2. Inquiry: Understand, Intervene

Submitted by Steven. on January 24, 2010

This phase
Over the past few months - while writing this paper - it was obvious that capitalism is having more and more difficulties keeping its head above water by using promises for a better and happy future. Promises it could barely keep - and if it could, then only for a chosen few. What it does is to keep on producing crises, slumps of economic growth, redundancies and a tightening of the pressure of exploitation - from Asia to Latin America and the USA to Euroland. It has become clear that despite high technology and overproduction, the drudgery, the tightening-of-belts and the menace of impoverishment continue. Their New Economy fucked up and was replaced by the New War in Afghanistan and Palestine...
But then news keeps coming in about uprisings in Argentina, general strikes in South Korea, Italy and Spain, showing that the effects of capitalism can not be bombed away and that the lack of promises for the future cannot be replaced by threats from the past. But where is it going? How do the struggles come together and how do they find a way of becoming a new class movement?
'Another world is possible!' is the slogan of the anti-globalisation movement, but so far the noisiest part of this alleged 'movement' is turning its attention to the managers of the old world. Either they see them as responsible for the evil - politicians, bosses, IMF clowns - or as contacts and future negotiating partners, as in the case of (Tobin) tax laws. Both neglect the fact that these officials and their meetings are just signs of the existing social relations. Protests during their summits remain first and foremost symbolic expressions of 'We have had enough!' But how can we - as workers[3] - express our anger at the present state of the world beyond twice yearly demonstrations? How can the movement produce not just a short-lived change of the cityscape, but find, while struggling against the everyday routine, the beginning of and the way to a new society?

In order to really change conditions we need to attack the relation of capital where we are brought together every day: at the assembly line, in open-plan offices, in school- and retraining-classes... That's where we (re)produce the relations of capital on a daily basis and here lies the chance for subversion, too. It is only from the struggles that develop within this material context and the daily experiences of the proletariat that another world can arise. These struggles take place against a background of contradictions and divisions such as racism and sexism. Their explosive force is determined by the extent to which they can overcome the contradictions and divisions and whether they develop into a movement in which the workers come together along the chains of production and the routes of migration. Certainly, struggles are possible and important in all areas of exploitation,[4] not just those of 'wage labourers' but 'unemployed', school students, housewifes... But for us there are two criteria for the assessment of the chances for and the possible impact of struggles:
* Do the exploited get together because there is a common 'place' where they meet, co-operate, struggle? In the case of 'unemployed' this can be difficult if they only meet on and off at the job-centres but otherwise do not see each other.
* Do struggles have direct effects on other sectors and workers, because they interrupt the accumulation of capital? The problem arises, for instance, with restaurant workers. Their strikes have little effect on the creation of capital overall. This 'weakness' concerns many other sectors: universities, cleaning and... most call centres.

The experience and the development of power, the chance to break up the seeming 'natural-ness' of the relations of exploitation, all have their starting points in local struggles. If we want to be part of this as proletarian collectives we need to do it here: supporting the struggle of the railway cleaning workers, distributing strike news of McDonald's workers, understanding the conflicts in the asparagus-fields, preventing bailiffs' seizures, throwing ourselves into the sweatshops of the New Economy...
That's how we perceive our inquiry and intervention in call centres in the last three years: as a revolutionary project in a specific sector that tries to understand and criticize the totality of capitalist relations. Inquiry is, on one hand, the way in which we ourselves get together: collective discussions, going to work, interviews, theoretical debates... On the other hand it is our relation to class reality: experiences within daily exploitation, attempts to escape from it, intervention, collective struggles...
Inquiry means understanding the context between the daily cooperation of the workers and their forms of struggle and finding the new (communist) sociality within. We need to analyse the reality with all its contradictions. It makes no sense to glorify strikes or sabotage or to praise the 'unity of the working class'. It's our task to emphasise the prospects and the strength of a struggle by using examples but also to point out limits and weaknesses, the counter-measures of the bosses, attempts of the works council to undermine struggles, the narrow-mindedness of those who are proud of their profession, the racism.

We have to underline the fact that the conflicts and struggles take place on the basis of class relations, and show where the chance for the abolition of these relations and the potential for liberation lies.

This critique and the actual experiences described can be used in future confrontations. As a collective we have started at a certain point. But only as part of a movement, where struggling workers themselves analyse their conditions and connections, can the inquiry become a joint search for a new world...

3 We use 'workers' to describe our common situation of exploitation. That includes those who are dependent on social welfare (pensioners, 'unemployed'...), those who are being prepared for exploitation (students) and all home/domestic workers who do unwaged work. We prefer to use 'workers' instead of 'exploited' or 'proletarians'.
4 'Exploitation' for us describes the totality of capitalist relations. Besides 'work' there are areas where we are being prepared for it, disciplined or administered: schools, universities, at home, public offices, prisons... 'Work' also includes unwaged forms (house-work, subsistence, slavery). Their product is added to the capitalist chain of valorization and keeps it going.