An Experimental Workshop

THE IDEA IS TO SET UP AN "EXPERlMENTAL WORK CENTRE" — that is, a fairly large workshop divided in different sections and equipped with a suitable assortment of hand tools, machine tools and accessories for metalworking, woodworking and different manual arts in general. The centre would be open to the public and its premises and facilities could be used by interested parties against the payment of a reasonable fee- per hour, per day or through a monthly card, like a club or association — intended to cover the operating and amortization costs of the work-shop.

Interested people would find in the centre, in addition to the tools and equipment mentioned above, also the materials and supplies -which could be purchased at cost-required to perform almost any kind of work they like, as well as drawings of standard articles and step-by-step instructions how to make them, which people could follow. Besides, one or more instructors would also be available throughout the working hours of the centre, in order to provide some guidance and practical training to whom may need it. Minor training courses would be organized periodically for the "users" of the centre, and visual aids, displays, leaflets and bulletins could at all times be consulted.

The services rendered by the centre could be expanded by loaning certain tools or machines to individual members for working at home or elsewhere. Group activities outside the centre would be fostered by providing equipment and materials for any given project to be

IVAN PEREZ is a Latin-American "man-in-the-street" who has been looking for new ways of bridging the gap between work and leisure.

developed by the group, such as boat-building, house-building and out-door activities in general. Some transportation facilities — such as a cab, trailer or a small truck for carrying tools, supplies or finished articles to and from the homes of individual users and other places of work — would offer yet another advantage and increase the links between the centre and the community.

May I now clarify a couple of points in this connection. This project obviously does not represent anything basically "new" under the sun. The idea of providing workshop facilities is currently applied in many schools and educational centres throughout the world, while the practice of "do-it-yourself" has already become something like a trend in modern society. Yet the "centre" proposed herein implies a step forward, and I will immediately say why. Nearly all the "school workshops" and similar facilities available today are limited, obviously, to very young people only, and there is a widespread inclination to believe that such "hobbies" are for a certain age group or for certain manually-inclined individuals and nothing else. On the other hand, home activities of grown-ups in the field of do-it-yourself are seriously limited — in too many cases — by the lack of adequate space at home and by the cost of reasonably equipping a personal workshop, which is evidently used only part of the time by the individual owner. Lack of suitable premises and high cost of equipment tends to dissuade most people, even if they have a latent interest in manual arts, from cultivating it. As a consequence, do-it-yourself activities in general tend to be considered as nothing but minor home repairs and fixings, or as a mere assembly of already prefabricated gadgets, structures and the like — hence with little or no development at all of a true manual ability.

The centre proposed herein aims, instead, at a deeper transformation of our attitudes toward work. It starts from the premise that the principle of "do-it-yourself" is not necessarily a hobby, but may become a true philosophy of life. In accordance with this philosophy, the centre tries to develop the interest and the ability of individuals to manufacture by themselves, in an acceptable way, a large number of everyday articles for their personal use — from a piece of furniture to a TV set, a pleasure boat or any other gadget or appliance within the limits of individual ability. The benefits of this philosophy are twofold: in the first place, psychological, by offering the individual a different kind of satisfaction which can only be experienced through the intimate relationship with "doing", "building" and "learning" in a spontaneous, creative fashion; and in the second place, material, by providing a new way for the individual to achieve substantial savings in the cost of any given article when manufactured "by himself" in the centre, as compared to the cost of the same article purchased in the trade.

Evidently, the term "cost" is used here with exclusion of the "time" which every individual has to spend making a given article by himself, which may in some cases require the same or even a larger number of hours than those he would be required to work in his ordinary employment to "earn" the same article … However, it is evident that the chief purpose of this experience is not the achievement of any greater mechanical efficiency, but the transformation of our intimate relationship with the work-and consequently the transformation of our whole scale of values in judging the "cost" and the "worthiness" of any given effort.

The reason why I propose to call this an "Experimental Work Centre" is because I believe that a serious attempt of this nature may contribute to highlight some of the basic problems and contradictions of modern economy. It is doubtless that many of these problems and contradictions are well known already, and yet no realistic alternative has so far been attempted to reconcile the opposite requirements of mechanical efficiency with the human values involved. It is obvious that, at this stage of industrialization, we cannot possibly dream of stepping back to pre-industrial schemes of production, at least not in the basic branches of economy; the rules of work division, specialization and mass-production, in all probability, are here to stay so far as the basic "basic needs" of a community are concerned — such as the production and processing of food, raw and semi-finished materials, technical services and capital goods in general, public services, health programmes and the like. And yet, it is equally obvious that there is a lot of other, so to say "secondary" activities which can and perhaps ought to be left to a more flexible, more individualistic or downright "artisan" system of production — for the sake of mental balance of modern man, if nothing else, of his adjustment to life and the preservation of his natural skills and abilities. It is this latter aim which the "experimental centre" tries to implement as a goal to be attained by a modern, highly mechanized and highly "automated" society like ours.

The type of work which interested parties would be encouraged to perform in the proposed centre will never substitute the fundamental principles of efficiency, mechanization and work division which are applied in the "basic" branches of economy; but it will certainly provide a new dimension of individual liberty and direct identification with the process of production in a large number of "secondary" activities, which are nonetheless vital as a counterpart to what nowadays threatens to become nothing but a psychosis of mass production. In a world increasingly concerned about the nonsense of overproduction, the necessity of running the economy on the bases of a large amount of waste and artificial needs, or the problem of an increasing amount of "leisure time" with no creative dedication to fill it — there is a definite need to redimension the whole economy according to a more humanistic criterion. It is such a criterion that the proposed centre will try to demonstrate and implement in a new scheme of "part-time" production.
From the practical standpoint, hence, the centre is intended to become a reasonably self-supporting, non-profit educational enterprise having the purpose to offer certain facilities which, it is hoped, will stimulate a growing number of individuals to use them in order to produce — by themselves — an increasing quantity and variety of goods instead of purchasing them in the trade.

From the theoretical standpoint, the centre is expected to provide a valuable pilot experience and a considerable amount of practical documentation as to the possibility of organizing and channelling any appreciable portion of human work under the principle of "do-it-yourself". The centre is expected to perform an important role in encouraging people to engage in manual activities and helping them to overcome their inhibitions or preconceived ideas about their "natural inability" to perform anything but a given skill or profession. The idea behind this effort is that the traditional structures of work division and specialization, stemming out of the early stages of the industrial revolution, are practically mutilating the living experience of everybody and spoiling the latest values and abilities of most individuals. The aim pursued by this centre is to bring these latent abilities back to life — by allowing people to practice them in an adequate, stimulating environment. To put it in other words, the aim of the centre is to build up a highly versatile, universal type of human personality, which would of course not ignore a deeper specialization in any given skill, profession or area of knowledge — but would always foster, at the same time, a balanced development of experiences in many other areas as well.
Jobs vary, both in the needs which they generate for non-work activities, and also in the extent to which they penetrate into leisure time. In nine-to-five jobs, no obligations need encroach on leisure time. But other occupations, such as teaching or research, demand specialized reading, attending meetings, and after-work mixing with colleagues. An inquiry at present being carried out suggests that people in "service" as opposed to "business" occupations spend much more of their social life with co-workers off the job.
Some, for whom work is not an area for free and meaningful action, turn to leisure as compensation. In the words of C. Wright Mills, "Each day, men sell little pieces of themselves in order to try to buy them back each night and weekend with the coin of fun." Leisure used in this way may be sought as an escape from work, given over to such feverish pleasures as speedway and jiving. Withdrawal to home-centredness offers compensations of a different kind. Here, a man is boss of his own small world, and can engage in meaningful tasks of his own choosing.
"Work and Non-Work" (New Society, 11/7/63).

"Industrial democracy is rather like religion", remarked a trade union official cynically. "You don't practise it very much but you feel you ought to."
—THE TIMES, 15/7/63.

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Nov 19 2017 23:13



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