General Considerations


From Evernote:

General Considerations

Bit of a long translation here, but hopefully you find it worthwhile. It is by John Brown (a pseudonym) again, from a couple of weeks ago, and it covers a lot of ground: the scene being set for the general strike in Spain on the 29th of March; the apparent timidity of the main unions calling the general strike; the grounds for divergence between the unions and the new social movements, and the potential for the reinvention of the general strike -as the metropolitan strike- in order to address the needs and desires of the burgeoning population of workers consigned to post-Fordist precarity. Whilst Brown is scathing about the union leadership and the desire to domesticate the 15M movement, he astutely discerns their betrayals as effects of the current predicament of the traditional labour movement, and not its cause. 

29M: Against the labour reform or against the 15M?

1.

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Almost a year after the beginning of a new social movement against neoliberalism on the now emblematic date of 15M, the two main unionis of the Spanish State, Comisiones Obreras and UGT, have decided to call a general strike. It is worth recalling that this strike has been pushed for across different social sectors for more than a year. Already with the previous government the neoliberal management of the crisis had been felt by workers, in terms of deterioration in salaries and working conditions, but also in the adaptation of the text of the constitution to the hegemony of finance capital. The formal constitution of the Spanish state, thanks to the reform promoted by the PSOE, and supported at the time by the PP, gave official priority to financial debt over social debt, making the payment of public debt constitutionally imperative and thus over and above any consideration of the general interest or of attending to the rights and necessities of the citizens. The PP’s labour reform now rejected -in part- by the main unions is one step more towards the realisation of the neoliberal programme. After a century of social conquests by the worker movement, which introduced that anomaly called ‘collective bargaining’ into the juridical sphere, the current reform seeks to limit the sphere of application of the aforementioned as far as possible to the point of bringing the contract of work (framed by collective bargaining) in line with the ordinary mercantile contract in which the wills of any two physical or juridical persons are joined, without taking into account their social differences. Elsewhere, the flexibilisation of dismissal introduced by the new law operates in the same manner, liquidating the social specificity of labour relations and dissolving these into ordinary market relations. The main unions, at last, have reacted to this new assault by calling a general strike with the aim of "negotiating" with the government on "changes" to the law of labour reform, but without demanding its withdrawal or derogation from the text.

2.

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The position of the unions is defensive: for them it is not a question of conquering or preserving a space of freedoms and rights for workers, but of merely achieving that a lesser evil is imposed, so that the reform is somewhat less harmful for the interests of wage labourers with a contract of indefinite duration who form the base of the main unions. The union bureaucrats form part of the apparatus of the capitalist State that finances them and gives them the rank of approved interlocutors. Their function as apparatuses of the State is to exercise an arbitration between the interests of their bases – more and more meagre in number- and those of capital. Their only positive programme consists of a series of utopian and nostalgic demands: full employment, permanent contracts, welfare state based on work etc. Their political and mental space is that of the old Fordist-Keynesian compromise that guaranteed until the 1970s in the countries of democratic Europe -though not in ours, where Francoism only produced a caricature- decent levels of social well-being, distribution of wealth and political presence of workers represented through the big organisations of the left. Today. There is little left quantitatively and qualitatively of that old compromise that the bourgeoisie pushed to liquidate when the rise of the new worker movement at the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s had placed it in checkmate. Arising from a certain level of social hegemony of workers, Fordism and Keynesianism had generated, as explained well by the Trilateral Commission report on ‘The crisis of democracy’ (1975), societies that were ‘ungovernable’ for capital. ‘Ungovernable’ meant here that work in these societies was producing gradually less profit for capital. Thus what was needed was a general programme of deregulatin of labour such as the one we see culminating now in Europe in the heat of the financial crisis and the terrorist exploitation of debt by States and the different instances of capitalist rule.

3.

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Neoliberalism -as was the case with fascism in its time- constituted what in Antonio Gramsci’s terms is called a "passive revolution", that is, taking advantage of the energy of a revolutionary movement that is not strong enough- as with the end of the 60s in Europe- to provoke a break with the system, to reorganise the mechanisms of rule in a more efficient manner and by achieving certain levels of consensus on new bases. The more than 30 years of neoliberalism managed to capture both the capacity for social integration of wage labourers that had belonged to the political and union bureaucracies – which represented the old working class in the Fordist compromise- and the insurrection against discipline and rigidity of this very representation as conducted by the youth sectors of the proletariat and the student movement. The result is the type of society and economic organisation that we know today in the industrial nations and which has extended itself gradually across the entire planet: a combination of precarious labour, cognitive and immaterial economy, network cooperation, multiplication of forms of "individual entrepreneurship" and a blurring of the instances of capitalist command, replaced in large part by mechanisms of finance and debt. Market and society are fused together as a huge productive organism that turns every moment of life into an act of production for capital. For nearly thirty years, the new class configuration of the proletariat has been held captive under the dynamic crusades of market discipline, as an order that overdetermines direct cooperation in networks and the "zombie" political and union representation of an old working class that no longer had the slightest capacity for hegemony. The crisis of the left has a direct relation to this scenario: in a context where it was now impossible for the representation of the old working class to be an instrument of hegemony and where the new proletariat had become unrepresentable, the left could only manage the difficulty-laden survival of a model of social relations headed for disappearance. Thus, the left in government always applied the new neoliberal framework by trying to use it to maintain -through a diffent logic- a set of "fordist" rights that were becoming ever more empty and applicable to ever fewer citizens. The ultimate example of this impossible politics of social democracy within neoliberalism is that of the successive governments of Tony Blair.

4.

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The result of the process sketched out previously is the existence of two clearly differentiated sectors within a working population whose class limits are gradually less differentiated: on the one hand, the decayed ex-Fordist ex-socialist fortress of the political and union left, and on the other the highly diverse multitude of postfordist workers. The strike of the 29th will not only be a push from the main unions to the government intended to try and preserve something of the old labour states -without in so doing questioning the fundamental logic of neoliberalism-but also a competition between the leadership of the main unions and the new forms of political organisation of the postfordist multitude (15M, the components of the different "tides" that have not been co-opted, etc.). This is how the main unions understand it. It has been claimed loud and clear by the leadership of Comisiones Obreras in an internal document that has circulated amid the grassroots. In this document bearing the date of the 24th of February 2012 and titled Informative Note on the meeting of general secretaries, it is openly claimed that there exists a "persistent and puerile campaign of delegitimisation from those who arrogate from (sic) the 15M brand." and that "From all of this one big conclusion can be drawn: it is necessary for confederal trade unionism to "govern" the strategy of rejecting the reform."

This open willingness to deal with the question of hegemony on the part of the union leadership corresponds to the extremely serious crisis of representation opened up by the 15M and the other concomitant social movements. Since the 15M, the unions have found it increasingly difficult to use the logic of the lesser evil. The social movement of the new subjects of post-Fordist labour has brought about a reactivation of the idea of rupture with the system expressed as a rupture with neoliberalism, or even, in certain sectors, with capitalism as such. The fact that the social sector to which the people of the 15M belong should make uo the large majority of Spanish and European workers places the legitimacy of the unions in grave danger. The unions have called the strike of the 29M because of the pressure from their grassroots, who want to actively defend their rights, also through pressure in the streets and squares. It would turn out to be simply intolerable for union leaderships wee the movement in the squares to take on the initiative for a general strike or an equivalent mobilisation, especially on a matter such as the labour reform and the modifications to collective bargaining which directly affect the most vital interests of the union grassroots. Of course the new legislation affects the already precarious worker less -though it degrades their working conditions- than the traditional worker with an indefinite contract and rights recognised by accord, but the result of the labour reform in the medium term would be the unification, under the norm of precarity, of all workers, which would amount to the disappearance of the space in which the main unions have a leading role. Hence the deep and justified concern of the latter, since the foreseeable swamping would not be momentary but irreversible and strategic.

5.

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It is necessary to bring in some observations on the "strike" as a method of struggle for workers. The general strike was the founding myth of revolutionary syndicalism. It is based on the hypothesis formulated by Emile Pouget and the classic figures of anarchosyndicalism that the same movement through which the workers completely cease production for a society led by the bosses, is the one that at the same moment can take on the functions of directing and managing the entirety of production. This original model shared by socialist revolutionaries and anarchosyndicalism had its theoretical and political limitations as a method of overthrowing domination in a complex society, and it was gradually abandoned by the majority left in favour of class political representation through the party and the State. The general strike continued to exist as a class weapon, but always separated from its initial aim of destroying bourgeois power through the direct action of workers. The general strike represented the last resort in the repertoire of defence of the value of labour power in the market, in what Gramsci called the ‘economic-corporate’ dimension of unions in the social democratic or Leninist context. This is the case with the general strike called by the main Spanish unions for the 29th of March. Their objective is, as always, to arbitrate between the interests of capital and those of their bases, not to challenge the very principles of the neoliberal regime. In effect, one will search in vain, in the platform of demands of the main unions for the 29M, for even the slightest allusion to anything beyond the perpetuation of the wage relation or, in general about the market order or, even about the neoliberal order or the domination of finance capital. When the different forms of indirect wage (healthcare, education, other public services) are being progressively dismantled in the name of of reducing public spending and the payment of debt as the sacred duty of the nation, the legitimacy of the debt that justifies these cutbacks is assumed by the unions to be something natural. At no moment is the need for an audit of public debt at the different levels of administration put forward, nor of the ‘odious’ private debt generated irresponsibly by the banks, especially in the property sector via subprime mortgage loans. Nor is there any account taken of the imperative need, for life "in civilised conditions" among numerous sectors of society, that there should exist an income independent of any labour performed in a society that, for some time now, has abandoned any plan for full employment and where the majority of new hiring has been precarious in the last ten years. These and other vital questions for all those citizens who now live under conditions of precarity and intermittent work that the new law intends to generalise are ignored in the mobilisations called by the main unions.

6.

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The demands of the social, immaterial, cognitive, precarious, affective worker, the networked worker, of all the new forms of post-Fordist work have a huge potential for transformation and allow the defence of all those labour rights so badly defended by unions, by adding to them a new generation of rights proper to the new forms of work. Among these rights there ought to be the right to a basic income independent of any present or past labour performed, the right to housing and the prohibition of eviction of people who are insolvent, the cancelation of odious debts such as those generated by "junk mortgages", and a whole series of demands that bear no relation to the individual waged job but to the social labour of production and reproduction of productive ways of living. At the same time, due to the ways of living and production specific to post-Fordism, the new plural figures of the proletariat can only articulate modes of struggle that occupy the entirety of the social space. It is no longer possible to have a strike in certain sectors that are considered the only productive sectors. Today the strike is the interruption of the flows of people and commodities organised by capital, in favour of new flows with other directions, of occupations of all kind of spaces: what Italian comrades correctly name as the "metropolitan strike". A strike that encompasses the entire urban fabric, all spaces of life in the great urban centre and their ‘rural’ territorial ramifications. Today every space and any space is productive. For this very reason, the general strike once again possesses -as in the period of revolutionary syndicalism- a political dimension that goes beyond the ‘economic-corporate’ frame.

The articulation of a classical strike like the one organised by the main unions and their affiliates with a new edition expanded by the 15M can have unpredictable effects. To ensure that these effects are positive and modify the present correlation of forces it is essential to avoid any identitarian and excluding position that tries to counterpose itself to the identitarian position that the main unions intend to cultivate with the end of "governing" the 15M. The official unions must find themselves overwhelmed and hegemonised by the new democratic logic of the multitude unfurled for more than a year in the streets and squares. One would be better off comprehending the causes that determine actions of the union leaderships and apparatuses rather than getting involved in denouncing the most prominent leaders as "traitors". Not because they are not, but because the fact that they are is not the cause of the current situation of impotence and decay in which the traditional worker movement finds itself, but is one of its effects.

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