Co-operatives, capitalism and the IWW

Co-operatives, capitalism and the IWW

Blog entry critiquing a promotional graphic of the revolutionary union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) comparing a capitalist coffee shop with a co-operative one.

I have seen this picture (click on it to see an enlarged version) doing the rounds on Facebook recently, posted by various anarchists and IWW pages.

However, I felt I had to write some sort of response to it, as the politics it contains basically show up quite a profound misunderstanding of the capitalist system. Which unfortunately is very important for people and organisations, such as the IWW, who want to overthrow it.

So this isn't meant as negative criticism of the IWW, or the creator of the image, but is meant in a constructive way to assist us all with our understanding of capitalism and how we can (try to!) supersede it.

The picture compares an exploitative capitalist coffee shop, compared to a happy, egalitarian co-operative one.

Now, the actual problem with this picture depends on what it is meant to represent. So it depends on whether the picture on the left of the "barista co-operative" is meant to be a collective coffee shop in the present day, also in a capitalist system, or if it's meant to be a collective coffee shop of a future anarchist/communist society.

If the former, a co-operative coffee shop today, then the problem with it is that while there would be no external bosses, the co-operative members have to be both bosses and workers themselves.

Their coffee shop will still be existing within a capitalist marketplace, and so will still be subjected to competition and the whims of the market.

So while their boss may not cut Joe's hours, if market forces dictate it they will have to cut their own hours themselves.

Say, for example, a capitalist chain coffee shop we can call Coffeebucks opens down the road from their happy co-op. The co-op will have to compete with it in terms of prices if it is to attract customers.

Coffeebucks only pay minimum wage, with no sick pay, no pensions, no benefits etc. They are also a large chain, so they can use their purchasing power to drive down suppliers' prices to get cheaper coffee and food. So they sell their products much cheaper than the co-op.

Facing going out of business, the co-op members either internalise the capitalist boss, and cut their own wages, conditions or jobs,1 Or they go bust.

In a capitalist economy, we cannot extract ourselves from the market. We cannot self-manage capitalism in our own interests as it is automatically weighted against workers.2 The only way we can really live without exploitation and bosses is not by internalising them but by abolishing capitalism. Which brings me to the second option.

If the barista co-operative depicted is meant to be a co-operative in a postcapitalist society then the problem with it is different.

Firstly, after a revolution which abolishes wage labour (a fundamental principle of the IWW), who in their right minds would want to continue working in their crappy coffee shop?

Coffee shop work is one of the pointless jobs (which artist William Morris referred to as "useless toil", as opposed to "useful work" ) which in a communist society no one would have to do. Basically staff only have to be there to make sure customers actually pay for their coffee and panini.

Not to mention the fact that coffee shops mainly exist to quickly sell coffee and sandwiches to workers doing other pointless jobs in their breaks - a situation which should no longer be the case in a communist society. (That and of course that after the revolution everyone will have a Gaggia!)

Finally, the co-operative picture shows money (wages) being distributed equally to all the workers. The IWW aims for the abolition of wage labour. And if the idea is that after a revolution everyone will have to keep working and just all earn the same amount of money than actually this is not a socialist society at all but will actually be a form of dysfunctional capitalism.3

Another key problem I have with the graphic is that what was good historically about the IWW (and what is still good about elements in it today) is that it is about workers fighting together in their own interests, regardless of the dictates of capital. This idea seems absent from the image, which seems to propose setting up co-ops instead of fighting.

One minor issue is that I would disagree with the emphasis given to the point on unemployment being created by design to hold down the rate of inflation. While unemployment can hold inflation down, that is not why it was created. Mass unemployment exists to keep wages down. It is a weapon to use against workers who demand better wages or conditions, as there is a large pool of people who could take their place. Similarly, inflation can be used to attack workers' wages as well, where if employers grant wage rises they can claw back profits by increasing their prices further.

(As a disclaimer, this does seem like a disproportionately long article to write about a little image on Facebook, but for some reason I just felt compelled to write it. Procrastinating about getting on with more important tasks was probably a factor as well…)

Posted By

Steven.
Feb 18 2012 13:13

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Choccy
Feb 18 2012 13:50

I like the tone of this, comradely but critical, hopefully the IWW will respond to the constructive criticism. Of course this is standard criticism of co-operatives but since the IWW are chatting about this it's still very relevant.

no.25
Feb 18 2012 14:03

Good article, and LOL at socialist realism espressos.

Serge Forward
Feb 18 2012 14:18

Personally, I'd have nothing against working in a 'workers cooperative' if it meant better conditions at work under capitalism and not being treated like shit every single day - though whether it does this long term is open to question. Similarly, I'd rather work for a boss who at least treats me like a human being rather than a boss who acts like a little Hitler and makes me miserable every day.

However, seeing cooperativism as anything other than a localised, immediate, temporary and partial solution at improving your working lifestyle is definitely a big mistake. And if cooperativism were taken as something more than a palliative measure to problems at work, then those involved would not only be on a hiding to nothing but would certainly place them at odds with the 'ablition of the wages system' bit in the preamble.

Meanwhile, what Steven says is 100% correct. And as Bob Miller once said, 'Smash hip capitalism!'

Edit: Hmm... looking at the image again, it does seem to imply that a 'barista cooperative' coffee house is not a 'capitalist coffee house' eek

Edit again: Wait a minute, unemployment doesn't exist by design as a check on the rate of inflation. That's just rubbish.

Steven.
Feb 18 2012 14:34

Ha, well I'm glad my MS paint skills are appreciated.

Also, I'm glad that the tone seems okay, because it can be difficult trying to offer constructive criticism.

Looking at the original image posted again, it has nearly 300 likes and over 200 shares in its original incarnation, so actually I think it probably was worth writing this.

As serge says, I also of course have no problem with people working in co-ops as such, especially if it does make your conditions slightly better. However setting up co-ops is not a revolutionary strategy or one which advances the interests of the working class as a whole, and as such isn't something we should promote. There are also dangers with it as described in the Mondragon example, in that workers at a capitalist enterprise facing pay cuts can take direct action such as strike action against it. But workers at a co-op cannot do this as they would just be striking against themselves.

bastarx
Feb 18 2012 14:43

Why did the IWW even produce this stupid picture? They don't AFAIK seek to create workers coops and why they would think advertising them would get people to sign up is beyond me.

Serge, I think the bit about unemployment and inflation is half or maybe a quarter right. When things were going well in the neoliberal era state policy was that unemployment shouldn't be allowed to fall below 5% because that would lead to inflationary wage rises.

Australia with IIRC 5.2% unemployment right now is considered to have full employment. A big change from the post-WW2 boom when it was widely considered that unemployment above 2% was certain electoral death for the party in power.

Felix Frost
Feb 18 2012 14:44

I think you are reading a lot of things into this graphic that isn't actually there. Nowhere in here is it claimed that coops aren't "subjected to competition and the whims of the market".

I don't know who made this, but I would assume that it was one of the existing IWW coffee shop coops, and that the graphic relates to this, and not to some utopian post-capitalist future.

revol68
Feb 18 2012 14:54
Peter wrote:
Why did the IWW even produce this stupid picture? They don't AFAIK seek to create workers coops and why they would think advertising them would get people to sign up is beyond me.

Serge, I think the bit about unemployment and inflation is half or maybe a quarter right. When things were going well in the neoliberal era state policy was that unemployment shouldn't be allowed to fall below 5% because that would lead to inflationary wage rises.

Australia with IIRC 5.2% unemployment right now is considered to have full employment. A big change from the post-WW2 boom when it was widely considered that unemployment above 2% was certain electoral death for the party in power.

That was Steven's point, the issue isn't inflation, it's wages, as shown by the fact they didn't give a fuck about the huge inflation in property prices. The notion that unemployment is there to keep inflation in line is just ideological cover for suppressing wages with a constantly churning reserve army of labour, that is it seeks to displace it's obvious class interests onto a mythical objective "economic responsibility", just like when they talk about "for the good of the economy".

revol68
Feb 18 2012 14:58

Also good job Steven, I to am baffled as to why the IWW would put out this nonsense, it's more befitting of liberals and tories idealised "big society" of independent businesses and dynamic start ups.

The role of the IWW should be to explode the contradictions of capitalism not to subsume them within a self exploiting self managing working class.

Boydell
Feb 18 2012 15:03

All valid points Steven, now if you can just incorporate that critique into an easy-to-digest poster that will draw people into reading it......ahhh....

My work has recently changed to being a workers coop, and i much prefer it. Thats a 'reality' for me.

I am a member of the IWW.

I don't see this as constructive criticism, i see this as nit-picking, with an air of 'holier than thou' point scoring.

Sorry, I'm sure you consciously have the best intentions and i respect other things that you have written on Libcom, but thats how i feel.

Steven.
Feb 18 2012 15:06
Felix Frost wrote:
I think you are reading a lot of things into this graphic that isn't actually there. Nowhere in here is it claimed that coops aren't "subjected to competition and the whims of the market".

I don't know who made this, but I would assume that it was one of the existing IWW coffee shop coops, and that the graphic relates to this, and not to some utopian post-capitalist future.

a guy called Richard Myers made it, but it was also posted up by things like the official London Wobblies Facebook page.

Okay, saying it is about existing IWW coffee shop co-ops (do these exist BTW? Are these like US radical cafes?), how does showing this relate to telling people to join the IWW? To turn their capitalist coffee shops into them? Or to quit and set up their own IWW co-op? Or what?

Nate
Feb 18 2012 15:18

FWIW it's my understanding that this isn't any official image but rather was made by one IWW member, who put his name in the lower corner of the image. So, this is just one member's opinion in a personal capacity.I'm also just one member speaking in a personal capacity here. I wish he had made it clear that this was just his thing and all that, and nothing official. This is something that we're really bad on in the IWW. The positive side is that people can make whatever literature they want for their uses and it represents them as an IWW member - I could put out anything I wanted in my workplace etc - but there are some obvious downsides. I don't know what the fix is, unfortunately. Or rather there's probly no good formal/policy fix and maybe the best response is conversation to shape what people will and won't want to put out. I dunno.

That aside, I agree with you on all points Steven. The only other thing I'd add is that co-ops facing competition have one option other than slash wages etc, which is to go more niche market: make the co-op part of their brand and market themselves to people for whom that would be a selling point. That's a really minor detail and doesn't change any of the political points you make here, I just thought it was worth pointing out because there are some worker owned co-ops where I live that do this.

Oh yeah, I guess one other thing - in some cases this isn't an abstraction. Like, in the coffee industry, the idea that baristas at Coffeebucks will quit and open their own coffeeshop is really, really unlikely because of the combination of cost to enter the coffeeshop market and baristas low wages. For other markets, though, wages are higher and entry costs are lower (in the trades and in service-provision). Off the top of my head I know of three examples where individual IWW members have stopped working in a campaign and instead started a co-op. This has happened once with a bike messenger, a house cleaner, and someone in home construction/maintenance (that last one might have been someone who was organizing in a different industry then went into construction, it was like 6-7 years ago and I can't remember the details). I don't fault people deciding individually that they can make better pay and have better conditions this way, but it's frustrating to lose organizers this way and it's doubly frustrating if people act like their making some kind of positive political step by doing so.

Steven.
Feb 18 2012 15:21
Boydell wrote:

My work has recently changed to being a workers coop, and i much prefer it. Thats a 'reality' for me.

How did that change happen? Did you leave your previous job and get a new one at a co-op? Do you think this is something which is applicable to all workers?

And how about looking at work other than your own. For example, I work in the public sector in children's services. The government is encouraging workers in my sector to set up cooperatives to take over the services -to privatise public services and cut wages and conditions. Do you not think this means that cooperatives are not always a good thing?

Steven.
Feb 18 2012 15:30

Thanks Nate, interesting points. On this one:

Nate wrote:

That aside, I agree with you on all points Steven. The only other thing I'd add is that co-ops facing competition have one option other than slash wages etc, which is to go more niche market: make the co-op part of their brand and market themselves to people for whom that would be a selling point. That's a really minor detail and doesn't change any of the political points you make here, I just thought it was worth pointing out because there are some worker owned co-ops where I live that do this.

yes, I agree with you. There is a market for "ethical" or even "radical" consumerism, but because this would mean higher prices it will always be a small niche and can never be generalisable for workers as a whole.

revol68
Feb 18 2012 15:36
Steven. wrote:
Thanks Nate, interesting points. On this one:
Nate wrote:

That aside, I agree with you on all points Steven. The only other thing I'd add is that co-ops facing competition have one option other than slash wages etc, which is to go more niche market: make the co-op part of their brand and market themselves to people for whom that would be a selling point. That's a really minor detail and doesn't change any of the political points you make here, I just thought it was worth pointing out because there are some worker owned co-ops where I live that do this.

yes, I agree with you. There is a market for "ethical" or even "radical" consumerism, but because this would mean higher prices it will always be a small niche and can never be generalisable for workers as a whole.

Yep and the fact is that successful marketing of this niche requires a deeper perpuation of the myth of self exploitation, as a campaign based on "come to our coffee house, where we are still alienated and self exploiting but y'know got to make a living somehow and it's better than working in Starbucks" wouldn't be that succ....

Actually that's a fucking great marketing idea for our oh so hip and knowing times! Hope Saatchi & Saatchi are reading this...

Joseph Kay
Feb 18 2012 15:45

I think using this a a stick to beat the IWW is stupid, as it's just one image produced by one guy and put about a bit on social media. I dont think Steven's doing that, more using the image as a hook to hang an argument which many in the IWW probably agree with.

While I more or less agree with the criticisms of co-ops, I think there's a few points it's easy to miss. In no particular order:

- Agitational propaganda is basically about puncturing 'capitalist realism' by getting people to imagine things being different. This image does that using a visual representation of piles of cash for the boss vs equal distribution. Obviously taken literally that's not 'the abolition of the wage system', but agitationally it gets people to question the 'right' of private property, and could lead to questions like 'if all wages are equal, why do we need wages at all?' So while it's not 'politically correct', it lays down the gauntlet to represent communist ideas with simlar visual immediacy imho.

- As Nate's says, not all competition is on price. If coffeebucks is serve shit burnt coffee, a premium independent co-op with a nice vibe might have a viable niche to survive in. A lot of the same pressures apply, but competition doesn't have to be head-to-head on price with the corporate chains. The cash that would have gone on management could conceivably be banked as a hardship fund to soften the impact of downturns etc too, mitigating against wage cuts and/or redundancies. So it's not impossible in principle for some co-ops in some niche markets to improve conditions and job security. But it's not generalisable, or a strategy for escaping capitalism or anything.

- Finally, I'm not sure coffee making is necessarily unskilled. Doesn't mean coffee shops would be the same thing in communism, but insofar as there's a skill to it and it requires specialist machinery, there's likely to be public social spaces where said machinery resides which may well be self-managed by a collective of coffeephiles, even if it's not a straight up worker-customer division. Where else will the communist hipsters sit all day with their macs and (now ironic) tomes on communisation theory? tongue

Steven.
Feb 18 2012 15:46

Actually, I just remembered something related to this has, before, when the IWW posted a press release to our news section about the members of a worker co-operative joining the IWW en masse a little while ago: http://libcom.org/news/local-worker-owned-restaurant-joins-iww-10052011

Nate
Feb 18 2012 15:57
revol68 wrote:
Steven. wrote:
Thanks Nate, interesting points. On this one:
Nate wrote:

That aside, I agree with you on all points Steven. The only other thing I'd add is that co-ops facing competition have one option other than slash wages etc, which is to go more niche market: make the co-op part of their brand and market themselves to people for whom that would be a selling point. That's a really minor detail and doesn't change any of the political points you make here, I just thought it was worth pointing out because there are some worker owned co-ops where I live that do this.

yes, I agree with you. There is a market for "ethical" or even "radical" consumerism, but because this would mean higher prices it will always be a small niche and can never be generalisable for workers as a whole.

Yep and the fact is that successful marketing of this niche requires a deeper perpuation of the myth of self exploitation

Absolutely. And it works in a passive or diffuse way -- "we're different" as a general attitude in the workplace and as part of the message that the company sells to consumers -- but also in an active and direct way in some cases, when co-ops and associations of co-ops actively promote themselves and their ideology. These things are really shakey in the US as far as I know (this isn't a moment when co-ops are being promoted and isn't a moment conducive to new small companies, I think) so they're not a big deal, but I do know there have been federations of worker co-ops that tried to promote co-operativization (or whatever the word is). I'd prefer to shop at a co-op than a WalMart, like I'd rather buy fair trade than not, but the idea that it's a radical political thing... nah.

Edit: Gah, that was jumbled. What I mean is, I think that the social practice of co-op businesses encourage muddy ideas among workers and consumers. In addition, these companies and their associations sometimes actively promote a somewhat worked out ideology about co-ops which is another problem. This image fits with that, IMHO.

revol68
Feb 18 2012 15:57

I don't know why some people are getting huffy over Steven's criticisms, they are perfectly fair and made in if anything too apologetic a tone. I also don't see it as a stick to beat the IWW with, more a chance to open up discussion on co-ops and their relationship to capitalism.

Joseph K's point about it being a handy piece of agitprop for puncturing "capitalist realism" (is that a "thing" now, I hope it isn't wink) is true but this one from '68 does it better (and in sexy french) without watering it down into self managed capitalism (shut up Dauve!)

revol68
Feb 18 2012 16:02

yeah they serve to mask over the fundamental contradiction in capitalism, labour versus capital, there's enough shit out there that does that already, like racism, nationalism and the like.

Steven.
Feb 18 2012 16:08

Here is a parallel exchange on Facebook with Larry Gambone, who also shared the image:

me wrote:
Larry Gambone wrote:
Unfortunately, Steve Johns posting right below this one has no comments section - so this will serve as my comment. Does Steve think that we cannot have any improvement in our lives under capitalism until the Glorious Day? No one thinks coops are a panacea, they are an improvement over capitalism and improvements should never be sneered at. Furthermore far from being "stupid" this graphic opens people up to the idea of economic democracy, people who otherwise might not be open to abstract ideas about a perfect libertarian socialist utopia in the distant future. Sorry Steve but I find ultra leftism tiresome!

I'll say to you what I said to another IWW member in the comments under the article: I work in the public sector in children's services. The government is encouraging workers in my sector to set up cooperatives to take over the services -to privatise public services and cut wages and conditions.

You still think cooperatives are better than normal capitalist businesses? (You claim that co-operatives are better than "capitalism", but this is not a valid comparison. Cooperatives in a capitalist economy are still capitalist enterprises.)

I forgot to add (which I will do now) that in response to the comment about getting improvements under capitalism (although of course these aren't on the cards at the moment, we can't even adequately defend our current standard of living, let alone improve it) that I think we could potentially do that, but the way we should get it is by collectively fighting our employers with direct action, not by "getting on our bikes" and setting up co-ops.

revol68
Feb 18 2012 16:12

Is the IWW not a union, or claims to be, a fighting one at that? What relevance do worker ran co-ops have to them then? They going to organise against themselves? Surely worker ran co-ops are at best irrelevant to the IWW? Or is it like the time they "organised" those clown SSP members up in the Scottish parliament ie they're happy to just be able to claim they've organised a workplace regardless of the content?

Joseph Kay
Feb 18 2012 16:15
revol68 wrote:
I also don't see it as a stick to beat the IWW with
revol68
Feb 18 2012 16:31

they bring it on themselves [/blaming the victim] wink

but seriously the replies Steven's been getting from some are very defensive and dishonest eg don't you think we should strive for improvements in working conditions, wages etc?

I don't think thes eissues should be brushed under the carpet out of some misplaced sense of "comradeship" or not wanting to seem too critical.

The IWW and it's relationships to co-ops goes beyond this one piece of agit prop produced by one member and this is a good thread for people to discuss the relationship and tension between class struggle and things like collectives and co-ops, especially when one of our governments responses to people complaining about the austerity measures and unemployment is to tell them to set up their own services, that is "take the shit we give you and "self manage" it, you whinging rabble".

notrivia
Feb 18 2012 16:31

Got a good point about the fact coffee shops are useless junk (although caffeine junkies may disagree... lol) smile.

However, the idea that a co-op can´t be sucessful whithin the current system regarding the competition with big business, may be revised.

In fact the all idea of a co-op (if it's meant to be sucessful), is that it should be fully integrated within the community (and members of the community should be part of the co-op), and therefore provide or facilitate the acquisition of goods and services which are sought after by the community.

I can tell you that around here there are some sucessfull agricultural co-ops (some not officially registered, because good communication is all people need) in which different farmers and costumers(substantial part of the local population and many non-locals) working together, are able to provide good quality produce at competitive prices against big supermarket chains.
I can tell you the people involved don't think twice about where they'll go to get the merchandise.

More over, in a co-op the idea is not to work according to fixed wages and working hours. Is a bit of blood, sweat but no tears because the hapiness come from the fact that people working together, have better chances to overcome or mitigate the enslavement of salaried work just for the sake of the salarie, regardless of life itself.

Actually, the proliferation of useful co-ops (food, energy related, etc) everywhere, would be an excellent way of attacking the current system by rendering it obsolete, simply by diverting people away from the crap they give, sell and impinge on us.

By the way, around here starbucks is generally considered crap and more expensive than our traditional coffee business. No way they'll get a foot hold soon, and the fact that drinking coffee is deep seated in social interaction which regularly happens in local pastry/coffee houses and restaurants, will eventually play an important role in delaying the invasion of that particular brand, at least.
Yeah, it's a bit of a community thing. smile

Nonetheless, a few things must be kept in perspective...
The success of a co-op or any other form of collective action resides largely in the hability of people being able to: overcome their differences, eliminate the pursue of individual power and profit out of their minds and get to work together towards common good.
Yes, that's hard for many!
I can tell you that I've seen some collective actions fail because some people with their selfisness of wanting to travel the world or some other personal craving (and using the results of collective hard work for fullfiling those personal dreams..) managed to blow up years of fruitful collective action.
With that, I'll finish citing something I've seen printed on a card board in some occupy movement somewhere:

"The strenght of the oppressor resides in the mind of the oppressed."

All the best

revol68
Feb 18 2012 16:39
notrivia wrote:
Got a good point about the fact coffee shops are useless junk (although caffeine junkies may disagree... lol) smile.

However, the idea that a co-op can´t be sucessful whithin the current system regarding the competition with big business, may be revised.

In fact the all idea of a co-op (if it's meant to be sucessful), is that it should be fully integrated within the community (and members of the community should be part of the co-op), and therefore provide or facilitate the acquisition of goods and services which are sought after by the community.

I can tell you that around here there are some sucessfull agricultural co-ops (some not officially registered, because good communication is all people need) in which different farmers and costumers(substantial part of the local population and many non-locals) working together, are able to provide good quality produce at competitive prices against big supermarket chains.
I can tell you the people involved don't think twice about where they'll go to get the merchandise.

More over, in a co-op the idea is not to work according to fixed wages and working hours. Is a bit of blood, sweat but no tears because the hapiness come from the fact that people working together, have better chances to overcome or mitigate the enslavement of salaried work just for the sake of the salarie, regardless of life itself.

Actually, the proliferation of useful co-ops (food, energy related, etc) everywhere, would be an excellent way of attacking the current system by rendering it obsolete, simply by diverting people away from the crap they give, sell and impinge on us.

By the way, around here starbucks is generally considered crap and more expensive than our traditional coffee business. No way they'll get a foot hold soon, and the fact that drinking coffee is deep seated in social interaction which regularly happens in local pastry/coffee houses and restaurants, will eventually play an important role in delaying the invasion of that particular brand, at least.
Yeah, it's a bit of a community thing. smile

Nonetheless, a few things must be kept in perspective...
The success of a co-op or any other form of collective action resides largely in the hability of people being able to: overcome their differences, eliminate the pursue of individual power and profit out of their minds and get to work together towards common good.
Yes, that's hard for many!
I can tell you that I've seen some collective actions fail because some people with their selfisness of wanting to travel the world or some other personal craving (and using the results of collective hard work for fullfiling those personal dreams..) managed to blow up years of fruitful collective action.
With that, I'll finish citing something I've seen printed on a card board in some occupy movement somewhere:

"The strenght of the oppressor resides in the mind of the oppressed."

All the best

This is why Steven's piece is important...

Nate
Feb 18 2012 16:51
revol68 wrote:
The IWW and it's relationships to co-ops goes beyond this one piece of agit prop produced by one member

True. But it's always been a minor thing. What's happened over the past few years is a sort of cycling through of people. There's pretty predictably a handful of IWW members who have some positive ideas about co-ops and who are actively trying to do something about those ideas - promote the ideology, start co-ops, etc - and who are trying to get the broader IWW onboard/involved officially or get more IWW members involved. That rarely goes very far. There's turnover a lot among the people (so most of the active pro- co-op people I can think of have lasted maybe 2 years in their active promotion of co-ops). At any given time there's more or less people doing this but people seem to keep coming back through to take on those roles. Over all these are a really, really tiny fraction of IWW members (and we're a tiny organization, so it's a tiny fraction of a tiny group). I tried to say this but I don't think I was clear, I think some of this speaks to both strengths and weaknesses of the IWW. Officially speaking the organization has a lot of openness for a range of ideas and it's usually constructive internally within the organization/the membership as it actually exists. On the flip side, it leads to stuff being put out that I find annoying and we're not doing enough informally to create constructive discussions and stuff where we educate each other collectively as members. I think the IWW part of all this is probly the least interesting, though.

The most interesting bits I think are along these lines -

revol68 wrote:
discuss the relationship and tension between class struggle and things like collectives and co-ops, especially when one of our governments responses to people complaining about the austerity measures and unemployment is to tell them to set up their own services, that is "take the shit we give you and "self manage" it, you whinging rabble".
medwards
Feb 18 2012 18:10

So, the IWW is a pretty organic organisation, and as already been mentioned this graphic was produced by someone becoming politically conscious but obviously he either hasn't grasped some of the "army of the unemployed" rhetoric or is outright ignoring it for the purpose of this graphic.

In the former case, well nobody is onboarded and expected to be super-solid politically (although I have taken to forcing new members to sit through a brief lecture on the IWW Preamble to the Constitution so that they at least start with common ground). And hell, going through the peer-guided learning that the union is very good at might produce interesting hybrid models of thought. The union doesn't really go in for ideological hegemony. You'll find in practice that if things like promoting co-op membership actively impacted organising drives then they would quickly be addressed. So critique this piece and the union all you want for individuals engaging in these sorts of behaviours, but its not like our fundamental behaviour changes. We just end up with this odd co-op section of the union, which, to be blunt, gives us some degree of flexibility if the assertions we make about co-ops as anti-capitalist institutions turn out wrong (I don't believe this by the way, I just remain prepared for multiple outcomes).

The latter case would probably be a post-Occupy thing in which I've seen many good political groups in North America (the IWW is in some ways the least bad in this regard) start producing rhetoric that is just cringe-worthy but probably very appealing to early naive participants of the movement. In this case, I see this graphic as part of a pattern of behaviour that I am very unhappy with, but its so widespread at this point that its not like we can really do anything about it.

EdmontonWobbly
Feb 18 2012 18:15

I'm just guessing here but I bet a lot of those "shares" and "likes" on that graphic can be attributed to folks in the occupy movement and not just the IWW. Worker coops are huge inside occupy. There's a bit of controversy in the IWW with regards to our relationship to worker coops. There's some folks, like myself, who think they aren't something we should be very involved with while others feel they could be a source of member recruitment. How this builds us as a union I don't know but I try not to be a dick about this because a lot of folks are sincere. Also I really agree with Nate, a lot of bad politics is actually emotionally easier than organising - which is often very difficult. Things like worker coops are hard work but don't face the same amount of repression so I can understand why people make bad political decisions based on what are actually personal reasons, understanding this can go a long way to addressing how we turn this problem around.

Surtrsflame
Feb 18 2012 18:43

Richard Myers has a large number of graphics that he does for the IWW, and many of them are very good. I think that, while there are the problems with coffeehouse image that have been very well hashed out above, there is a definite strength to it in it's weakness. It's very effective propaganda towards lefty-liberals ('progressives' in US political terms) in getting them to look at simply the stupidity of bosses, and advantages of a parecon or mutualist economy. It's a lot easier to bring people from parecon to lib communism than straight from liberalism to libcommunism.

Cooked
Feb 18 2012 18:58
Steven. wrote:
who in their right minds would want to continue working in their crappy coffee shop?

Lot's of people would love to have a cafe with their friends. Just like an extended living room I presume. Obviously this is difficult under capitalism unless you have a trust fund to fall back on, and why the "crappy" bit.

Your later point about the Tory scheming and the threat of this affecting you is much more important imho.

People working for small businesses might not immediately relate to this though because often the manager is your biggest problem at work. Getting rid of the overhead spelled manager/owner would prolly improve many peoples life even if it doesn't bring you closer to the revolution.

Co-ops don't exist outside capitalism but you can at least have some say in how you are exploited which is an improvement for many. Workplace organizing isn't exactly killing capitalism atm either.

The arguments against co-ops are macro-scale which doesn't make them less important but amongst the compromises and less that ideal choices people have to make starting a co-op seems at worst harmless.