Lastly, we can say that fear amongst workers was and is a common feeling. When we see the footage of militant struggles in Italy, it is easy to forget how these same workers, up until recently, were overridden by fear: of being deported; of making trouble lest they lose their jobs; of jeopardising their meagre incomes with a family to support… In the film, many workers talk about this palpable sense of fear to try and change their situation collectively for the better. Many of our workmates in the warehouses in west-London talk similarly, especially the women (who seem to be able to admit it more). With poor English and limited reference points of large-scale, local victories, this fear is used as a reason to not embark on collective action. In Italy, this was overcome because of a number of reasons, which cannot be discounted from happening elsewhere: news of victories in other warehouses spread amongst workers and gave people a sense that something could be won; external supporters showed that even as a minority, it was possible for some action to be taken; conversations inside warehouses that had been happening for a year or two became the basis for 'spontaneous' action.
This is from an article on libcom called "Ditching the Fear....." written by Angry Workers World who in 2015 went to Italy and participated in strikes there and in disputes in similar work circumstances in warehouses in England where workers from abroad, India and the Middle East mainly, were being savagely exploited to the point almost of having their blood sucked dry by exploiters eager for even the last penny. Angry Workers World also made a film about all this.
But what caught my attention was the reference to "fear" - a very potent force - and then the triumphant final sentence after fear is conquered and "conversations inside warehouses that had been happening for a year or two became the basis for 'spontaneous' action."
The end of this sentence is remarkable. Conversations that had been rumbling on for a year or two suddenly transform into and produce "spontaneous" action. This is impressive, for is it not surely an example - not so much of spontaneity, for the workers had been discussing and suffering together a long time - but of the slow and subterranean development of consciousness suddenly emerging into the light of day and taking the form of class action? This is the apparent spontaneity of workers attaining their conscious autonomy and doing something about it. What a shocker for the bosses? The nauseating waves of worker repression and suffering are here transformed into the more positive and fruitful form of class action and response even though of an initially limited type, for the action was mainly defensive.
This is class consciousness being developed via thought and discussion out of fear and despair. This subterranean and initially uninown development among a group of workers whose only thing in common was being a massively exploited workforce in foreign lands - they had no shared language - and who had been chased to hell and back seemed to emerge "spontaneously" say the authors of this piece. But of course it didn't really. Some serious thinking had been going on regarding the impossible situation these workers were in; ideas were exchanged; feelings discussed and the fear of making things worse was gradually faced and challenged.
The fear and yes terror of the power of capital over mere workers was somehow admitted at last, seen for what it was - vicious exploitation - faced up to and challenged. The prison, the factory, office and warehouse were at last identified for what they are - capitalist gaol houses - and so plans could now be considered for getting free.
Fear is an effective repressive. Fear of the damaging results of the work process itself: long hours, physical debility and depression. Fear of being dismissed by the boss as being useless, no good or a trouble maker. Fear of having no work at all. Fear of the unknown power of the bourgeoisie and the discipline they have over us. They can pick us off one by one, group by group, as camp commanders in nazi concentration camps could pick off pick off and shoot at random unfortunate targets of their derision just for sport and the fun of it.
But together, as a class, with a deliberate consciousness of what we are and the power we have as workers over capitalism - for without our submissive cooperation it ceases to function at all - we can fight back and win. We must overcome our fear.