a jataka tale of our times
Early in the morning, on the 12th of December '95, a monkey got shot in the compound of a police station in the Domjoor area of Howarh district in West Bengal, India. Furious at the killing of their associate, a gang of monkeys picketed the police station. The monkeys then attacked the police with stones and chased them off !
Sakya Muni of our times enlightens Given the level of policing achieved by our times, resistances, collective resistances have become indispensable for survival.
HIT THE BOSS
The managers of discontent have their jobs cut-out to counter resistances. Management schools, engineering institutes, public administration services, media studies, etc. co-ordinate their efforts in their dual enterprise of increasing production and managing discontent. In Japan a new frustration release sport has been invented in the course of this endeavour. This game is played with a machine by one player at a time. The player carries a small wooden bat. The machine has a number of holes, roughly the size of human heads. As the game begins, heads made of rubber pop out of the holes, and the player has to hit them back into the holes.
Each head has a designation : supervisor, foreman, works manager, senior manager, managing director, ... .
In the view of the management of discontent, such games are problematic for management as they erode the acceptance of hierarchy and discipline among workers. Nevertheless, they say, this is a small price given the opposition to work among workers. Coming in support of this interpretation is the fact that, unable to take the beating by workers, a number of these machines are 'out of order'.1
Play of resistance
There is a game that everyone knows, which changes its name from one place to another. All you need is a piece of chalk and a steady hand. You draw a number of squares on the ground and then hop - changing leg each go - from one square to the next. But urban planning and architecture combined with traffic and concrete pavements have almost eradicated this 'nuisance' from cities.
Apprehensive about unoccupied children, planners and architects in some places tried to supplant the game to the parks designed by them. At least in one instance they drew it ready made but found no takers. Children instead preferred playing in what looked like a dump - a pile of rubber tyres and poles which they had built themselves. Here children had invented their own defence against the planners.
Our resistances to discipline, to seduction, to extraction and to work takes diverse forms, varying from stopping work to working for free. Resistances are directed against governments, against managements, against planners, against media, against wars, against authority, against surveillance, against representatives and against dominant values. Some times they appear as collective defiances of authority, at other times they may even be masked as individual submissions to power.
Even the dutiful "yes, sir" and "as you say, ma'am" can act as covers for resistance. Opposition to work masked by "Yes, ma'am", "We are trying our best, sir" and silences are legendary in the annals of wage-workers' history. Talk to the most inarticulate and even the great scribe Ganesha will faint by the time he has taken short-hand notes of instances of such opposition by any group of workers .
... through collectivities
Collectivities give enhanced dimensions to resistances. Small collective steps percolate our everyday existence. Small everyday actions taken after mutual consensus arrived at through diverse means, without necessitating the 'learned leaders' or the 'committed cadres'. These are the measures most feared by authority, because of the advantages they have for the protesters :
Nobody can be marked out among the participants. This makes it difficult for management to victimise singled-out individuals - by charge-sheets, suspensions, police, goons, etc. Or to make a deal with the representatives. The first step of the managers of discontent is to create representatives/leaders when confronted with collectivities.
Such resistances can spread very fast, as there are multiple connections between different groups of workers. Also because there is no leadership whose influence can be threatened by such expansiveness and which would thus attempt to contain the spread.
As the steps taken are small, and arrived at by mutual agreements, everybody participates. The seeming innocuousness of these methods makes them ubiquitous, and difficult to be managed.
Methods of resistances to managements can serve as good illustrations:
Not talking to managers and supervisors ; not even greeting them.
Not accepting greetings from the management on festivals and other occasions.
Confronting managers together in groups as a daily routine.
Behaving dumb when questioned alone by leaders and managers .
Not openly challenging managements demands, but acting only as per the collective decisions.
Taking an off-day or avoiding over-time when production is required urgently.
Contractor's workers in Sapna-Sobhag Textiles, Faridabad, India usually get their wages after much delay. In one such instance, the workers operating the texprint machines did not start the machines in the morning shift.
All of them went and sat in the canteen.
The MD-Chairman came to the canteen and started shouting and screaming at the workers, "Tell me, who is your leader ? I'll just kick him out !"
The workers maintained a silence.
After some more raving and ranting by the managers, the workers went to the shopfloor and started the machines.
The MD, having found no leaders, took out all his anger on the managers.
The workers got their outstanding dues the same day. 2
Unities - A Threat to Collectivities
"Unity is a blank cheque which we sign, and is encashed by the unions and managements when it suits them."
- A worker in Faridabad with 25 years of experience as a factory worker.
"All that happens in closed door meetings is always against the interests of workers." - A worker in Faridabad with 15 years of experience as a factory worker
"Last fall (1994), striking tele-communication workers stormed an executive board meeting by crawling through air conditioning ducts, then bursting out of the ceiling into the meeting and yelling their demands." - A letter from South Korea 3
Collective resistances, collective struggles, collectivities are inimical to hierarchies. For quite some time now our lives are being pulverised by hierarchies. Delegates, representatives, leaders, heroes, masters, messiahs and stalwarts are exercising domination over us.
All authority, all hierarchy opposes collectivity ; and unity is its prime weapon of seduction.
"We do not believe in a procession of the blind where only a handful of people have both eyes. Instead, we believe in a procession where everyone has at least one eye."
- 'A Draft for Discussion' for a student meeting in J.N.University, New Delhi Aug'96
Unity within the particular arena, unity within the sect is an unquestionable postulate propagated by those occupying higher rungs in various pyramidal establishments. Ironically, unity - a mainstay for hierarchy - is even presented as the panacea for ills engendered by hierarchies, especially by those attempting to replace one hierarchical structure by another hierarchical structure.
In their everyday existence wage-workers at each and every step find unities (and their corresponding identities) to be counter-resistance, anti-struggle. The response of the management of discontent to the spread of collectivities is to impose the confinement of unities. A cardinal principle of the strategies of the management of discontent when faced with resistance by collectivities is to create representatives and leaders.
"Unify or else be terrorised .."
When management fails to unify a collectivity under a leadership, it has lost the main battle, and terror remains the last option for the managers of discontent.
Terrorism as state policy
Support by all governments to terrorist activities in other countries is a well known fact, but here we unravel a more debased role of governments vis-à-vis terrorism.
The enormous interference of the state in our lives has led to a situation where governments are blamed for all kinds of problems ; governance as such is being questioned. Representatives and represen-tation are having a hard time. Weakened to the extreme, the strategy adopted by governments to counter such a threat to their existence is to create an entity so mysterious, perfidious, hideous, omnipotent and obscure that people call for the state to intervene and protect them. This entity is terrorism. The state, then, takes upon itself to stage the spectacle of defence against the terrorist monster, and in the name of this 'holy mission' it extracts from the people a further portion of their manoeuvrability by reinforcing police control of the entire population.
As if to inaugurate this strategy, on December 12, 1969 a secret organ of the Italian government exploded a bomb in the crowded Piazza Fontana and killed 200 people. A few years later Aldo Moro, presidential candidate, was kidnapped ; the media was inundated by this farce, and when it was judged that people were convinced about the existence of terrorists independent from all the competing factions of the government, Aldo Moro was murdered. 4
This method travelled fast and is now a much used weapon world-wide. This is not to say that it was not used before. To cite an example of a hundred years ago, Okhrana - the secret service in Russia - feeling the upheavals of 1905 in the air, on the 28th July 1904, had the Minister of Interior, Plehve, killed. Sensing it to be insufficient, on the 17th February 1905 they had Grand Duke Serge, the Czar's uncle and the head of the Moscow military district, killed. The Okhrana was just a puny little outfit compared to the secret structures of today, whose deviousness is exponentially related to their size.
It is true that there are some spontaneous outbursts of some terrorist violence against the present system, and terrorist organisations are formed without the hand of the secret organs of the state. However, these illegitimate non-government groups are essentially learning the tricks of governance with the mission of forming their new governments. Moreover, such outfits are more often than not infiltrated by secret services who have much superior resources at their command. All terrorist organisations must have an hierarchical structure, enmeshed with secrecy. This makes them an easy prey for the intelligence services, who finally control them for their purposes. Such organisations become adjuncts to the terrorist organisations conceived by governments.
All these organisations are used to make the whole population, which is struggling against the governments, believe that it has at least an enemy in common with the government, from which the government defends it on condition that it is no longer called into question by anyone.
To counter growing resistances and struggles which prompt the questioning of representation and governance as such, and to create some justification for their own existence, governments have made terrorist violence an integral part of their policies in the last three decades.
That power is weak that seeks omnipotence
The increasing use of violence against wage-workers and the expanding military-bureaucratic-terrorist apparatus is not an indicator of the strength of this system. On the contrary, the necessity of the use of force is an unequivocal evidence of the threat which the present system faces.
Factories, offices, institutions, airports, powerhouses, government buildings and their representatives concealed behind the cover of barbed wires, thick walls, electronic devices and assault rifles are more besieged than victorious. The threat to this system comes from the questioning of its very premises:
- Questioning of the reverence towards work.
- Questioning of the importance, the necessity and the utility of representatives and delegation of power.
- Questioning of the blessings of growth and progress.
- Questioning of the boons of science & technology
- Questioning of the very necessity of governments and governance.
once people begin to question all is lost, as subversion takes over. - thus fears the management of discontent
Ways of enforcement
Discontent and the workprocess are two sides of the same coin. They affect one another continuously and one cannot be separated from the other. Together they form the whirlpool that production and reproduction is today. To keep afloat in this whirlpool, the work-process demands increasing work intensity, increasing working-hours, decreasing share of wage-workers in what they produce. These lead to an increase in discontent at every workplace. This incessantly increasing discontent has to be perpetually managed for the perpetuation of the furnace that is the workplace. Managements' attempts to channelise and control discontent take place along tried, tested and well propagated methods - processed at knowledge producing centres and circulated through mass media.
Two of the main pillars on which this control is propped are :
Some methods by which these two pillars of control operate are :
Charge-sheets by bureaucracies and replies by representatives. This is a routine method to browbeat individuals and groups of workers.
Such is the tuning and resonance between bureaucracies and representatives that in workplaces, bureaucracies frame the rules and the representatives implement them, while in society at large the bureaucracies draft, the representatives pass and the bureaucracies implement the laws.
Demands of workers are framed by representatives as demand notices and handed to managements. The process of closed door talks between bureaucrats and representatives begins wrapped in theatrical performances (hunger strikes, token strikes and threatening thundering speeches). Behind closed doors representatives and bureaucrats cut and edit workers demands and sign agreements. Parts of these agreements are hidden and parts are presented to wage-workers.
A homogenised and unified mass is amenable to efficient control as it can be led. Therefore it suits hierarchies, who try to foist leaders, both through dividing (unities at different levels) and uniting. The whining at the increasing lack of unity is an expression of the anguish of managements of control.
A clarification : Even when leaders emerge from among those resisting and are bold, intelligent and honest, today they do not stand a chance in confrontations with the gigantic institutional structures of surveillance, control and extraction. Leaders are easily bought or crushed.
In South Africa,
"Riding public trains for free and refusing to pay rent ... were once seen as legitimate protest (against) apartheid ... . Now the 'culture of non-payment' has become ingrained among the impoverished black majority, despite attempts to erase it by the black-led government ... "5
BLOW HOT, BLOW COLD
Blow Cold : Workers are constantly reminded of the glorious tradition of work culture to which they are said to belong : "Laborere est orere"
The whip of ethics
"You take a wage, so you must work".
"What is good for the company is good for you."
Threat of the legal noose
"Law is for your own good, but do not take it into your own hands".
Incentives as bait
"Work more, earn more" .
Neglecting contentions as small issues
"Don't be petty".
Blow Hot : The system is geared to deal with 'do or die' situations. It needs exemplary punishment to instil fear among people.
Lockouts by bureaucrats and strikes by representatives involve direct intimidation of workers. Dismissals and physical attacks are what wage-workers bear during both lockout and strike, and from representatives and bureaucrats.
"We Are All Hooligans"
"The movement resisted the media's spin tactics ... just as the movement wasn't 'captured' in the media's framework, it also didn't submit to the control of union, or political organizations. 'Representative' orga-nizations were generally distrusted, considered to be dividing and co-opting the movement."6 - Youth Revolt in France, March 1994
Despite all these ingenuities of managements of control, discontent is increasingly expressing itself in newer and newer creative forms and opening up the possibility of subverting unities and overcoming hierarchies.
To these creative phenomena of struggles and resistances we give the name collectivity. We attempt to define this phenomenon through an exploration of the struggles of industrial wage-workers. The need for this exploration comes from our fifteen years practice in an industrial area (Faridabad, 300,000 factory workers).
We find it tragic that it took us all these years to recognise the all pervasive presence of collectivities in wage-workers' resistances, struggles, and defiances. This has been because our seeing was veiled by a certain theoretical obduracy. Now, however, we argue that all concepts are constructs to understand complex, dynamic and stratified realities. Our attempt here at conceptualisation is to make an understanding possible in order to aid emancipatory practices. Elaborate it if it helps, discard it if it doesn't. But we hope that the reality we are trying to describe will be looked into.
Collectivities are embedded in the daily activities of wage-workers. Collecivity recognises differences, it does not suppress them. It's strength lies in recognising multiplicity, diversity, dissidence, doubt and criticism.
Collectivity accepts varying levels of helplessness, weakness, fear, hesitation, ignorance, lack of articulation and insignificance within wage-workers.
Acts taken by a collectivity are analogous to what in mathematics is called the Highest Common Factor (HCF), i.e. the highest number which is common to a group of numbers. In a collectivity, then, these would be acts of which each involved individual is convinced of, and takes willingly. In general these are very small steps. There are no leaders. There is a general refusal to be represented and to represent. This refusal is because of the fear of betrayal and also due to the risk that those from amongst them will face if they represent. There are no heroes, there are no martyrs. Collectivity has neither a centre nor a periphery. It has a multi-facetedness that could be called faceless.
There is no attempt at face-saving and steps back and forth are taken for granted. There is no desperation as it is an everyday affair. Sentiments and rhetoric of 'now or never', 'do or die' find no echo here. Openness and continuous discussions are its life-blood.
Direction is not predetermined, rather multi-directionality emerges because of constant discussions and desires that create newer and newer innovative channels of resistances, defiances and struggles .
Whom to threaten ?
Whom to bribe ?
Whom to arrest ?
Whom to dismiss ?
Whom to kill ?
whom to negotiate with?
Systems of surveillance and control stand baffled when faced with collectivities. Though it may be said that it is good business for pharmaceutical companies as bureaucrats, managers and representatives need aspirins to combat daily and persistent headaches.
Collectivities seem to be a means par excellence against institutional monsters that we face. Hence they are feared by hierarchies as they undermine their very existence .
STRENGTHENING AND EXPANDING
Wage-workers have internalised through mutual interactions, oral culture and sharing of experiences as to what steps to take and what not to take in specific situations. Collectivities as subterranean flows of resistances and struggles have always existed. Now with the credibility of representation smashed, collectivities have surfaced. The need however is to recognise their infinite potential to topple the pyramids of discipline and extraction.
Efforts are needed to enhance conversations amongst collectivities and to create multi-nodal and expanding channels for linkages. Concurrence and simultaneity in actions of collectivities dispersed in space is needed to maximise their subversive potential. Anti-hierarchical links alone can do this.
Does collectivity not prefigure the future?
- 1 'Sans Soleil', film by Chris Marker, produced by Argos Films.
- 2 FMS January 1996.
- 3 The Poor, the Bad and the Angry, Issue 2. Address all mail this way only : PO Box 3305, Oakland, CA 94609, USA
- 4 Gianfranco Sanguinetti, 'On Terrorism and the State', London.
- 6 'We Are All Hooligans', quoted in The Poor, The Bad and the Angry, Issue 2