management' of the work process,
he was able to vastly improve the productivity of his
plants. This was a true [capitalist] revolution and its
effects are still with us today.

This story is fairly well known. Less well known is
what Ford and his like also brought into existence,
and that was the worker of the assembly lines,
sometimes known as the 'mass worker'. Whereas
before the capitalist had relied largely on skilled
workers to manage the production process - and in
some countries and industries this is still the case -
the mass worker was a new type. During the
development of the working class, it discovered the
secret of the production of relative surplus value and
learned to exploit this knowledge in its struggle for a
fairer share of the product of the national economies
of the industrialised world. This in part explains the
powerful workerist movements of the 1940s-1980s.

At first capitalist states attempted to contain and
demobilise working class resistance by granting it a
greater share of the social product, running up big
budget deficits in the process. In the UK we had
prices and incomes policies and at plant level many
non-existent productivity deals were negotiated. But
this economic response to a new social reality failed
to contain the working class. In Western Europe, the
most frightening aspect of the long campaigns
against Fordism during this period was not the
ever-increasing wage demands - which could, after all
be accommodated within capitalism - but the rejection
in many places of the system of 'factory discipline'
itself; though occupations, strikes, sabotage, marches
and riot. In France, Italy, US and the UK in the late
1960s and early 1970s we saw a period of more or
less open class struggle. Always at the centre of
these struggles was this new 'mass' worker. All
attempts to contain this mass worker - who had
discovered that the Fordist system could be
destroyed by collective action - failed. 'Scientific
management' was no answer to workers who
collectively could impose their will on the productive
process. In Britain the attempt to buy off the workers
ended with the intervention of the IMF in 1976, severe
recession, the period of defensive struggle from
1978-1983 and the long-term demobilisation of the
working class following the Miners Strike of 1984-85.
Monetarist policies of the 1980s were re-introduced
as within each nation state attempts were made to
limit the share of the social product going to labour.

Capital never solved this problem - instead it
attempted to avoid it altogether by moving to a new
stage. First austerity policies were deliberately
introduced to break the 'cycle' of wage demands,
inflation and more wage demands. This brought about
the biggest unemployment level since the 1930s. With
the mass worker now relatively subdued but still
looking to the unions who were an integral part of the
imposition of the austerity measures, the stage was
set for a more long-term strategy. Capital became
more mobile - that is it ran away from an insurgent
industrial working class to exploit a global proletariat -
globally. This necessitated changes in technology,
especially communications technology that was
needed to monitor and control a productive process
that was now geographically disparate. But crucially it
also needed an ideological offensive to sell the new
form of work to a new working class.

The result of this has been the intensification and
lengthening of the working week. The value we get for
the work we do, which is itself a measure of the value
capital can extract from us by way of investment, has
decreased steadily over the last twenty years of so.
The long campaigns of workers to reduce the working
week have been halted and reversed. Where capital
has never conceded shorter hours to workers - for
instance in the fast-industrialising Majority World -
workers are often at their machine for 60-80 hours a
week. This accounts for the fact that though wages
are absolutely higher than they were yesterday, most
people actually are or feel much poorer than before.

'Work' is now something we do throughout our lives.
We are no longer ever away from it - mobile phones
and mobile computers bring 'work' to us when we are
at leisure, socialising - even when we are sleeping.
Workers are now on 'permanent call. Even the
unemployed are now engaged in the 'work' of 'looking
for work'. And there is an even greater contradiction.
Even as the productive capacity of the economy has
exploded hugely so that in the 1980s it was seriously
suggested by some unions that our problem in the
21st century would be filling the 'leisure time' that the
new automated economy would bring, at the same
time 'work' has become even more imposed on
greater numbers and most 'work' is now devoid of any
genuine content at all.

WORK TODAY AND FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE

"The right to work is the right to misery and denies the
possibility of the right not to work"

What is work? Is the purpose of work to create
spiritual and material abundance as the bosses would
have us believe, an abundance we all share in
according to the contribution we make? Is the
purpose of work, through the artificial and mistaken
idea of Progress, to end the need for work in favour of
leisure for all? Why are such questions important to
anarchists? For anarchists, the imposition of work -
the socially-created need and compulsion to work - is
a prison we are desperately seeking to escape. We're
not afraid of work but seek to work freely, doing the
things that want and need to be done by our own
choice and in our own way or, as William Morris
famously said, useful work, not useless toil.

INTENSIFICATION & INSECURITY

"The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation"

During the 19th Century, workers struggled to defend
their right to determine how and when they would
work. This was the great age of co-operatives, strikes
and political movements led by small artisans
defending individual methods of working against the
factory system, of Proudhon's revelation that
Property (by which he meant property above the
means to sustain a productive life) was theft.
Increasingly trapped within the formal economy of
jobs and factories as the 20th Century progressed,
workers without the independent means to live
struggled to control the amount of labour they would
have to give to the system in order to live. This was
the age of the struggle for the eight-hour day, for
weekends off, holiday and sickness pay, of a decent
wage and guaranteed employment.

The defeat of these struggles, and their containment
within capitalism thanks to liberal and union
interventions on behalf of the bosses, has reduced the
ability of the working class to resist the intensification
and casualisation of work, while increasing our
dependence on the bosses to obtain the means to
live. For some, working time has increased beyond the
eight-hour shift into overtime and additional part-time
work. In many industries such long hours are
compulsory. An employee cannot refuse to do
overtime work. In low wage industries workers get
overtime work as a favour from managements and
union leaders. Companies evade laws requiring
premium pay for overtime by calling it 'overstay' or
offering 'hardship allowances' instead of overtime
pay. Additionally there has been a huge switch from
long-term employment with its often-better pay and
conditions to sub-contracting and self-employment
(although in many cases the newly self-employed
entrepreneur still works for just one company;
Network Rail is a case in point). The pressure of
competitiveness, which compels bosses to confront
workers, has been off-loaded onto the small business
sector where weaker regulation allows greater and
easier exploitation. Let's look at an example of how
intensification is introduced into the workplace.

In 1974 at the Eicher factory in Faridabad 450 workers
produced 80 tractors per month. Supervisors then
drove workers to make 150 tractors in a month. An
incentive scheme was introduced in 1978 and workers
started producing 500 tractors a month, then 1000 in
1982 and 1500 per month in 1988. In 1989 a
re-engineering plan was implemented. The number of
workers was halved, though they still had to produce
the same number of tractors, and the incentive
scheme was discarded. Eicher then used the latest
"human resource development" scheme to reduce the
number of workers further and goaded them to
produce 2000 tractors monthly. At some time
incentives were given when a tractor was assembled
in 15 minutes. Now it is done in 10 minutes without
incentives, and the management wants it done in
seven. The unions in the factory have fought the
worker's cause and fought it well: their members are
allowed to take all of nine minutes, not seven, to
assemble a tractor. Among industrial wage-workers,
then, incentives for increased production are often
used to make workers supervise intensification of
their own bodies. Incentives are meant to lure
workers to give more than normal production. The
increased levels of production become the new norm -
to be met without incentives. Management then
begins a new cycle of increasing work-load and
intensity.

A major study from 1999 reported that "the root cause
of job insecurity and work intensification lies with the
reduced staffing levels pursued by senior managers
in response to market pressures from competitors
and dominant stakeholders" - capitalists, in other
words. That same study revealed that 60% of
employees in Britain claimed the pace of work and the
effort required to do it had greatly increased,
resulting in poor general health in the workforce and
tense family relationships. Stress and ill-health are
made worse by job insecurity. Of course the two are
used together to exploit workers more intensively: "if
you want to keep your job, worker harder" and "unless
you work harder, you will lose your job". 30% of the
workforce work longer than 48 hours a week, with
39% reporting an increase in working hours. Between
2000 and 2002 alone, the number of men working
more that 60 hours per week rose from one in eight to
one in six. The number of women working long hours
has doubled. 50% of workers report inadequate or
very inadequate staffing levels and as production and
quality suffer, performance appraisal systems are
introduced, causing more stress and worry. A major
source of job insecurity (which speaks volumes) is the
distrust employees have of their bosses: few
employees believe their managers have any loyalty
towards them. The longer we remain in a state of
insecurity the more our physical and mental
well-being deteriorates.

FLEXIBILISATION & CASUALISATION

Flexibilisation is often presented as the creation of
flexible working patterns when it is, in fact, the
imposition of a flexible attitude among workers as to
who controls our lives. It is also presented as both
necessary (to the company's productivity) and
beneficial (to workers) as if the two could ever be
compatible. We share in the company's success only
to the extent the bosses allow, and not according to
our effort in creating it. Many employees, when asked,
have no objection to flexible hours and working but it
is the imposition of flexibility that provokes so much
discord and rancour. Interestingly (and not
surprisingly), those with interesting jobs are greatly in
favour of flexible working. For them it means time with
their children and a reduction in childcare costs. It
means more leisure and quality time. They claim to be
able to work smarter and harder. Study after study
show, however, that this choice is not open to working
class people in dead-end type jobs. Why well-paid
and well-rewarded professionals, for instance, need
this kind of benefit from their bosses to work hard is
not explained. Nor is it explained why such freedom to
choose when and how to work has a reverse effect on
the 'lower orders', for whom long hours, poor pay and
the threat of the sack seem to be the only way to get
them to work! The working class response to
flexibilisation - a high labour turnover, absenteeism,
low commitment and poor performance - is matched
by the reduction in benefits, performance
management techniques and rigorous monitoring of
work and working.

The same applies to casualisation, the process by
which the power of employers to give or withhold
employment (and with it the means to live). Many
bosses are introducing 'zero hour' contracts, where
there is no guarantee of work and you are
permanently on-call. This has the benefit (to the
bosses) of the worker not having any rights or
protection under the law. The risk associated with the
uncertainties of unplanned economies, of having to
pay idle workers for instance, is transferred to the
workers themselves. So much for the daring
entrepreneur who risks all to create wealth for the
many! Many millions of jobs have always been or are
rapidly becoming casualised. The principles of the
free market, where value is entirely subjective,
nothing is guaranteed and the devil take the hindmost
are being applied to the labour market. And yet, in a
society where life is work, doesn't our failure to have
and to hold onto employment condemn us to failure
as human beings? Read any tabloid newspaper, listen
to any right-wing politician or pundit and the answer
is, yes.

MACDONALDISATION

"Workers and consumers are the miserable servants
of machines and their endless demands".

McDonaldisation (the modern form of Taylorism,
though management courses will not mention either
word) is a system of producing goods and services in
which the process is broken into its smallest part,
systematically analysed, re-engineered to maximise
profit and replicated in each and every working
environment that produces those goods. Making
things becomes a series of entirely independent,
discrete, controllable actions, eliminating
independent thought and creativity.

We become alienated from the process, required to
perform a series of meaningless tasks. Such
alienation from the work produces depression, anger,
an unthinking and uncaring remoteness from other
people.

Everywhere this process is used the bosses are
happy with the amount produced but appalled by its
low quality. Their only solution is to tightly control and
quarantine workers: visit some of the industrial
gulags of Indonesia, Malaya or China, for instance.
The labour turnover in these factories is evidence of
the determination of people to resist their exploitation.
The bosses get rid of any worker who shows signs of
resistance or who are too demoralised to produce
efficiently. Their awareness is a disease that makes
them unfit for work or to be around other workers they
might infect: with knowledge of, anger towards and
contempt for the bosses.

This system is also often known as Toyotism, after
the Toyota, Japan factory system introduced in the
1960s and 1970s. The level of control over workers
has been intensified by the introduction of individual
work contracts and other processes that impose
obligations to produce on the individual while
weakening collective agreements and relationships -
creating what is known in Europe as the 'diffuse
factory'. What is new about Toyotism is "just-in-time"
production and prompt reaction to market
requirements; the imposition of multi-jobbing on
workers employed on several machines, either
simultaneously or sequentially; quality control
throughout the entire flow of production and real-time
information on the progress of production in the
factory. Production is often halted and work-teams,
departments or even the whole factory called to
account. Anybody who shows a waged-worker's
indifference to the company's productivity
requirements and decides not to join "quality control"
groups etc, is stigmatised and encouraged to leave.

The same system is applied to the commodities that
are used in the process with every stage of how they
are produced and processed minutely regulated. A
cow is not a living creature but a sack of usable and
unusable meat, fat and gristle. How the useful is
divided from the not-so useful is a science in itself.
Increasingly consumption and leisure are being
'McDonaldised'. The places where we seek pleasure
are increasingly the same, we expect to be able to
find the same brand names throughout the world. We
laugh at the same time and at the same jokes. Culture
is increasingly global but it also increasingly
mass-manufactured and distributed, designed for
mass appeal, consumed not created, a thing that is
done to us, doled out in pieces to audiences that are
happy to feed for awhile instead of thinking.

COMMODIFICATION

Work used to be a purposeful and meaningful activity.
There was spiritual satisfaction in working and
co-operating to meet the needs of ourselves, our
families, our people. People chose the work they did if
they could and invested much of their personality and
abilities in the making and production of useful, better
or beautiful things. Today, the pre-eminence of
consumption as a social good and conferrer of social
status on us as individuals has made the product far
more important than the producer (witness the social
cachet of a Nike trainer over the sweated Indonesian
who made it). Work has ceased to have a personal
value for those who toil. In many cases it does not
have a social value to society (witness the amount we
discard or the sheer quantity of junk goods we
produce). Large amounts of work is simply about the
reproduction of capitalism on a daily basis - think
about the trillions of dollars traded on the stock
markets for instance and why it is being done. It
matters only because this is the means by which
capitalism justifies itself and produces the means -
money - for its own continuation. The activity
produces nothing, except money, whose social value
is zero. Work only matters in terms of what is
produced - the commodity - and the social and
personal value of what is produced to the person
consuming it. If you don't believe us, why are so many
important jobs like nursing rewarded so badly? Our
labour, the portion of time we spend being 'socially
useful' has become a commodity, whose value in the
market is dictated solely by the whims of millions of
other individual desires to possess, stimulated by the
propaganda mills of capitalism, the advertising
industry. Of course, many people realise this but are
themselves trapped by the artificial need and desire
to consume. We become our own gaoler! It is through
consumption that the majority channel their
aspirations - to pleasure, to a sense of meaning and
personal identity. Our aspirations to freedom have
been transferred from the workplace to the rest of our
lives but the commodification of personal life and
leisure has simply built more cares around our life.
The refusal to work must be accompanied by the
refusal to consume (and vice versa), to participate in
the reproduction of everyday life through the
production and consumption of useless commodities
via a commodified process: work.
..../2



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