Proletarian management: Informal workplace organization - Kämpa Tillsammans

Interesting article about informal workplace organising, management tactics and suggestions for workers to build power on the job.

Submitted by Steven. on December 17, 2007

The emancipation of the working class can not only be conquered by the working class themselves but the emancipating practices of the working class are its own making too. So the question about workers autonomy isn’t primarily a political question but a question about organization and this article deals with concrete and actual workers autonomy and how it exist in Sweden today in the 21st century.

Our main thesis is that the workplace struggles are not first and foremost happening through the mediation of the unions, but through the informal organization that often tend to take place among fellow workers. However, this organization is not something that creates itself; it has to be produced, and can therefore be developed and extended. Our basic assumption has always been that the potentiality of radical anti-capitalist workers’ struggle exist where it is actually taking place. Today this struggle is not carried out under the regime of the unions, but through informal workplace organization, and it is the independent, informal, and immediate character of this struggle that makes it truly radical and anti-capitalist. In this article we attempt to investigate how it arises and takes shape. We begin by looking at what our antagonists in the class struggle have to say about the informal workplace organization and its “informal leaders”, and how the development of their management theories proceeds through the testing of new practices for continued extortion.

Proletarian management
In most cases, management theory is used by companies to maximize their profits and constantly re-establish the relation of capital (i.e. the extortion of the workforce). Here we want to take some steps towards a proletarian management based upon the daily class struggle at the workplace: our need for higher real wages, less work, better working conditions, and less alienation and extortion. Basically, to maximize our profits as proletarians! But when we talk about profits, we don’t simply mean small wage increases. Rather, the important thing is that the struggle strengthens our self-confidence and the belief in our own possibility to change things through direct action.

In a discussion, a representative of the HRF (a Swedish union organization for employees in the hotel- and restaurant sectors) stated that while the French working class achieves results by blockades, manifestations, and strikes, we in Sweden reach the same results reach through negotiations. Maybe that’s true. But it’s a short-sighted perspective. Because it means that the French workers have achieved through their own power – and are aware of it – while we haven’t achieved the “same results” when it comes to self-activity and self-confidence. And that puts the French workers in a very different position if the leaders should fail (which they keep doing, all the time, of course).

Just as the class struggle as a whole can be seen at a local level, the same parallel can be drawn here. A result at the workplace, however small it may superficially seem, that has been achieved in different ways than union mediation, is not the “same result.” A longer coffee-break that we have fought for and achieved by our own means and our own self-activity can be much more than just 5 minutes extra of non-working time; it can give us an increased awareness and self-esteem for the struggles yet to come. But it can also, on the contrary, give us the impression that the management is “kind” or that the union representative is capable of achieving results that we ourselves are incapable of.

If we refuse to appoint official leaders, we are more strongly united. We won’t surrender our comrades to be exposed to the management’s “carrot and whip”, and we know that only we can change things, through direct action – when we want to and have decided to do so. In the society of today, it’s easy to surrender to the temptation of being appointed leader. Since childhood we are being taught that responsibility, leadership and fame are things worthy of respect. We are taught that a common worker isn’t worth a shit.

About management
The purpose of ordinary management is to maximize the profit of companies, for example by depicting the division between leaders and those being lead as a most natural and desirable thing. Or by gaining as much work as possible from the workers while they are at work (this also means that the companies prefer to employ people with good health; people who don’t smoke, who never have a hangover at work, who exercise in their free time, etc).

Analytical methods with the purpose of increasing the efficiency the organization of work have a long history; Adam Smith, as early as the 18th century, recommended a systematic division of labour based upon an analysis of the elements and moments of work.

In the US, the railway companies were pioneers in the field of management because of their need to co-ordinate people in a geographic as well as a functional way.

Management and Frederick Taylor
Rationalism runs through the whole of Taylor’s management theory; the need to “scientifically” develop the most effective methods of work, the role of the boss as a technical expert, the stressing of the importance of planning and the accentuation of “material incitements” (individual piece rates, for example) as motivation for harder work. Taylor developed a method for time studies during his period as an engineer at Midvale Steel during the 1880s. The tasks of work were broken down into components, and then the labour was recreated as it ought to be done. The different moments of work were timed, and “unnecessary” movements and micro-pauses minimized.

During the first decades of the 20th century, the interest in Taylor’s ideas increased. In 1911, the book “The Principles of Scientific Management” was published and became a huge success. The interest in Taylor’s ideas then became so great that a conference about efficiency took place in New York in 1914, with Taylor as main speaker and an audience of approximately 69 000 persons. By this time, Taylor also had a strong influence on the form of education at Harvard Business School.

Taylor regarded engineers as being the ones best suited for the managing job. The foremen would be fully responsible for the day-to-day planning while the workers should concentrate on performing the work:

“Under scientific management, the managers assume...the burden of gathering together all of the traditional knowledge which in the past has been possessed by the workmen and then of classifying, tabulating, and reducing this knowledge to rules, laws, and formulae (p. 36). These replace the judgment of the individual workman (p. 37). Thus all of the planning which under the old system was done by the workman, as a result of his personal experience, must of necessity under the new system be done by management in accordance with the laws of the science. (p. 38) (…) In most cases, it takes one kind of a man to plan the work and another kind to perform it.”

Taylor’s second principle, scientific selection of personnel, became something of a starting point for the discipline of industrial psychology. He recommended a matching of labour and personnel: “The right man at the right place.”

From Taylor to Toyota
Taylor’s theories about the formalization of the knowledge of work, with the purpose of placing it in the hands of the management, were practiced in the factories planned according to the fordist model. Taylor’s target was the worker’s collective, with the aim of raising the intensity of work (that is, the rate of extortion). This was mainly done by emphasizing the quantitative aspect; making people work more by introducing the assembly line and the piece rates.

But then a new problem arose. The resistance of the working class has always been the driving force behind changes in the organization of work. Refusing to be a small cog in a big wheel, the workers revolt now instead directed itself against the quality of the goods, the workers revolted, and the reduction of the performance manifested itself in the qualitative aspect, a tendency that was most clearly demonstrated in the uprisings in the late sixties. The faster the working pace, the higher the piece rates, but the workers didn’t care about the quality, and it was thereby sabotaged. This didn’t strike solely at the individual buyer of workforce, but at his customers – other capitalists – as well. It resulted in crisis and a need to add a strategy of quality guarantees and customer orientation to the striving for higher quantity – toyotism enters the arena.

This strategy in its turn demands a re-socialization of the worker collective in the form of team-building, since the capitalists have learned that the informal groups only become strengthened and more aggressive if they are bypassed. Taylor pointed out the wage form in relation to the organization of work, and recommended piece rates as a way of increasing the quantity of production. Now that quality had become the central issue, a new wage form was needed. In response to this, capital has developed the individual setting of wages, which means (when the concept is working in its most developed form) that workers should judge and time-study each other from the point of view of the capitalist production of surplus value.

“Evil” informal leaders
“Even a boss can be afraid of such a person. They are strong and committed to their cause, and can make their fellow workers oppose the boss. They twist and turn everything to their advantage.” – Jane Bergstedt in the magazine Chef (a Swedish publication for managers and bosses)

When the bosses and management consultants discussed the informal work-groups this talk about how to identify and find the “informal leaders”. This is a rather simplified perspective, perhaps as a result of their worldview of sheep and shepherd. But there are in fact workers who have more influence than their fellows, some who are listened to more than others, even though it’s not always those with the loudest voice that people listen to. But where there are leaders, there are also followers; if a “leader” would suddenly start defending the bosses´ cause, that worker soon have to look for new people to lead.

These workers, the “informal leaders”, are often central figures at the workplace, either because of experience, because of their role in the production process, or as a result of their social position. They are, quite simply, nice and socially competent persons who know the terrain. The position in the production process is something that the bosses easily can direct, and they certainly do it. An example: at a bakery in the south of Sweden the boss placed young men at the start of the line, with the intention of raising the pace; the young men were imagined to be easily stressed into working harder, thus forcing the whole collective to raise production quantity since they had a key position in the production process. They also met and communicated with many other bakers. Further down the line many women worked, and it was obvious that the division of labour was worked out according to the assumption that men and women would have a hard time struggling together. In spite of this, the tempo was not raised.

What kind of situations produces these “leaders”, what circumstances make their influence grow? The magazine Chef lists four points:

1: Weak bosses
2: Flat organizations
3: Shifting or unclear organizations
4: Organizations without aims

This is a partly correct, but all too simple explanation. The four points imply that strong and uncompromising bosses with clear aims are the best answer from the companies’ side, but this type of leader is actually on the way out. It’s important to point out that the conflict is always between the workers and the bosses/the companies, and not between workers and “mean” bosses. When the boss is being nice it’s only because he/she wants to use “kindness” as a way of controlling our work. A recent trend, more and more common in the last few years, is to give the workers more influence in reward for an increased work effort. More about this later.

So, how can we use this model? One way to go is to adapt Chef’s strategy for getting rid of the “informal leaders”; make the boss resign. A new boss is easier to deal with; he doesn’t have the same insight of the work or of the discussions among us.

Their description of the “evil” informal leaders is curiously similar to our perception of most bosses. Another thing worth noting is that the bosses often discuss how to deal with the informal leaders and how to get these on their own side, but that they lack a specific discussion about the unions. This implies that they have learned how to handle the formal class organization (i.e. the union), but that the informal one still presents many difficulties. And this in turn means that the faceless resistance of the informal groups is a vital part of the class struggle, even though it’s completely invisible to the Left and to the Labour Movement.

Take me to your leader
In the management literature addressed to bosses there are guides how to identify the informal leaders (not just the “evil” ones). The methods aim at studying “communication networks”, finding out who is most active and involved in most “links” in the social network at the workplace. These workers play a key part when it comes to spreading information, gossip and opinions. One of the methods used by the bosses to get this important information is to enroll “informers” among the workers. These informers are workers who tell the boss about the other workers, about their opinions and their relations to each other. Needless to say, the bosses often tread carefully, not explicitly asking who is the most influential or who is an enemy to whom. Instead, they might ask about who you go to for advice and information, who knows how to perform certain kinds of work, who gets things done, and so on. Another way is to ask people themselves if others often ask them for help or support; quite simply to get people to appoint themselves, mainly through talks connected to the individual setting of wages – you are supposed to time-study yourself and share your knowledge about the work process. Another method is having the boss overlooking the work, through other bosses, cameras, or his own presence on the floor. Many lesser bosses serve exactly this function. .

Another reason to supervise the work is to get hold of the workers “silent knowledge” about how the work is actually performed. If the bosses control this silent knowledge, they’re given larger opportunities to break up the work in smaller parts easily performed by replaceable workforce. These methods could of course also turn on the bosses themselves; you easily get annoyed if you have a snooping boss asking questions around you all the time.

It should be repeated that the less the management knows about the performance of work and our relations to each other, the better for us in the long run. The bosses might try to become “mates” with us, but in the end we only gain from our anonymity and our facelessness. Don’t get fooled by a temporary gain achieved through co-operating with the boss; as workforce, you’re only worth something as long as you are cheap and perform competent work.

At a catering service where one of us used to work, only five persons were on the floor, and it was fairly obvious to the boss who had been there for the longest time, and who therefore decided what tasks we were to perform. In spite of the fact that this person kept production going, she was still a pain in the ass for the boss, since she undermined his authority. She was someone who the other workers had more respect for, someone who they listened to and followed more willingly than the boss. In other words: she was an “evil informal leader”, a term the boss probably had learned about in some of his management courses. Anyway, the boss in turn tried to undermine this woman’s authority, for example by “accidentally” stating (in her presence) that a third person was dissatisfied with her. He even tried to force a trainee to publicly criticize her. A classic example of “divide and conquer”, this time without success.

Affinity groups and informal work groups
Today, faceless resistance is the most widespread form of self-activity at the workplaces. It takes the form of the individual as well as the collective slowing down of the pace, of refusal to work, of prolonged smoking breaks, and of theft. The faceless resistance consists of invisible micro-conflicts that, without mediation, strike at the company.

In Kämpa Tillsammans! we have, by using the term faceless resistance, wanted to describe the actual and everyday measures that have the capacity to work as a “springboard” for a more open and aggressive worker’s struggle. However, this does not mean that we have valued the faceless resistance only in relation to its capacity of changing into another form of resistance. Everyone who has worked knows how important small things like an extra break can be, even though they may not contribute anything groundbreaking to the class struggle.

The faceless resistance is carried out both at the individual and at the collective level (even though the individual worker always is part of his or her class). The collective form manifest itself through something we call affinity groups: small groups of comrades acting in solidarity. Affinity groups are fellow workers who has gotten to know each other through work and created a mutual trust. It’s important to point out that affinity groups can not be analyzed in the same way as the groups of friends existing within parts of the Left, groups with formal meeting structures and permanent members. Certainly, radical and informal affinity group organization takes places outside of the immediate production, riots being perhaps the foremost example. However, this article deals exclusively with the informal organization taking place at the workplaces.

The affinity group is the collective organization of faceless resistance. Of course, a single worker can be part of several affinity groups, and the groups are constantly disappearing and recreated. The interesting thing is to investigate how the affinity groups are created and how the management of the company behave towards these groups. As said before, the capitalists have developed strategies for finding out who is active in the informal organization, and for getting these informal leaders over to their side.

We make a difference between affinity groups and informal work groups, but the work groups often evolve into affinity groups. The affinity groups consists of work mates that work and struggle together for their own interests while the work groups is founded by how the production is organized. The form of the group is consequently based upon the way that production is organized. The informal work groups consist of the ones working closely together. After some time, these people can become almost like a “second family”; you work close together for a long period, often spending more time together than with family or friends. Sometimes you also see each other outside the place of work. From the everyday sharing of labour a sense of common interests grow; you feel safe together, or at least you know where you have each other. Often the use of nicknames and a private jargon are being used, and you feel offended when the boss start using the same names and talking the same talk as you do between yourselves, because his/her behaviour represents an intrusion.

An important aspect of the formation of an affinity group is, accordingly, the production of a sense of community. This community is both created and expressed through language, but also through different forms of code and rituals. For example, it can be strengthened by jokes or insults that the bosses and foremen don’t understand. This is not only the result of being comrades with a language of your own; it is also a way of differentiating yourselves from your common enemies: bosses and ass-lickers. The construction of a private language is thus fundamental to the class struggle. This illustrates the fact that we neither can nor want to engage in dialogue with the class enemy; how could we possibly do that, when they don’t understand us anyway?

We understand from these reflections that we have one name as workforce and another as working class. It’s the same thing when we call the boss by his first name to his face and by a totally different name when we discuss him amongst ourselves. This also applies to the firm we work for; the management of UPS, for example, maintain that the letters stand for United Parcel Service, while many employees knows for sure UnderPaid Slavery. Not only is communication in itself a weapon (something many of the company sociologists bear witness to), but the language used to communicate can be a weapon, too.
Division and affinity groups outside of work

The ideal state of the worker’s struggle would of course be the development of a common resistance, a common defense of our mutual interests. This ideal state is not totally unreal; when you work together under hard conditions there are good chances of this kind of struggle actually happening. The big car factories in the fifties and sixties, with their fordist work organization, are good examples. However, today fewer and fewer workplaces are organized in that way. Today, the separation and division of workers through the organization of work and the structure of the workplace is almost a rule (this has not happened by chance, of course, but is a consequence of the class struggle resulting from the fordist model). Today, many people work isolated from each other, and they are far from always able to take their breaks together. Newspaper distribution and truck driving are, for instance, forms of employment where the actual work is being performed individually, without a group of fellow workers. This means that affinity and friendship outside as well as inside of the workplace has become increasingly important.

In Malmö, there is a group of cooks whose “members” all have more or less temporary employments at many different places. At some of the restaurants you work mostly together with the manager or his relatives and friends. Under such conditions, workplace organization is very problematic, but thanks to the informal affinity group, the cooks are able to share information about work and about which managers to avoid; the ones who are cheap, the ones who are idiots or the ones who are cheap idiots. This is a good example of how the affinity group organization can spread beyond the place of work. Of course, things would become really interesting if workers from entirely different kinds of work got together and organized in informal networks. For it’s not just the division of work within a company that separates workers from each other, but the division of labour as such.

However, it is not the sole cause of separation. Sexism, racism, ass-licking, and other things also create division and discord. These phenomena need to be countered, and the countering is most effectively done by the demonstration of the common interests of workers, and the opposition of these interests against those of the boss and the company. It is a matter of trying to include as many of the fellow workers as possible in a workers collective based upon a network of informal groups. If the division is a result of a work organization that separates and isolates the workers, which causes a lack of communication, methods need to be found that are able to break this isolation. For example, you can travel to work together, help each other with off-work practical things or simply try to get together at breaks or after work. Of course, sometimes affinity groups and groups of friends end up opposing each other, which is usually the result of a lack of common conception of the boss and the company as enemies. There often exists an inherent conflict, which makes it impossible for the teams and individual workers to perform all the tasks given to them in the time provided. This is a way of increasing the stress and the work pace (i.e. the productivity), and at the same time create results of poor quality, something the management uses as reasons for complaints and the tightening of the repressive mechanisms at the place of work. The important thing is that these kinds of conflicts should not be allowed to stop the informal groups actually existing from struggling together.

Small talk – big opportunities
As mentioned above, language plays a decisive role in the production of informal affinity groups. An internal jargon can help strengthening and formulating the common values of the group. Small talk plays a central role in the formation of solidarity at the workplace; small talk is the way co-workers get to know and come to trust each other. To begin with, maybe you talk about the weather or your family, but the discussions easily slips over to the subject of work, of the management and the company. This is naturally enough since it is work that brings the workers together; it’s their life-world and constant point of reference. The better the co-workers know each other and the more trust there is between them, the more “serious” are the matters discussed. However, if you’re newly employed, talking bad about the boss to the wrong person could be dangerous. If you’re not being cautious and careful before you get to know the terrain at the workplace, you might discover that you’ve been talking to an “informer”, someone who tells the boss about how the talk goes on the floor.

In small talk, we learn about how the work is performed; it gives us the opportunities to make collective decisions, and common norms are produced and discussed. This is both a conscious and unconscious process; very seldom are the norms ruling a workplace articulated. At least this applies to the norms opposing the company, such as the practice of taking longer breaks than are allowed. On the other hand, the norms of the company are almost always explicitly formulated. They are written down in documents or on notice-boards at work. This is of course a result of the fact that workers and managers don’t speak the same language and don’t engage in small talk; the bosses need “megaphones” to get their message out.

Small talk among fellow workers is a socializing force, for good or worse. Good if it can strengthen the unity against the company, worse if the small talk works as an internalization of the company’s moral rules. Through small talk we learn from each other, but not just about the place of work, but also about experiences from other times and other companies. The bosses and co-workers are being valued, and through the constant small talk around the coffee-table, working conditions are being discussed and decisions are reached concerning the breaking of rules, and so on. The instructions given by the bosses are being talked about and re-formulated in accordance to our common worldview. Sometimes there’s a class perspective, sometimes it’s unconscious and sometimes it’s not there at all.

All this makes it extremely important for the bosses to, at least partly, gain our trust and partake in the small talk. And it’s as important for us to not let them into our community (of course, they can never participate fully; you can always talk freely to an equal, but never to someone who has power over you). Our aim must therefore be a “hidden small talk” that cease when the boss approaches. At a catering service where one of us used to work, the workers on the floor simply took their lunches in a room separated from the one where the bosses ate. This was partly due to a wish to be able to speak freely, but they also did it because they wanted to avoid the use of “free time” by the bosses for talk about work.

Working at McDonald’s made us discover that it’s obvious that the company has a well-developed strategy concerning small talk (as they surely have concerning many other things as well…). You seldom had common breaks, and usually it was impossible for fellow workers to talk at all during work, since the work benches were far apart and you were always bound to the work tasks. So, after a full day of work at McDonald’s, you had hardly spoken to anyone except the bosses and the customers. This form of technically designed division of work is an effective way of stalling the development of a workers’ community that questions the organization of work or even work itself.

Working together – having fun together – struggling together
Or Productive cooperation – social cooperation – subversive cooperation
To simplify our thesis we have sketched out a scheme of sorts that can function as an illustration of how collective, informal resistance is created on a workplace. We have divided it into a three step development. We do of course not mean that these steps are taken after mutual decisions (even if some decisions obviously is taken during the process) but that each step in the scheme is something that often evolves naturally, more or less “by itself”. If real trust and real friendship shall be produced on a workplace it is not enough to just think it’s necessary to care about each other to gain from it as an individual. Real friendship is required to struggle together, which is problematic since its obviously so that you always love all your co-workers.

Step 1. The first step is automatically created in work. To be able to work a productive, social relation is created that among other things means you are a part of the same work team; you have the same or different tasks that complement each other. The first step is simply given by the task you are paid to do. In work you work together. The importance to understand that the conditions for resistance is in the work itself is because we want to emphasize how important it is for the spirit of community with things like helping each other in work. By sharing knowledge and helping each other to solve problems on the workplace is a sense of solidarity created. This “team-building” is of course a part of the productive relation the company needs. But that’s not all. By sharing boring and shitty tasks, help and get to know each other – we create the conditions for a common “mutual aid” for the own interest of less work and more money.

Step 2. The second step is simply to have fun together! To make work less dull one talks bullshit, makes jokes and pranks. And is it always interesting to be present when a boss makes jokes. It is often a sure way indicator of loyalty to see who laughs and are generally enthusiastic.

Some revolutionaries look down on this and think its “unserious” to partake. But kidding around is necessary for people to get closer and get to know to each other, something that is absolutely necessary in a serious conflict with management. Even if some in the left doesn’t consider this as important it’s not a mistake big companies do. McDonald’s, for example, arranges big parties for the staff with dubious honours like Employee of the year, something they wouldn’t do if they didn’t have some economical interest in it – one has fun and relates it with a feeling of loyalty to the company. On an unemployment education for kitchen personnel the students got separated by those who went to the first step and those who had advanced to the second. The management tried to use this separation by trying to get the ones in the first step to do the dishes for the “older” ones and so separate the two courses from each other also by trying to get the students to spend their breaks at different tables. This was a hot subject discussed amongst the students from both courses and the older got justified critique by the younger when they pointed out how the older helped created this shattered division of work. This lead to the students on the education together made efforts to change it by hanging out at breaks, partying together, the younger didn’t have to do the dish washing for the older, and so on. All this created a stronger sense of solidarity in the group.

Step 3. The third step is when you start to know and identify with each other to such degree that you’ve developed a sense of community. You start to struggle together with those who are in roughly the same situation and have developed a common attitude towards it. The community that evolves through work and having fun together makes you, so to speak, start to work more for yourselves instead for the company. At this stage a natural collective identification and solidarity have been created that makes you help and back each other up to for example clock in and take time, stuff and space for you and your friends. When one of us in Kämpa Tillsammans! was involved with taking this step in a bakery in the informal organizing the affinity group knew the work so well it could schedule their own breaks by creating production stoppage.

This development that we have described as a model in three steps is of course a sort of theoretical scheme that isn’t always as crystal clear in reality. It could very well be so that you work and struggle together despite not liking each other, or it’s not certain that an attitude of resistance is developed despite the two earlier steps has been taken. It can be worth mentioning that the first two steps can be an attempt to socialize the workers into working harder. By trying to give workers the responsibility and arrange parties, competitions, courses and stuff like that, they want the workers to internalize the company’s values. One of the best ways to counter conflicts on workplaces is to try to connect the individual workers motivation and work with the company’s profits. And it’s also not so that the three steps in the scheme and their relation to each other can’t change. They can develop side by side and sometimes the three steps temporarily can contradict each other. In a big kindergarten kitchen the kitchen slaves refused to cooperate when the boss didn’t phone in people at vacations and when others reported sick. The cooks knew very well that the potatoes had to be started at 10.30 but didn’t say anything because it was the boss’s responsibility and she had given the responsibility to a trainee, so they didn’t “work together” so that everything got delayed to prove that more workers were needed.

When it comes to “having fun together” we have already mentioned that it is pretty usual with company parties and other attempts from the company to mobilize their values amongst the workers. That said, it’s not necessary the case. It has happened that unpopular bosses or foremen have been beaten up and it is not unusual that people simply just take the opportunity to get mighty drunk when the company pays for the booze. At one occasion a restaurant owner invited his employees to food and sauna but we just ate and then nobody wanted to chit-chat with him in some kind of sweat-dripping brotherhood between the classes. Instead of being an occasion when the class conflict should be toned down over beers in the sauna the conflict was just made sharper. The bosses union, Ledarna (The Leaders), encourage new bosses to bring pictures on their family to work and to tell more about themselves. The point being that the boss shall become a “human being” for the subordinates and not just a boss … This form of humanization is of course nothing one as a worker can take any consideration of. We too can have children at home and the bosses rarely care about that.

Proletarian Management
Our hope is that we through this and other articles can contribute to the already existing “proletarian management” in the working class, where we together finds, spreads and develop the knowledge that already exists in our class about how we best counter the different strategies the companies use. In the same way as Taylor made time studies about the fastest way for loading iron bars with as few workers as possible we have to spread and try out how we best can go slow and evade the work that kills us.

Kämpa tillsammans! (Struggle Together!), october 2005
Translated to English in august 2006
Taken from the excellent




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Submitted by Infrared. on May 27, 2015

So while I have a few differences with the political slant of this piece as well as the idea informal organisation is the end-all of workplace power, I noticed a number of similarities between the earlier part of this article and my own project, and would recommend this article to anyone else interested in investigating management theory from a workers' perspective.

For a start, I thought the point about Toyotaism's focus on the building of teams due to how informal groups become strengthened and more aggressive if they are repressed (as under a traditional Taylorist strategy), was particularly interesting. A strategy I have suggested in an article soon to be published, is that the increased responsibility and freedoms workers enjoy as part of these teams could be actively dedicated to organising workers' antagonism.

I think the point about avoiding the appointing of leaders is a commendable aspiration, derived from anarchism, but one that fundamentally misunderstands the process through which industrial disputes occur. Worker leaders always exist in industrial conflicts, what is important is developing every worker's inherent capability to lead, rather than seeing it as a question of neutralising all leadership. Further, I prefer the idea that every worker is capable of acts of leadership, which is derived from a theory of industrial sociology that describes what is termed 'distributed leadership', something some strands of management science aim to implement in the workplace, but can also be appropriated for a pro-worker purpose. So this is mainly a semantic difference: 'we have no leaders' vs. 'we are all leaders'.

Another point I think enriches the article is if Taylor's 'rationalism' is understood to actually be quite a crude form of scientism that later management theories designed for the same sorts of factories Taylor's theories were to be applied to, discredited elements of.

Struggle Together!

The form of the group is consequently based upon the way that production is organized. The informal work groups consist of the ones working closely together. After some time, these people can become almost like a “second family”; you work close together for a long period, often spending more time together than with family or friends. Sometimes you also see each other outside the place of work. From the everyday sharing of labour a sense of common interests grow; you feel safe together, or at least you know where you have each other. Often the use of nicknames and a private jargon are being used, and you feel offended when the boss start using the same names and talking the same talk as you do between yourselves, because his/her behaviour represents an intrusion.

This description of the formation of an informal work group describes what is termed in management literature as 'group identity', which I wrote about here. The idea of socialisation at the point of production is something crucial to the development of organised workers' antagonism.