Your Campaign: A Serious Critique
I have observed passively with considerable interest as your campaign has developed. I gladly admit that I have been both surprised and considerably impressed by your determination and staying power. I have also derived much pleasure from your humorous approach and your ability to score points at the expense of your more senior colleagues.
Let me openly state that I wholely share your concerns regarding the predicament in which the world currently finds itself and that for not one second do I doubt your very earnest commitment to the social and ecological good. It is on these friendly terms that I intervene in an attempt to direct your activity in a direction which, in my opinion (and it is only my opinion), would be incalculably more constructive.
When your campaign originated it was characterised by considerable naiveté and a too familiar lugubrious nostalgia for a romantic notion of an early 20th century politics. Let me be clear now, I don not support attempts by westerners to increase their material wealth. Such struggles serve not the planet, or the majority of its inhabitants, nor even those lustful westerners.
Firstly, such struggles reproduce and reinforce an essential tenet of the post-industrial capitalist order- that happiness is produced by material wealth. This is an illusion, a grand indoctrination projected upon you by the spectacular order. Those of us fortunate enough to live in the richer nations, live in a post-scarcity economy. The value of things beyond the satisfaction of our immediate needs, is a consequence of the economic imperative, defined on the terms of capital.
In post-industrial capitalism it becomes in the interest of the capitalist order (even if not, of course, the individual capitalist) that workers wages should increase. This simple statement is frequently denounced by those whose political philosophy belongs to a bygone age. Higher wages means more money in circulation, more money means ever more consumption, more consumption is essential in staving economic stagnation. If western workers are now primarily consumers, this cannot be extended uncritically to third world workers. Third world workers are the producers, it is not in the interests if the order we discuss that there wages should increase. So the pursuit of higher wages in the west has a plethora a of ramifications- it increases geographical inequalities of wealth, it increases consumption and therefor the amount of work being done around the world (but mainly in the third world), and, inevitably, the environmental impact of this is severe and certainly the suffering is disproportionately concentrated in the third world. In the globalised economy the labour movement is just another way the post-industrialised western society asserts its superiority over other areas, where western supported violence is deployed to ensure similar unionisation is impossible.
Now, let me be clear, like you I am a revolutionary, I support the destruction of western society and the transformation to a world of true ecological sustainability. But your strategy is bankrupt.
When once work was performed to meet human needs, today it is performed to meet the need of capital. All organisations in the workplace today can only perpetuate that order. Largely this is recognised with the decline of syndicalism (Spanish CNT once boasted over one million members) and trade unionism. Still, in post-industrial capitalism ALL workplace organising replicates the logic of capitalism. Workers councils, anarchist-syndicalist unions, MacDonalds Workers Resistance, all this is the opposite of revolutionary activity for it can only perpetuate the world of capitalist labour. Organise around specific issues, organise around a locality- don’t organise around that which is the very basis of oppression, exploitation and environmental destruction. Do not organise around work!
The urgent problems facing the world are environmental destruction, the poverty of the third world and the destruction of the human spirit everywhere- not your pursuit of material wealth. I would warmly appreciate your ideas on these comments since I have taken the time to write them.
Maybe what people want and need is ‘defined on the terms of capital’, but that doesn’t make the wants and needs any less real. Like if (to choose a cliched example) someone’s kid wants to go to school in fashionable trainers, then going on about how the kids want is ‘defined on the terms of capital’ isn’t going to help the situation much where as an extra £30 might. So these things are important and inequalities in ‘post-industrial’ societies continue to fuck people up, you can see that in life expectancies, suicide rates, health records, etc. We don’t live in a classless society.
Our campaign isn’t just about western workers, we support the organisation of all workers and have always been explicit about demanding rights of organisation for everyone employed by McDonalds whether directly or indirectly including those employed in the ‘third world’ making packaging, happy meal toys, etc. “Our lives may be very different but our struggle is the same”. But we are not in the business of charity, solidarity, yes, but not charity.
As an aboriginal woman once said, “if you come only to help me, you can go back home. But if you consider our struggle as part of your struggle for survival, then maybe we can work together.”
And it’s just not true to say that unionisation is impossible in the “third world”. To give just one example, the Bangladeshi Garment Workers Union kicks fuck out of any British or American trade union.
It’s often said that the established bureaucratic trade unions can’t break with capitalist modes of production because they require them to exist. Maybe that’s true, but MWR’s idea is much more fluid and less institutionalised. You seem to assume that when workers take control of the means of production they wont want to change anything. That’s a crazy idea. There’s no reason why work place organising should “perpetuate the logic of capitalist labour” any more than community organisations should maintain council tax collection or crap housing.