MWR, anti-capitalism, ecology and the “third world”: A response to eco-fundamentalist anti-capitalists

McDonalds Workers Resistance responds to criticism from activists that they "support capitalism" or killing the planet.

MWR gets a fair bit of hate mail, not from McDonalds or McDonalds managers but from certain ‘anti-capitalists’ or ‘anarchists’. Usually they tell us to fuck off because we support the capitalist system, commit violence against the planet, don’t give a toss about the ‘real victims of capitalism (“peasants”, “the starving”, “kids in sweatshops”) and “only care about ourselves” (the charge of abusing animals is also common but there is a separate piece on MWR and animal rights). Once we even received a collective death threat, which is kind of funny except that these people just might be mad enough...

Probably if we worked for any other company on earth our activities would attract little attention from the rabid eco-fundamentalists, but McDonalds is a bit special- it is a symbol of the culture they have opted out of, it is a manifestation of the degenerate society against which they define themselves. And many of those who rant at us seem to define themselves, not against a socio-economic system, but against ‘the masses’, those of us who have to live our lives in that system. The promotion of a pure lifestyle and the hateful bile directed against all those who deviate from their code of abstinence appears as much to do with how they achieve feelings of self-worth as it is with ecological concern.

Like others on the right, they are very quick to emphasise choice. We ‘choose’ to work for McDonalds. This is true, we choose to work for McDonalds the same way that some people ‘choose’ prostitution (recognising, of course, that this can also be a consequence of more direct coercion). But where possibilities are so limited, what value is there in even talking of choice, let alone free choice? The alternative is to sell our labour to some other abhorrent capitalist corporation (perhaps one less symbolic than McDonalds) and for many there is no alternative employment, quite simply McDonalds is the only job going.

At this point eco-fundamentalists will usually retort either “grow your own food”, “you can get all you need from skips” (if they’ve completely lost it), or, “sign on” (if they are slightly saner). We know loads of folk who sign on because they don’t want to work. That’s great, good luck to them, we have nothing against folk blagging the dole (or skipping, squatting etc.), recognise the refusal of wage labour as a radical political act and have made numerous statement expressing our solidarity with benefit claimants. However, we are also only too aware of the severe, even tragic, consequences of unemployment, consequences reflected in rates of suicide and depression. The suggestion that everyone can choose to live happily on the dole is idiotic, it makes a mockery of the many bitter and heroic struggles workers have fought for jobs, and is offensive to the victims of unemployment.

This must surely be apparent to at last some of the eco-fundamentalists who advocate total abstinence from the productive (and consumptive) process as the alternative to “supporting capitalism” through selling you labour. The reality of their manifesto is not a call to a liberatory avoidance of wage labour (though it can be for some), but a call to martyrdom, to share their sacrificial commitment to the planet.

I want to be able to get my round in (occasionally!), I don’t want to get kicked out of my house, I want a bit of cash to spend on luxuries... these things require money. Of course, we would prefer that, to give one example, fashion wasn’t defined on the terms of capital, we would prefer that all social meaning was created by ordinary people, on our terms. We will explain how we hope to contribute to the development of such a society later but first: is it true our motivation is based on self-interest?

Well mainly, aye. We don’t want to struggle for money, we don’t want to live on a devastated planet, we don’t want to waste our lives doing pointless things to make others rich. This doesn’t just mean abolishing McDonalds (for, of course, we will do many different things with our lives), it means not wasting nay time at all. It means living without dead time and enjoying without restraint. We’re absolutely serious and totally unapologetic about our ‘war on boredom’. But it is an astonishing, bizarre conclusion that this is in contradiction with the ambitions of the “real victims of capitalism”! The incessant portrayal of the rebellious proletarians and indigenous peoples of poorer countries as helpless victims is abhorrent. We don’t offer anyone charity or sympathy, fuck that, we offer, and expect to receive, solidarity. The idea that pursuing you own interests is at the expense of the “real victims of capitalism” only makes sense if you believe you benefit from capitalism. In our case, as exploited workers, we are certain that is not the case. The accusation speaks either of the accusers confusion or their class position.

Similarly, we are very concerned about ecological issues. Our ambitions include workers control of production. We are sure that when the productive process is controlled by ordinary people for the benefit of ourselves and the planet we share, it will be so different as to be unrecognisable from the devastating, profit mad carnage of the contemporary economy. And, of course, we can’t wait for the revolution, we have to take direct action in defence of the planet now. As individuals, several of us have been involved in such actions. Just because our main focus is in the workplace doesn’t mean we’re against those whose main focus is blocking road building or obstructing logging any more than those people are necessarily against class struggle. Does everyone involved with MWR agree with this? Probably not, people learn from being involved with stuff. We started out with a mass of prejudices, limited understanding and a motivation based primarily on frustration, we’ve learned a wee bit at least.

However, the rabid-eco-fundamentalists may be too dogmatic to amend their ideas. They use labels like ‘anti-capitalist’, ‘anarchist’, but more often they write like militant liberals simultaneously romanticising and patronising “third world” people, or sometimes they appear to be quasi-fascist. We think the transformation of society should only be and can only be a global endeavour. And we think we are most effective acting on what we understand, on what is relevant to us and people we know. Frequently the third world-firsters seem to be, as someone once said, too busy fighting their irrelevant struggles to see what’s going on in their own backyard. More concerning are the quasi-fascists.

We refuse to see the people we live amongst and work amongst as ‘the enemy’. Rather, we believe that only “the masses”, for all our faults, can or should transform society. As we have stated previously:

“We think the solution to social and ecological problems is through mass popular action, the role of all of us who become especially involved in social struggle, whether it be promoting workplace unrest or rioting at leaders summits, is to inspire, encourage and participate in this mass action, not to compensate for its absence through living a pure lifestyle or kidding ourselves that our actions represent others.”

The bammers who support Ted Kaczynski and others who advocate random attacks on ordinary people should not be given a platform. If Fred West had said he was into the environment someone in the anti-capitalist milieu would have started a support campaign.

More generally, it seems the issue of McDonalds workers is one that divides ‘anti-capitalists’. Certainly this has been our experience, we’ve had some wonderful support but also a lot of grief. Some local activists have been brilliant, especially when we were starting out, others refused to share a PO Box with us. I’ve also heard a story that some years ago an Anarchist group in the North of England split around the issue. Half the group wanted to do solidarity actions with McDonalds workers so, apparently, the other half left to do joint actions with Hari Krishnas! To us it seems like a division between those who want to be part of a mass movement rooted in and capable of transforming mainstream society, and those who jealously guard their subcultural ghetto, preferring the comfort of their presumed moral superiority to the messy business of revolutionary activity. We are trying our best to belong to the former and we see limited value in the latter.