7. Proposal: The Next Steps...

7. Proposal: The Next Steps...

Revolutionary organising has to support the self-liberation of the exploited. It cannot take the form of mass organisations that go to demonstrations pretending to represent the demands of workers, students, etc. There cannot be a 'revolutionary policy' within union and political frameworks because it is not the 'issues' or 'leadership' of unions or political organisations that makes them reformist. The whole character of these representing bodies makes them reformist from the start. The attempt to overcome the divisions within capitalist production through 'grassroots organising of other workers', in 'all-encompassing' structures (neighbourhood centres, rank-and-file-groups, etc.) or under generalised demands, will, sooner or later, also end up in the politics of representation. The organising of the class can only be the result of the struggles within the capitalist organisation of work, in firms, universities and schools. Only in these attacks on the actual divisions can the organising be all encompassing. The organising of the class struggle only takes place through and within the actual collective struggles. All attempts to maintain it beyond that, end up as institutions. [kolinko, The Subversion of Everyday Life, 1999]

At the moment we do not see the dynamics in class struggle that could give us the opportunity to propose a concrete and common project of inquiry. Nevertheless, this is about a method that enables us to understand the current situation, to notice and recognise communist tendencies and to take part in struggles.
We cannot only focus on call centres because these - like any sector - can only be understood by looking at capitalist cooperation. Furthermore, when looking at the potential for struggles one has to take the whole working class into account - not just a small part of it. In order to understand the forms of struggle and organising we need to go inside the companies, schools, universities and other areas to investigate the conditions. The potential of a society without exploitation lies in the struggles taking place there... despite the divisions, problems or traps that open up. We can intervene, starting from our own rage against the capitalist relations that force us to work every day, and from the abilities we develop during inquiry and struggles.
We propose forming other nuclei in and around the sectors, companies, schools... which start inquiries and interventions in conflicts.[151] These nuclei can then exchange their experiences through the nets of communication, write strike reports, criticise the struggles, expose divisions... We don't need a 'central' organisation, but rather a broad debate on the open questions and the potentials of a revolutionary class movement...


What should be investigated?
Inquiry and intervention can mean looking at a current conflict, a wave of struggles, a company or a sector, talking to the workers, taking part in struggles and criticising. It could be the worldwide strikes in aviation, the struggle of the bus drivers in Duesseldorf, the methods the job-centre in Koeln use to force people to take jobs or the blockade of the universities by students. We want to get away from the self-righteous reflex of the 'radical' left that judges struggles after having read reports in the Frankfurter Rundschau [German liberal-lefty daily paper]. Go there, talk to the people, tackle their and your contradictions and weaknesses!
The area should be chosen carefully. What do we expect from the inquiry? Do we already have theses that we want to examine, confirm, reject?
Is there the chance to intervene in struggles?... We suggest discussing a few questions before starting an inquiry and intervention:

* Where are the struggles (or is there a struggle) taking place? This is the central question because the existing conditions or relations can only break open within struggles. Is it possible to take part and if so, how: by supporting the struggle, interviewing people, by criticising the role of the union, etc.

* Which sectors are central in your region due to either their importance for the accumulation of capital (cars, energy...) or because many people work there (restaurants/catering, call centres...)? [152]

* Are there certain groups of workers who are particularly militant, who have found their own forms of struggles, and who have - based on their conditions - developed a radical critique of the current situation? Are they able to carry others along with their momentum? This could be assembly-line workers, migrating construction-workers or radical students. At the moment we do not see such a composition.

* Which worldwide developments are happening and what effects do they have in the region (restructuring of the welfare state, migration...)? This is mainly about realizing the actual changes and putting them into a context. How does the crisis reveal itself in your region, in the work places, dole offices or job centres? This is the only way we can understand how workers are confronted by 'world-wide phenomena'.

* Where are you at the moment and what is happening there? In programming-jobs, through a temp-agency-slave-trader in a factory, on construction-sites, at the social security-office. However, we are sceptical as to the usefulness of this approach: Where you are at the moment is mainly by chance and it does not make much sense to hang around in some sector where nothing is happening or where there are no conflicts.

* Taking up struggles in other regions, like the actions of fast-food and hotel-workers in France... Who is working in that sector in our region? Are there similarities or chances to intervene?[153]

How can an inquiry be organised?[154]
There are some things that we have tried which wouldn't be feasible in every situation. There are also some things could have done but didn't. The following comments - based on our experiences - can be reference points for the discussion of future projects of inquiry:

Time-frame: We have thrown ourselves into this thing for three years because we could find jobs there, because there were no (other) struggles, because call centres were and are important in our region. Nevertheless, inquiry and intervention can also be something for a few weeks, for instance, if you try to understand the struggle of migrant workers in the region's cleaning sector. Go there, do interviews, analyse the information, write and distribute a leaflet on the struggle...

Working: For the inquiry in call centres it was easy to get a job because call centres were hiring lots of unskilled workers. This could also be possible in other sectors: recycling, factories, construction, restaurants. It's more difficult in sectors that aren't hiring people or only those with a qualification. In case you want to start working the question is: in one company or several? This depends on whether there are a few of you who will be finding work, or if there is a particular struggle etc.

Interviews: We realised that we need several questionnaires for interviewing ourselves and other workers:
* one for the facts and an overview, used at the beginning;
* one for the continuous discussion and agitation of workers;
* one for information and exchange on struggles here and elsewhere.
Most important here is that interviews don't remain a one-sided thing but become a joint discussion and even a 'self-inquiry' where others use the questionnaires in their sectors and exchange the results of the discussions.[155]

Collecting information: We definitely need a list of questions for going through newspapers, books and websites. Questionnaires and interviews aren't enough to understand reality... Still, in our experience, we don't need to collect and analyse for a year before intervening in conflicts. If we hear about conflicts and it seems sensible to intervene immediately, we should do so.

Theoretical discussion: We see the theoretical discussion as an important precondition for a well-aimed intervention because we have seen for ourselves how the daily experiences can start to mess with your head. Therefore, we need a discussion on the relations of exploitation, the development of the productive forces, crisis, the role of the state and the unions...

Intervention: We are still discussing this one. We know on one hand that we cannot initiate struggles or a movement. On the other hand do we intervene in conflicts and so play a role in their development? In the discussion with other workers, in the conflicts with team leaders or during a strike, we need some common points of reference. These could include:
* We need forms of clandestine communication and action so the bosses don't realize what's happening;
* We urge for forms of resistance that disturb or interrupt the process of production effectively;
* We don't turn up as the 'workers' voice' or their organisers;
* We don't go for negotiation, mediation or settlements.
* On the contrary, we want to underline the forms of struggles and moments that express the basic class contradiction and the actual power of the workers;
* we see our role in supporting workers' self-reflection and their discussion through leaflets, interviews and other forms of intervention and in making proposals.[156]

Leaflets: We have used leaflets and will continue to do so. They were useful for describing the situation in call centres in detail and for circulating information on the experiences with certain management measures or experiences of struggles. Together with the website, the leaflets were a reference point for call centre workers and comrades in our region and beyond. However, that has had its limits: We did not make clear enough how the whole relation of exploitation turns up in single conflicts and how it is being (or can be) attacked. We got stuck with the (long) texts, only made a few stickers and didn't try other forms of action (videos, posters, rallies...). That was a short-coming because we only focussed on those who were prepared to read the texts; and because we set limits on our own creativity and forms of expressing our rage against the conditions. We will keep this in mind for our next projects...

All the above are important points for inquiries and interventions that we can start in local groups. In addition, we need to communicate with people and groups who try out similar things. We propose two levels of discussion: regional proletarian meetings and the worldwide exchange of experiences.

Regional proletarian meetings:
In our region (Rhein-Ruhr/Germany) we are trying to organise the debate on struggles and conflicts with other groups and individuals and to intervene together. We want to sharpen our views on our situation and that of other exploited people and to initiate a process of inquiry and intervention. At the moment people attending the meeting are discussing - besides the call centre-project -the situation at the jobcentres and common leaflets on concrete struggles.[157] We have decided to write more accurate questionnaires and to define criteria for the reports we are writing on the sectors where we work, study or claim welfare. We need these criteria in order to compare experiences and draw conclusions from them...[158]
In the medium term this can be the basis for regional meetings focussed on the inquiry of class reality that tries to understand the different facets of exploitation in the region and to intervene there: What's the current structure of capital in the region? Where are new investments being made, where are they cutting back? How is the labour market changing through migration, new working models, etc.? How do the workers react to the changes; in the companies, at the universities and in the schools?
One task of such a local cooperation is circulating information on the struggles in the region and beyond. This is also about showing the possibilities and limits of struggles and emphasising the experiences that show something revolutionary: overcoming the limits set by the social division of labour, taking control of organising struggles...
A 'workers' net' or a forum for exchanging information and opinions on different conditions of exploitation, can only ever be a start. Political discussion and intervention are crucial.
We want to exchange experiences with similar 'cooperations' in other regions. This has to be at a worldwide level, rather than being limited to Europe.

Worldwide exchange:
When considering the current struggles - the general strike in South Korea, the uprisings in Argentina, the wave of strikes in China, as well as a spread of strikes in Central Europe - the question is whether these experiences are already leading to a world-wide dynamic. We can witness a globalised capitalist crisis but does that mean that the struggles in the different regions are relating to this worldwide context? Can struggles elsewhere be used as a point of reference here because they are happening under similar circumstances?
We can only find that out by making sure that the struggles and those involved hear about each other. But doing that, we should not - as many lefties do at the moment - moan about the effects of the crisis (redundancies, pressure on the wages...) with the intention of 'making them fight' by showing people the terrible situations they are in. That only results in showing them their own weakness: 'You are standing with your back against the wall!'

Instead we should try to understand two things better and contribute the results to the workers' discussions:
* Despite the crisis, what power can workers develop in the struggles? Which forms of action overcome the control by (union) apparatus and representation? What aspects of a struggle can be used as an example for other class conflicts?
* How does the worldwide situation show itself in single instances of struggle? What actual points of reference are there when comparing it with experiences of struggles in other regions? Where do struggles already relate to the global situation?

Our references to crisis should make clear that we are not dealing with 'sectoral' or 'regional' problems that can be solved by state intervention. The crisis and its effects are the result of a worldwide relation of production, which is not controlled by the producers.
For the necessary exchange on these points we need a (world-wide) network. Through the call centre-project we have made some new contacts here and all over the world, other connections have grown stronger through the discussion of our experiences. Now we need to create a common framework to be able to circulate reports on experiences, theoretical contributions and information. As it is this happens mostly on a regional level and rather coincidentally. The next step depends on putting it on a more organised level, opening the process for others to get involved, and starting a political discussion based on the questions we have on struggles.[159]

We suggest starting the exchange immediately. You can find a draft of a list of questions on struggles in the appendix. We want to discuss this as a 'structure' for reports. You can also find it - like all other things we are preparing in this context - on the website [www.prol-position.net] We want to use the website as a medium for the exchange. This is not about publishing all reports on struggles, the three-line news from the local newspaper or the last (necessary) discussion paper on the current state of the crisis. There are enough platforms for that, and most groups have their own websites anyway.[160]
This is rather about creating a platform for detailed reports and analyses, with references, inquiries, critiques... This site has a concrete aim: exchange on the conditions of exploitation and the possibilities for struggles using the list of common questions.[161]
This is a proposal. We will start doing it - according to our energy and abilities - and do the editorial job. We can manage the site in these languages: English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish. It would be good if everybody does translations of their own contributions - above all, into English - but that is no precondition. As well as the website, there is a mailing-list for sending around the published reports.[162]
As a suggestion and a start we have already put some reports on the website: the bin men struggle with the support of direct-action-activists in Brighton; migrant workers' strike in a metal-sweatshop in Nordrhein-Westfalen; precarious McDonald's-workers find the support of unions, leftist parties and activists in Paris; Nokia-workers in Milano occupy the factory; the railways' cleaning workers in Italy block the rails and get ripped off by the unions; call centre-workers in Firenze (Florence) strike spontaneously and then run out of steam... We have also put reports on the site, that do not concern an actual struggle but rather the everyday drudgery at work: a precarious postal worker in Duesseldorf; a call centre-worker in Milano; a worker in a glass-factory in the Ruhr; a migrant worker in an Irish pub in Ruhr; a worker at McDonald's...[163]

That's it!
If you want to discuss this with us, write to us! [contact]

[www.motkraft.net/hotlines] [www.nadir.org/kolinko][www.prol-position.net]

Here is the farewell letter
of a call centre-worker to Blu in Florence, Italy:

regards to the virtual and direct controls,
to the controllers and the monitoring;
regards to the corporate language...
regards to the call times, the welcome phrases, the scripts;
to the bureaucracy and the procedures;
regards to the partition walls, the air-conditioning, the workplaces;
to the revolving doors, the badge, the barriers;
regards to impersonality, standardisation, the bluish grey;
regards to the mission (!) and to the values (uh!);
informal regards to the informal atmosphere,
which connects those who have difficulties paying the rent
with those who earn thousands every month...
regards to the false promises and to those who made them...
angry regards to those who preached peace, the leaden feet, obedience;
regards to the indispensable firemen, regards to the unionists...
regards, without envy, to all the bootlickers on every level;
kind regards to all those who kept their dignity...
warm regards to all the friends I found and who found me...

151 There are already a few groups doing something similar, for instance on migration or struggles in their region.

152 That was our starting point for the inquiry in call centres. The weakness thereafter was due the fact that after the strike at Citibank there were no more struggles we could refer to.

153 We have, for instance, written leaflets on the actions of McDonald's- and cleaning-workers in Paris... and we have used them to take a look at those sectors.

154 You can find more (in detail) in chapter 3. Evaluation: Three years in call centres. Here we pick up some of the results and questions.

155 See also the paragraph on 'interviews' in chapter 3. Evaluation: Three years in call centres, and the questionnaires under 8. Appendix.

156 We listed more questions on these issues in one of our leaflets: 'We cannot present general proposals of how to get out of the defensive situation. But we can - starting from previous struggles - ask questions which can help us: * Which forms of struggle correspond to our immediate abilities and needs e.g. collective 'work-to-rule', other forms of sabotage, open strikes...? * Where can we hit the bosses hard: when lots of callers are in the queue, during test-phases of new technologies...? * How can we overcome the company-walls in order to undermine the bosses' attempts to use workers in other call centres as scabs? * How can we establish connections to workers struggles in other sectors and learn from each other - e.g. because we are fighting against similar conditions? * How can we do all this without putting our fate in the hands of a union- or other apparatus?' [hotlines no. 4, July 2001]

157 For instance on the exploitation in the cleaning sector (kicked off by the struggles of cleaning-workers at the railways' in Italy and in hotels in Paris). See on: [www.prol-position.net]

158 As further encouragement we circulated some ideas on possible projects: A. plans a travelling open meeting through the Ruhr's railway stations and cleaning-workers canteens and wants to invite B. who has participated in a strike of the railways' cleaning workers in Italy; C. hates the leaflets that were posted in her neighbourhood by a civic action group against the local red-light district and wants to interview the prostitutes to find out what they can do together against them; E. is supposed to sort out scrap-metal as part of the new 'job-active'-program of the job-centre in Rheinhausen. That does not suit him at all and he called for a meeting with people on social welfare who were asked to shovel out a section of the Rhein-Herne-canal; F. cannot come to the meeting due to the overtime-schedule of her metal-sweatshop and has suggested continuing the meeting at her metal-lathe...

159 People with experiences in political discussions of the 'revolutionary' left will know this: In such situations 'officials' of parties and unions will also turn up, with the danger of suffocating the discussion and exchange. We want an open discussion but don't want people as 'representatives' of parties or unions. Moreover, we suggest a basis consensus: This is about the immediate experiences in the sphere of exploitation, about the support of the workers' self-consciousness and ability to struggle; attempts of representation and mediation have no space here.

160 As platforms there are for instance [www.ainfos.ca] or [www.indymedia.org]. Other websites with interesting contributions can be linked on the prol-position site.

161 Just to emphasize it again: We don't think that political discussions on crisis and revolutionary strategy are in any way irrelevant, but we see the necessity of getting down to an inquiry of struggles. The results can be used for the political discussions that we have with the (other) workers, too...

162 If you want to subscribe, see on [www.prol-position.net] and send us a mail.

163 The list of questions was not used for some of these reports. So some points don't turn up.