Wednesday, February 14, 2018

I'm Workin', But I Ain't Workin' For You

  I bought the 7" for "Slack Motherfucker" after I heard it blasting in a record store way back in '89. I was spotty on the lyrics (I never have put in much work for pop song lyrics), but to me, it sounded like an ass-kicking "FUCK YOU" to bosses everywhere. Turns out I was wrong: "Slack Motherfucker" is actually a song bagging on a lazy coworker for not pulling his weight on the shift (I don't feel too bad; Watt made the same mistake).

  Back in the day, that was the retail/restaurant/service industry code: you're not working for your boss, you're working for your comrades. So: Jimmy does a good job closing the grill, Sue does a good job closing the dining room. Everything is clean and in the right place, all the trash is out, the place is buttoned up tight. Dotty and Clem come in to open in the morning and everything is good, and they are able to quickly and efficiently get the joint opened up & breeze through breakfast, not to mention get a proper start on lunch prep. Janey and Joe come in to do the lunch rush, and since Dotty and Clem got a start on the prep, lunch is a piece of cake. Janey and Joe power through the afternoon, and since things have been going smoothly, they get the dinner prep done no problem. Jimmy and Sue have no problem running dinner, and since things went well, they manage to do another solid close, leaving a tight ship for the crew next morning. The idea was simple: everyone does their job the best they can, and everybody has an easier time of it.

  But it really doesn't work that way, does it? Mortimer the manager is riding the wave with his crew for a while, and Rex the owner is cool because things are going well - his restaurant is well run and successful, and his crew is happy - but at some point, he thinks "hey, we can always do better, right?", and he starts thinking about things like productivity. Why? Well, maybe he read it in a book, maybe he fancies himself a super businessman whose ego swells with his bottom line, maybe he's just greedy. For whatever reason, he decides he needs his workers to be more productive, so he teams with Mortimer to make some changes, some "upgrades". Now, Morty may or may not be down with the project - he may have been perfectly happy with the way things are, or he may have his ego as much into the bottom line as Rex - but if he wants to keep his job, he gets on board.

  So, Morty and/or Rex examine the situation, and they notice that right before they open the doors at 6 am, Dotty and Clem take a break for coffee and a smoke before the day starts. The super management team obviously pegs that as a waste of time (AND TIME IS MONEY AS EVERYONE ALWAYS SAYS AD INFINITUM). They further notice Janey and Joe spending a little time lollygagging after lunch, and that Jimmy and Sue don't really have too much to do when they first get in. There is all kinds of space to tighten up, to increase productivity: instead of bringing both Dotty and Clem in at 5 am and paying two hours of labor to open, maybe they only bring one in, or bring them both in at 5:30, so there is only one hour of labor for opening the store. Of course Dotty and Clem will have to give up their coffee and cigarette break, but if they do that and pick up the pace a little bit, they will double their productivity. They can always get those breaks in when Janey and Joe get in. Along the same lines, maybe they bring Jimmy and Sue in an hour later, since they usually have no problems on their shift. And maybe they send Janey and Joe home an hour earlier. Making those changes, Morty and Rex have managed to extract practically the same amount of work for 5 hours less, saving about 12.5% in labor costs. And most days, this works out fine.

  Most days, that is. Morty and Rex's new productivity changes start to fall apart when things don't go exactly to plan: maybe breakfast rush is a little bigger than normal, or maybe a fryer goes on the fritz, generating more labor for the same product. Before, the store was running with enough capacity in the system to absorb the occasional unplanned inefficiency: for instance, if Dotty and Clem have a breakfast rush that puts them behind on lunch prep, even though Janey and Joe have to scramble a bit through lunch, they are a little bit less behind by the time Jimmy and Sue get in. Jimmy and Sue in turn put a little more effort to get dinner together, and by the time they are almost ready to close the doors, they are exhausted, but pretty much where they normally are, and they manage to close the store just like any other night. But, under the new "efficient", "higher production" model, the excess capacity is taken away, so if things go wrong, they stay wrong, until extraordinary measures are taken to correct the problem. Of course, from Rex's point of view, excess capacity is wasted money, so he is more than willing to sacrifice it even if it means he will occasionally have to take extraordinary measures to deal with unusual circumstances.

  For the workers, though, the equation is simple: increased productivity = more work for the same amount of money. And, under American business management practice, efficient systems are squeezed until they become inefficient. Which means that if you are working hard to make the job a little easier for all your coworkers, eventually the slack that you generate for your coworkers will be absorbed by your boss instead. So really, no matter how much you think you are working hard for your coworkers, you are actually working hard for your boss*. Your hard work, your increased productivity, just puts money in your boss's pocket. Management's job is to always be increasing productivity, which means that management's job is to always make your job harder. Eventually, your company ends up being modeled after Amazon's efficiency system, wherein things like the time it takes you to walk from point A to point B, or how long it takes you to use the bathroom, are things that are monitored, critiqued, and regulated.

  I don't have a problem when a worker occasionally loses their shit with another worker for doing a lousy job. It is, after all, completely natural to get pissed whenever your workload is increased. I would kindly ask, however, that whatever your reaction to what you believe to be the immediate cause, that you do not forget who is really making your life more difficult: your boss.

  I heard one of the Superchunk dudes in an interview talking about how "Slack Motherfucker" was really about a coworker, and not a boss: I lost interest in the song after that. It's sort of like how a friend of mine talked about how much he loved "Kill Yr Idols" until he found out it was a diatribe against rock critics. I wanted it to be an anti-boss rant, but it wasn't, so I lost interest. I ended up trading it to a friend, and not too many years later, it ended up becoming a collectible. I hope that he managed to turn it for a tidy profit on ebay: that would be the best blow "Slack Motherfucker" would strike for the working class.
*  "Boss" is not always interchangeable with "management" anymore: one of the tricks of the service/retail/food industry is to turn as many workers into "managers" as possible, even if the vast majority of these "managers" do not get significantly higher material rewards, and are essential workers who are co-opted to management's side by nothing other than a job classification. When we use "bosses" here, we are talking about owners, those who would truly stand to profit from the business.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The End of History

Communism differs from all previous movements in that it overturns the basis of all earlier relations of production and intercourse, and for the first time consciously treats all natural premises as the creatures of men, strips them of their natural character and subjugates them to the power of individuals united. Its organization is, therefore, essentially economic, the material production of the conditions of this unity; it turns existing conditions in to conditions of unity. The reality, which communism is creating, is precisely the real basis for rendering it impossible that anything should exist independently of individuals, in so far as things are only a product of the preceding intercourse of individuals themselves.   -- Karl Marx, The German Ideology

  "The end of history" . . . theoretical, ephemeral, abstract . . . reads like a hipster intellectual riff, a thing imposed: to impress, to establish authority, to get laid, whatever. But history itself is a thing imposed, "a story told by winners", as they say, and please note that the existence of "winners" implies there are also "losers" who are on the bottom of that equation.

  We have so many histories: great seismic movements, the fiats of supermen, gods propelling the fate of nations, grand cataclysmic accidents. These histories present as natural law, leitmotif, the mask of object, transcendent authority . . . of course, the very existence of "histories" as opposed to "history" gives lie to objective fact. History is indeed "a story told by winners", and the winners are always changing.

  We have been forced to consume weaponized books of history as part of our socialization from the time we were tots. The histories of these books propose to align us under a structure imposed from without, to indoctrinate us with a parade of events properly arranged under the banner of those who would control us . . . of course they propose this as sacred law, and of course they erase our individuality by mobbing us in with a greater whole, a whole consecrated by the "rulers of the universe", those who write our histories. And these histories are consecrated by . . . whom?

  So many histories are written as erasure of the individual. Our current American reality-film directors would have you believe that communism is the great erasure of the individual, but is there anything that more completely annihilates the individual than a script imposed from above? We are cast as actors in some immense cosmic film, where even the most humanistic of histories casts us as bit players, puppets whose strings are expertly manipulated by the GREAT MEN of the history. Communism, on the other hand, "overturns the basis of all earlier relations of production and intercourse, and for the first time consciously treats all natural premises as the creatures of men, strips them of their natural character and subjugates them to the power of individuals united." Communism focuses on the relations between individuals, and the material conditions which dictate those relations. So, while there indeed may be great actors, they are not great because of some power of divinity, will, blood, genetics, talent, etc.; they are great actors by way of the material conditions which put them in position to be great actors. They are great actors because they have been ordained by a set of relations that puts them there. They are great actors because they are members of the class that enjoys the privilege of rule. Communist history is the history of groups of individuals organized by the world around them, and the relations that these groups have with each other. Stripped of all externally imposed structures, Communist history is the history of class struggle. And when that struggle ends, so ends history:
This subsuming of individuals under definite classes cannot be abolished until a class has taken shape, which has no longer any particular class interest to assert against the ruling class. -- Marx, TGI
When culture sheds the detritus of the previous ages, when the individual breaks the shackles of history that restrain them, when their class no longer is at war - indeed, when their class dissolves because the relations of the previous age have disappeared - then history too has ended.

  This then is the equality that a Marxist desires: not the crass capitalist-materialist equality where if one person has a Mercedes and a pool, then everyone has to have a Mercedes and a pool . . . rather, it is when no class holds dominion over another, when no individual lords over another. It is this dissolution of class that is the end of history.

  There is nothing ephemeral or abstract about the end of history . . . our American Dream Overlords know this, and insist that we have already reached this particular historical cul-de-sac by pointing at the extinction, in our American culture, of class and privilege . . . but of course, we know better. America's "classless, privilege-free culture" is one of the most transparent of myths. And even if the vaunted "class mobility" did exist here, class mobility is not equality; the erasure of class, the end of history, is the only measure of true equality. When there is no struggle, when artificial scarcity - the motor of capitalism - is shown for the lie that it is, when we finally have moved beyond class, when history finally is at an end, that is when full communism has arrived, that is when we will be equal and free.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Politically, the capitalist and socialist refusal of autonomy takes the form of the centrist demand that all particular projects be subordinated to the general interest of development. Among capitalists diverse autonomous demands must not be allowed to challenge or undermine the central processes of profit making, investment and growth. Among socialists, such demands must not be allowed to impede the realization of the general interests of the working class, which in practice turn out to be the party's plans for realizing surplus, investment and growth. Thus the autonomous activities of women, blacks, peasants, students, industrial workers, and so on, must be either integrated within the overall development process (which eliminates their autonomy) or suppressed.

Harry  Cleaver, Reading Capital Politically

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Red November, black November,
Bleak November, black and red.
Hallowed month of labor’s martyrs,
Labor’s heroes, labor’s dead.

Labor’s wrath and hope and sorrow,
Red the promise, black the threat,
Who are we not to remember?
Who are we to dare forget?

Black and red the colors blended,
Black and red the pledge we made,
Red until the fight is ended,
Black until the debt is paid.

— By Ralph Chaplin
author of Solidarity Forever