Give Up Classtivism

Just got Permession to publish this Extract from some Northern friends of ours DP and CW. The full article can be read at http://libcom.org/library/give-classtivism-why-class-struggle-long-boring-hard-work

Tactics – “Organising is about creating a series of friendships”

Activists are part of the working class just as much as factory workers and miners. We all form active parts of capitalism, as consumers and workers, but as workers we create surplus value. Just because we don’t wear overalls doesn’t mean we are excluded from this process. However, protest actions play into the idea that activists are an exterior force. If activists want to get involved in class struggle, they need to develop their own class consciousness as well. It is easy to talk about this as if it is a theoretical concept that the working class needs to develop on a general basis. What developing class consciousness actually means is each of us realising our own position in capitalism – your own, real position as an actor within the process of production, not of the mythical, abstract concept of “the workers.” Until individual activists start to grasp this fundamental role they’re not in much of a position to ask others to.

The working class for far too long has been reliant on exterior forces, political parties, do-gooders, union bureaucrats: We need to do things for ourselves. It is our historic mission to overthrow capitalism and this cannot be achieved by relying on the intervention of charitable types. We have been serviced by unions for decades, succededing only in seeing hard fought reforms vanish and safety nets disappear. At the heart of these errors is the failure to build and sustain a culture of class confidence that has a willingness to defend workers’ interests (and fight for more). Taking steps towards this means abandoning our reliance on outside forces (in whatever form this may come) and looking to the immediate relationships around us as our source of solidarity and support.

Finally, there is the danger that activism will strengthen the reverse relationships – the capitalistic ones between workers and managers and workers and the company. The sentiment that “we are all mates with our manager, why shouldn’t we just talk to them he takes us out for a drink all the time”, for example, forms a continuous barrier to workplace organising. Starbucks Workers’ Union organiser Liberté Locke has described it well as being akin to an abusive relationship – “My body, my rules: a case for rape and domestic violence survivors becoming workplace organisers”. At Pizza Hut, mangers receive bonuses based on the amount of money the store spends. If the manager doesn’t repair broken mopeds, they receive a higher bonus, if they don’t replace safety equipment, such as oven gloves, they receive a higher bonus. These things help the manager as an individual, but make the rest of our working lives more difficult. At the same time, this is hidden by the manager who then acts as a social leader, as everyone’s mate, offering people lifts home, organising the Xmas do etc. As Liberté Locke argues, these abuses are hidden by a friendly exterior and layers of manipulative behaviour. Breaking through that is one of the most difficult things to achieve as an organiser. “Shop pickets” may well do real favours to managers, giving workers in store a false sense of the limitations of their own capacities, reinforcing existing worker-brand identity and the idea of the company as “one big family”.

Friendship must be at the core of solidarity. For our Fellow Workers to take the organising we push seriously they have to trust that we are saying it as a friend and not as a political campaigner. As organisers we must be there when the important conversations happen, and those aren’t the conversations that happen with the activist outside, they are the ones that happen on smoking breaks, while taking a pizza out to the moped, as you mop the floor at the end of the shift or in the pub after work. That is where people express their true feelings, whether that is about the protest outside, or the dick-head manager. Working under capitalism is stressful, isolating and hard, and we need the support of our Fellow Workers as much as everyone else. Class organising is about creating our own spaces of resistance. It is a process of creating a series of friendships.

In short, what we need is a far richer (perhaps a micro-level) understanding of class consciousness to accompany our organising perspectives. We take inspiration from the idea of the “Wobbly Shop” or to “Wobbly the Job”. To “Wobbly the Job” is not just to get people signed up to the union or provoke actions, it’s to foster specific attitudes in that workplace. This can range from anything to the jokes that are made behind the bosses back at break time, to the walk-out you hold during peak operating hours. The point is that this is something that emerges within the culture that organisers create as a result of the real bonds of solidarity and support they have built with their Fellow Workers.

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