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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gypsy
Feb 20 2012 14:43
Richard Myers wrote:
Although i've had a libcom account for years, i haven't often participated here. But i appreciate the opportunity to discuss this topic.

I must say, i haven't considered that any in this thread have necessarily had an "axe to grind". I appreciate the politeness and participation of all. I think it has been an opportunity for all of us to learn a little something from each other.

Aye maybe the axe to grind was abit harsh on Steven. But I think there is enough legitimate stuff to have a go at the IWW with rather than making out that this was an IWW position when it wasnt/ain't. Struck me as a rather disingenuous blog post although the debate about co-op's is more than welcome and good debate has came from it.

Surtrsflame
Feb 20 2012 20:01
Spikymike wrote:
The weakest defense of this piece of 'propaganda' was put forward in it's most blatant fashion by 'Surtrsflame', but also less crudely by others here, as a sort of 'transitional measure' to ween liberals and leftists, step by step from their open support of capitalism, via mutualism or parecom type proposals, and eventually on to the real thing ie libertarian communism. Funny this as it seems so reminisant of the elitist 'transitional demands' approach of those same liberal leftists which get such a hammering on other threads here!

I should have been more clear in what I mean. I'm referring to people who have already been politicized - and not necessarily through struggle. I'm also not referring to 'transitional demands', but transitional thought. I think as an effort towards revolution, mutualism or parecon is utterly pointless. However, in terms of talking to liberals, mutualism or parecon work very well because examples of it can exist within capitalism, and thus it can be used as 'working examples' to support our viewpoints. I do not think cooperatives, even so called "revolutionary" cooperatives are in any way useful as ends (i.e. cooperative capitalism). I do think they can be useful as a minor means to an end.

As an example, for xmas I got people bags of Just Coffee, a Madison based IWW job shop coop. Not because it's in any way revolutionary but because it challenges the cultural hegemony of capitalism and they make great coffee.

I hope that explained my point better.

Steven.
Feb 20 2012 21:36
gypsy wrote:
Richard Myers wrote:
Although i've had a libcom account for years, i haven't often participated here. But i appreciate the opportunity to discuss this topic.

I must say, i haven't considered that any in this thread have necessarily had an "axe to grind". I appreciate the politeness and participation of all. I think it has been an opportunity for all of us to learn a little something from each other.

Aye maybe the axe to grind was abit harsh on Steven. But I think there is enough legitimate stuff to have a go at the IWW with rather than making out that this was an IWW position when it wasnt/ain't. Struck me as a rather disingenuous blog post although the debate about co-op's is more than welcome and good debate has came from it.

I wasn't interested in "having a go at the IWW" I was interested in having this discussion about co-ops, which is one which needs to happen.

This was IWW propaganda, as has been said, it contains the IWW logo, and by their rules they allow individual members to produce official union propaganda themselves. And it is inaccurate to portray it as just the view of one member, as it was shared and liked by hundreds of people. Since writing this response, some people in the IWW have defended co-ops as a revolutionary strategy, as one person did here. Other people have on Facebook as well, including the likes of Larry Gambone who not only has gone on at length about the intrinsic socialist and anti-capitalist nature of workers co-ops (on which I'm sure he and David Cameron would disagree) but has also been extremely rude about it.

I think it's also out of order to claim that I have some sort of axe to grind with the IWW. Especially as up until Juan Conatz at least I have probably put more wobbly history online here than anyone else: http://libcom.org/tags/IWW

anyway, Richard, I appreciate your comments here and the constructive way you have engaged. I disagree with the practice of producing propaganda with some sort of "transitional demands", for the reasons that others have gone into above. And I'm glad I didn't come across as antagonistic.

Steven.
Feb 20 2012 21:40
Surtrsflame wrote:

As an example, for xmas I got people bags of Just Coffee, a Madison based IWW job shop coop. Not because it's in any way revolutionary but because it challenges the cultural hegemony of capitalism and they make great coffee.

on a related note, a friend got me a pack of Zapatista coffee, which was a great gift, but the coffee is piss weak! I would have thought that coffee made by a guerrilla army would have been strong as hell. Sadly not. Although I imagine it's probably because it is mostly made for the US market, and their coffee in general is weak piss.

gypsy
Feb 20 2012 22:45
Steven. wrote:

This was IWW propaganda,

I think it's also out of order to claim that I have some sort of axe to grind with the IWW. Especially as up until Juan Conatz at least I have probably put more wobbly history online here than anyone else: http://libcom.org/tags/IWW
.

I still don't think you can say that it is official IWW propaganda and I don't think you can go by facebook likes to say that it is a collective position from IWW folk. Apologies for saying you had an axe to grind, I was being a bit of a cock.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 20 2012 23:18

That's problematic tho. I mean, we're in the scene and we might make the effort to determine what's been officially endorsed by the organisation (or some part of it) and what comes from individual members. But for general members of the public, if it has the IWW logo, folks are going to think it's official. So whether it is officially official or not, I think it's actually a moot point.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 20 2012 23:21

Someone was telling me just this weekend, that Zapatista coffee beans themselves are actually quite good, it's just that they're roasted in Germany--which is apparently a country that just don't know how to roast beans. Supposedly some Italians did import the raw beans and roasted them Italian style and they're really good if done right.

All hearsay, tho.

gypsy
Feb 20 2012 23:25
Chilli Sauce wrote:
So whether it is officially official or not, I think it's actually a moot point.

I don't know that means I could produce some shitey poster without anyone from my branch's say so or about a controversial topic and put the IWW logo on and then thats official?

Steven.
Feb 20 2012 23:28
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Someone was telling me just this weekend, that Zapatista coffee beans themselves are actually quite good, it's just that they're roasted in Germany--which is apparently a country that just don't know how to roast beans. Supposedly some Italians did import the raw beans and roasted them Italian style and they're really good if done right.

All hearsay, tho.

hmm doubtful, coffee in Germany is much better than the US.

Gypsy, back to the IWW, how official or not the prop is is pretty irrelevant - I guess the main issue is that those sorts of views on co-ops are widely held in the American radical scene, whether occupy, the IWW or anarchists as a whole. Revol goes into this quite well. I went to an anarchist meeting in New York of about 60 people not that long ago, and all of the discussion about strategy was around "building alternatives" to capitalism, in the form of housing/worker cooperatives and that sort of thing. It was profoundly depressing, and the only person there who was agreeing with me was Wayne Price, which was even more depressing.

fnbrill
Feb 21 2012 05:22

I was a "worker-owner" of one well known IWW kind-of-affliated-at-that-time coffee shop for 5 years. Some of my observations.

1) Collectives should be run/viewed as capitalist businesses. If you're going to work, you might as well work for good pay. In my experience - and Portland was once graced with 3 kind-of-IWW cafes - that they tend to pay crap. Many supposed "union shops" pay sub-minimum wages. Mine did OK: I think I was making $15/hr including tips.

2) Being a successful collective business doesn't mean that they can't be useful to the cause. It can be used for meetings, a place for blacklisted or new to town comrades make some cash, etc. But it does need to be successful to do so. But any sympathetic business can do this.

3) As for collective businesses being in the IWW, I could accept IF they view themselves a businesses and realize the union's fight is to maintain/raise industry standards because if they fall, their work standards will also fall in order to compete. Oh and they actually have to meet union standards. ie they need to fit in with what a union is about.

My primary concern is there is a repeating cycle of influx of collective businesses into the IWW without a clear critique of their place. I think this stems from a major weakness in the IWW's work, the educational work which has been dumbed down from a libertarian marxian critique (Abolish Wage Labor ala Value, Price and Profit that inspired the Preamble) to Capitalism=Bosses, Bosses=Bad.

And it's that lazy "anarcho"-social-democratic view of revolution - that getting rid of bosses is all you need to make the revolution - this is how collectives repeatedly enter the IWW and drag down it's real goals.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 21 2012 07:31
gypsy wrote:
Chilli Sauce wrote:
So whether it is officially official or not, I think it's actually a moot point.

I don't know that means I could produce some shitey poster without anyone from my branch's say so or about a controversial topic and put the IWW logo on and then thats official?

No, but that it will be perceived as official by the majority of people who see it.

Awesome Dude
Feb 21 2012 07:42
Steven. wrote:
I guess the main issue is that those sorts of views on co-ops are widely held in the American radical scene, whether occupy, the IWW or anarchists as a whole. Revol goes into this quite well. I went to an anarchist meeting in New York of about 60 people not that long ago, and all of the discussion about strategy was around "building alternatives" to capitalism, in the form of housing/worker cooperatives and that sort of thing. It was profoundly depressing, and the only person there who was agreeing with me was Wayne Price, which was even more depressing.

Come on Steven. There is a strong "lifestyle" current in UK anarchism. The alternative lifestyle revolves around squatting (as a lifestyle), voluntary unemployment by intensionally avoiding the world of work (I don't blame them but that alienates them from the vast majority of proles who have to work for a pitance-not a good revolutionary strategy) and a host of other individualist issues and sensationalist causes that pay lip service to class struggle (one involved a group of anarchist anti-fascists giving Bob Crow security detail...all that for a Stalinist Trade Union beauro!!!).

Awesome Dude
Feb 21 2012 08:00
fnbrill wrote:
3) As for collective businesses being in the IWW, I could accept IF they view themselves a businesses and realize the union's fight is to maintain/raise industry standards because if they fall, their work standards will also fall in order to compete. Oh and they actually have to meet union standards. ie they need to fit in with what a union is about.

"Collective businesses" should not be in the IWW. The IWW should not make it its "business" to promote any enterprise that involves the exchange of labour power for wages as the basis for its existance (it would directly contravene its famous preamble to the constitution). IMO the IWW should only promote the efforts of unionised workers or job branches in workers co-ops (IMO mostly consisting of solidarity work to raise wages and conditions in industries they work in) and not the co-ops themselves.

fnbrill
Feb 21 2012 09:13

awesome: I basically agree, although I think doing so at this time would be too damaging. I think educational discussion is needed to build a new consensus.

fwiw: The collective I was part of took exactly that stance. we helped the IWW often, and some of us were members but we refused, even the members, to make the cafe a IWW shop.

Richard Myers
Feb 21 2012 15:17

I think a significant misunderstanding of the IWW is in evidence in this thread.

Understand that i am speaking as just one individual who has been within the orbit of the IWW for 25 years. But i've also researched the history of the IWW, and that also informs my comments here.

The IWW is a union of wage workers. To the IWW, abolishing the wage system is paramount. But that entails the end of bossism in all its forms. The two concepts are closely related in the IWW philosophy.

IWW members tend to embrace voluntary contributions, and deprecate officialdom in all of its aspects. Consider, the IWW abolished the office of president of the union within the first two years of its existence. To the extent possible, IWW members don't want union bosses any more than they want employer bosses. Members of the IWW are particularly suspicious of piecards in orthodox unions (and with good reason). But Wobblies are also ever cautious about their own leadership. One of the ideological questions that has arisen periodically within the IWW since its inception is the question of whether members who ascend to the lofty positions of general secretary or general executive board have too much power.

Do we, as members, sometimes go overboard on this? Absolutely. A split over such issues in 1925 nearly destroyed the union. But this is also the mechanism by which we assure ourselves of rank and file rule.

On the question of "official" IWW status for IWW graphics, posters, logos, etc...

In essence, Wobs tend to hate the idea of a vanguard of any sort. Thus, a leadership with a penchant to arbitrarily stamp one item as "official", and another as "fake", may be seen as drawing upon itself too much power. That is not to say that any given IWW administration cannot or will not do these things. Rather, to the extent that leaders make such arbitrary decisions as a part of their *official* duties, they will likely incur restiveness in the membership, who want them to instead focus on organizing the working class.

And tendency for rank and file control goes well beyond issues such as "official" status of anything. It goes to questions, for example, about the basic structure of the union; the extent to which the IWW administration in the U.S. speaks for IWW branches in other countries; and how elected leaders conduct themselves. The rank and file democratically control the IWW to an extent greater than any other organization i've ever been a part of.

If someone creates something in the name of the IWW that the IWW membership or leadership considers inappropriate, certainly the administration is likely to denounce it, and so they should. But up to that point, there is a broad range of tolerance within the IWW for differing viewpoints, and differing contributions from members. I submit, this is as it should be; the IWW seeks to be a union for all working folk, and it seeks to empower those working folk. The requirements for membership are not being a boss with the power to hire and fire, and basic agreement with the principles expressed in the Preamble.

So how does this work in practice where graphic images are concerned? Members freely share and offer feedback on what they like, and tend to ignore what they don't like. The official IWW website offers directories of images, both official and unofficial, typically categorized by source.

More importantly, how does this work in terms of local union organizations? The answer is fairly simple, i think -- there is significant local autonomy. Much more than in other organizations of which i have been a part.

Are there drawbacks to a basically horizontal, working class organization like the IWW? Sure. But there are also great strengths.

Let me offer two examples why i cherish the IWW's local autonomy over business unionism. I was a member of a business union for 33 years that had organized our factory workforce. In 2000, our factory was sold off to another company. The dues checkoff was screwed up between the two companies, and members, who had always had their dues deducted from their paychecks, ended up owing the union between twenty-five cents and five dollars each. With a total of about $2,000 owed, the union Local felt a squeeze between its members and the International, which required more than half of all dues collected. The Local began a series of ever more aggressive moves to collect those funds from its own membership. (Each company faulted the other, and neither would assist with this.) First, stewards sat in the cafeteria, and members were invited to go there and pay up. Later, stewards began visiting individual members and reminding them. Eventually, the union issued a letter to members that they would have the company fire the workers if they didn't pay their dues. Consider: some of these had been in their job for 25 years or more, and were under threat of dismissal for a quarter of a dollar owed. If members submitted to the final threat by driving to the union hall to pay their one time dues shortfall, they likely would spend more in gas than the union would collect.

As a union member on staff, i opposed this ultimatum, and what i predicted came to pass -- an angry rebellion of the membership. The dues fiasco undercut support for the union more than any other possible course of action that the Local might have taken.

Yet consider: the members were trapped. They were obligated because they belonged to a seemingly implacable, money-grubbing organization, and had no recourse. The prospect of a union telling a company to fire its own members over a dispute that was none of the members' faults created a tangible disgust for the organization that was supposed to be protecting members' jobs.

In contrast, the IWW tends to organize lower paid workers. The IWW is tolerant of people being out of work, and welcomes their contributions even if they're unable to make dues payments. In an orthodox union -- generally speaking -- someone who can't pay their dues cannot be a member, and cannot even attend meetings, no matter what they may have to contribute.

Second example: twenty-five years earlier in the history of that business union Local, we had decided that we wanted our own building, and we voted in a dues assessment to start a building fund. We eventually bought a nice building, which served our membership well. In 2002, our factory was under threat of being off-shored, and all of our jobs with it. We thought it would be worthwhile to sell our building in an effort to raise funds to defend our jobs. The international union stepped in and appropriated all of that money for its own coffers, in accordance with the small print in our union charter. Thus, our voluntary contribution to our own Local was confiscated at the time we needed it most. I cannot imagine the IWW ever doing such a thing to any group of its members. Why? Because the rank and file controls the union.

My take on this: business unions tend to be about the dues, the dollars. The IWW is about respecting workers. To me, that's quite a difference. And it is one reason i extend my loyalty to the IWW.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 21 2012 18:49
Quote:
In essence, Wobs tend to hate the idea of a vanguard of any sort.

I'm not sure the options you lay out are the only two. There's an option beyond the GEB/group of officials endorsing a graphic and allowing individuals to create their own graphics. A branch, IUB, or job shop can easily endorse an image at a standard business meeting. This way individuals still have that initiative, local groups have autonomy, but there's the democratic, horizontal consent on what gets the IWW label.

As for the rest of your post, I actually think it's a bit off topic. This thread isn't about trade unions v. the IWW, the nature of dues, or membership requirement. It's about the relationship radicals should take towards co-operatives and, based on the original graphic, how radical organisations create/endorse propaganda.

fnbrill
Feb 22 2012 00:50

Traditionally (pre-1960s) there was no "local autonomy" in the IWW. This conception grew out of an interpretation of a section of the IWW constitution which states workers can make their own choices in the workplace. When I first joined in the late 1970s branches/groups were required to place something along the lines of "this does not represent the IWW just some members" on material not published by the GEB. I actually would prefer to return to this because there has been some really bad ideas circulated under the name of the IWW.

Richard Myers
Feb 22 2012 09:28
Quote:
Traditionally (pre-1960s) there was no "local autonomy" in the IWW.

Fnbrill, unless you can distinguish between the concepts of "local autonomy" and "decentralization" for me, this is simply not true. The question of centralization or decentralization in the IWW was in contention at least from 1905 to 1932. Brissenden wrote in 1919 that the question of decentralization was "perhaps the most fundamental [issue] ever given wide discussion by the I.W.W. membership." [Paul Frederick Brissenden, The I.W.W. A Study of American Syndicalism, Columbia University, 1919, page 304]

Can the questions and division be taken too far? Absolutely! The 1924 downturn in membership occurred essentially for two reasons -- the split between centralizers and decentralizers, and members leaving the IWW to join the new Communist Party. The split resulted in dual branches, and dual union halls. Meanwhile, membership plummeted.

Quote:
I actually would prefer to return to this because there has been some really bad ideas circulated under the name of the IWW.

One person from libcom has advocated pretty much the same on my Facebook wall. (Is that you?)

We should learn from the severe damage inflicted by the 1924 split. I am happy to embrace whatever decisions the membership of the IWW might make on this issue, if they choose to take it up.

Consider, however, that (1) you're advocating a step toward union orthodoxy, with power centralized in the union bureaucracy, and (2) such a restriction would fly in the face of IWW tradition at least since i first joined (1988), and may hamper and stifle individual outreach efforts on Facebook, and elsewhere.

I suggest, also, that since the impetus for such a move is apparently coming from the libcom community (as evidenced by this discussion), rather than from within the IWW itself (where i feel that my contributions have been universally appreciated prior to this blog post), that the IWW's organizations are a preferable place to source discussions of this sort. Nothing against libcom (i've had an account here for years), it is just not the IWW.

Juan Conatz
Feb 22 2012 10:18

Richard, a number of us who have posted in this thread are IWW members heavily involved in the organization. With all due respect, it seems somewhat of a double standard that you feel you can make images that are interpreted as being official IWW material without any internal union discussion, but seem a bit annoyed that others aren't addressing the fact you do this through internal union structures.

I share fnbrill's reservations about people sometimes not being clear on personal VS official capacity. I don't think this is a question about union bureaucracy or 'centralization'. If I was to write a statement, sign it 'Twin Cities IWW' and distribute it, I would, very rightly, be scolded and possibly be disciplined by the union for it. Its out of line and undemocratic. However, I don't feel its neccesary for there to be some type of GEB approval just for someone to throw our logo on a design shared on Facebook. That's too much. The IWW is not, and will never be, a tight knight political organization, despite the desire of some to have everything they might not like go through some official approval process. It reminds me of the sometimes insane general assembly procedures of the Occupy movement, where it all of the sudden becomes a decision making body on every little thing individuals in the movement can do. No thank you.

This situation brings up the fact that we do an extremely poor job at design and incorporating people with these skills. In fact, there isn't any effort whatsoever for this, which means people will do it individually. It's inevitable.

I'd much rather have us incorporate and involve people with these skills in the unions official capacity while building consensus for good ideas and ways to express them.

Chilli Sauce
Feb 22 2012 11:28

FWIW, SF has a yearly elected publicity commission made up of some (but not all) or our best graphic artists and writers who have an explicit and defined mandate to do publicity. Oftentimes, the prop they actually produce actually comes up through something that was first created (and endorsed) by a local or at the request of a local for a particular leaflet, poster etc.

Like I said, tho, take that for what it's worth.

Now, Juan, get some sleep!

Joseph Kay
Feb 22 2012 11:59
Chilli Sauce wrote:
FWIW, SF has a yearly elected publicity commission made up of some (but not all) or our best graphic artists and writers who have an explicit and defined mandate to do publicity. Oftentimes, the prop they actually produce actually comes up through something that was first created (and endorsed) by a local or at the request of a local for a particular leaflet, poster etc.

Just to elaborate, the mandate of the Publicity Commission is to take the best propaganda produced by SF Locals and individuals and adapt it for national use (or if there's nothing, solicit/produce it). Locals are free to produce whatever they want so long as it doesn't contradict the A&Ps (so no party political material etc). Locals have the autonomy to decide what their process is, i.e. whether they trust people to produce whatever and deal with any problems later, or go through some collective approval process. In my Local we tend to go through the meeting to get a mandate to do something, but there's provision to propose propaganda on the e-list and if there's no veto in 48 hrs it's considered fine. Anything more urgent than 48hrs would be done by individuals without the SF logo/contacts.

I don't know if this is any help to Wobs. I definitely don't think this is 'centralism' or 'bureaucracy'; it's mandated delegates carrying out clearly defined mandates, and subject to recall if they fuck up (in practice, the potential for recall serves to make delegates responsive to criticism and to try and solicit consensus/maximum agreement). In SF's case, it was the publicity commission (currently Brighton) which produced the 'don't work' posters for J30 and N30 (though the design was originally by Thames Valley SF), and the 'don't cross picket lines' leaflets (originally written by North London SF). The publicity commission also project manages things like production of national pamphlets. I think it's worked ok so far. I don't know if a similar mandated body would be helpful in the IWW at all.

Richard Myers
Feb 22 2012 13:50

Juan Conatz, thank you for your thoughtful comments.

Richard Myers
Feb 22 2012 13:53

Chilli Sauce and Joseph Kay, thanks for the info.

Mr. Jolly
Feb 24 2012 11:37

I agree pretty much with Stephens salvo. Seeing coops within business as being at the very least a distraction and at worst hipster capitalism. Coops in the service sector can never really compete with big chains, unless they are fetishised seen as a charity case, an ethical choice or a cool place to hang out. All of them relying of the fickleness of the consumer, they will always struggle to survive. It just becomes another option within the market rather than a stepping stone to some or some prefigurative activity. Which some anarchists see these kind of coops as some sort of proof of the possibility of a future society.

As for prefigurative activities, I'm involved in a volunteer run cinema, nobody gets a wage and everyone gives of their time freely, there is very much a blur between customer and producer, which alot of the time they are very much interchangeable. Thats for me is a better example (though not perfect) of a prefigurative situation, in the area of entertainment and culture (which I place the coffee house in) than yet another little social-entreupreneur enterprise. Its been going for years and its fucking successful.

Juan Conatz
Jul 28 2012 01:22
theblackmeat
Aug 4 2012 03:42

To be fair, "the IWW" didn't produce this graphic, an IWW member did.

Chilli Sauce
Aug 6 2012 14:38

wow, the calibre of discussion on that thread is abysmal. Is that typical for that forum?

"probably Marxists"... roll eyes

klas batalo
Oct 12 2012 23:37
Juan Conatz wrote:

I approve this message.

Anarcho
Feb 6 2015 18:42

This is precisely the kind of ultra-revolutionary purism we can do without...

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

If you are going to present an understandable picture of a post-capitalist workplace then it will be something pretty much like a co-operative. This will be understandable to non-politicos and that is who we should be aiming for rather than just debating ourselves and "the left."

So I'm not too bothered that the IWW presented a picture which could be appealing to non-libertarians -- rather than grand politically correct comments about "self-managed capitalism" and such like.

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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.

Wow, people will have to make decisions they don't necessarily would like in order to survive. That is going to happen in every economy (unless you postulate a Culture-like level of technology). Sure, market forces under capitalism and market socialism may make the co-operative decide to work longer/shorter hours -- but so may the wonderful decisions reached in communism.

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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.

Really? So why the hell are we supporting unions and strikes then if "market forces" dictate what the boss does? In short, "market forces" may "dictate" some action but the action itself will be different if a boss makes the decision or if the co-operative makes it. And if we can force the boss to change their decisions by direct action then the co-operative can act in different ways than the boss...

So less of the simplistic equations -- if what you suggest is true then we can all give up now for "market forces" means the boss has no alternative but to cut wages, hours, etc....

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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.

Or they can appeal to their customers to boycott Coffeebucks or help the Coffeebucks employees to organise and strike.

And, really, they will make exactly the same decision as if they had a boss? Really?

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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.

Capitalism is wage-labour -- no boss, no wage-labour, no capitalism. The notion of "self-managed capitalism" confuses the issue of market forces by inflicting upon it incorrect terminology.

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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.

Creating co-operatives does not contradict working to abolish capitalism. The two are not mutually exclusive.

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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

And everyone will be making their own coffee? And the workers in the coffee shop may decide, as well as providing coffee, they will do other things in the shop. The lack of imagination here is staggering.

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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.

So everyone will be going behind the counter, working the machines, etc.? Really? And what about ordering the coffee and other materials needed? Is that just going to happen? And what about maintaining the equipment? We can ignore all that...

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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!)

And who is going to be doing the pointless job of making Gaggias? Oh, right, nobody -- so they won't need their fellows to provide them with food -- they will be making those themselves. Assuming people go to their pointless job producing bread and other materials....

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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

Wage-labour means selling your labour to a boss. This does not automatically mean the abolition of money or the wages-system. As for "earn the same amount of money", well, don't bosses, landlords and banks extra surplus-value from the workers? That would be ended so I would guess they had somewhat more money in their pockets.

Money existed before capitalism. So did markets. Don't be like the propertarians who naturalise capitalism and see it in every form of economy and society.

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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.

Not mutually exclusive and if that were the only graphic the IWW produced you may have a point but its not, so you don't.

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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.

If you read the minutes of, say, the Federal Reserve the rate of inflation is used as a proxy for the strength of the working class. If inflation rises, it generally means wages are increasing and workers are becoming stronger. Then interest rates are increased and unemployment rises and inflation falls... so inflation is code as it is rare for a ruling class to be brutally honest about what it is doing.

I've written on this kind of thing before -- please check my articles (http://anarchism.pageabode.com/cat/anarcho) and blog (http://anarchism.pageabode.com/blogs/anarcho)

So to sum up, I quite agree with you that market forces are a pressure which is an issue but that does not equate to "self-managed capitalism" and it lets the bosses completely off the hook (they use the excuse "market forces" to justify their actions and you have a co-operative making the same decisions as a boss would because of them).

Chilli Sauce
Feb 7 2015 11:38
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So why the hell are we supporting unions and strikes then if "market forces" dictate what the boss does? In short, "market forces" may "dictate" some action but the action itself will be different if a boss makes the decision or if the co-operative makes it.

So here's the crux of the matter: by forming co-operatives, workers experience market forces directly, unmediated by having a boss. They have to make decisions based on their position in the market.

When workers organise and strike, on the other hand, they are participating in the class struggle. By acting in concert, they can gain concessions from capital and the state, by inflicting our needs over the needs of the market. We don't have that sort of power as a co-op. And although co-ops can aid in that process, they are not any way close to a viable strategy in themselves.

Also:

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grand politically correct comments about "self-managed capitalism"