The Community Workshop

Submitted by Reddebrek on November 19, 2017

ONE OF THE ATTRACTIONS OF THE IDEA OF THE COMMUNITY WORKSHOP, which is discussed in this issue of ANARCHY is, that it is universally and immediately applicable in one form of another, and can be applied at any level of sophistication. In one sense it is here already in the countless acts of neighbourly mutual aid that happen everywhere at all time. In another sense it can be regarded as an attempt to widen the range of choices, opportunities and initiatives open to the individual, so that we can take more advantage of the fact that we live in an advanced industrial society; and in yet another sense it can help to change the whole character of the relationship between work and leisure, while in the most ambitious sense of all, it can previsage the kind of industrial organisation which as anarchists we would think appropriate to a society of autonomous individuals and groups.
This multiple nature of the Community Workshop idea, the fact that it can be read on different levels, the fact that anyone who feels impelled to put it into effect can fill out the framework with the details and the emphasis which suit his own locality, needs and predilections, the fact that it enhances life for the individual at any level, give it that character which Paul Goodman had in mind when he observed that "A free society cannot be the substitution of a 'new order' for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of social life." It is also what Gustav Landauer meant when he wrote of the actualization and reconstitution of something that has always been present, which in fact exists alongside the State, albeit buried and laid waste: "One day it will be realised that socialism is not the invention of anything new but the discovery of something actually present, of something that has grown."

Starting From What Is

The spontaneous sharing of equipment and skills which exists everywhere can be illustrated by two interviews quoted in Peter Willmott's recent study of Dagenham, The Evolution of a Community:
'I've got two very good friends,' Mrs. Jarvis said. 'Mrs. Barker, who lives opposite, has got a spin drier and I've got a sewing machine. I put my washing in her spin drier and she uses my sewing machine when she wants to. Then the lady next door on one side is another friend of mine. We always help each other out.'
Mr. Dover's great hobby is woodwork; at the time he was interviewed he was busy on a pelmet he was making for a friend living next door and he had just finished a toy train for the son of another. He relies on Fred, another friend who is also a neighbour, to help when needed. 'Just today I was sawing a log for the engine of this train and Fred sees that my saw is blunt and lends me a sharp one. Anything at all I want he'll lend it to me if he has it. I'm the same with him. The other day he knocked when I wasn't here and borrowed my steps — we take each other for granted that way.'

The continually increasing scope of the activities which people undertake in their spare time is illustrated by the kind of tools and equipment, beyond the range of ordinary sharing between neighbours which can be hired. A firm called The Hire Service Co., was started here a few years ago and now has well over a hundred agents in London, the suburbs and home counties. It hires by the day, week, "long week-end" and "short week-end" anything up to mechanical concrete mixers, Kango hammers, scaffolding, industrial spraying plant, welders and saw benches. This firm has already had over 100,000 users. This firm undoubtedly provides an invaluable service, and its organisational overheads must be high, but there is little doubt from a comparison of its hire charges with the market prices of the equipment, that for many of the hundreds of items which it lets out on hire, joint ownership by a group of neighbours would prove more economical to the individual user.

A Little Homily on Power Tools

Take, for a different approach the instance of power tools, sales of which to domestic users have grown phenomenally in the last ten years. They have grown from the introduction in the nineteen-thirties of small portable electric drills in the joinery industry on work which was too large or unwieldy to be conveniently brought onto fixed machinery. The typical power drills for the amateur market have developed from these machines and from the principle of bringing the tool to the work instead of the work to the machine. They have enormously increased the capacity of the home handyman, not merely by the reduction of the physical work involved but by bringing much higher standards of fit and finish within his reach. The basic tool is always the drill and there is now a wide range of attachments like grinding wheels, sanding discs, circular saw blades, paint sprayers and so on. (The writer uses his for mowing the grass). There is also the trend for the makers to offer bench fitments to convert the portable tools to bench drills or lathes or saw tables in which the tool is used as a fixed motor. Writing on this development in Design, J. Beresford-Evans commented:

At first sight this idea seems admirable, yet it is reactionary in that it denies most of the advantages that the portable tool offers. Most multi-purpose appliances pay for their versatility by a loss of efficiency in each individual job they perform — unless the machine is so designed that the over-all efficiency is great enough to compensate for this loss. But the degree of power, structural strength and precision of manufacture required for such a tool would immediately price it out of the very market at which the makers of amateurs' power tools are aiming.

The way out of this dilemma is again in the pooling of equipment in a neighbourhood group. One could envisage that each member of the group had a powerful and robust basic tool, while the group as a whole operated a library of the various accessories for different purposes, or that the group as a whole had for example a bench drill, lathes and a saw-bench, to relieve members from the attempt to cope with work which required these machines, with inadequate tools of their own. This in turn demands some building to house the machinery: the Community Workshop.

Local Assembly

Although we tend to think of the motor industry as one in which iron ore comes in at one end and a complete car rolls out at the other; in fact "two thirds of the factory value of a car is represented by components bought by the actual manufacturers from outside suppliers." The motor industry, like many others is an assembly industry. The fact that this is so of most manufacturing industries, coupled with the modern facts of widely distributed industrial skill and motive power, means that, as the Goodman brothers put it in Communitas: "In large areas of our operation, we could go back to old-fashioned domestic industry with perhaps even a gain in efficiency, for small power is everywhere available, small machines are cheap and ingenious, and there are easy means to collect machined parts and centrally assemble them." But it also means that we could locally assemble them. It already happens on the individual level. Build-it-yourself radio, gramophone and television kits are a commonplace. Several assemble-it-yourself cars are on the market (quite apart from the improvisations of enthusiasts), and a firm in Surrey offers home-constructed refrigerators of all kinds.

If a Community Workshop movement were to grow up, groups of workshops could combine for bulk-buying of components, or for sharing according to their capacity the production of components for mutual exchange and for local assembly.

All the revolutions in industrial techniques and processes which are regarded as factors for industrial concentration can also be seen as giving opportunities for more dispersed, more local distribution of
industry. (See the article on Industrial Decentralisation and Workers' Control in ANARCHY 10.) Take the new industrial field of plastics which offers many unexploited possibilities for the Community Workshop. There are three main kinds of plastics today, thermosetting resins which are moulded under heat with very high pressures and consequently require plant which is at present expensive and complex, thermoplastics, which are shaped by extrusion and by injection moulding (there are already do-it-yourself electric thermoplastic injection machines on the market), and polyester resins, used in conjunction with reinforcing materials like glass fibre, which can be moulded at low pressures by simple contact moulding, and are thus eminently suited to the potentialities of the Community Workshop. At least one firm making plastics (Scott Bader & Co., Ltd. — a firm owned by its employees incidentally), offers cheap "experimental kits" which enable small groups and individuals to explore these potentialities.

Work and Leisure

But is the Community Workshop idea no more than part of the "leisure" racket, a compensation for the tedium of work? Daniel Bell, in his essay on Work and Its Discontents notes that
Over the past decade there has been a fantastic mushrooming of arts-and-crafts hobbies, of photography, home woodwork shops with power-driven tools, ceramics, high fidelity, electronics, radio 'hams'. America has seen the multiplication of the 'amateur' on a scale unknown in previous history. And while this is intrinsically commendable, it has been achieved at a high cost indeed — the loss of satisfaction in work.
Another American critic James J. Cox, writing in the symposium Recreation Places defines the role of work today thus:
Most people feel that the time spent working is lost time — at least lost from conscious enjoyment. But most people have to earn money in order to live. So work is seen as that time the individual must spend in order to achieve the end he seeks — enjoyment. The fact that people see their occupation in this light is largely the basis of its registering on the individual as a grind; and the more it grinds, the greater the need for compensatory relief; and the more super-colossal the leisure activities become, the greater the contrast with work and the greater the grind.
What is the relationship of this pattern to the promise of even more leisure? Work hours are crowded into a shorter space of time, becoming distillations of all that work stands for. The two worlds of work and leisure drift farther apart. The recreation world contains all the good, bright, pleasant things, and the work world becomes the dreariest place imaginable …
There are certain basic emotional needs that the individual worker must satisfy. To the degree that the ordinary events of the day are not meeting these needs, recreation serves as a sort of mixture of concentrates to supply these missing satisfactions. When the work experience satisfies virtually none of the requirements, the load on recreation becomes impossible!
He wants to increase the satisfactions of both work and leisure, and declares that
The split between work and play, between work and culture, should be minimized by creative pursuits both on and off the job, pursuits which in technical form and psychological meaning are neither work nor play but both at once.
Industry through employee recreation should not advise hobbies and pastimes merely to fill up the emptiness of work — meaningful leisure to balance meaningless work. It is important that hobbies and work be integrated at the place of work and that the content of leisure and work should be intermixed …
Automation is taking over the routine jobs. The worker left in the plant is capable of value judgments — he is not going to be satisfied with today's passive recreation pill.

This is all very well, but what Mr. Cox leaves out of his argument is that the only conceivable way to integrate work and leisure at the place of work is for the worker to achieve the same autonomy at work as he has over his leisure, to demand workers' control of industry in fact. This in turn is a revolutionary demand which at the moment commands negligible support in this country and in America. Can the idea of the Community Workshop help to spread this almost non-existent demand for workers' control? Or is it merely a blind alley from the point of view of incipient social change? Certainly the contributors to this symposium see it as something more than a social service providing for "creative leisure". Whether it would actually become anything more depends upon the initiative and imagination of the participants.

In his book The Worker in an Affluent Society, Ferdynand Zweig makes the entertaining observation that, "It is interesting to note that quite often the worker comes to work on Monday worn out from his weekend activities, especially from 'Do-it-yourself'. Quite a number said that the weekend is the most trying and exacting period of the whole week, and Monday work in the factory, in comparison, is relaxing." This leads us to ask what is work and what is leisure if we work harder in our leisure than at our work? The fact that one of these jobs is paid and the other is not seems almost fortuitous. But this makes us ask a further question, would it be possible for people to earn their living at the Community Workshop? If it is conceived merely as a social service the answer is that it would probably be against the rules. Members might complain that so-and-so was abusing the facilities provided by using them "commercially". But if the workshop were conceived on more imaginative lines, provision would be made for members to use its facilities as a source of income, with presumably, their subscription varied accordingly. No doubt it would then be possible for a certain number of self-employed people or small groups to earn their livings there. In several of the New Towns in this country for example it has been found necessary and desirable to build groups of small workshops for individuals or small firms engaged in such work as repairing electrical equipment or car bodies, woodworking and the manufacture of small components. The Community Workshop would certainly be enhanced by its cluster of lettable workshops, which might be used to finance its own expansion.

But it would again be disappointing if it ended there — merely with a few members able to realise their ambition of becoming independent craftsmen. Couldn't the workshop become the community factory,
providing work for anyone in the locality who wanted to work that way? This is the question for which Bosco Nedelcovic seeks an answer in his article on a "Do-it-Yourself Economy." He sees the community workshop not as an "optional extra" to an affluent economy but as one of the prerequisites of the economy of the future.
Some people say the great problem of the coming generation is the right use of leisure. I agree that there are problems in this, and that we need much more education and many more facilities to make the best use of our new opportunities. But most people live much better already than they are given credit for. I think the great problem is the right use of work, because that is where we are now being distorted. In throwing out the usual assertion of common interest, because it never seemed to include us, we may be losing sight of that true common interest without which none of us, on this exposed and crowded island, can survive. To get this true feeling there will have to be real changes; exhortations will not do; we have heard them too often. We shall have to get rid of a system in which work is set by a minority which then employs the rest. The common interest can be our own interest, if from day to day, and in the long term, we are genuinely deciding what has to be done and the right conditions for it.
It is easy to give up and settle for what we call leisure. But freedom, in the end, can be more than part-time. It can be what we work at and live. Freedom need not be just this margin at the end of the day, this grace after the serious meal. All important work imposes its own real disciplines; if you watch a carpenter or a sculptor, a dancer or a signalman, you realize this and admire it. But the discipline there is a condition of freedom because it comes out of the real situation. We accept it because we want the work to be right. Only when the discipline comes from outside, in what seem petty and arbitrary regulations; only when the decision about what we are to do is made, invariably, by other people, is there this sense of freedom gone. In a small enterprise it is easy to consult and get agreement if the conditions are right. In large enterprises it is obviously more difficult, but it is not impossible. It all comes back to a basic idea of what the work is for, and this in the end is an idea about people.
With the spread of automation, work is going to move steadily away from the production of things towards the service of people: that is the logic of current technology. This may be our great opportunity to re-cast our ideas, to do away with the labour market and start thinking of a working community, in which the best ideas of work and leisure can come together in practical terms.
—RAYMOND WILLIAMS: "Work & Leisure",
(The Listener, 25/5/1961).