Dear PW, I think you have initiated the next great craze for the U.S.A. and enclose an offer to purchase 99% of your stock via our dummy- corporation fronts in the Seychelles, Panama, etc. In addition we propose a clothing corporation selling "Processed World'' t- shirts, buttons, etc.; a "people's stock exchange' to help community groups support our industrial efforts in the Third World; a private public relations organization to stimulate the imaginations of young Americans and increase their demand for our novelty items through flashy but essentially harmless pseudo- terrorist acts against straw capitalists created by our "biographical staff'; a chain of "Processed World' discoteques serving "Marxist'' drinks at high markups to the children of the privileged classes, together with an entertainment corporation whose records and videos, released under camouflage of a number of seemingly separate legal subsidiaries, will allow young Americans passively to simulate the process of social criticism and thus give them the illusion of independent personal existence as promised by the U.S. Constitution, all the while hooking them on our products. We shall create a large labor force by hypnotising large numbers of losers into the belief that since "wage labor'' is fundamentally immoral, they should work on strict commission and not expect any guaranteed support whatsoever from us. In court we can maintain that our status as a political organ exempts us from the minimum wage statutes. We have already drafted 20 self-help authors to prepare "Books for Success' on the lines of "Think for Yourself in 30 Days!,'' "How to be Rude to Capitalist Swine,'' "How to Make a Fortune as a Political Activist,'' "Processed World's Buyer's Handbook,'' "Socialist Realism: The Magic Key to Self- Expression,'' "The Girls of Processed World: Beauty Tips for Aquarian-Age Proles,'' "1001 Dirty Marxist Jokes Old and New,'' "How to Make Nouveau-Expressionist Prints in Ten Easy Lessons,'' "Death to the AMA!'' (naturally we have our chemists at work now on "Marxist natural healing potions' which should guarantee us a 3500% retail markup)etc., etc. Our publishing operations will include an endless series of romantic novels where the lowly word processoress hooks a high-level management executive and, amidst a flurry of torrid sex disguised as noble political action, eventually persuades him to leave the wicked Capitalist Anthill and be her front man in a lucrative new "Processed World' enterprise. We are sure that you will find our offer exciting, since after all you are good Americans and know that making a profit is a nice thing for everyone. Americans love to think they are riding the crest of the future and we are in the position to flatter their vanity right to the limit of their credit. And after all if they are happy with our products, surely we must be fulfilling an authentic need?! You will all end up with honorary doctorates from the university of your choice and lovely homes in Manhattan and Santa Monica. In the meanwhile you will have $25,000 cash for the rag direct from us and a full 2% of the profits from future related enterprise, and until our advertising sales managers regard "Processed World' as ripe for nationwide glossy distribution, you will maintain nominal editorial control! (These terms are subject to certain legal provisos which we can discuss after you have signed the enclosed contracts.) We know that you will find our offer scrupulously fair and a credit to the great American tradition of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Lucre; because if you do not you will be eliminated within two weeks and your children mysteriously refused credit for the rest of their lives. What a shame that would be, nicht wahr? Yours truly,
John Q. Standard
Chief Executive Officer
The United States of America
Processed World: Just read issue 11 of PW. I've never read so much bitching, sniveling, whining, and complaining in my life. If you don't like your job: Quit. As an example, your anonymous janitor just couldn't get it together to finish school. Now he's a janitor. Tuff shit, pal. A payroll clerk steals from her company. Hey, honey, you are a thief. I could go on, but you get the idea. People with no power are that way for a reason. They lack intelligence or initiative. Probably both.
Dear PW: I've been enjoying PW since issue 14, finding your unfolding anarchist rejoinder against wage slavery's network of ills by turns entertaining, inspiring, and depressing. The "bad attitude'' runs rampant through the military, you might not be surprised to hear. As a survival tool, I find it invaluable; for example, in something over a year of constant use, I've come to view the Navy-owned word processor I'm not typing this on as I might a capable and efficient business partner whom I privately despised. Sitting before the only shipboard VDT with an anti- glare screen and revising most of the memorandums on a comfortable old IBM Selectric don't make me any less uncomfortable about helping to move bombs around the Western Pacific more efficiently, and as my first and only tour draws to a close, I'd like to imagine that an awakening sense of my own political importance isn't doomed to wither with the realization that I'm just part of ne of this consumer society's sick jokes. In a word, I'm not thrilled by the idea of going back to temping for General Electric. Sometimes something clicks and my nights yield more than static ponderings of whether I'm dealing with love or confusion.
Sincerely, S.B.USS Haleakala
Dear Processed World, I wanted to write a letter about my fascinating work history, but it is just too depressing for me to write about it. As to my present situation, I am surviving on welfare and various cash-creation projects like sewing and providing friends with exotic spices. Life it not good, but it's not bad either. Soon though, I fear that employment will rear it's ugly head. The possibilities boggle the mindwill it be in the wilds of Scarberia? The frozen North York or the dreaded Rexdale? Two hours every day of rush-hour insanity and eight hours of boredom in between. I doubt if the experience of being employed will be worth the money I am paid, in terms of my peace of mind. Yes, it's depressing being unemployed, but it's even more depressing to sell your time for money. How sad that this is considered "normal'' and "healthy,'' like drinking alcohol, getting married, and having children. Personally speaking, I refuse to bring any more human beings into this world. We dump shit into the oceans, shit into the air, we poison the planet with radiation, the sky rains acid! The long-range effects of mass poverty and unemployment are just beginning to intensify. Outrage and despair, from the punk to the 40-year-old WASP male who shouts at his wife and kids, then turns the gun on himself. Death is preferable to the purgatory of the welfare system. Is the world ready for revolution, or annihiliation?. . . . .I find writing to be cathartic, like a mental purgative. Even if it is just ranting and raving, it sure feels good to put it down on paper. It is also quite draining to untangle all the hypocrisies and dig out the truth, which most people don't want to hear anyway. I have always had great respect for the truth and those who speak it. Because in the final analysis, it will not be the politicians or messiahs who will be remembered, it will be some tattered punk band shouting"TOMORROW IS. . .TOO LATE!'' I led the fairly "normal'' existence of a baby-boomer until the age of 14, when I discovered marijuana and Chinese philosophy (Lao Tzu, I Ching). From that point, my young consciousness expanded rapidly through the use of hallucinogens and certain reference books (Huxley, Alpert, et al). After drugs, I discovered love, or more exactly, sex, another aphrodisiac. Like most of my generation, I put off employment as long as possible, and got a job only when absolutely necessary. I somehow muddled my way through 28 years of crazy times, bad love affairs and dire straits in my hometown of St. Catharine's, Ontario, a pleasant enough place to grow up in, but socially stagnant. It is only recently that I have found domestic bliss in the Big City with a good man and my 3 find Siamese cats. In Processed World, I find a sane voice in the midst of madness. Keep that good stuff coming!
Dear PW: Thought I've never done "office work,'' unless you include mopping office floors in that realm, I do consider myself a part of your "audience'' of marginalized political-cultural misfit/workers. There are important things about PW that distinguish it from the countless other publications by discontented or radical workers. Many people who dislike PW's "politics'' say they like the humor. I agree it's your strong point. But why? To me it's because you get to the heart of the barrenness of our working lives and because you convey a vision of a different world. Not the vision of permanent cost-of-living allowances which so many worker newsletters are obsessed with, but the vision of work-as-play among freely associated individuals, the end of wage work. People hate their jobs, and PW conveys a sense of how deep that hatred goes. Reading "Roots of Disillusionment'' in PW 6 gave me a sense of your general outlook and how you see your origins. It also set off a series of questions in my mind about your long-range perspective. I think it was a good attempt to give us a "big picture'' of recent changes, mainly the growth of the info- processing industry and how a portion of the '60s rebels find themselves sucked into the world of office work. And yet. . .I have different views about being marginal workers and about race. The "Roots'' article said that PW's "typical readers'' are '60s-influenced rebels who do secretarial jobs, often as temps. They do jobs which are below typical office supervisors, but one step above the data entry and file clerks, who are most often "younger women, especially Blacks, Chicanas, and immigrants from Asia and Latin America.'' This "new breed'' is "restless and mobile,'' unlike the older generation more schooled in the "traditional secretarial role.'' PW's style, sensibility, and humor spring from that layer of office worker, which seems like an honest and solid place to initiate a political project. But these people are only a small fragment of office workers, who live and work with everybody else in offices, not in a '60s rebel's compartment. Whenever collective rebellion breaks out, very different layers of workers and even several different types of marginals will unite (and unfortunately come into conflict). To me this means special attention must be paid to not "ghetto-izing'' your concerns, to only addressing the young, the white, and the "hip.'' On the one hand that means doing your best to educate yourseles and your "typical readers'' about how other office workers see things, how they struggle, resist, get co-opted, etc. On the other hand, that means reaching out to "un-typical'' readers/workers who have their own language, humor and styles of resistance, which may clash with your own but are no less valid. I don't mean trying to reach some non-existent generic office worker rebel by sanitizing your style, but somehow trying to consciously "stretch'' it in order to unify people. Unity means conscious struggle amongst ourselves, not waiting for the nasty bosses to unite us. All of the above goes double for the issue of race and racism. This element of reality barely emerges in PW, which appears color-blind, in contrast to its emphatic awareness of sexism expressed in articles on that theme and a more general concern diffused among all the writing and graphics. Yet for all this color-blindness, PW is particularly "white'' in its style and content. But there is no such thing as a "white'' vision of change in 1983. Again, does this mean you deny who you are ("whites''), start an affirmative action program, or give "those poor third world people'' a token page? No, but if you have half a brain it means that institutional racism must be rejected by all workers if this country, or world, is ever going to change. This means race is a priority issue for all rebels, white and non-white, not because we're good christians, but because most of the world's workers are non-white and the structure of racial privilege in the U.S. has been instrumental to keeping "whites'' in a wage-slave mentality (privilege? See any statistics with racial breakdown on unemployment, occupations, income, housing, education or health). A whole set of enslaving, disunifying, alienating identities have to be tossed in the garbage so we can come together against our existence as passive wage labor. The rejection of white skin privilege only has meaning if it is simultaneously the expression of a new human being, unbound by the stupid conformity of global capital. To return to the issue of marginals, it has been pointed out many times that the very concept of "hip,'' "outsider,'' etc., is at base an interpretation of the subversive subcultures of urban Blacks. We all know where "white'' rock came from, yet we can see even today Men At Work making millions off their honky-fied reggae. It's true that subversive cultural identities are often based on rejecting cultural "whiteness'' (hippie, punk), but capital's re-absorption of subcultures through media, fads, etc., always assist the "white-ish'' (acceptable) tendencies inside subcultures. Then of course there are rebel subcultures which are self-consciously "white'' (supremacist) like British skinheads, the old greasers here, or our local WPOD's ("white punks on dope/white power or die'' for those outside of S.F.). To end your color-blind approach would also increase possibilities for Asian, Black or Latin workers to contribute to PW themselves, and to deepen the dialogue we need so desperately. To treat race as a key issue is not tokenism but realism, if we seek to turn over the world rather than destroy it. For Workers Autonomy (not Lobotomy), J.G.SF Dear J.G.: Because I'm gay, when I first saw copies of Processed World I naturally looked for material by or speaking to gay people. What I did notice immediately is what you refer toa consciousness of sexism that pervaded the magazine. That was good enough for me, 'cause I've found that most folks who are anti- sexist are usually anti-homophobic, too. And as I began working with the people who put out PW I did in fact find it easy to participate as a gay person. Just as I was reassured by seeing sexism continually exposed and ridiculed in PW, I imagine people of color would be reassured by seeing some similar treatment of racism. It's not enough for Processed World to simply say that the abolition of work and the decentralization of society will make life better for everyone. People who've encountered racism in even the "progessive'' movements of women, labor, ecology, and socialismas I've often encountered homophobia in those quarterswill want to know exactly where PW stands on racism. We live in a racist society. Racism is built into our institutions and racial exploitation is built in captalist, industrial development. Anyone who is born and raised in America cannot help but be tainted by racism. Only conscious effort to SEE and CHALLENGE racism can raise us from our racist social heritage. There are straightforward and routine ways that can be accomplished. Just by talking about it I think we will begin finding ourselves more and more aware of racist assumptions we may have internalized. Contributors and producers of PW can PAY ATTENTION when we hear racist jokes in the office, or disparaging comments by white managers about third world workers, or complaints about "communications problems'' with workers for whom English is a second language. We can get into the habit of citing racism when we talk about coercion and hierarchy, using Processed World to expose racism when we se it in the office world, and including the subject in discussions of whatever critiques we develop. I think this is the best way to let our readers know that we are talking and thinking about racism.
Dear PW, I have to thank you. I too am an office worker, and I am aware not only of my bosses exploiting me, but of the entire system I am involuntarily contributing to. It is a system by which a privileged few enjoy the spoils of a worldwide economic disease. A disease which rewards those who divide and confuse, built on fear and fed by hate. I do not wish to support this system, but like so many people, I am willing to compromise with corporate America in order to gain the privilege (as it is defined by the landlords) of being able to sleep inside and eat when I want to. I don't want a raise. I don't want a bigger share of the spoils reaped by the great amerikan free enterprise system. I want to destroy this system, plow the great holy profits back into the soil, to heal, if it is possible, this poor planet. So meanwhile I am typing in data on my VDT which will make my beneficient company hundreds of thousands of dollars this week. Sabotage rewards some emotional satisfaction, but my company knows how to keep track of data that would, if altered, be able to make any real difference to the sainted profit margin. Since I work in payroll, I can cheer myself up knowing I can steal a little cash here and there for the workers I process. Still, I know the limits and it will never amount to much. Then one day, at seven a.m. (much too early for the bosses to be there) I begin my shift and find a copy of Processed World someone has left on my desk. Feeling dramatic and trying to be nonchalant, I slip it into my drawer, to later joyously suck in each page. In this partitioned, soundproof, PCB lined office jungle, truly the worst fate is to believe in your boss's dream, to strive for the company good. Thank you Processed World, for letting me know there are others who despise the purposes to which they are employed. Thank you for letting me hope that someday, not too far from now, we will join hands, and let our bosses know we want room for everyone and let them know that it is time for them to get an honest job.
Dear PW, Thank you for the copy of Processed World that arrived while I was on vacation. Since then there have been about three crises at a time, including the landlord suddenly selling our apartment from under us and the like. There is a story I've started [that] is based on my time as a Personnel Management Analyst Trainee for the State of Tennessee. The courts had ordered the state to make job definitions for each of the 3,200 classifications then in use. To stand up in Civil Service proceedings the definitions had to be broken down into hundreds of minute actions. The interview to get the information had to be taken from employees scattered around the state, and then the informtion had to go through all sorts of computer analyses. Each job definition was to be about 300 pages. when I arrived at the office, the eight PMAs had been working on this about two years and hadn't completed one of the 3,200. Even if they completed one it would legally expire in three years since it might not reflect current job requirements. The then-governor of Tennessee was against the whole thing and just junded it to satisfy the court. A new election was coming up in a few months that might change the whole policy and mehtod of definition. Etc. My job was terrific and just what your magazineis about. I had to work toward writing job definitions that would never be finished, and if finished never used. Despite this the boss, a one-legged man on crutches known to the staff as Tripod, prowled the halls to make sure we were working. Good story material, Beckett-world.
Dear Processed World, In an otherwise excellent analysis of the phone strike in issue 9 ("The Line You Have Reached. . . Disconnect It!''), Lucius Cabins should have gone further. Why expose the "moribund and obsolete strategies imposed by a decaying trade union movement. . .'' without critiquing the pathetic "demands' this union was fighting for. As the article noted, "AT&T overcame union demands for guaranteed job security. . .'' and "No specific job protection guarantees were made.'' C'mon, the unions (and Cabins) should stop pretending and wake up to the modern world. Guaranteed Job Slavery (GJS) is a dinosaur that is now impossible and never was desirable. Guaranteed slavery at the same demeaning, stupid, dangerous jobforget it! The irony is that the capitalists in their ceaseless drive for production efficiency strive to decrease human labor. Those fucking unions would keep us working like mules forever. Regardless of the unions' nostalgic demands or wimpy concessions, new technology and automation are (and should be) obliterating jobs in all sectors. For instance, robotics is replacing people in some of the most onerous and hazardous jobsdie-casting, forging, paint spraying, arc welding, etc. Sure, management is only doing it for the reduced labor costs and quality control, rather than worker safety. But the unions never seek to eliminate such jobs, their business is to reform them to create the illusions that you aren't doing the same old, dirty shitwork. Instead of bargaining for GJS, why not accept the reality of technological displacement and fight for Guaranteed Income and Benefits? It is only fair that corporations should bear the social costs of massive layoffs including maintaining the standard of living for its "post-employable'' workers. If such a demand seems too "unrealistic' for you, take a look at the Greyhound strike for a dose of pragmatism. Their thoroughly realistic demands boiled down to good "ole GUS (Guaranteed Union Survival) at any cost. For example, no amnesty provision for the strike, 100 of whom got the axe. This after caving into the same 7.8% wage cut (14% including benefits) union members originally rejected. For another example of union realism, ask the 15,000 steelworkers recently laid off how conceding to large wage and benefit cuts last year saved their jobs. What a cruel hoax! In neither case did the unions possess enough militancy or imagination to counter management's quest for quantitative concessions with qualitative demands. Such a strategy of seeking reciprocal concessions was attempted (with partial success) by three unions representing workers at Eastern Airlines. Although workers took substantial wage and benefit cuts, in return they gained ownership of about one-fourth of the company and effective veto power over the formulation of a new business plan and financial restructuring program. They also gained unrestricted access to corporate financial information but gave up their boldest proposal in which workers would have the right to call managers before a "management review board'' to challenge corporate decisions and policies. Ironically, since unions can't deliver on the bread and butter issues anymore, all that is left are the qualitative issues over the work process itself. Unfortunately, the most common tendency is toward worker co-ownership of a corporation (often headed for bankruptcy) without workers gaining actual power over workplace decisions. This brings us to the two crucial issues unions should be facing: gaining effective control of the labor process (e.g. how new technology is designed and implemented) and guaranteeing that the growing number of "post- employables' retain their standard of living. Of course that raises the question of vision. Can unions imagine (much less advocate) a world with less workers doing even less work? Can they conceive of destroying a system in which real workers' power is inconceivable? Most importantly, how much longer will workers keep believing unions are capable of acting in their interests?
E.C. - San Francisco
Dear PW, Lucius Cabin's article on the phone strike in PW #9 was interesting and informative. However, I disagree with his attack on unionism. Unions are not "capitalist institutions'' as he states, they are clearly "workers' institutions.'' Unions are simply organizational forms by which we can fight collectively to better our lot. Fighting collectively obviously gives us more strength whether that fight be in a factory or an office. I believe that the present day union leadership is an obstacle in any struggle between capital and labor. And I believe the unions are inadequante instruments for briing about a real revolutionary change in society. But, let's not throw out the baby with the bath water. Let's get rid of our nions' misleaders and transform our unions into real class struggle organizations, not get rid of them. In spite of periodic, minor upturns, the capitalist system is in a deep structural crisis. Dozens of third world countries are on the verge of default on their loans. A single such default could mean the collapse of the capitalist banking system. The banks are demanding that severe austerity programs be imposed in these countries so that their loans can be repaid. This, and other economic and political factors, have led to a dramatic increase in revolutionary struggles of workers and famrers throughout the colonial world. In the U.S. the economic crisis combined with the increasing competitive ability of Western Europe and Japan, has forced the employers to go on the offensive against the U.S. working class and especially our unions. Concession contracts, worse health and safety cnditions, increased racial and sexual discrimination and slashing of social services are the norm today as employers try to increase their competitive standing and profits by driving down the living standard of the U.S. working class. As a result, attitudes in the U.S. working class are changing. There is a questioning, a groping for answers. How do you fight concession contracts? How can we insure job security? Answers to these types of questions can only be given in broad political terms. The answers point to the need to change the whole social system to one where production is organized to satisfy human needs not for profit. The changing moods in the working class can be seen by formations such as the Labor Committee for Democracy and Union Rights in El Salvador, or the endorsement by the AFL-CIO of the August 27 march for Jobs, Peace and Freedom [ed.note: known around the PW shop as "Jobs, Peace and Boredom"] when 20 years ago they refused to endorse the march whose anniversary this one was celebrating. Or the United Auto Workes opposition to the invasion of Grenada. Or the discussion around the formation of a labor party that has been taking place in the International Association of Machinists, the United Steel Workers and the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers and other unions. These developments are reflections of the changing consciousness of the U.S. worker, not enlightened positions of the tired union leadership. It is through this radicalization that the unions' leadership will be changed and the unions can be transformed. For radical minded people such as Cabins to abandon the labor movement at this point would be a serious mistake. The discussion taking place in the labor movement needs to be joined by people who have a perspective that can help workers draw revolutionary conclusions. In the immediate period ahead, there will be more, and more vicious, labor battles as the employers and their government try to break our unions. We must be prepared to defend our unions and to help the unions move forward to a better understanding of what needs to be done and to organize more workers, especially in the new high-tech computer industries. Those who fail to see this and who attack the unions from the left as the employers attack them from the right may find themselves in the wrong camp in the battles to come. J.L. - Cincinnati, OH Dear J.L., Radicals have been trying to "get rid of our unions' misleaders and transform our unions into real class struggle organizations'' for at least fifty years since the formation of the CIO, in fact. Their results? Countless radicals burned out, "successfully'' elevated in the union hierarchy and transformed by the pressures on the situation into bureaucrats in their turn. You talk as if "class struggle'' were inherently antagonistic to capitalism. Actually, it is a primary motor of capitalist development. The struggle of the 30's, safely contained within the framework of industrial unionism, helped lay the groundwork for the post-war expansion, "shaking out'' smaller and weaker capitals and establishing the "Keynesian'' system of industry- wide productivity bargaining mediated by the government. Of course there was another side the early control won over output and working conditions, the experience of self- organization, solidarity and defiance of authority, and so forth. This is the side of "class struggle'' which is potentially revolutionary, because it creates the possibility of a collective challenge to the ruling order. But this kind of activity must either spread and deepen rapidly into generalized revolt, or else disappear, as the radical shop-floor practices of the early CIO disappeared. Contrary to fond leftist belief, this disappearance is only secondarily the result of "bureaucracy'' and "misleadership.'' Far more important was the simple re- adaptation of the immense majority of workers to the (revised) norm of proletarian existence, in exchange for improvements in wages and conditions. The present state of the unions is largely the result of this re-adaptation. Membership apathy breeds bureaucracy and no amount of "correct leadership'' by itself will change this. A new workers' revolt in the U.S. is certainly possible, but it will have little to do with the unions. In the first place, their entire structure (and the labor laws which they fought for and are defined by) is designed for winning concessions in a time of worldwide capitalist expansion. As you point out, this time is past. Secondly, the new workers' struggles in Europe and elsewhere over the past decase have centered around refusing work rather than winning more money. The stupidity, pointlessness and obsolescence of modern work escapes the unions (and most leftists) completely, but they have been the main flashpoint of revolt, in the last decade. We aren't denying the eventual possibility of large-scale workers' organization: but it won't be "unionist,'' since it will be the organized expression of a movement which is attacking the wage system and the money economy much more directly.
P.W., Left-wing movements make as a positive point for themselves the fact that more jobs can be created by producing alternative energy sources (like solar) rather than nuclear power and by civilian as opposed to military production. At countless rallies, one is stuck in the midst of chants for "Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!,'' while the leafletters make their rounds handing out banal tracts explaining that alternative production will create more happy nine-to-five lives. More work seems to be an end in itself. ("Work'' is the lousy experience one has in between the alarm going off and the clock striking the end of the waged-day. This definition thus excludes what would be included in a fuller discussion, the unwaged work, such as housework.) Most of the "left'' goes along with this "Jobs Not War'' scheme, forgetting or not caring about the fact that jobs are war, given the adversary boss vs. worker relationship. Is more work what we really want and need? Do we really want the same old social relationships, working for bosses who dictatorially control the workplace and rip off our wealth- creating powers, even if we are producing good "alternative'' products? And in an age of largely automated factories and pulsing technological advance, is more labor-intensive drudgery necessary? In Thomas More's "Utopia'' he promised a 6-hour day (and this was in 1516!). Even Lenin proposed halving the workday and doubling wages as the only sensible program for U.S. labor in 1906 (most Leninists would sneeringly call such a program "utopian'' today). Of course we need alternative and healthy technologies like solar, wind, and conservation. Yes, military production should end and if wanted or needed (by whom?) these facilities should be re-tooled (with environmental safeguards) for useful products. We do need a way out of our increasingly ruined living situation, but the way out is not to promote another round of nauseating "full employment'' politics with reformist programs of more drudgery with the same old capitalism. The poor, the welfare recipient, the jobless, those who have suffered and paid the most and gotten the least, may in their heads say, "Yes, we need work.'' But hearts easily cringe at the "liberating'' prospect of leaving the shit line at the unemployment office for the shit assembly line at the "productive'' workplace. The initial happiness at scoring a badly needed job can easily turn into a permanent melancholy. This is the world of working. The alienation, misery and boredom of labor in "modern'' society is well known and documented. But the rebellion against work and for free time is the other side of worker history which neither our bosses nor much of the "left'' (future bosses?) want us to know about. This history ranges from the fight for the 8-hour day to daily resistance against speed- ups (like stopping racing assembly lines by throwing marbles in the right place) to that wonderfully simple method, absenteeism. Many of us have, or know people who have, gotten fired on purpose in order to collect unemployment, or maybe have stretched out a workers compensation case beyond recovery. We also know of the struggles to get paid for raising children ("welfare") so as not to have to work two jobs (or starve) and other, similar struggles in the "reproductive'' unwaged sector. We don't have to get defensive and deny this just because the "big, bad State'' is blaming us for its own economic mess. Taking welfare isn't "laziness'' but a rational and healthy expression against the abusive and insulting world of working for the profit of capitalists who may have cushy daily routines or who don't work or do anything. Computers and robots are increasingly being used, and the news is filled with stories of labor-saving techniques. Much of the work we do is pure waste such as military, advertising, keeping track of the ownership of bits of capital and all sorts of unnecessary packaging and duplication. Of course we should not blindly worship any new technology that comes along, since use of new technology is out of our control and under capital's control, which is where the problem lies. We can produce increased wealth (for many of us suffer an extreme absence of wealth) with less work. There is no reason to work ourselves to death. But of course the logic of the system is in our way. No businessperson is going to share with displaced workers the wealth "made'' by robots. If we want to change this situation we have to think about overthrowing it. Workers and the community could then take over and cooperatively and democratically control production ("control of production'' is only one part of a larger struggle for freedom, but that is outside the scope of this letter) and share its proceeds (as Poland's Solidarity tried to do). We can then really be in a position to decide what, if and how to produce. A situation of vastly increased free time can be created, enabling us to live our lives more fully and creatively. The imperialist relationship to the Third World could end and we could channel wealth to them, instead of the other way around. Work we do can be redfined and rearranged to intermingle with learning and play, to make for a wholeness where one's life isn't alienated into stifling compartments. We should, at a minimum, demand not "Jobs'' but a shortened workweek (much shorter!) with no cut in pay. The wealth certainly exists to allow both work and wealth to be shared around; to attempt otherwise is backwards and irrelevant to the historical juncture we are in. We won't get there by feeble petition campaigns, getting-arrested-on-purpose tactics, or another exhausting and futile march on Washington. A general strike helped usher in the 8-hour day, and that's the sort of thing we ought to start thinking about now. Those who would claim that such an idea is "silly'' or "utopian'' or "impossible'' are the very people whose mundane "let's have a picket and go home'' strategies get us no place. Let's talk about the lives we really can live. There is nothing crazy or far-fetched about any of this; it's all here now. Let's take a hint from the popular appeal of science fiction and futurist writings, that wild imaginings of a better world can be real. The detonation required for this cannot include talk of more work but must address a life-enhancing freedom from work.
Submitted by Midnight Notes and the Brooklyn Anti-Nuclear Group.
Dear Processed World: In her dialogue with the person who participated in the United Stanford Workers organizing drive, Maxine Holz counterposes "direct action'' to "unions.'' As a person who has also participated in white-collar union organizingand who sympathizes with Processed World's viewpoint, this immediately provokes certain questions in my mind: how can direct action in opposition to the employers be a collective activity of a workforce without mass organization? And isn't any mass organization which tries to bring together all the workers who are prepared to fight the boss an expression of some kind of unionism? Even your "informal groups'' can be an affirmation of unionism. Imagine that a group of office workers, who have gotten to know each other from working together for months in the same office, decide to ask the boss for a raise as a group. Such an incident of workers acting in union is an embryonic form of unionism. Direct action will only lead people "to think and act in ways that will lead to the kinds of changes in society that have been discussed in the pages of Processed World'' (as Maxine says), if it is collective For sure, it can feel great to sabotage the company's computer or rip off supplies from the employer (at least, I've gotten a sense of satisfaction from doing it), but isolated acts of individuals won't bring workers to an awareness that we have the potential power to transform the world in the direction of freedom from domination and exploitation. Most people seem pretty skeptical about proposals for sweeping change. It's this feeling that we're just powerless individuals that will incline people to reject ideas of fundamental social change as "unrealistic.'' If "the feeble strength of one'' describes your perception of your situation, you'll tend to strive for what you can get as an individual within the system. Collective action can alter the sense of power that people have because it changes the real situation from atomized individuals, cut off from each other, to the power of worker solidarity. Especially when the action and solidarity among working people spreads beyond the "normal'' channels and unitesand brings into active participationever-larger sections of the workforceas in the recent movement in Poland. Movements on that scale begin to create the sense that it's "up for grabs'' how society is organized. And if it's up for grabs, then efforts to change society in a freer and more humane direction seem more realistic to people. It's also during these periods of heightened struggle and mass participation that workers move to take over more direct control of their struggles with the employing class and in the process, create more independent ways of organizing their activity, free of top-down control. For example, during the "hot autumn'' of 1969 in Italy workers at the Fiat and Alfa-Romeo auto plants created mass assemblies, organizations of face-to-face rank-and- file democracy outside the framework of the hierarchical unions. This happens because the top-down structures of such unions make them unsuited to carrying the struggle beyond the "normal'' channels. The officials who run them, with their bureaucratic concern for avoiding risks to their organizations (and their status), will work to contain struggles within the framework of their longstanding relationship with the bosses. Thus, "union'' can refer to top-down structures whose separation from the rank-and-file invariably means that they will act to contain worker protest within bounds acceptable to the powers-that-be. Or "union'' can refer to a form of association that is just the rank-and-file "in union,'' a mere means to get together and come to agreement on common goals and common action in dealing with the employers. I think tendencies in both directions have always been present in labor history. Effective direct action means workers have to get together. "Informal groups'' can be helpful in developing unity but I think mass organization on a larger scale is called for if working people are to develop the power to make the sort of social changes you have been talking about. Besides, "informality'' does not guarantee that an organization will be self-directed by the rank-and-file. Informal hierarchies can develop. And the kind of "union'' that is run directly through mass meetings of all the workers is important, not just because it would be a much more effective tool in fighting for what we want right now, but also because mass organizations of this kind contain the premises of the kind of society we want to create "in embryo''a society without bosses, free of the exploitation of some people by others, a society of genuinely free and equal humans. For a world without bosses,
Dear Processed World, As a firm believer that history should be written by as many of those that made it as possible, I feel compelled to speak out my analysis of that huge elephant, the San Francisco Welfare Department of the late '60s and early '70s. I spent 6 1/2 years of my life internalizing and externalizing the many conflicts rampant in that institution where hippies, acid heads, and white middle class radicals represented the Establishment to unemployed minorities, where workers were oppressed by gay and Black supervisors before the rest of the country was out of the closet or ghettos. Where social workers attempted to cut reams of red tape before it strangled them as well. Unfortunately, it did strangle most of us, to some degree, and it certainly strangled the SSEU which no longer exists. The question is why? What could have been done differently? What did we learn that can help us now? First of all, let me present my bias. I was in the SEIU, first in Local 400 (the Municipal Employees Union of 8,000), then in Local 535 (Social Services Union). I was politically naive upon arriving on the SF scene, but I had already dismissed the idea of social work being socially relevant back in the Midwest when I saw that the last thing the Poverty Program was set up by the Kennedys to do was to eliminate poverty! Of the poor, that is. I'd never had a health plan, a paid vacation, or a grievance procedure although I was 25 and had worked since I was 16. In my first month on the job I was confronted with joining one of the two unions: SSEU which was anti-establishment, anti- authority, anti-organization, for individual rights (sounded like Barry Goldwater on this issue!), and gave good parties. On the other hand there was the SEIU, part of George Meany's AFL-CIO, bureaucratic, in bed with our bossJoe Aliotobut which did something akin to "collective bargaining,'' and was responsible for a health plan, paid vacations, and a grievance procedure that even SSEU used and enjoyed. It was to me a choice between power (tho it be corrupt) and "feeling good'' (tho not totally un- corrupt). I wanted both. So I joined the SEIU and went to SSEU parties. During my 6 1/2 years there I joined hundreds of my coworkers (including United Fronts with SSEUers) in job actions, demonstrations, agit prop, and informal occupations. We won things like the right to wear jeans and see-through blouses, bulletin boards, and carved out loopholes for our clients to go through until the then-governor Reagan or the Democrats filled them with concrete. We had fun, we protested, and we enjoyed our after-hour escapes. As part of the SEIU I went through 3 strikes, watched many SSEUers cross our picket line, while some walked the picket line with us. (They never had an official position on a strike, it would violate their principle of individual decision-making.) We got sold out 3 times, not directly by our union officials, but by their superiors in the Teamsters, Labor Council and Building Trades. We got between 4-9% raises when the cost of living rose 8-12%. Tim Twomey and Gerry Hipps (SEIU bureaucrats) gave up our right to strike. . . This is my main point: I think we could have successfully fought the SEIU bureaucracy in Local 400 if we had 400 unified workers instead of 200 and then 100 struggling in the SEIU while those in SSEU were getting their rocks off on radical highs by changing very little. SSEU in New York City (the model) did separate from the mainstream union movement, but it organized itself and got back inside the AFL-CIO. I never wanted to wear see-through blouses, and I prefer skirts to jeans. What I wanted and we all needed was a contract with caseload limits, more workers, a dental plan and resources and jobs for our clients. For a start! SSEU was a diversion, an interesting precursor to the '70s "Me generation.'' If those 2-300 people had been as interested in communicating and organizing among 18,000 other city workers whose main concern was their working conditions and not their lifestyles and own headsthen we'd be in a hell of a better position now!. . . I hope this discussion continues because it's critical to office workers. How do we organize? Spontaneously, in small groups at each work site, or do we join with OPEU, SEIU, and AFSCME to be able to take on wider issues like the need to turn the defense budget into the social services budget, to defend undocumented workers, to run labor candidates instead of voting for the lesser of the bosses' evils, as well as do a good job on our own immediate issues. If we choose the unions we have a struggle against the bureaucracy. If we choose spontaneous networking, we of necessity limit ourselves to some of our own immediate issues. I think we need nationwide structures to even deal with the banks and insurance companies, as well as the support from all of the working class, including labor, minority and women's groups. But within the larger structures we need a rank and file democracy which encourages the most creative tactics, like the mass grievances and agit prop utilized by SSEU.
"Dolly Debs'' UNION AND PROUD!
Weelll Heeelllllooooo Dolly! Thank you for your response to my article. First, there are a couple of points of historical disagreement: Burt Alpert (ex- SSEUer) claims that it was due to the direct action of SSEU members that the current grievance procedure was established (not, as you assert, as a result of the contractual bargaining of SEIU), one which allows workers to represent themselves in hearings and call witnesses and introduce evidence as they see fit, rather than leaving it up to union representatives to "handle it.'' Another point of disagreement lies in your assertion that the SSEU was unconcerned with working conditions, in particular that they did nothing about ever-growing caseloads. As mentioned in the article, the SSEU led a symbolic "case-dumping'' to protest the increasing caseloads, and throughout The Rag Times and Dialog there are numerous articles and opinions that dealt directly with a myriad of problems and issues related to working conditions. In fact, you say yourself that the SSEU tended to focus on immediate problems at the expense of the "big issues.'' . . .I think you missed the point of the original SSEU and the article describing it: that the biggest issue is the way people deal with each other on a daily basisthe content of social interaction. After that, for us, the pont is not to take power through a "Party'' and increase the scope and importance of the welfare state, but rather to abolish both centralized power and the state. You also neglect to deal with the substantive criticisms of both SEIU strikes and collectively bargained contracts laid out in my article through lengthy quotes from SSEU publications of that era. You prefer to call SSEUers "scabs'' and to insist that it is the contract that could "limit caseloads, provide more workers, a dental plan, and resources and jobs for the welfare recipients.'' Frankly, I don't agree. The contract is basically only as strong as the workers it claims to represent. Owners and managers have flaunted contractual agreements countless times. The only real protection workers have is their collective ability and willingness to take action against their employerswhich they can do with or without the contract. By now it should be painfully clear that the law is not the friend of the working class. . . You assert that in order to take on the wider issues it is necessary to join OPEU, SEIU, or AFSCME, when it seems obvious that those are the very organizations least interested in seeing workers organizing themselves for things other than union-sponsored demands or candidates. Nationwide structures are useless unless people are taking action that requires coordination on that basis, or (hopefully) on an international basis. Establishing the structure before people are moving to take control over their own lives is a simple recipe for a new bureaucracy, just as oppressive and irrelevant as all the ones we're saddled with now. . . True in sports, but even truer in class war, the best defense is a strong offense. And in a time of deteriorating social and material conditions, the best offense is the most diverse and varied one, keeping the authorities guessing about what will happen nextunions don't provide such dynamic possibilities, but autonomous groups of workers, taking action as they see fit, do. Processed World aspires to be a part of such a movement. For Workers' Autonomy,
Dear PW: US Government office workers are among the most processed anywhere, especially since Ronnie Ray-gun zapped the air traffic controllers. Ever since then the government employee "unions'' have been meek as kittens (before that they were only as meek as pussy-cats). Here at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) workers have watched passively as virtually all housing programs for the poor were gutted. The predictable result is that we ourselves have been subjected to cruel and unnecessary "Reductions In Force'' (RIF), obviously designed not to save money but to intimidate workers. In 1982, for example, some 8-10 employees were laid off using the RIF process but along the way about a hundred workers were moved around, down-graded and subjected to terrible psychic stress. This year (1983) about 20 computer operators and an equal number of library workers are being RIFfed. Not that there's any lack of owrk, of course, management has just discovered a new form of exploitation. The process is called "contracting out.'' The agency offers to sell these jobs to the lowest bidder. A number of companies compete to see which can offer to do the work for the lowest possible price. None of them employ organized workers, of course, and all of them explicitly promise to browbeat, oppress and exploit their workers to guarantee no "labor unrest.'' Part of the deal is that anyone the HUDs don't like will be firedno questions asked, no hassles, no reasons. You might have expected the employee's representative (American Federation of Government EmployeesAFGE) to protest, poicket, or somehow fight to protect the workers' jobs. Nothing of the kind. The union let out hardly a peepno voices were raised. Ray-gun has set the stage perfectly. As a final notethe firings are scheduled to be effective on December 23, 1983. Merry Xmas! On our new collective bargaining this year the only really positive note was the inclusion of a clause requiring some attention to the safety of Video Display Terminals. Given the atmosphere in HUD these days I would appreciate your not using my name. KEEP IT UP! G.F.Reston, VA