There is no doubt in my mind and the minds of my fellow workers that ‘things’ are going from bad to worse, and that the perspective is for our situation – and for workers everywhere - to get even worse.
I am an industrial worker in one of the industries privatised by the Conservative government in the early 1990s. ‘Privatisation’, we can now see, was clearly a means for greater state control over all the utilities. Now our wages, working conditions, manning levels and precise methods of exploitation are determined, not by any bosses but by high level committees and functionaries of the state down to the finest details, with the bosses and trade unions implementing them on the ground.
After initially kicking the unions out, the bosses have welcomed them back with a vengeance. In our industry there are several unions claiming to represent different departments and sometimes the same departments where workers work side by side. Any incipient movement from the workers themselves is quickly carved up and, in many and important cases, it is the union officials who speak the ‘language of realism’ and make threats, to the extent that they use language that the bosses do not dare to use. For the most part the union stewards are lickspittles and creeps, either motivated by ambition to join the lower layers of management (with whom they are indistinguishable in reality) or are just after the ‘extras’ that their position and management provide them with – or both. You find these arseholes on every committee that’s going - so-called ‘health and safety’, productivity, consultative, disciplinary. Aside from these are some genuine, fighting militants of the working class desperately trying to improve working conditions and wages, but these are for the most part ground down, and within the framework of union co-operation with the management, uselessly banging their heads against a wall. Both the unions and bosses soon jump on anyone who tries to step outside of this framework.
From ‘risk management’ (ie, greater risks to workers all round) to ‘flexibility’, the attacks on the workers are falling thick and fast. The bosses want us to account for every minute of the working day. They want us to take on more and more responsibility for no extra money – as if we didn’t have enough to do - and to this end, and over and above the union creeps and lower management looking over our shoulders, we are electronically tracked and overseen in ever more innovative and costly ways. One worker was recently disciplined for booking a quarter of an hour’s overtime too much after he was called out (and averted a disaster) in the early hours of the morning. It was a matter of sixty seconds. This, like other recent cases, was publicised in order to serve as an example to everyone else. Marx, in Capital, is right on the button: “… that within the capitalist system all the methods for increasing the social productivity of labour are carried out at the cost of the individual worker: that all the means for developing production are transformed into means of domination over and exploitation of the producer; that they mutilate the worker into a fragment of a human being, degrade him to become a mere appurtenance of the machine, make his work such a torment that its essential meaning is destroyed; estrange from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour process in very proportion to the extent to which science is incorporated into it as an independent power; that they distort the conditions under which he works, subjecting him, during the labour process, to a despotism which is all the more hateful because of its pettiness; that they transform his whole life into working time, and drag his wife and children beneath the Juggernaut wheels of capital’s car.” (Chapter 23, ‘General Law Of Capitalist Accumulation’). We are terrorised and treated with contempt, we are nothing but pieces of shit and they make it quite clear that if we don’t like it there are plenty of other pieces of shit who will take our place.
The attacks on wages are relentless too. Pension contributions have been increased while pension benefits have been cut and many workers are worried about their pensions. Job losses are taking place through non-replacement and the unions are presenting this as a victory. Wage rises ‘negotiated’ and imposed by the unions are year on year wage cuts given that we face rising energy, tax and cost of living prices. The only way to earn any extra is by overtime and unsociable hours. And we are supposed to be the lucky ones with jobs!
A recent report from the London School of Economics said that there are now a million people on Incapacity Benefit because of mental illness. I’m not surprised. What with the daily grind, the immediate responsibility for families and the wider ideological campaigns of the bourgeoisie, as well as the obvious decomposition of the system into war and chaos, the misery of the working class is compounded. Again, with Marx, it is essential not to see only misery in misery. This is a generalising condition of the working class and we have had enough evidence recently from all across the world that the working class as a whole is perfectly capable of fighting back. First to ward off the attacks raining down on it, and from this towards a wider assault on the system that engenders this misery – capitalism. E, 11/09/06.
“The propertied class and the class of the proletariat present the same human self-estrangement. But the former class feels at ease and strengthened in this self-estrangement, it recognizes estrangement as its own power and has in it the semblance of a human existence. The class of the proletariat feels annihilated in estrangement; it sees in it its own powerlessness and the reality of an inhuman existence. It is, to use an expression of Hegel, in its abasement the indignation at that abasement, an indignation to which it is necessarily driven by the contradiction between its human nature and its condition of life, which is the outright, resolute and comprehensive negation of that nature.” Marx, The Holy Family, ‘Proudhon: 2nd Critical Comment’.