Higher Stakes

From Evernote:

Higher Stakes


There is a general strike planned for the 29th of March in Spain, in response to the planned labour ‘reform’ introduced by the Partido Popular government, which basically gives employers a free hand to sack workers -and use that threat- at little more than a whim. Not even the Partido Popular believes that this will create employment. 

What is interesting to note, for the edificiation for those who had discerned an apparently apolitical character to the 15M popular mobilisations in Spain last year, by contrast with what later happened with the Occupy movement in the US where labour unions mobilised in defence of Occupy Wall Street, is that the general strike is being supported by the 15M movement, but from a critical standpoint, which seeks to call into question the role of the trade union leadership and the way in which the main unions have operated as a part of the State, geared toward downward convergence and entropy.


(As an aside the contrast mentioned always struck me as off the mark but some people found it persuasive, especially since it can be a lot easier to pick out the apolitical ravings of particular individuals, and deem them representative of the entire phenomenon, than to embark on the task of understanding the phenomenon in depth. Guffawing at the strivings of people who have wound up deluded amid an atomised and depoliticised society can be a handy way of cementing our own certainties, of discerning our own knowledge in another person’s ignorance, and of postponing the thought that such is the turbulence that we really don’t know that much about what’s going on at all.)

Hopefully I’ll post another couple of articles the next few days about this. There is an insistence, informed by the popular mobilisations of last year, that the general strike cannot be allowed to go through tried and tested motions and rhythms from a different era, and that the 15M movement -which will stage its own international mobilisation on the 12th May- must play its part in broadening and deepening its impact. 

First of all, a translated piece by John Brown, an eloquent, insightful and challenging writer.


They say there is a "general strike" called for the 29th of March. Allow me to cast some doubt. A general strike is something more than a simple movement of resistance against a government measure such as the labour reform. The General Strike was, for the worker movement of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th, a mythic moment of liberation. In the General Strike not only was there a response to exploitation and improvement in the distribution of wealth within capitalism by obtaining a better price for labour power on the market or by improving the living conditions of the worker to a degree. These improvements are necessary, but they are not, nor can they be, the aim of a general strike. A general strike is always political: it aims to show that the workers can and must live and produce without a boss. To conduct out a general strike is to start to take control of society: "to conquer democracy" as Marx and Engels said in the Manifesto.

The "general strike" of the 29th of March is, moreover, a particular strike: in terms of how the main unions view it, it can only affect a limited proportion of the population composed of workers with a stable contract. The majority of workers and the near entirety of young workers do not belong to this category. They are very far from the workerist myth of the worker in the factory in the blue overall. The image of the "señorito" who performs intellectual work by contrast with the industrial worker only serves these days to legitimate the division of workers and the domination of sold out and expired union bureaucracies whose leaders would deserve a decent role in a zombie film. Today the worker wears a blue overall, but also dresses in thousands of other ways: they might wear a (mandatory) suit and tie, firm uniforms like those who work in hamburger joints or delivering pizzas, casual clothes as with many IT workers, "sexy" dresses to seek out men or women as with sex workers, white or other plain coloured uniforms as with nurses and other workers who work in both health and caring. This sartorial variety arises from the fact that nowadays work and life coincide. There no longer exists one place for work (the factory, the office) and another for life: at every moment, we are all producing the greatest of all wealths, our social life, our intelligence and our love. Capital vampirizes us not only when we are working within the traditional frame of the wage relation but at every moment of our lives. The unemployed person, the retired person, the child, the senior citizen, the housewife, even the person agonising on his medicalised death bed, work and produce and are exploited one by one and collectively. Intellectual, immaterial labour is no longer a function of those in power; it is an element of all work, even the work in the factory that is increasingly flexible and organised by the workers themselves, who have to respond to market demand directly, showing constant availability, as if work was their most intimate preoccupation. The function of command is not exercised through intellectual labour but more and more brutally by financial capital which, through public and private debt, operates as a parasite on our lives.  Also now in command is a "productive" capitalism that transforms our lives into "lifestyles"’ in brands that make us "men or women" of "Pepsi", "Zara" or "Citroen".

The general strike, in order to be such a thing, must aspire to liberate our lives of this regime of vampirisation. It must demand and bring about the autonomisation of life with regard to capital. The strike begins by refusing to consume, by refusing the vile, sad, solitary and insolidary behaviours that are expected of us: a good start to a general strike is to say hello and smile at one’s neighbour, to speak to people we don’t know, to buy nothing and stop money from circulating, to meet up in the public square and occupy it to talk about those things that are a matter for everyone. It is necessary that the strike includes all workers and that it takes us out, at least for a while, from our existence as commodities. It is also vital that this time and space won from capital be used to determine objectives, way beyond the extremely justified opposition to the labour reform. Faced with the bloodsuckers and vampires of neoliberal capitalism, our garlic, crucifixes and stakes must be the demand for a basic income independent of any wage labour, the rejection of illegitimate public debt, the payment of which is imposed on is by the State in the name of the banks and the financial powers, the demand for a right to housing, for respecting public goods and services that are now being taken hostage by the State to better privatise what does not belong to it but to everyone.

If we take it seriously, the general strike cannot end on 29M. This day can be a milestone in a long process of political and social liberation whose starting point we situate symbolically on the 15th of May 2011 and which has no end, since the conquest of democracy is a permanent task. Let us not forget during all this time to always keep garlic and stakes close at hand.

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