[Marxism] "Industrial workers" (was Re: Richard Estes on...)

Peggy Dobbins pegdobbins at gmail.com
Tue Apr 2 10:24:28 MDT 2013


So happy to see clarity emerge from exasperation.  At 74, retired from 30 years under collective discipline to one and then another M L party, the only thing from my "undigested observations" I'd change  in Dave's arrival at what I call clarity  distilled by fired-up-ain't-gonna-take-it-anymore rant to adopt it as my own is:

I don't think it was romanticism, nor just that industrial workers' concentration made them easier to organize than service workers scattered through out the consumer driven economy.   I think it was thinking of commodities as products, things, matter rather than the commodification of labor power.  We can do better today -- and it may reflect advances in science since our  best example of material dialectics was ice-> water-> steam; our best critique of science under capitalism,  Lenin on Empiricism.  We can come closer to what Marx sensed by thinking of labor as commoditized,or perhaps just the portion of, human living time spent doing what another says as they say do it in exchange for the means/money/electronically binomially (and don't think the 1 and 0 combos make life safer than decimals did the Arabs) transmitted information that can be exchanged to get other humans to do what one wants as one wants it done.   I call labor "bossed time for pay" as opposed to work, whch can include what I'm doing here.  But ohhhhh Whooaa.  The exasperation driving my need to report to Louis who bumped my posts so I quit, came not from my exploitation as a worker, but as a consumer.  As I told  the young Mexican-American whose ancestors have been in Texas many generations before mine, who had driven 120 miles from Kingsville to his part time job at the CVS in Port LaVaca where I could not pick up my heart medicine Easter weekend, until 2.5 days after my last one:  "50 years ago, when a pharmacy closed,  the address and phone number of the nearest one open was on the door.  I'm going to ask my friends to sign a petition to the City council to charge or fine or tax ( the words are important) CVS & Walgreen HEB and Walmart, the only "drug" stores left in town to cover the cost of the county hospital(about to go under) providing a 24/7 pharmacy.  You are too young and spend too much unpaid time driving thither and yon to pay off your debts for the license to be employed as the professional you and your parents dreamed you'd be, now only where and if a job's open.  too young and too busy to know you don't have to take it, the customer abuse I want to heap on you, the abuse of the boss abused by his, etc etc.  You can start talking about it and organize and do something. And you better start before old folks like me, who can help, are dead.  Tell them what the pissed off old lady said. It'll encourage the right ones and threaten the others and something may improve. 

I'm leaving Dave's post in the string for others who don't get Louis's transmissions.  For which I'm grateful, Louis, even if you don't post mine
Peggy

On Apr 1, 2013, at 1:30 PM, DCQ  <davecq at yahoo.com>  
> What are these "industrial workers" of which you speak?
> The romantic (and, to my mind, un-Marxist) image many Marxists have of "industrial" workers needs to be buried ASAP. Industrial workers (by which some people seem to mean those involved directly in the large-scale manufacture of tangible products, though the term is not always so well-defined, and often seems to mean workers who get their hands dirty or those who seem to *act* or at least *look* like a stereotype of industrial workers) were never a majority of the class. The most radical strike of the 30s (the Minneapolis General Strike) was led by service workers who worked in the equivalent of mobile cubicles. 
> 
> Union organizers used to focus on "industrial workers" because, due to a few contingent factors, these workers were essentially easier to organize (lived in cities, in high concentrations of other similar workers, all doing similar jobs, often multicultural/high concentrations of immigrants, low wages, no benefits, competing businesses in the same locality, etc., etc.). (NB: not *easy* but *easier*--I also think we vastly underestimate how miserably difficult it was to organize back then and how creative and talented those organizers *must have been*.) The fact that union organizers were often also socialists of one stripe or another (this was when organizing a union was largely illegal and hence "revolutionary") meant that these things tended to blend into one another. But there was, I propose, nothing *essentially* more important about industrial workers as industrial workers than other types of workers.
> 
> Today, the US ruling class has largely figured out how to negate those contingent factors. The placement of factories, internally and externally, is something the bosses put an incredible amount of thought into. The deliberate ruralization of large-scale factories is not an accident. A Kia factory opened in Georgia a few years ago 100 miles outside Atlanta. Why so far outside the main city, especially when there was a prime location just vacated by GM? Why in this po-dunk town of 3,000, when they required at least 3,000 workers? A Forbes reporter highlighted a workforce that was "highly motivated," "highly trainable," and "eager to learn the 'Kia Way.'" Of course, this will transform the town in time. It already has. But you just have to look a few miles north to the shuttered Saturn plant in Spring Hill, TN to get a clue what is in store for West Point, GA as soon as the plant has been depreciated, the machinery has aged, and the tax-subsidies have expired. In the meantime, Kia doles out patronage like an emperor to local schools and charities and parks (a small fraction of what it would have paid in taxes without the collusion of local, state, and federal politicians), for which the local residents are "grateful." Meanwhile, no other major corporation will build any plant within 100 miles of Kia. Why would they when they can easily find some other po-dunk town next to a highway with its own little pond of desperation to act savior to?
> 
> My point isn't to be depressing.
> 
> My point is that if we are looking to "industrial workers" to play the role they did 80 years ago, then we will be disappointed because capital has figured out a way to reduce and/or negate those contingent factors which made industrial workers so potent a force back then. We are looking for a ghost.
> 
> On the other hand, modern cities *are* filled with workers. Workers who are both more atomized and more collectivized and connected to each other than at any point in human history. Workers who have absolutely no tradition of militancy or self-organization or even self-identity. They do not see themselves as a class. How could they when the entire ideological apparatus of the ruling class is dedicated to convincing them that they are individuals who are alone responsible for their situation...and they have no experience otherwise?
> 
> That is why I think Occupy (and indeed every popular upsurge) is important. Because it gives us the material basis for us, the modern working class, to begin to wrestle ("with sober senses?") with its actual conditions, so that it *can* begin to act like a class.
> 
> To complain that American workers or workers in general are not acting in their own interests *as a class* is to be ridiculous. When workers do act in their own interests as a class, there will be a revolution. In fact, a revolutionary crisis will erupt when far less than a majority of the working class begins acting in its own interests as a class. 
> 
> All for now. 
> 
> Soli,
> DCQ
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