Archive for Labor


Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 1, 2009 by blackeyepress


Spanish anarcho-syndicalism from its inception had adopted an initial programme not only of wage demands, the right to work, improvements in conditions, but also the realisation of Libertarian Communism. Before 19 July 1936 the anarchists had proclaimed the anarchist Social Revolution in many places in Spain such as Casas Viejas, Alto Liobregat and Gijon, all of which were areas which had a large anarcho-syndicalist following. In all these villages or towns property registers were burned, money abolished and Libertarian Communism made reality.

In Spain, during the 1936-9 revolution, the libertarian collectives were in control of their own production and surplus, managed by their own committees of self-administration, where assemblies guaranteed direct democracy. Committees were named and delegates appointed for each sector, acting independently from the state in full freedom. No-one was obliged to remain in a libertarian collective. Any individual could leave when he or she wished to, whilst in the USSR, under Stalin, the peasants could not leave their kolkhoz and were bound to it like new serfs. But the most important aspect of the libertarian collectives of Spain is that they were not utopian, but very real, because they achieved with no authoritarian structures increased production and improved infrastructure. This was despite the fact that in many of them up to forty per cent of the labour force, the youngest sector, was mobilised to the Front, particularly in Aragon.


The concepts of libertarian collectives, factory committees, self-management, self-organisation of society without the oppressive and exploitative state, were all clearly worked out by the C.N.T. These matters had been treated in its immediate programme in the Saragossa Congress of May 1936.

For the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists the union was not an institutionalised entity like the social democratic or Christian democrat unions, but was seen as an insurrectionary tool which would bring about the social revolution and establish libertarian communism. On the organisation of the new society after the victory of the revolution, the first measures, according to the 1936 Congress, would be:

�Once the violent phase of the revolution is over, private property, the state, the principle of authority and therefore the classes that divide people into exploited and exploiters, into oppressed and oppressors, will be abolished.

�Once wealth is socialised, free producers� organisations will take over the direct administration of production and consumption.

�Once the libertarian commune is established in every locality, the new social mechanism will come into play. Producers in every trade or profession, together in their unions and workplaces, will freely determine the form in which this is to be organised.

�Once the libertarian commune is established, everything belonging to the bourgeoisie will be expropriated such as food, clothing, primary materials, tools, etc. These items should be passed over to the producers who can directly administer them for the benefit of the collective.

This corresponds to the Bakuninist idea of a dual socialist federation.

One part would be a self-administrative body to substitute the state and the other part would be the collective organised according to industry or service. The federal union of the two, organised from the base upwards, would constitute the Social (or National) Council of the Economy. This would destroy the class-based bourgeois or democratic state.

The Saragossa Congress had the following to say on the organisation of federalist libertarian socialism:

�The associations of industrial producers as well as the associations of agricultural producers will be federated nationally if Spain is the only country where the social transformation has taken place and if this is considered advantageous for the best possible development of the economy. In the same way, where relevant, services will federate according to the same principles in order to provide for the needs of the libertarian communes.

�We believe that in time the new society will be able to provide each commune with all the agricultural and industrial requirements necessary for autonomy, in accordance with the biological principle that states that the most free person- in this case, the most free commune- is the one which least needs the others.

We believe that our revolution should be organised on a purely egalitarian basis. The revolution cannot be won by mutual aid or solidarity alone. We must give to each human being what they require, the only limit being that imposed by the newly created economy.

The Spanish libertarian collectives freely distributed among the collectivist landworkers that which was abundant but rationed that which was scarce, maintaining, even in scarcity, economic equality between all, without the glaring inequalities of bourgeois and bureaucratic society.

On the principles of exchange of produce in a libertarian society, the CNT stated how the exchange mechanism would operate:

As we have already stated, our organisation is a federalist one which guarantees the freedom of the individual in the group and in the commune. It also guarantees the freedom of the federation in the confederation.

We start from the individual and proceed to the collective, so guaranteeing the individual’s inviolable right to freedom.

�The inhabitants of a commune will discuss the internal problems affecting them such as production, consumption, education, hygiene and everything necessary for its moral and economic development. When a problem affects a whole county or province the federation must come to a solution and in the meetings and assemblies that the federation has, all the communes must be represented. Their delegates will reflect the previously adopted decisions of the communes.�

In this way, direct democracy substitutes conventional, indirect, parliamentary, bourgeois or bureaucratic democracy and people are in charge of their own destinies, being able to exert their own social power in the political field and exercising self-management in the economic field. Thus federalism and socialism are united, something that has not taken place in the Marxist-Leninist Soviet Union where bureaucratic centralism and the ruling class of the state, through economic totalitarianism, have strangled peoples� freedom and direct participation. No-one there was free, apart from the supreme dictator, everyone else was a subject of the total state.

Until the working class controls agriculture, industry and the services, it will never be emancipated. If the state takes everything and controls the products of wage labour, an exploitative system develops where the state profits from the workers. Against this centralist principle of production by the state the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists in the Saragossa Congress stated the following:

For the exchange of products between communes the Commune Councils will co-ordinate with the regional federations of communes and with the Confederal Council of Production and Consumption in order to determine what needs there are.

By means of the co-ordination established between the communes and the Council of Production and Statistics, the problem is simplified and resolved.

�In the commune itself, production cards will be issued to the members by the workshop and factory councils, thus allowing all members to cover their needs. The production card will be regulated by the following two principles: 1) that it is not transferable; 2) that a procedure is adopted by which the value of the work done by days is recorded on the card and that its period of validity does not exceed twelve months.

The Commune Councils will provide production cards to the non-active population.

Thus, an integrated self-managed system of production and distribution was created. Here, the workers control goods and services and not the state.


Before the creation of the libertarian communes, landworkers’ work was divided in a basic way according to sex and family. An underdeveloped or subsistence kind of agriculture was maintained since the families consumed most of their own production. When individual small properties were made into social property, work was divided up on a much more rational basis. The socialist libertarian revolution was the technological, economic and social means by which the old antiquated structures of the Spanish countryside could be altered. Mechanisation had not been introduced into this sector of the economy which accounted for 52 per cent of the active population. Productivity per worker was low per hectare since most work was carried out by mules and basic tools; it was rare to see a tractor or modern agricultural implements.

As individual wealth was made into common property, the resultant change in the socio-economic and legal structures altered the social division of labour in each family and in the whole of rural society. The libertarian collectivists did not fully realise the nature of the great revolution they were in fact carrying �out, thus showing the world that the creation of libertarian communism is a problem of action and not one of excessive theorisation of the armchair intellectual socialists or the bureaucratic communist leaders.

In Jativa, for example, the conversion of private property into social property, directly managed by the working class and not imposed by state managers, created a revolutionary change in the division of labour, integrating all branches of production and social and public services of the town which had 17,000 inhabitants in 1936. Approximately 3,000 were CNT members. This shows that a well-educated active minority can inspire the majority to make revolutionary economic, social and political change.

When the libertarian collective of Jativa was created on 16 January 1937 the rules drawn up and agreed upon by the landworkers were far more social than any socialism conceived by intellectuals. For example, Article 10 of the agreement organised work and different crops into the following sections: statistics, fertilisers, seeds and new crops, irrigation, fumigation and crop disease, co-operative stores, livestock, poultry and bees, tools and machinery, canning and conserves, wages, pasture land, transport of produce and sales, organisation of production and technical management of distribution and organisation of labour.

All this was carried out by means of special sections and commissions where workers directly participated, without delegating work to others but by doing it every hour and every day by themselves. Thus practical and versatile self-management was implemented.

The Jativa collective, according to Article 11, elected a President, Secretary and Treasurer in a sovereign assembly. In addition, a spokesperson was elected for each section or commission. All these posts were elected and recallable as and when the members wished. Besides, the members of the commissions did not become bureaucrats; they had to perform the same work as any other member, except when occupied with their tasks on the commissions.

In addition to this division according to agricultural and livestock production, the Jativa collective also involved many local artisans, whose integration supposed a more total organsiation of labour in the area. Self-management was achieved not only at factory level but in the whole town, something which is unique since nothing similar exists in the USSR or the rest of the East.

The great merit of the Jativa collective is that in a voluntary fashion, with no coercion, the owner of an olive oil factory, who was an important member of the local bourgeoisie, became a member of the collective with his family and gave the collective all his wealth. One of his sons, also very privileged under the old system, handed over all his money along with his wife’s. Finally, the Secretary of the collective, of bourgeois origin, also gave all his money and property to the collective. This shows that libertarian communism is a progressive system because it embraces a social morality which is in accordance to the general interest and enables direct democracy, self-management, freedom and dignity of the human being to be lived to the full.

The Jativa collective model was to be found more or less extensively throughout Aragon, Valencia, Murcia, and Castille and even in the Basque Country where the government was more bourgeois than revolutionary, and in which the anarchists had refused to participate.

In Asturias, Catalonia and parts of the Basque Country, in the industrial areas workers’ self-management took place in the form of joint UGT (socialist union) -CNT Committees.

Let us now examine exactly how collectivisation took place by taking an example. Graus, a small town of 2,600 people in 1936, was to witness a notable experiment in libertarian socialism from 16 October 1936 onwards. Here, socialisation was more total than it had been in Jativa, as it affected not only the land but also commerce, transport, printing, shoe manufacturing, bakeries, pharmacies, locksmiths and blacksmiths, wheelwrights, carpenters and cabinet makers.

The Graus collective self-managed ninety per cent of the agricultural and craft industry production as well as the service sector. The Self-Management Commission had eight members. Six were responsible for the following sectors: culture and health (theatre, schools, sports, medicines and doctors); work and accounts (personnel, wages, cafes, inns, accounts and supplies); trade, coal, fertilisers, warehouses; agriculture (crops, irrigation, farms, cattle); industry (factories, workshops, electricity, water, construction); transport and communication (lorries, carts, taxis, post, garages).

Here we have a magnificent example of local government or, more accurately, self-management, in action. In Graus people lived from agricultural, industrial and craft industry production and from the collectivised services. To some extent, Graus was a commune as Bakunin had understood it, as popular self-government replacing the parasitical oppressive state.

This social division of labour into agricultural, industrial and service sectors, was self-managed in the following way: each workshop designated, through its assembly, a representative to participate in the Industrial Secretariat. Therefore, each industrial sector’s accounts would appear in the Collective’s register. The following sectors appeared: drinking water, oil, saw mills, chocolate production, sausages, alcoholic beverages, electricity, iron forging, inns and cafes, printing, lamp manufacturing, construction materials, sewing machines, sock manufacturing, gypsum mining, bakeries, tailors, chair makers, weavers, bicycle workshops, leather products, and other sectors.

The most important thing here, rather than describe the process, which has been done extensively elsewhere, is to evaluate the libertarian socialist experiment in Graus, whose structure was more or less applied to the whole of anarchist Aragon. As we evaluate this notable experiment, which at first sight may have appeared utopian, we can see that in terms of objective economics, it represents the most real attempt at socialism, uniting the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, unlike under capitalism where they are all unintegrated. Therefore an integrated economy was created with a rational division of labour as each sector was inter-dependent on the others. A self-managed system was thus formed, where goods, products and services were exchanged according to their real work-value relationship.

For the first time, an economy providing full employment was created. This was achieved not through technocratic or bourgeois financial juggling but through concrete self-management and socialization of the means of production and exchange. Employment was guaranteed by libertarian socialism since labour circulated freely in all sectors of the Graus collective.

On another level, the fact that the production of primary products (livestock, fishing, mining, agriculture, forests) had been integrated into the processing, transport and distribution of these products means that both national and international capitalism can be effectively challenged. This is because production can take place with ever-decreasing costs which is something that capitalism, divided into banking, trading and industrial sectors, cannot do. In the economic field, full employment in the Graus collective was possible, with decreasing production costs and increasing consumption. Libertarian socialism, therefore, does not suffer the cyclical economic crises of capitalism, or the crises of over-production in bureaucratic socialism. This provides the possibility for harmonious development among the various economic sectors, which are all integrated into the overall Economic Council formed by the federations of production and services.

Over fifty per cent of Spain’s active population was employed in agriculture in 1936. If extensive mechanisation of agriculture had taken place at that time, how could the rural population have been fully employed? If every agricultural worker, instead of producing food for his own family and a little more for the national market in order to exchange necessary goods and services, could produce food for a hundred people with mechanisation, this apparently difficult question would be solved in an anarchist economy for the following reasons: fewer agricultural workers would be involved in agricultural production but more would be produced. This would not create unemployment since all those not involved in one sector would pass on to another.

-the greater the productivity in agricultural work, industry and services, the fewer the work hours would have to be, so full employment could be maintained.

In libertarian socialism, as work would be a right and a duty for all, there would always be some work for everyone. We could improve nature with work and care and not destroy it as is done under capitalism, which does not care about polluting the rivers, seas, land and the air as long as some capitalists gain competitive advantage over some others. Indeed, only libertarian socialism will free people from the chains of the capitalists, from exploitation and domination by the western bourgeoisie and the eastern bureaucracies.


In the areas of Spain where the libertarian movement had a majority following, such as in Aragon and Catalonia, collectivisation of land and self-management of industry and services were the principal methods employed. Capitalism was substituted by libertarian socialism.

However, everything that the workers had done from below, replacing the capitalist regime with libertarian socialism, was opposed by the state from above. The state tried to block and oppose libertarian socialism by isolating the banking and credit and cash-flow systems so as to impede the importation of essential goods to the self-managed society created by the anarchists. Their prime mistake had been that of not creating a national structure of social power opposed to state power to substitute the old exploitative and oppressive state, in which the petit bourgeois, pro-Soviet socialists and Stalinist communists became firmly entrenched. Libertarian socialism was not a new economic, social, political, judicial, cultural and communications system on a national scale. As a result many libertarian collectives were destroyed by the soldiers of the communist commander Enrique Lister as they entered Aragon in July 1937.

If libertarian socialism does not “go all the way” as Garcia Oliver said, if it allows the bourgeois state to co-exist above it in addition to the superstructure of capitalism, victory will never be final but always transitory. The old regime may return whenever the state wishes to unleash the bourgeois or bureaucratic counter-revolution. This was exactly what the pro-Soviet Union socialists and communists, bourgeois republicans and the Basque democratic Christians did when the “revolution within the revolution” broke out in May 1937.

Libertarian socialism cannot go half way, creating self-management from July 1936 in Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia, and allow state power to re-establish itself over the rest of revolutionary Spain. In addition, if this move to create self-management is not taken immediately, so as not to create antagonism in the Popular Anti-Fascist Front, it can be taken gradually, by creating a basic insurrectionary guerilla force where the CNT had a large following, such as in Andalusia. If two guerilla fronts had been created little by little, one in front of the Francoist forces and the other behind the Francoist forces in the Nationalist Zone, the war and the social revolution would have been won simultaneously. Only this revolutionary strategic plan could allow libertarian workers’ control to replace the reactionary state, the liberal bourgeoisie and the ideologies of reformist socialism and bureaucratic communism.

In any case, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, who did not dominate everywhere, revolutionised the regions where they had amass following and showed the world that workers, freed from bosses and professional politicians, could carry out the revolutionary transformation of society. A revolution not of the communist bureaucrats or reformist socialists, where everything seems to change but where everything in fact stays the same as the bourgeoisie, is replaced by a communist bureaucracy and the bourgeois state by the bureaucratic communist state.

Despite their limitations, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists established libertarian collectives where the means of production and exchange were socialised, through direct management by the workers and not through imposition by the state. Economic surplus was also self-managed. Also, and once again in contrast to the USSR, the workers of the collectives were rewarded equally, without productivity, falling or initiative lacking. The bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy believe that if there is not a large wage differential, initiative and interest in increasing production will be lost. This idea was shown to be false in the Spanish libertarian collectives, where solidarity between the collectivists made self-government function satisfactorily.

In this system all the products of labour are enjoyed by those who produce them. But the Spanish collectivists were not irrational consumers. They invested more capital in economic and technological development than the old regime and did not merely reinforce the old function of capital but achieved greater productivity per worker. This is the only way in which progress is achieved, that is, in which people can live better now and in the future than they can in the past.


Marxist-Leninism, with its socialist ideology and neo-capitalist economics, with statist means of production, has emphasised the nationalisation of production, but not its socialist distribution �Therefore, if socialism is limited to the �socialisation� or nationalisation of the means of production but maintains residual and inegalitarian capitalism, it will just be another form of capitalism. Soviet socialism has been discredited as the army generals, the academics, the bureaucrats and the few members of the �Nomenklatura� consume much more than an unqualified worker in industry or agriculture. As a result, without any egalitarian economic ethic, there can be no socialist distribution of social wealth, even though there exists an apparent socialist order at the points of production.

Some have argued that if there was economic equality, that is if everyone was paid the same wage, it would detract from the personal interest to produce more. It is also stated that the more economic equality there is, the lower the social accummulation of capital will be. All this is part of the economic ideology of the Western bourgeoisie or the Eastern bureaucracy. The more equality there is between people, for this fact alone, that which was not consumed by the privileged classes would be saved and accummulated. This was demonstrated in the Spanish libertarian collectives where consumption was equal and where investment improved the agricultural infrastructure, expanded the area of land under cultivation, created public services, improved education and developed other sectors of the economy.

In Aragon, a real, not utopian form of libertarian socialism was realised. The model of distribution of wealth was not identical but, in general, it was based on the family wage, usually paid in coupons and purchasing power was in harmony with the new economy. Even though the local currency was stable it was not legal in the whole country and therefore the libertarian collectives used national currency for trips outside the local area. This was done so as not to limit a person�s economic or physical freedom if he or she wanted to travel or live elsewhere.

As regards the “provisions card”, the libertarian collective of Alcorisa created a family consumption card, which was practically equivalent to a credit card and which ordered consumer items according to a points system. If meat was given a 100 point value and the consumer did not want meat then he or she was given another product of equal value. In such a way the law of exchange and value was complied within the libertarian economy. The consumer had a great deal of freedom as regards the products on the market. And if local products could not satisfy the consumer, the collective, through its council or appropriate section, obtained, on an equal exchange basis, the goods and services needed. Thus a system of economic federalism was practised by the Aragonese Regional Federation of Collectives.

If the Spanish revolution had triumphed, the libertarian socialist model of the collectives would have been shown to have been far superior in the accummulation of social capital, in productive investment, in rational use of resources and in regional, national and international trade than the Soviet system which cannot feed its own population after seven decades of Marxist-Leninism without huge grain imports from the EC and USA.

The fact that the libertarian collectives accummulated a great deal of social capital is due to positive economic management and the use of the coupon or supplies card, which satisfied the needs of families, and which left the local collective or regional federation the task of administrating production, distribution, exchange and consumption. If no-one can accummulate capital in order to exploit anyone else, all the economic surplus of the collective would be rationally and equally channelled into creating reserves for a bad year, or to create more capital for investment and to create better production techniques with improved machinery. Production would therefore increase as the amount of time needed to be spent working would decrease. There would therefore be full employment and manual work would be transformed into qualified, technical, scientific work of a very high level.

However, in order to achieve this high level of economic, cultural, scientific and technical progress it is necessary that a libertarian spirit prevails and that there is an economic ethic of rational and frugal consumption. The waste produced by the bourgeois “consumer society” is harmful to the planet and upsets the ecosystem.

It is clear that production and technology have advanced sufficiently for the creation of a libertarian economy, but we are bound hand and foot by the reactionary states of East and West. Only libertarian socialism, which guarantees freedom and equality, pluralism of ideas, without the professional political parties of the West or the single party states of the East, can allow humanity to organise itself according to its own needs. Libertarian communism can free us from war, tyranny, hunger, ignorance and other evils inherent not to the human condition but to the anachronistic socio-economic system based on the exploitation of one person by another, on the domination of one nation by another, on capitalism, hegemony and imperialism.


The larger a town, the harder it is to integrate the economy. Trade and money have a greater role for the simple reason that everyone does not belong to the same unit, as was the case of the collectives in the countryside. The town is the creation of the bourgeoisie, related to the development of capitalism, and it is where trade, money, salaries and profits support bourgeois economic activity. However, the Spanish anarchists were capable of self-managing most of the industrial and services sectors in large cities such as Barcelona, but it was not as easy as it was in Aragon to abolish money and replace it with the coupon or rationing card.

In towns of a few thousand inhabitants and in the country, agriculture, industry and services were integrated into one multifarious unit with specialised sections which, by means of elected and recallable delegates, formed part of the local and county organisations of self-government.

For example, the town of Villajoyosa had achieved self-management on a county level which brought about a new type of direct democracy, through self-government, so substituing the old state and the Roman municipality. In Villajoyosa, not only was the land collectivised but the libertarian collective was extended to take in a textile factory where 400 people worked and also the fishing industry from which 4,000 people made their livelihood.

In Calonda, besides the collectivisation of the land, stone masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, seamstresses, tailors, barbers and others entered the collective. Since their natural and most important market was Calonda and the surrounding area, and since these were all collectivised, the above groups voluntarily joined the agricultural workers in the collective. This organ of self-government, in the form of social power, had been created by the revolution and was more concrete than the Soviets of the workers or sailors which were not capable of abolishing the state. The latter accepted the indirect democracy of a bureaucratic communist party instead of exercising direct democracy themselves, as was the practice in the libertarian collectives.

One of the greatest achievements of libertarian self-government was the direct self-management of a town of 45,000 inhabitants such as Alcoy, where industry and services were collectivised. in Alcoy in 1936 the working population was 20,000 of which 17,000 were members of the CNT They were the active revolutionaries in the economic, social and political change effected and they did not wait for the government to do everything, as the Marxists wish so that the government keeps everything and everyone, as occurred in the USSR.

In Alcoy there were 16 CNT unions in the Local Federation before 16 July 1936. This union power which was not institutionalised but active and revolutionary, did not struggle for higher wages alone as the reformist unions do, but instead for the creation of libertarian communism. It was a unique union force; Marxist unionism had become a cog in the petit bourgeois socialist party or bureaucratic communist party machine, which used unionism as an instrument of the revolution-talking politicians who in reality merely prop up reformism.

The unions in Alcoy, as in every locality where the CNT was a major all over Spain where the CNT was a major force, did not wait for the government to nationalise the factories but socialised them themselves instead, not as state property but social property. As an example of this socialisation, the Alcoy unions proceeded immediately to self-manage the following industries: printing; paper and cardboard; construction, including architects and surveyors; hygiene and health, including medicines, pharmacies, barbers, launderettes and sweepers; transport, including buses, taxis and lorries; entertainment, including theatres and cinemas; the chemical industry, soaps, laboratories, perfumes; leather, skins and shoes; traders and salesmen; industrial technicians; primary and secondary teachers; artists; writers; clothing; the whole textile industry, of vital importance in Alcoy; wood and furniture; the liberal professions; and agriculture and horticulture. Alcoy was, therefore, a model self-managed town, self-governed by its direct producers, without professional politicians, bureaucracies or bourgeoisie.

Due to the socialisation of the means of production and the services, the law of the social division of labour achieved a balance that the previous system of production never had, since if there were too many workers in one sector or in one firm, they would pass over to another sector and full employment would be maintained. In this way, libertarian socialism was much more objective and scientific than capitalism or administrative socialism where there is a large discrepancy between the productive workers and the techno-bureaucracy entrenched in the state apparatus.

Capitalism, with all its contradictions, which stem from the means of production being held in private hands, is very much inferior to libertarian collectivism in industry, services and agriculture. Libertarian communism found a solution, without much mathematical and technical theorisation, for unemployment, cyclical economic crises, strikes as a result of the conflict between workers and capitalists, persecution and ignorance. Libertarian communism provided education and thus eliminated the need for emigration. The workers themselves self-managed things in the political, economic, social, technical and financial fields. This is the great merit of the CNT in the 33 months of the Spanish revolution. It was a revolution made not by the communists and socialists who defended the old regime and state, but by the anarchists who substituted the state in the countryside and cities by collectives and self-management.

The direct self-management of the Alcoy economy provided an excellent example of self-government. The three branches of the textile industry elected a delegate to the Works Committee as did the office personnel and the warehouse staff. A Control Committee was named by the union committee. Also a Technical Commission was created which was formed by technicians from the five different specialities of manufacturing, administration, buying and selling and insurance. In turn, the self-administration section was divided into three sub-sections: general manufacturing processes, technical organisation and machine maintainance, production control and statistics. All this, as a federative form of self-government, provided work for more than 20,000 workers, corresponding to 103 firms of varying textile specialities, including other small firms and the agricultural sector. This did away with the contradiction of egotistical capitalism which monopolised capital and reduced work to slavery. Libertarian socialism, in Alcoy and other parts of Spain, liberated workers from wage slavery and transformed them into collectivists thus eliminating the proletariat, which remains under Marxist-Leninism in the pay of the state rulers, producing profits for the communist bureaucracy and state capitalists.

The marvellous experiment of self-management in Alcoy, however, did have one defect. The financial and political power above was not libertarian social power, and for this reason, in the end, the state, which existed above the workers, tried to return them to their original wage slavery. Therefore, in the future, a social revolution should not remain at a local or regional level and must reach the national level. One of the great mistakes of the CNT during the Spanish revolution was to collectivise the land, services and firms below, but leave, above, the banks, credit systems, foreign trade, gold and currency intact in the hands of the enemies of libertarian collectivism. The same error of the Paris Commune of 1871 was committed: the social revolution should not be made below alone, leaving many aspects of the counter-revolution intact above such as the banks, currency, foreign trade and the repressive state which crushed the collectives in time. The state became stronger day by day in the hands of the communists. The libertarian social revolution suffers one dilemma: either it is carried out immediately and totally, above and below, or it is lost to the power of the state and to its bourgeois and bureaucratic supporters.

From down upwards, libertarian social power must substitute and destroy the exploitative and oppressive state. In order to abolish the traditional power of the state over society, alternative libertarian social power must be created based on the self-management of the workplace and militia self-defence.

If industry, agriculture and the services are self-managed and federated in their own specialised branches, they will unite to form an overall economic council. The economic council along with the federated bodies of self-government and the militia structure will form the three pillars of social power so forming a type of federated self-government, whose task is to administer things not people.

The Spanish libertarian movement placed a great deal of emphasis on the task of creating the infrastructure of libertarian socialism from below, but the anarchist superstructure, above, of social power was ignored. It is true to say that the CNT, through its revolutionary unions, created marvellous forms of self-management, below, in the collectives, the railways, the telephones, gas and electric, etc, but it overlooked the fact that the state was still in existence above as supreme alienating power and that while it existed the libertarian revolution was in danger. This is clear from the May Days of 1937 when the communist divisions entered Arargon, not to fight Franco, but to destroy the libertarian collectives.

It is time to make it clear that private or state capitalism do not guarantee the right to work for all, an increase in the standard of living and in productivity, an economy free of endemic or cyclical crises, a reduction in working hours, rational and frugal consumption without wasting the products of labour, economic, ecological and social balance and a regime of rights and freedom for all.

Libertarian ideas must be shown to be advantageous over bureaucratic and bourgeois ideologies. Everyone should be their own governor but all should be involved in the process of collective production. “Power” must belong to all, not to the tyrannical state or to a class or a repressive, exploitative elite. Self-management must be created as a new method of production in all economic activity and politics must be based on the libertarian principle that all decide in a responsible way for everything. No leader such as Hitler or Stalin is infallible; there must be freedom for all. In summary, libertarian socialism represents real alternative popular social power because it comes from the people and not from outside, not from the bourgeoisie or bureaucracy, or from the private or state capitalists.

By Abraham Guillen


Bob Black

Posted in Anarchist with tags , , , , , , on March 14, 2009 by blackeyepress


When I was eight a psychiatrist diagnosed me as “a bright psychoneurotic child with marked acting out behavior and possibly some mild encephalopathy which inhibits impulse control.” I was kicked out of third, sixth, eighth and twelfth grades. With the educational edge this gave me over the docile I went on to get a B.A., M.A. and J.D. During the mid-1970’s I went from Yippie-tinged New Leftism to something like whatever it is I am now. In 1977 I started my poster project, The Last International, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I put up thousands of posters but even though she had to have seen them Madonna didn’t write in. It was an ideal format for me. I could play with words and ideas of the finest intransigence without answering to any editor, and I could rebound a shot off a telephone pole and right into the face of somebody who’d have assumed it was unspeakable until I said it.


Anarchism And Other Impediments To Anarchy

The abolition of work

Anarchy after leftism


Bob Black: Anarchism And Other Impediments To Anarchy

There is no need at present to produce new definitions of anarchism – it would be hard to improve on those long since devised by various eminent dead foreigners. Nor need we linger over the familiar hyphenated anarchisms, communist- and individualist- and so forth; the textbooks cover all that. More to the point is why we are no closer to anarchy today than were Godwin and Proudhon and Kropotkin and Goldman in their times. There are lots of reasons, but the ones that most need to be thought about are the ones that the anarchists engender themselves, since it is these obstacles – if any – it should be possible to remove. Possible, but not probable.

My considered judgment, after years of scrutiny of, and sometimes harrowing activity in the anarchist milieu, is that anarchists are a main reason – I suspect, a sufficient reason – why anarchy remains an epithet without a prayer of a chance to be realized. Most anarchists are, frankly, incapable of living in an autonomous cooperative manner. A lot of them aren’t very bright. They tend to peruse their own classics and insider literature to the exclusion of broader knowledge of the world we live in. Essentially timid, they associate with others like themselves with the tacit understanding that nobody will measure anybody elses opinions and actions against any standard of practical critical intelligence; that no one by his or her individual achievements will rise too far above the prevalent level; and, above all, that nobody challenges the shibboleths of anarchist ideology.

Anarchism as a milieu is not so much a challenge to the existing order as it is one highly specialized form of accommodation to it. It is a way of life, or an adjunct of one, with its own particular mix of rewards and sacrifices. Poverty is obligatory, but for that very reason forecloses the question whether this or that anarchist could have been anything but a failure regardless of ideology. The history of anarchism is a history of unparalleled defeat and martyrdom, yet anarchists venerate their victimized forebears with a morbid devotion which occasions suspicion that the anarchists, like everybody else, think that the only good anarchist is a dead one. Revolution–defeated revolution–is glorious, but it belongs in books and pamphlets. In this century–Spain in 1936 and France in 1968 are especially clear cases–the revolutionary upsurge caught the official, organized anarchists flat-footed and initially non-supportive or worse. The reason is not far to seek. It’s not that all these ideologues were hypocrites (some were). Rather, they had worked out a daily routine of anarchist militancy, one they unconsciously counted on to endure indefinitely since revolution isn’t really imaginable in the here-and-now, and they reacted with fear and defensiveness when events outdistanced their rhetoric.

In other words, given a choice between anarchism and anarchy, most anarchists would go for the anarchism ideology and subculture rather than take a dangerous leap into the unknown, into a world of stateless liberty. But since anarchists are almost the only avowed critics of the state as such, these freedom-fearing folk would inevitably assume prominent or at least publicized places in any insurgency which was genuinely anti-statist. Themselves follower-types, they would find themselves the leaders of a revolution which threatened their settled status no less than that of the politicians and proprietors. The anarchists would sabotage the revolution, consciously or otherwise, which without them might have dispensed with the state without even pausing to replay the ancient Marx/Bakunin tussle.

In truth the anarchists who assume the name have done nothing to challenge the state, not with windy unread jargon-filled writings, but with the contagious example of another way to relate to other people. Anarchists as they conduct the anarchism business are the best refutation of anarchist pretensions. True, in North America at least the top-heavy “federations” of workerist organizers have collapsed in ennui and acrimony, and a good thing too, but the informal social structure of anarchism is still hierachic through and through. The anarchists placidly submit to what Bakunin called an “invisible government” which in their case consists of the editors (in fact if not in name) of a handful of the larger and longer-lasting anarchist publications.

These publications, despite seemingly profound ideological differences, have similar “father-knows-best” stances vis-a-vis their readers as well as a gentlemen’s agreement not to permit attacks upon each other which would expose inconsistencies and otherwise undermine their common class interest in hegemony over the anarchist rank-and-file. Oddly enough, you can more readily criticize the Fifth Estate or Kick It Over in their own pages than you can there criticize, say, Processed World. Every organization has more in common with every other organization than it does with any of the unorganized. The anarchist critique of the state, if only the anarchists understood it, is but a special case of the critique of organization. And, at some level, even anarchist organizations sense this.

Anti-anarchists may well conclude that if there is to be hierachy and coercion, let it be out in the open, clearly labeled as such. Unlike these pundits (the right-wing “libertarians”, the minarchists, for instance) I stubbornly persist in my opposition to the state. But not because, as anarchists so often thoughtlessly declaim, the state is not “necessary”. Ordinary people dismiss this anarchist assertion as ludicrous, and so they should. Obviously, in an industrialized class society like ours, the state is necessary. The point is that the state has created the conditions in which it is indeed necessary, by stripping individuals and face-to-face voluntary associations of their powers. More fundamentally, the state’s underpinnings (work, moralism, industrial technology, hierarchic organizations) are not necessary but rather antithetical to the satisfactions of real needs and desires. Unfortunately, most brands of anarchism endorse all these premises yet balk at their logical conclusion: the state.

If there were no anarchists, the state would have had to invent them. We know that on several occasions it has done just that. We need anarchists unencumbered by anarchism. Then, and only then, we can begin to get serious about fomenting anarchy.

Bob Black: The abolition of work

No one should ever work.

Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

That doesn’t mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child’s play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isn’t passive. Doubtless we all need a lot more time for sheer sloth and slack than we ever enjoy now, regardless of income or occupation, but once recovered from employment-induced exhaustion nearly all of us want to act. Oblomovism and Stakhanovism are two sides of the same debased coin.

The ludic life is totally incompatible with existing reality. So much the worse for “reality,” the gravity hole that sucks the vitality from the little in life that still distinguishes it from mere survival. Curiously — or maybe not — all the old ideologies are conservative because they believe in work. Some of them, like Marxism and most brands of anarchism, believe in work all the more fiercely because they believe in so little else.

Liberals say we should end employment discrimination. I say we should end employment. Conservatives support right-to-work laws. Following Karl Marx’s wayward son-in-law Paul Lafargue I support the right to be lazy. Leftists favor full employment. Like the surrealists — except that I’m not kidding — I favor full unemployment. Trotskyists agitate for permanent revolution. I agitate for permanent revelry. But if all the ideologues (as they do) advocate work — and not only because they plan to make other people do theirs — they are strangely reluctant to say so. They will carry on endlessly about wages, hours, working conditions, exploitation, productivity, profitability. They’ll gladly talk about anything but work itself. These experts who offer to do our thinking for us rarely share their conclusions about work, for all its saliency in the lives of all of us. Among themselves they quibble over the details. Unions and management agree that we ought to sell the time of our lives in exchange for survival, although they haggle over the price. Marxists think we should be bossed by bureaucrats. Libertarians think we should be bossed by businessmen. Feminists don’t care which form bossing takes so long as the bosses are women. Clearly these ideology-mongers have serious differences over how to divvy up the spoils of power. Just as clearly, none of them have any objection to power as such and all of them want to keep us working.

You may be wondering if I’m joking or serious. I’m joking and serious. To be ludic is not to be ludicrous. Play doesn’t have to be frivolous, although frivolity isn’t triviality: very often we ought to take frivolity seriously. I’d like life to be a game — but a game with high stakes. I want to play for keeps.

The alternative to work isn’t just idleness. To be ludic is not to be quaaludic. As much as I treasure the pleasure of torpor, it’s never more rewarding than when it punctuates other pleasures and pastimes. Nor am I promoting the managed time-disciplined safety-valve called “leisure”; far from it. Leisure is nonwork for the sake of work. Leisure is the time spent recovering from work and in the frenzied but hopeless attempt to forget about work. Many people return from vacation so beat that they look forward to returning to work so they can rest up. The main difference between work and leisure is that work at least you get paid for your alienation and enervation.

I am not playing definitional games with anybody. When I say I want to abolish work, I mean just what I say, but I want to say what I mean by defining my terms in non-idiosyncratic ways. My minimum definition of work is forced labor, that is, compulsory production. Both elements are essential. Work is production enforced by economic or political means, by the carrot or the stick. (The carrot is just the stick by other means.) But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake, it’s done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it. This is what work necessarily is. To define it is to despise it. But work is usually even worse than its definition decrees. The dynamic of domination intrinsic to work tends over time toward elaboration. In advanced work-riddled societies, including all industrial societies whether capitalist of “Communist,” work invariably acquires other attributes which accentuate its obnoxiousness.

Usually — and this is even more true in “Communist” than capitalist countries, where the state is almost the only employer and everyone is an employee — work is employment, i. e., wage-labor, which means selling yourself on the installment plan. Thus 95% of Americans who work, work for somebody (or something) else. In the USSR or Cuba or Yugoslavia or any other alternative model which might be adduced, the corresponding figure approaches 100%. Only the embattled Third World peasant bastions — Mexico, India, Brazil, Turkey — temporarily shelter significant concentrations of agriculturists who perpetuate the traditional arrangement of most laborers in the last several millenia, the payment of taxes (= ransom) to the state or rent to parasitic landlords in return for being otherwise left alone. Even this raw deal is beginning to look good. All industrial (and office) workers are employees and under the sort of surveillance which ensures servility.

But modern work has worse implications. People don’t just work, they have “jobs.” One person does one productive task all the time on an or-else basis. Even if the task has a quantum of intrinsic interest (as increasingly many jobs don’t) the monotony of its obligatory exclusivity drains its ludic potential. A “job” that might engage the energies of some people, for a reasonably limited time, for the fun of it, is just a burden on those who have to do it for forty hours a week with no say in how it should be done, for the profit of owners who contribute nothing to the project, and with no opportunity for sharing tasks or spreading the work among those who actually have to do it. This is the real world of work: a world of bureaucratic blundering, of sexual harassment and discrimination, of bonehead bosses exploiting and scapegoating their subordinates who — by any rational-technical criteria — should be calling the shots. But capitalism in the real world subordinates the rational maximization of productivity and profit to the exigencies of organizational control.

The degradation which most workers experience on the job is the sum of assorted indignities which can be denominated as “discipline.” Foucault has complexified this phenomenon but it is simple enough. Discipline consists of the totality of totalitarian controls at the workplace — surveillance, rotework, imposed work tempos, production quotas, punching -in and -out, etc. Discipline is what the factory and the office and the store share with the prison and the school and the mental hospital. It is something historically original and horrible. It was beyond the capacities of such demonic dictators of yore as Nero and Genghis Khan and Ivan the Terrible. For all their bad intentions they just didn’t have the machinery to control their subjects as thoroughly as modern despots do. Discipline is the distinctively diabolical modern mode of control, it is an innovative intrusion which must be interdicted at the earliest opportunity.

Such is “work.” Play is just the opposite. Play is always voluntary. What might otherwise be play is work if it’s forced. This is axiomatic. Bernie de Koven has defined play as the “suspension of consequences.” This is unacceptable if it implies that play is inconsequential. The point is not that play is without consequences. This is to demean play. The point is that the consequences, if any, are gratuitous. Playing and giving are closely related, they are the behavioral and transactional facets of the same impulse, the play-instinct. They share an aristocratic disdain for results. The player gets something out of playing; that’s why he plays. But the core reward is the experience of the activity itself (whatever it is). Some otherwise attentive students of play, like Johan Huizinga (Homo Ludens), define it as game-playing or following rules. I respect Huizinga’s erudition but emphatically reject his constraints. There are many good games (chess, baseball, Monopoly, bridge) which are rule-governed but there is much more to play than game-playing. Conversation, sex, dancing, travel — these practices aren’t rule-governed but they are surely play if anything is. And rules can be played with at least as readily as anything else.

Work makes a mockery of freedom. The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. Other unfortunates who aren’t free like we are have to live in police states. These victims obey orders or-else, no matter how arbitrary. The authorities keep them under regular surveillance. State bureaucrats control even the smaller details of everyday life. The officials who push them around are answerable only to higher-ups, public or private. Either way, dissent and disobedience are punished. Informers report regularly to the authorities. All this is supposed to be a very bad thing.

And so it is, although it is nothing but a description of the modern workplace. The liberals and conservatives and libertarians who lament totalitarianism are phonies and hypocrites. There is more freedom in any moderately deStalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace. You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or monastery. In fact, as Foucault and others have shown, prisons and factories came in at about the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed from each others control techniques. A worker is a par-time slave. The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions he can fire you for any reason, or no reason. He has you spied on by snitches and supervisors, he amasses a dossier on every employee. Talking back is called “insubordination,” just as if a worker is a naughty child, and it not only gets you fired, it disqualifies you for unemployment compensation. Without necessarily endorsing it for them either, it is noteworthy that children at home and in school receive much the same treatment, justified in their case by their supposed immaturity. What does this say about their parents and teachers who work?

The demeaning system of domination I’ve described rules over half the waking hours of a majority of women and the vast majority of men for decades, for most of their lifespans. For certain purposes it’s not too misleading to call our system democracy or capitalism or — better still — industrialism, but its real names are factory fascism and office oligarchy. Anybody who says these people are “free” is lying or stupid. You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid monotonous work, chances are you’ll end up boring, stupid and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed off to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home at the end, are habituated to heirarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias. Their obedience training at work carries over into the families they start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from people at work, they’ll likely submit to hierarchy and expertise in everything. They’re used to it.

We are so close to the world of work that we can’t see what it does to us. We have to rely on outside observers from other times or other cultures to appreciate the extremity and the pathology of our present position. There was a time in our own past when the “work ethic” would have been incomprehensible, and perhaps Weber was on to something when he tied its appearance to a religion, Calvinism, which if it emerged today instead of four centuries ago would immediately and appropriately be labeled a cult. Be that as it may, we have only to draw upon the wisdom of antiquity to put work in perspective. The ancients saw work for what it is, and their view prevailed, the Calvinist cranks notwithstanding, until overthrown by industrialism — but not before receiving the endorsement of its prophets.

Let’s pretend for a moment that work doesn’t turn people into stultified submissives. Let’s pretend, in defiance of any plausible psychology and the ideology of its boosters, that it has no effect on the formation of character. And let’s pretend that work isn’t as boring and tiring and humiliating as we all know it really is. Even then, work would still make a mockery of all humanistic and democratic aspirations, just because it usurps so much of our time. Socrates said that manual laborers make bad friends and bad citizens because they have no time to fulfill the responsibilities of friendship and citizenship. He was right. Because of work, no matter what we do we keep looking at out watches. The only thing “free” about so-called free time is that it doesn’t cost the boss anything. Free time is mostly devoted to getting ready for work, going to work, returning from work, and recovering from work. Free time is a euphemism for the peculiar way labor as a factor of production not only transports itself at its own expense to and from the workplace but assumes primary responsibility for its own maintenance and repair. Coal and steel don’t do that. Lathes and typewriters don’t do that. But workers do. No wonder Edward G. Robinson in one of his gangster movies exclaimed, “Work is for saps!”

Both Plato and Xenophon attribute to Socrates and obviously share with him an awareness of the destructive effects of work on the worker as a citizen and a human being. Herodotus identified contempt for work as an attribute of the classical Greeks at the zenith of their culture. To take only one Roman example, Cicero said that “whoever gives his labor for money sells himself and puts himself in the rank of slaves.” His candor is now rare, but contemporary primitive societies which we are wont to look down upon have provided spokesmen who have enlightened Western anthropologists. The Kapauku of West Irian, according to Posposil, have a conception of balance in life and accordingly work only every other day, the day of rest designed “to regain the lost power and health.” Our ancestors, even as late as the eighteenth century when they were far along the path to our present predicament, at least were aware of what we have forgotten, the underside of industrialization. Their religious devotion to “St. Monday” — thus establishing a de facto five-day week 150-200 years before its legal consecration — was the despair of the earliest factory owners. They took a long time in submitting to the tyranny of the bell, predecessor of the time clock. In fact it was necessary for a generation or two to replace adult males with women accustomed to obedience and children who could be molded to fit industrial needs. Even the exploited peasants of the ancien regime wrested substantial time back from their landlord’s work. According to Lafargue, a fourth of the French peasants’ calendar was devoted to Sundays and holidays, and Chayanov’s figures from villages in Czarist Russia — hardly a progressive society — likewise show a fourth or fifth of peasants’ days devoted to repose. Controlling for productivity, we are obviously far behind these backward societies. The exploited muzhiks would wonder why any of us are working at all. So should we.

To grasp the full enormity of our deterioration, however, consider the earliest condition of humanity, without government or property, when we wandered as hunter-gatherers. Hobbes surmised that life was then nasty, brutish and short. Others assume that life was a desperate unremitting struggle for subsistence, a war waged against a harsh Nature with death and disaster awaiting the unlucky or anyone who was unequal to the challenge of the struggle for existence. Actually, that was all a projection of fears for the collapse of government authority over communities unaccustomed to doing without it, like the England of Hobbes during the Civil War. Hobbes’ compatriots had already encountered alternative forms of society which illustrated other ways of life — in North America, particularly — but already these were too remote from their experience to be understandable. (The lower orders, closer to the condition of the Indians, understood it better and often found it attractive. Throughout the seventeenth century, English settlers defected to Indian tribes or, captured in war, refused to return. But the Indians no more defected to white settlements than Germans climb the Berlin Wall from the west.) The “survival of the fittest” version — the Thomas Huxley version — of Darwinism was a better account of economic conditions in Victorian England than it was of natural selection, as the anarchist Kropotkin showed in his book Mutual Aid,A Factor of Evolution. (Kropotkin was a scientist — a geographer — who’d had ample involuntary opportunity for fieldwork whilst exiled in Siberia: he knew what he was talking about.) Like most social and political theory, the story Hobbes and his successors told was really unacknowledged autobiography.

The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, surveying the data on contemporary hunter-gatherers, exploded the Hobbesian myth in an article entitled “The Original Affluent Society.” They work a lot less than we do, and their work is hard to distinguish from what we regard as play. Sahlins concluded that “hunters and gatherers work less than we do; and rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society.” They worked an average of four hours a day, assuming they were “working” at all. Their “labor,” as it appears to us, was skilled labor which exercised their physical and intellectual capacities; unskilled labor on any large scale, as Sahlins says, is impossible except under industrialism. Thus it satisfied Friedrich Schiller’s definition of play, the only occasion on which man realizes his complete humanity by giving full “play” to both sides of his twofold nature, thinking and feeling. As he put it: “The animal works when deprivation is the mainspring of its activity, and it plays when the fullness of its strength is this mainspring, when superabundant life is its own stimulus to activity.” (A modern version — dubiously developmental — is Abraham Maslow’s counterposition of “deficiency” and “growth” motivation.) Play and freedom are, as regards production, coextensive. Even Marx, who belongs (for all his good intentions) in the productivist pantheon, observed that “the realm of freedom does not commence until the point is passed where labor under the compulsion of necessity and external utility is required.” He never could quite bring himself to identify this happy circumstance as what it is, the abolition of work — it’s rather anomalous, after all, to be pro-worker and anti-work — but we can.

The aspiration to go backwards or forwards to a life without work is evident in every serious social or cultural history of pre-industrial Europe, among them M. Dorothy George’s England In Transition and Peter Burke’s Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe. Also pertinent is Daniel Bell’s essay, “Work and its Discontents,” the first text, I believe, to refer to the “revolt against work” in so many words and, had it been understood, an important correction to the complacency ordinarily associated with the volume in which it was collected, The End of Ideology. Neither critics nor celebrants have noticed that Bell’s end-of-ideology thesis signaled not the end of social unrest but the beginning of a new, uncharted phase unconstrained and uninformed by ideology. It was Seymour Lipset (in Political Man), not Bell, who announced at the same time that “the fundamental problems of the Industrial Revolution have been solved,” only a few years before the post- or meta-industrial discontents of college students drove Lipset from UC Berkeley to the relative (and temporary) tranquility of Harvard.

As Bell notes, Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, for all his enthusiasm for the market and the division of labor, was more alert to (and more honest about) the seamy side of work than Ayn Rand or the Chicago economists or any of Smith’s modern epigones. As Smith observed: “The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose life is spent in performing a few simple operations… has no occasion to exert his understanding… He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.” Here, in a few blunt words, is my critique of work. Bell, writing in 1956, the Golden Age of Eisenhower imbecility and American self-satisfaction, identified the unorganized, unorganizable malaise of the 1970’s and since, the one no political tendency is able to harness, the one identified in HEW’s report Work in America, the one which cannot be exploited and so is ignored. That problem is the revolt against work. It does not figure in any text by any laissez-faire economist — Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard, Richard Posner — because, in their terms, as they used to say on Star Trek, “it does not compute.”

If these objections, informed by the love of liberty, fail to persuade humanists of a utilitarian or even paternalist turn, there are others which they cannot disregard. Work is hazardous to your health, to borrow a book title. In fact, work is mass murder or genocide. Directly or indirectly, work will kill most of the people who read these words. Between 14,000 and 25,000 workers are killed annually in this country on the job. Over two million are disabled. Twenty to twenty-five million are injured every year. And these figures are based on a very conservative estimation of what constitutes a work-related injury. Thus they don’t count the half million cases of occupational disease every year. I looked at one medical textbook on occupational diseases which was 1,200 pages long. Even this barely scratches the surface. The available statistics count the obvious cases like the 100,000 miners who have black lung disease, of whom 4,000 die every year, a much higher fatality rate than for AIDS, for instance, which gets so much media attention. This reflects the unvoiced assumption that AIDS afflicts perverts who could control their depravity whereas coal-mining is a sacrosanct activity beyond question. What the statistics don’t show is that tens of millions of people have heir lifespans shortened by work — which is all that homicide means, after all. Consider the doctors who work themselves to death in their 50’s. Consider all the other workaholics.

Even if you aren’t killed or crippled while actually working, you very well might be while going to work, coming from work, looking for work, or trying to forget about work. The vast majority of victims of the automobile are either doing one of these work-obligatory activities or else fall afoul of those who do them. To this augmented body-count must be added the victims of auto-industrial pollution and work-induced alcoholism and drug addiction. Both cancer and heart disease are modern afflictions normally traceable, directly, or indirectly, to work.

Work, then, institutionalizes homicide as a way of life. People think the Cambodians were crazy for exterminating themselves, but are we any different? The Pol Pot regime at least had a vision, however blurred, of an egalitarian society. We kill people in the six-figure range (at least) in order to sell Big Macs and Cadillacs to the survivors. Our forty or fifty thousand annual highway fatalities are victims, not martyrs. They died for nothing — or rather, they died for work. But work is nothing to die for.

Bad news for liberals: regulatory tinkering is useless in this life-and-death context. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration was designed to police the core part of the problem, workplace safety. Even before Reagan and the Supreme Court stifled it, OSHA was a farce. At previous and (by current standards) generous Carter-era funding levels, a workplace could expect a random visit from an OSHA inspector once every 46 years.

State control of the economy is no solution. Work is, if anything, more dangerous in the state-socialist countries than it is here. Thousands of Russian workers were killed or injured building the Moscow subway. Stories reverberate about covered-up Soviet nuclear disasters which make Times Beach and Three-Mile Island look like elementary-school air-raid drills. On the other hand, deregulation, currently fashionable, won’t help and will probably hurt. From a health and safety standpoint, among others, work was at its worst in the days when the economy most closely approximated laissez-faire.

Historians like Eugene Genovese have argued persuasively that — as antebellum slavery apologists insisted — factory wage-workers in the Northern American states and in Europe were worse off than Southern plantation slaves. No rearrangement of relations among bureaucrats and businessmen seems to make much difference at the point of production. Serious enforcement of even the rather vague standards enforceable in theory by OSHA would probably bring the economy to a standstill. The enforcers apparently appreciate this, since they don’t even try to crack down on most malefactors.

What I’ve said so far ought not to be controversial. Many workers are fed up with work. There are high and rising rates of absenteeism, turnover, employee theft and sabotage, wildcat strikes, and overall goldbricking on the job. There may be some movement toward a conscious and not just visceral rejection of work. And yet the prevalent feeling, universal among bosses and their agents and also widespread among workers themselves is that work itself is inevitable and necessary.

I disagree. It is now possible to abolish work and replace it, insofar as it serves useful purposes, with a multitude of new kinds of free activities. To abolish work requires going at it from two directions, quantitative and qualitative. On the one hand, on the quantitative side, we have to cut down massively on the amount of work being done. At present most work is useless or worse and we should simply get rid of it. On the other hand — and I think this the crux of the matter and the revolutionary new departure — we have to take what useful work remains and transform it into a pleasing variety of game-like and craft-like pastimes, indistinguishable from other pleasurable pastimes, except that they happen to yield useful end-products. Surely that shouldn’t make them less enticing to do. Then all the artificial barriers of power and property could come down. Creation could become recreation. And we could all stop being afraid of each other.

I don’t suggest that most work is salvageable in this way. But then most work isn’t worth trying to save. Only a small and diminishing fraction of work serves any useful purpose independent of the defense and reproduction of the work-system and its political and legal appendages. Twenty years ago, Paul and Percival Goodman estimated that just five percent of the work then being done — presumably the figure, if accurate, is lower now — would satisfy our minimal needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Theirs was only an educated guess but the main point is quite clear: directly or indirectly, most work serves the unproductive purposes of commerce or social control. Right off the bat we can liberate tens of millions of salesmen, soldiers, managers, cops, stockbrokers, clergymen, bankers, lawyers, teachers, landlords, security guards, ad-men and everyone who works for them. There is a snowball effect since every time you idle some bigshot you liberate his flunkeys and underlings also. Thus the economy implodes.

Forty percent of the workforce are white-collar workers, most of whom have some of the most tedious and idiotic jobs ever concocted. Entire industries, insurance and banking and real estate for instance, consist of nothing but useless paper-shuffling. It is no accident that the “tertiary sector,” the service sector, is growing while the “secondary sector” (industry) stagnates and the “primary sector” (agriculture) nearly disappears. Because work is unnecessary except to those whose power it secures, workers are shifted from relatively useful to relatively useless occupations as a measure to assure public order. Anything is better than nothing. That’s why you can’t go home just because you finish early. They want your time, enough of it to make you theirs, even if they have no use for most of it. Otherwise why hasn’t the average work week gone down by more than a few minutes in the past fifty years?

Next we can take a meat-cleaver to production work itself. No more war production, nuclear power, junk food, feminine hygiene deodorant — and above all, no more auto industry to speak of. An occasional Stanley Steamer or Model-T might be all right, but the auto-eroticism on which such pestholes as Detroit and Los Angeles depend on is out of the question. Already, without even trying, we’ve virtually solved the energy crisis, the environmental crisis and assorted other insoluble social problems.

Finally, we must do away with far and away the largest occupation, the one with the longest hours, the lowest pay and some of the most tedious tasks around. I refer to “housewives” doing housework and child-rearing. By abolishing wage-labor and achieving full unemployment we undermine the sexual division of labor. The nuclear family as we know it is an inevitable adaptation to the division of labor imposed by modern wage-work. Like it or not, as things have been for the last century or two it is economically rational for the man to bring home the bacon, for the woman to do the shitwork to provide him with a haven in a heartless world, and for the children to be marched off to youth concentration camps called “schools,” primarily to keep them out of Mom’s hair but still under control, but incidentally to acquire the habits of obedience and punctuality so necessary for workers. If you would be rid of patriarchy, get rid of the nuclear family whose unpaid “shadow work,” as Ivan Illich says, makes possible the work-system that makes it necessary. Bound up with this no-nukes strategy is the abolition of childhood and the closing of the schools. There are more full-time students than full-time workers in this country. We need children as teachers, not students. They have a lot to contribute to the ludic revolution because they’re better at playing than grown-ups are. Adults and children are not identical but they will become equal through interdependence. Only play can bridge the generation gap.

I haven’t as yet even mentioned the possibility of cutting way down on the little work that remains by automating and cybernizing it. All the scientists and engineers and technicians freed from bothering with war research and planned obsolescence would have a good time devising means to eliminate fatigue and tedium and danger from activities like mining. Undoubtedly they’ll find other projects to amuse themselves with. Perhaps they’ll set up world-wide all-inclusive multi-media communications systems or found space colonies. Perhaps. I myself am no gadget freak. I wouldn’t care to live in a pushbutton paradise. I don’t what robot slaves to do everything; I want to do things myself. There is, I think, a place for labor-saving technology, but a modest place. The historical and pre-historical record is not encouraging. When productive technology went from hunting-gathering to agriculture and on to industry, work increased while skills and self-determination diminished. The further evolution of industrialism has accentuated what Harry Braverman called the degradation of work. Intelligent observers have always been aware of this. John Stuart Mill wrote that all the labor-saving inventions ever devised haven’t saved a moment’s labor. Karl Marx wrote that “it would be possible to write a history of the inventions, made since 1830, for the sole purpose of supplying capital with weapons against the revolts of the working class.” The enthusiastic technophiles — Saint-Simon, Comte, Lenin, B. F. Skinner — have always been unabashed authoritarians also; which is to say, technocrats. We should be more than sceptical about the promises of the computer mystics. They work like dogs; chances are, if they have their way, so will the rest of us. But if they have any particularized contributions more readily subordinated to human purposes than the run of high tech, let’s give them a hearing.

What I really want to see is work turned into play. A first step is to discard the notions of a “job” and an “occupation.” Even activities that already have some ludic content lose most of it by being reduced to jobs which certain people, and only those people are forced to do to the exclusion of all else. Is it not odd that farm workers toil painfully in the fields while their air-conditioned masters go home every weekend and putter about in their gardens? Under a system of permanent revelry, we will witness the Golden Age of the dilettante which will put the Renaissance to shame. There won’t be any more jobs, just things to do and people to do them.

The secret of turning work into play, as Charles Fourier demonstrated, is to arrange useful activities to take advantage of whatever it is that various people at various times in fact enjoy doing. To make it possible for some people to do the things they could enjoy it will be enough just to eradicate the irrationalities and distortions which afflict these activities when they are reduced to work. I, for instance, would enjoy doing some (not too much) teaching, but I don’t want coerced students and I don’t care to suck up to pathetic pedants for tenure.

Second, there are some things that people like to do from time to time, but not for too long, and certainly not all the time. You might enjoy baby-sitting for a few hours in order to share the company of kids, but not as much as their parents do. The parents meanwhile, profoundly appreciate the time to themselves that you free up for them, although they’d get fretful if parted from their progeny for too long. These differences among individuals are what make a life of free play possible. The same principle applies to many other areas of activity, especially the primal ones. Thus many people enjoy cooking when they can practice it seriously at their leisure, but not when they’re just fueling up human bodies for work.

Third — other things being equal — some things that are unsatisfying if done by yourself or in unpleasant surroundings or at the orders of an overlord are enjoyable, at least for a while, if these circumstances are changed. This is probably true, to some extent, of all work. People deploy their otherwise wasted ingenuity to make a game of the least inviting drudge-jobs as best they can. Activities that appeal to some people don’t always appeal to all others, but everyone at least potentially has a variety of interests and an interest in variety. As the saying goes, “anything once.” Fourier was the master at speculating how aberrant and perverse penchants could be put to use in post-civilized society, what he called Harmony. He thought the Emperor Nero would have turned out all right if as a child he could have indulged his taste for bloodshed by working in a slaughterhouse. Small children who notoriously relish wallowing in filth could be organized in “Little Hordes” to clean toilets and empty the garbage, with medals awarded to the outstanding. I am not arguing for these precise examples but for the underlying principle, which I think makes perfect sense as one dimension of an overall revolutionary transformation. Bear in mind that we don’t have to take today’s work just as we find it and match it up with the proper people, some of whom would have to be perverse indeed. If technology has a role in all this it is less to automate work out of existence than to open up new realms for re/creation. To some extent we may want to return to handicrafts, which William Morris considered a probable and desirable upshot of communist revolution. Art would be taken back from the snobs and collectors, abolished as a specialized department catering to an elite audience, and its qualities of beauty and creation restored to integral life from which they were stolen by work. It’s a sobering thought that the grecian urns we write odes about and showcase in museums were used in their own time to store olive oil. I doubt our everyday artifacts will fare as well in the future, if there is one. The point is that there’s no such thing as progress in the world of work; if anything it’s just the opposite. We shouldn’t hesitate to pilfer the past for what it has to offer, the ancients lose nothing yet we are enriched.

The reinvention of daily life means marching off the edge of our maps. There is, it is true, more suggestive speculation than most people suspect. Besides Fourier and Morris — and even a hint, here and there, in Marx — there are the writings of Kropotkin, the syndicalists Pataud and Pouget, anarcho-communists old (Berkman) and new (Bookchin). The Goodman brothers’ Communitas
is exemplary for illustrating what forms follow from given functions (purposes), and there is something to be gleaned from the often hazy heralds of alternative/appropriate/intermediate/convivial technology, like Schumacher and especially Illich, once you disconnect their fog machines. The situationists — as represented by Vaneigem’s Revolution of Daily Life and in the Situationist International Anthology — are so ruthlessly lucid as to be exhilarating, even if they never did quite square the endorsement of the rule of the worker’s councils with the abolition of work. Better their incongruity, though than any extant version of leftism, whose devotees look to be the last champions of work, for if there were no work there would be no workers, and without workers, who would the left have to organize?

So the abolitionists would be largely on their own. No one can say what would result from unleashing the creative power stultified by work. Anything can happen. The tiresome debater’s problem of freedom vs. necessity, with its theological overtones, resolves itself practically once the production of use-values is coextensive with the consumption of delightful play-activity.

Life will become a game, or rather many games, but not — as it is now – — a zero/sum game. An optimal sexual encounter is the paradigm of productive play, The participants potentiate each other’s pleasures, nobody keeps score, and everybody wins. The more you give, the more you get. In the ludic life, the best of sex will diffuse into the better part of daily life. Generalized play leads to the libidinization of life. Sex, in turn, can become less urgent and desperate, more playful. If we play our cards right, we can all get more out of life than we put into it; but only if we play for keeps.

No one should ever work. Workers of the world… relax!

Compiled by Romano Krauth
Published by which went offline in 2006

Rose Pesotta (1896-1965)

Posted in Anarchist with tags , , , on February 26, 2009 by blackeyepress

Rose PesottaBiography

Labor leader born in Derazhnya, Ukraine. The daughter of grain merchants, she was well educated and as a young girl adopted anarchist views. In 1913 she emigrated to New York City and worked in a shirtwaist factory. She soon joined a local of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). She worked to advance the education of the workers and was elected to the ILGWU’s executive board in 1920. In the late 1920s she was sent to Los Angeles to help organize garment workers there. Her success led to her being named a vice-president of the ILGWU in 1934 and for the next eight years she continued to organize workers from Seattle to San Juan, from San Francisco to Montreal. In 1942, however, angry because she was the sole woman on the ILGWU’s executive board – when 85% of the union’s members were women – she went back to being a sewing machine operator. She resigned from the ILGWU board in 1944 but participated in some union activities. Her Bread Upon the Waters (1944) told of her union organizing experiences and her Days of Our Lives (1958) recounted her youth in Russia.

Bread Upon the Waters Bibliography

Bread Upon the Waters

Days of Our Lives


Rose Pesotta: Bread upon the waters — Vulnerable Akron : The First Great Sit-down.

AKRON – rubber manufacturing capital of the world. A drab Mid-Western industrial city of 255,000. A city with a hum, a throb, an odor all its own. It made the front pages in February, 1936. A strike had closed the largest tire factory on the globe, which had 14,000 employees.

On the 25th Frederick Umhey, our International’s executive secretary, wired me from New York: “Goodyear rubber workers in Akron on strike. A woman organizer requested. Urgently needed. Please proceed to Akron at once and report to Adolph Germer Portage Hotel.”

Leaving Marianne Alfons, our Polish organizer, in charge of the Buffalo office, I took the first train, reaching my destination late that night. There I was hailed by Louis Stark, labor reporter for the New York Times, who got off the same train.

We checked in at the Portage, phoned Germer’s room, and he came down to greet us. Then an organizer for the United Mine Workers, Germer had been in Akron several weeks, and now was devoting all his energies to helping the rubber strikers. Sitting in the cafe, he told us what had been happening. This strike had started as a small sit-down of 137 tire-builders on the 14th, in protest against a lay-off of 70 workers. That lay-off was the first step in a company plan to abolish the six-hour day, which had been in force in the Akron rubber industry for five years, and to return to the old eight-hour day. The sit-downers were promptly fired.

Quickly the sit-down spread through all departments and all shifts. Goodyear production was paralyzed. On the fourth day the strikers decided to change the form of their protest from an inside to an outside strike; they had run low on food, and realized that they could control the situation much better from outside.

They left the huge Goodyear works at midnight on the 13th, installing picket lines which sealed all the 45 gates to the company, properties, and completely shut down the plant.

Inside, in Building No. 1, however, about 1,000 “loyal” employees were stranded when the others walked out. Next morning President Paul Litchfield of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company appeared at the main gate, demanding that the pickets let him in. They did so. He was still inside on the 25th, seven days later, eating and sleeping in his office.

Despite great tension, the situation had been free from violence. The strikers had closed all saloons and liquor stores in the Goodyear area, policed the streets, and maintained excellent order.

But there had been an hour on the day of my arrival when battle and bloodshed and perhaps sudden death for many appeared imminent. The company had obtained an injunction against mass picketing, enforcement being Sheriff Jim Flower’s job. He sent 30 deputies and 150 city policemen into the strike zone, with orders to disband the pickets and reopen the Goodyear gates – at 10 a.m.

Long before ten, Firestone and Goodrich workers and additional Goodyear men flocked in to swell the picket lines. By conservative estimates, 10,000 pickets gathered. Practically every one was armed with a billy – a baseball bat, a bowling pin, or a piece of broomstick.

Realizing the grave danger of a riot, Mayor Schroy and Police Chief Boss telephoned Flower, arguing against the planned attack, and saying it would mean slaughter. Flower answered that he had to “enforce law and order.” Two minutes before the zero hour, Boss sped to the strike scene in his official car, arriving with only thirty seconds to spare, and withdrew his men. There was no attack. Thousands of strikers cheered the chief for his display of good judgment.

At breakfast next morning, Germer told me the strike was in the hands of young leaders, honest, sincere, and courageous. But this was their first big strike, and they lacked experience. They needed all the support they could get, and sound advice to guard them against pitfalls, especially in negotiating for a settlement. Hence the Committee for Industrial Organization had taken over the leadership, and Germer, as the first CIO man on the ground, had asked for more help. Company agents had been working in devious ways to wreck the unity of the strikers, especially exerting pressure upon mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters. Germer wanted me to concentrate on morale-building.

Anxious to get to the scene of action, I hurried through breakfast. A taxi stood outside the hotel. “To strike headquarters,” I said.

“Wait till I tell my office I’m going into the strike zone,” the driver answered. He talked into a telephone on a post, and then we were off. With the strikers ignoring the injunction, and the company and its partisans loudly demanding that the Governor send in state troops, the Goodyear area was regarded as “hot.”

Speed-up was Akron’s other name to the 50,000 or more workers in the five big rubber factories there – the other four being Firestone, Goodrich, General, Mohawk.

The Goodyear properties were wide-sprawled on the Eastern edge of Akron, making a small city in themselves. Huge production buildings, an assembly hall and cafeteria, a gigantic hangar where the dirigibles Akron and Macon had been housed, and a far-flung airport.

In front of the 45 gates to the Goodyear works and at many points between gates, the strikers had erected shanties or tents, more than 300 in all, as shelters for the pickets against the subzero air, biting wind, rain, snow, and sleet That picket-line stretched 11 miles.

Shanties and tents were designated either by a number – “Strike Post No. 1,” “Camp No. 13; Average Service 13 years” or by such names as “Mae West Post,” “Camp Roosevelt,” “John L. Lewis Post,” “Senator Wagner Post,” and “Machine Gun Post.” At the “House of David Post” the pickets had vowed not to shave until the strike ended; some already had sprouted beards.

Goodyear Local No. 2 of the United Rubber Workers of America had its hall-and-office directly across the street from the company’s Building No. 1. This now served as strike headquarters.

Two or three hundred men and women were in the place when I arrived, many people were coming and going, and there was a buzz of voices. I introduced myself to John D. House, president of the Goodyear local, who was in immediate charge of the strike. Tall, with pale blue eyes and black wavy hair, and evidently in his early twenties, House hailed from Georgia, and spoke with a soft Southern drawl. He took time to show me around, plainly proud of the layout ÷the meeting hall, commissary, first-aid station, storage, office, information department, cash relief department, mimeograph depart.

The commissary, known simply as the kitchen, was doing a rushing business, operating 24 hours a day. It was equipped like a commercial cafeteria, with a battery of coffee urns, a 13-burner gas stove, a hotel size refrigerator, and an electric potato masher. The chef was paid by the strike committee, but his helpers were volunteers Members of the Cooks and Waitresses’ Union and wives and daughters of strikers worked several hours daily.

Two attendants were on duty in the first-aid provided with all essential medical supplies for emergency treatment of accident victims. One was spraying a picket’s sore throat, the other treating, sterilizing, and bandaging a blistered heel.

When copies of the first edition of the Times-Press were brought into headquarters, I discovered that Powers Hapgood also was in town, on a mission similar to mine. Two pictures of him were the front page with two of myself, which a youthful photographer had insisted on taking as I left my room that morning. I had not seen Powers since the Sacco-Vanzetti memorial meeting in Union Square, New York, in 1927. It was good to learn that I was to work with some one I knew well.

Presently Sherman H. Dalrymple, international president of URWA, appeared, accompanied by Thomas F. Burns, vice-president Frank Grillo, secretary-treasurer, N. H. Eagle, head of the Mohawk local in Akron and member of the United Rubber Workers’ general executive board, John Owens, Ohio district president of the United Mine Workers, Germer, Stark, and Hapgood.

Together we began a tour of the picket-line, in cars driven by strikers. This tour was “personally conducted” by “Skip” Oharra, who gloried in the title of “Field Marshal.” He was a small fellow with a chunk of chewing tobacco always in his right cheek. Only six months before, I was told, he had been an aggressive leader of the Ku Klux Klan in Akron. Many other strikers had been Klansmen. Oharra had a strong sense of responsibility toward the strike. Some one ventured that the title he carried sounded a bit too pretentious, and suggested that he change it to chairman of the pickets. He protested vehemently. “Oh no, you can’t do that! I’ve been nationally advertised as ‘field marshal.’ It would hurt our cause.”

A bitter wind was blowing, but inside the shanties and tents the men were comfortable. In each a stove had been improvised from two metal oil drums, with a pipe leading up through the roof. The pickets sat on boxes or old automobile seats. Some were playing cards, others found diversion in checkers. Occasionally there was music, from an accordion, banjo, or guitar. Food and coffee were brought to the posts at regular intervals by a truck from the commissary.

The pickets put in eight-hour shifts. At least one was always on duty outside to see that no one attempted to break the seal of the nearby gate to the Goodyear works. The others rested or amused themselves in the shelters. Ten pickets to a post was the legal limit established by a court ruling.

We stopped long enough at each post to exchange greetings and impress upon the pickets that organized labor throughout the country was backing them up.

Around noon we returned to strike headquarters, where we held an informal meeting, with several hundred strikers present. John House introduced Stark, John Owens, Hapgood, and myself, explaining the significance of our being there; it meant reinforcements from two powerful international unions, and special interest in the situation on the part of the nation’s leading newspaper.

When my turn came, I emphasized the great concern of the ILGWU that the rubber workers’ strike should be successful. Commending their courage and steadfastness, I warned them that all sorts of unfair tricks would be used by the company to defeat them, and urged them to keep their poise and trust their leaders. To the women I made a special appeal that they stand by their men.

Then I led the audience in some of our union songs–Solidarity. Forever, Hold the Fort, and others, one of the younger men playing an accompaniment on the banjo. They made the walls ring with words familiar to many as a paraphrase of an old hymn:

Hold the fort, for we are coming Union men, be strong; Side by side we battle onward- Victory will come!

“Rosie,” said Germer afterward, “we’ll make you chairman of the entertainment committee.”

We got our lunch at the kitchen service counter.

“What will you have?” a trim waitress inquired. “A plate or something else?” “Why, I’ll have a plate, please,” I answered quickly.

It was novel to have a choice of food in a strike hall.

The “plate” that day comprised baked beans, kidney beans, spaghetti with meat sauce, potato salad, white bread or fresh baked corn bread, home-made jam, coffee, and cottage pudding covered with warm custard sauce. There was meat of varying kinds daily and plenty of good fresh milk. We ate at long rough wooden tables, at which many strikers were having their meals.

Akron acquired its first rubber factory in the Eighteen Seventies when some of its business men prevailed upon Dr. B. F. Goodrich to come there from Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., where he had been doing well as a rubber producer. As new uses were found for this material, other rubber manufacturers were attracted to the Akron area, because of its transportation facilities and its moist climate.

When automobile owners multiplied into millions, rubber production skyrocketed. Goodyear’s net profit in the years 1921-32 totaled $108,576,000. All the big companies in the industry prospered protect profits they ruthlessly slashed wages in the depression years In 1929 the average pay of rubber workers was $1,377; in 1933 had been cut to $932. Thousands became jobless. Those who remained in the factories were driven mercilessly under the belt sys tem of production.

Where did the Goodyear company get its name? I wondered about that, and took pains to find out. Son of a poor inventor in Woburn, Massachusetts, Charles Goodyear followed in his father’s footsteps. He was especially interested in the effects of varying temperatures upon rubber, and in ways to toughen it without lessening its resiliency. Poverty-stricken, often hungry, and with few friends, he continued trying until in 1839 he discovered a process which he called vulcanization. After five years more of experimentation he obtained a patent on his discovery.

Vulcanization wrought a revolution in the rubber industry. But the profits went to others, not to Goodyear. Grasping men boldly made use of this process without legal right. Goodyear sued repeatedly, winning in the courts, but went on the rocks financially because of litigation costs.

He died in 1860, penniless, and owing large debts. Everything material had been stripped from him. Frank A. Seiberling, establishing a rubber company in Akron in 1898, decided to call it Goodyear. I wonder if any portion of that company’s tremendous earnings ever went to the Goodyear family for the use of the luckless inventor’s name, “the greatest name in rubber.” If so, how much?

From 1902 to 1913 occasional sporadic attempts to organize Akron’s rubber workers were crushed. One big strike was staged in 1913 by the Industrial Workers of the World and led by Bill Haywood, its colorful chief. The rubber companies broke that strike through high-handed tactics, including the organization of a Citizens’ Police Association, comprising 1,000 vigilantes, and institution of martial law.

Then the A F of L sent a young and little known organizer, John L. Lewis, into Akron. He surveyed the situation, presumably filed a report with his home office, and came away.

Rose Pesotta, speaking in Puerto RicoAcross the next 20 years conditions in the industry grew worse in many ways. Other unionization efforts were thwarted, through the use of spies, widespread firing of men for union activities, and other forms of intimidation, and by factional warfare within labor’s own ranks.

The National Industrial Recovery Act (the NIRA) guaranteed in Section 7-a the right of workers to join unions of their own choosing, and the rubber workers flocked into the A F of L federal unions by the thousands. Unfortunately, the Federation, instead of keeping these industrial workers together, distributed them among 13 separate internationals. Immediately the rubber corporations organized company unions along industrial lines, giving them the appearance of independent organizations to meet the legal requirements of the NIRA. Under the cumbersome system of craft organization the members of the A F of L couldn’t make headway.

They pressed for an international of their own, and at their convention in 1935 William Green, president of the A F of L, presented them with a charter. The delegates insisted on electing their own officers.

Thus a new international was born, with a starting membership of 3,080. The delegates wrote a constitution and elected Sherman 11. Dalrymple, formerly of West Virginia and head of the Goodrich local in Akron, as president. That city had four other locals including, Goodyear, Firestone, Mohawk, and General.

In 1930 the Goodyear company had reduced its work day from eight hours to six. At the end of two years Paul W. Litchfield, it president, in the periodical industrial Relations, made these significant statements:

“At the Goodyear, where we have had the six-hour-day in effect . . . for two years we have not been able to make much of a case on the grounds of higher efficiency. It is our judgment that efficiency has been increased upward of eight per cent, but low production schedules preclude accurate comparisons. Of one thing we are convinced. It is that the short working day has not noticeably increase’ our overhead cost – that is, the cost of personnel and product super vision. . .

“We should work toward shortening the average working hours to the point where there will be work for all.”

When the company announced in 1935 that the eight-hour day would be restored on January 1, 1936 (presaging mass lay-offs) and that piece-work rates would be cut, the Goodyear local asked Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins to investigate. She appointed a fact finding committee comprising Fred C. Croxton of Columbus, Ohio; John A. Lapp of New York, member of the Petroleum Board; and Hugh S. Hanna, U.S. Department of Labor statistician.

This committee’s 50-page report held that the company, in cutting hours of work, had introduced the speed-up system and that in fewer hours its employees actually produced as much or nearly as much as before. It found, too, that there was no justification for the proposed lengthening of hours . . . that the change would reduce the company payroll 12 per cent, and that the company had discriminated against the URWA in favor of its company union.

But presently there were wage-cuts and lay-offs in various departments. Resentment smoldered among the Goodyear working forces, tension grew.

John L. Lewis, by that time chairman of the new Committee for Industrial Organization, spoke at a mass meeting in the Armory on January 19. Despite a blizzard, thousands of rubber workers attended. Lewis cited the millions in profits made by Goodyear and the other rubber companies, even during the depression.

“The only way out,” he declared, “is to organize the workers into unions that can raise articulate voices….”

His parting words were: “I hope you will do something for yourselves.”

Those who listened took heed – and in less than a month the Goodyear workers acted.

In contrast to short-lived sit-downs of Akron rubber workers in the past, limited to a single department, the tire-builders’ sit-down on February 14 was a spark that fired the long dormant indignation of Goodyear employees generally. Here was mass revolt, which might at any moment spread through the Goodrich, Firestone, Mohawk, and General Rubber Company plants and shut them down also.

Realizing that they were novices in a conflict of this size, the United Rubber Workers’ leaders appealed to the Committee for Industrial Organization for aid. It sent a $3,000 check to the strike committee, and dispatched five organizers to the scene. The other two organizers – Leo Krzycki, vice-president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, and Ben Schafer, from the Oil Workers’ Union – arrived on February 26.

Strain and anxiety showed in the eyes of the young leaders of the rubber workers, and in their tired voices. They trembled as they spoke of “what might have happened” the day before if Police Chief Boss had not spiked Sheriff Flower’s plan to smash the picket lines.

But while the Akron rubber workers were babes in the woods in legitimate unionism, they could have given pointed lessons to labor- movement veterans in other forms of organization and action. I had taken special notice of the fine sense of order among the strikers.

“When did you learn all this?” I asked one of the key men in headquarters.

“They trained us,”
he said, pointing to the huge plant across the way.

Most of the men in the forefront of the strike had been schooled in two institutions peculiar to the Goodyear corporation – the Flying Squadron and the Goodyear Industrial Assembly. Young and physically powerful workers, chosen for the Flying Squadron, were given three years of intensive training so that they could fit into any of the 4,000 different production jobs. Thus they would be available for any emergency – to take the places of men who might be laid off because they had passed the age of 40 and who perhaps had slowed down, or to serve as strike-breakers. With the Flying Squadron l available to the company, seniority for the mass of Goodyear employees was non-existent.

The strikers had a profound hatred for the Squadron. Ex-members of that cat’s-paw outfit poured forth their feelings in the shanties.

“I am one of those who graduated,” said a broad-shouldered pick in the Mae West Post, as he showed me the wing foot pin concealed under his vest. “They thought they bought me body and soul, damn it, when I was told to do dirty to my fellow-workers I quit.”

Many Flying Squadron members also were members of the Industrial Assembly, comprising a Senate and House of Representatives, and part of the Goodyear “Industrial Republic.” Set up in 1919, this was supposed to provide democratic representation for the workers. Actually, it was a company union, the Senators and Representatives being hand-picked.

For years the Goodyear management had used the Industrial Assembly for its own purposes. But in October, 1935, there was rebellion in the Assembly. It voted against the corporation’s plan restore the eight-hour schedule. The emptiness of the “guarantees of democracy” in the Assembly was demonstrated when Factory Manager Cliff Slusser vetoed its action.

Yes, there was exemplary organization among the strikers, and remarkable discipline. Yet it was apparent that we were standing on the brink of a smoking volcano, which at any time might erupt.

I thought of this while talking with Field Marshal Oharra in strike headquarters. In a corner of the office I had observed a stack of rifles.

“What are those guns for?”
I asked.

“Just let them try to open the plant gates, or break up the picket lines, and there’ll be a revolution,” Oharra answered. The guns had been brought in after Police Chief Boss averted the Sheriff’s planned attack on the pickets on the 25th. Many of the strikers, having come from mountain country, were hunters, and naturally owned rifles. They had brought them here “just in case.”

That night Powers Hapgood, Ben Schafer, and I made another tour of the shanties and tents. Henceforth this would be part of our daily routine. We talked with the pickets, asked questions, drew out their thoughts about the strike. In some posts hill-billy songs were being sung, and we inquired where the singers hailed from. They had come from various states Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, and the Carolinas.

Frequently I heard them boasting about their respective states. Others took issue with them. A man from Kentucky bragged that that Commonwealth was famous for “fast horses and beautiful women.” A Tennessean would answer: “It’s just the reverse.”

Largely of American stock, their names testified to English and Scotch ancestry in the main, with a sprinkling of Irish and Welsh. They included many ex-coal miners, a considerable percentage of former tenant farmers, and others who had come to Ohio because they found themselves jobless or dispossessed as a result of the depression.

Watching and listening to the men in the shanties and in union headquarters, I was glad they were on our side of the fight. Some of the names recalled long-fought feuds in the Southern mountains. Here, it was obvious, were numerous hot-heads. Hence the vital necessity of wise leadership, for in its absence, an unforeseen contingency might impel them to desperate action.

A sit-down in Akron was precisely what we called a stoppage in the garment industry. It was an old method among independent rubber workers; when they found they could no longer put up with unfair working conditions, they laid down their tools. Usually they won their immediate point.

“But what happened after that?” I asked, in the House of David post.

“We’d go back to work,”
said a man with a rusty beard, “and everything would be pretty for a little time. Then the company would find an excuse to fire the leaders…. Now things are different. With you from the Lady Garment Workers, and the men from the miners, we’ll build a real union here.”

Back at strike headquarters by 11 p.m., we found an entertainment in progress, with an audience of 300 or more. Two boys around ten years old were on the platform, one crooning and the other playing a guitar bigger than himself. They looked sleepy, but sang and played into a microphone like professionals.

Frequently the entertainment would be interrupted, as a man in a checkered red-and-black windbreaker called through the “mike” for volunteers to relieve pickets: “Three men to Mae West Post . . . two men to Camp Argonne . . . four men to Post No. 14.”

From all parts of the hall strikers would leave for duty at those posts, to keep any one from entering or leaving the plant. Wives of some of the volunteers would go along to keep them company in the shanties and tents.

In such a strike there is no limit to the number of an organizer’s working hours. Often we conferred late at night, and some tours of the shanties did not end until 3 a.m. Days and evenings we spoke before many audiences in Akron, explaining the situation to church groups, consumer groups, fraternal organizations, women’s auxiliaries, students, sewing circles, language groups. Almost always, without our asking, a collection would be taken up for the strikers. We asked only for moral support. Often we returned loaded with home-made pies and cakes and other edibles rounded up by thoughtful women in advance of our arrival.

The union had a sound truck, and we all took turns in speaking from it. It was useful in addressing groups of strikers and their families and the public in the strike area generally. Audiences would gather quickly whenever the truck stopped; the loud speaker never lost its novelty for them. Our speeches were varied by music from a victrola.

I had wired Fannia M. Cohn, executive secretary of our Educational Department, for a large supply of song books, and when they came we took them with us on a fast round of the posts.

“Captain!,” our escort called out as we arrived at the first shanty.

A tall burly figure emerged from the dark.

“Here is a song book the Lady Garment Workers’ Union is giving us. We want your shift to learn the songs and leave it with the next captain.”

“O.K. We’ll do that.”

Evidently the little red booklets were immediately put to good use, for by the time we returned the pickets were singing songs with familiar tunes.

“Soo-oop, soo-oop, they gave me a bowl of soup,” came from one post.

“It’s a good thing to join a union,” the voices in another avowed.

“We joined our union and now we have fun,” we heard from a third. (The tune was The Man on The Flying Trapeze.) “C-C-C-Company, company-union . . .”

Each group picked out the lyrics which appealed to it most.

Compiled by Romano Krauth
Originally published by which went offline in 2006