political activity, charity work etc. - split from climate camp questionnaire

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Mike Harman
Joined: 7-02-06
Aug 26 2007 05:18
political activity, charity work etc. - split from climate camp questionnaire
posi wrote:
Also, I think that it's worth reflecting again on what it is that makes the proletariat "revolutionary"... I think that I, and many others, want to relate it to "everyday life" as experience, and the disruption/withdrawal of labour as structural power. But then why on earth did the population of Shoreham (which I understand to be a traditionally working class area) get more excised about live exports of animals than scab coal being brought through during the miner's strike, or their own jobs - why did that produce the most broad based and militant local action in that area in the recent past?

Sounds like Brightlingsea - used to live not too far from there while all this was going on:

Why do plenty of people working in shit jobs where they get dicked on feel that they want to put their energy into charity campaigning, and not organising their workplace? Do we just dismiss these as anomalies? Or try and theorise them as having some relation to present historical conditions? The latter seems more reasonable, though fuck knows I'm not sure how to go about it systematically. In any case, once that relation is established, it needs to be fed back into our understanding of what is important about class, and about what the relation is between class (however you define it - most people don't bother) and the willingness to take political action. Anyway, this is just a set of questions at the moment, I don't have a handle on how widely spread the anomalies are.

Well I think there's a few different reasons:

Although it's constantly under attack, there's been an increase in "free time" away from work with the 35 hour week, and a lot of people moving to office jobs where it's more 9-5 than shift work, no chance for regular overtime etc.

That's been matched by an increase in commuting distances and time, meaning social life is usually carried out pretty far away from work (shopping etc. is rarely done in the same neighbourhood). Add to this people spending less and less time in particular jobs and there's increasingly less identification with particular workplaces. I've never worked anywhere longer than 2 1/2 years, I think that's the same for a lot of people.

A few different things I think come out of this:

Having a group of people in the same workplace who've known each other for a long time is getting less common. Even if I stay in a job for five years, the people I work with might change around me. So the informal networks and personal ties which make workplace organising possible, and take a few months or couple of years to build up, they have to be re-built every time a worker changes jobs. This means there's very little opportunity for groups of workers to build up networks of trust which could lead to direct action on the job.

The (partial) increase in time away from work has led to a whole range of leisure activities to fill that space up. I'd say everything from charity volunteering to summit hopping to political meetings can fill that gap as much as holidays, evening classes, drinking etc.

If you're involved with political activity with a group of self-selecting people, then it's quite easy to fit into that. When the Broadway Market occupation was going on, I could leave work, cycle 10 minutes, and an hour later be trying to shore up barricades in the cellar with two people I'd never met and a torch, or up on the roof, making cups of tea or whatever. All the people inside the occupation were self-selecting to some extent and agreed with the overall objective, and there's no manager breathing down your neck or whatever. So although there's a risk of police, or eviction by bailiffs etc., long term for most of the people involved the consequences of most day-to-day activity aren't likely to result in losing their job, harrassment, ostracisation etc. and although lots of 'normal' people got involved, and there was plenty of leafletting of estates etc., you're not stuck with hostile people on a day-to-day basis. Me and one or two others got into an argument with a guy in the pub one day, which wasn't going to turn into a fight or anything but he wasn't impressed by the occupation, never saw him again. It's also easy to take a break from it all when you want unless you actually live on the street itself, and people drifted in and out at various times. Door knocking, surveys, that kind of thing can be both challenging and rewarding (and potentially useful activity), but it's different from trying to talk to someone in a different department about ways to sort out spine points and annual leave.

A bit after Broadway Market I tried quite seriously to get my workplace organised - and that's quite a lot different. You're in contact with the same people for 8 hours a day, you have to face managers etc. every day, and you have to take a non-self-selecting group of people as they come and work around all kinds of conflicting and contradictory viewpoints, some of which will be outright hostile to the majority of things you'd want to do.

Rather than conflicting political viewpoints as you find in anything beyond micro-scale activity - between liberals and direct actionists/fluffy and spikey or whatever, you're constantly having to deal with the potential of snitching, scabbing, and a lot of apathy and bitterness which doesn't usually enter directly into groups involved in activity outside work (since they can simply not get involved, or will be part of the 'opposition', and can easily be excluded from meetings and conversations). In other words, whereas a load of people might want to stop Heathrow expansion, but have different views about why or how this should be done. In a workplace you've got people who may not agree about fighting for higher wages or working conditions - where I worked this included people who just wanted to get out as quickly as possible, a fair amount of nepotism, and also 'public service' views can make people quite hostile to anything that could be seen as disruptive to the service, even if they disagree in principle with the conditions/pay.

So I think where you've got a choice between "politics" and getting stuck in at work (or on your own street for that matter), "politics" wins for a lot of people because it's psychologically quite a lot harder to commit yourself to potential conflict at work for 35 hours a week. I fucking loved it, and was pissed off that things only really started to get going when I was about to leave, but towards the end it was a good 2-3 hours/day at work talking to people about various issues, people being called into meetings with HR, stormy team meetings, rumours all over the place etc. etc. In other words it's a very real test of the practicability of your politics if you're trying to put them into practice, even baby steps, with and against individual people you don't have a choice of seeing or not the next day.