Reading Notes on Abolish Restaurants
I’m reading this pamphlet to help a fellow organizer present a summary of it for a solidarity network we are building in Houston, the Southwest Defense Network. So far, among the potential campaigns we have come across, several have been restaurant workers confronting wage theft or other forms of exploitation in the restaurants they work(ed) for. Continue reading
Trying to understand the social individual, cuz I’m trying to understand what Marx meant by universality, cuz I’m trying to understand what the hell is communism. What follows are some passages from Part 2 of the American Worker pamphlet (written by Phil Singer and Grace Lee Boggs).
(Page numbers correspond to the Bewick/Ed edition, 1972; emphasis mine unless otherwise noted)
“The American worker today makes in practice the distinction which Marx made nearly a hundred years ago in theory – the distinction between abstract labor for value and concrete labor for human needs. Marx denied that the essence of value production was the search for profits by the individual capitalists…Marx was concerned with the activity of the workers. By value production he meant production which expanded itself through degradation and dehumanization of the worker to a fragment of a man. The essence of capitalist production is that it is a dynamically developing relation by which the dead labor in the machine, created by the workers, oppresses and degrades to abstract labor the living worker which it employs. Abstract labor is alienated labor, labor in which the worker ‘develops no free physical and spiritual energy but mortifies his body and ruins his spirit.’ Concrete labor for needs, on the other hand, is not merely nor even essentially the labor which produces butter rather than guns. It is the labor in which man realizes his basic human need for exercising his natural and acquired powers.” 
A good article you should check out if you haven’t seen it before:
My body, my rules: a case for rape and domestic violence survivors becoming workplace organizers
Liberté Locke, a Starbucks Workers Union organizer, writes about how violence at work and in our personal lives are similar, how domestic abusers and bosses use the same techniques of control and that we need to fight both.
TRIGGER WARNING: sexual violence
From Charles Denby’s Indignant Heart (which I discussed briefly here):
“Three years ago the lunch wagon owned by an outside chain company, brought food into the plants to sell to the workers at lunch time. They raised the price of their food after a few weeks. The workers felt this was too much to pay and put up a holler so the union decided to boycott all the lunch wagons. The stewards were to see to it that no one bought anything. The first day no one came near the wagon. The second day five Negroes went to the wagon and began getting food.
The white chief steward yelled and said, ‘Put down that damn stuff.’
The Negroes looked around, very angry, and continued to pick up food.
The steward rushed to me and said, ‘What I say about your people is true, they won’t cooperate. Go over and see if you can stop them.’
I went over and before I could speak one said, ‘Matthew, we want to cooperate but yesterday we went outside and the restaurant where we can eat was packed. There was a long line waiting and half of us didn’t get anything to eat. We were so hungry in the afternoon we had to check out early. We just couldn’t make the day without eating. All the whites ate because they can go in any restaurant. We can’t bring lunch because we don’t have wives to fix them.’
All the restaurants around the plant are jim crowed, there are only three places where Negroes can eat, and there are about three thousand Negroes working on my shift. I went to the white chief steward and told him the story.
I said, ‘If you can get some white workers tomorrow, I will get some Negro workers and we can go out and break these restaurants discriminating around the plant. We will see that the restaurants serve all of our union members. I will stand guard every day after that and guarantee that no one will buy off of this wagon.’
This stunned him. He said he couldn’t do it. He would have to take it up with our union officers and that would take some time. The Negro fellows continued to eat from the wagon and pretty soon all the workers came back to eat there too. The lunch wagon kept selling at a high price which hurt both Negro and white workers.” [148-149]
Had a great discussion today with Mike & Sarahtopz about street harassment and sex work. Here’s a few notes  towards synthesizing a marxist view of sex work:
1. Sex work is a form of exploited, alienated labor under capitalism.
- Sex workers sell their labor power and not their bodies. Under capitalism, our bodies are consumed by capital quite literally, but Marx argues we do not sell our bodies, we sell our ability to labor to the capitalist. When women or others do sex work, they are selling their ability to labor, i.e. to make someone cum, to give someone pleasure or arousal, to be someone’s shoulder to cry on or their emotional outlet, etc. In exchange for money or other commodities, a sex workers’ body becomes the tool they use to carry out the labor of pleasure. The vagina and mouth are no less tools of labor than are the head and hands (which are usually associated with male labor). Further, they are tools that are consciously honed and developed by sex workers in order to produce an improved or competitive product.  To say that waged workers sell their labor but sex workers sell their bodies is to make a false distinction based on a false premise: that one is a legitimate or acceptable form of exploitation while the other is not.
In Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici argues for a reinterpretation of Marx’s concept of primitive accumulation (broadly speaking, the social processes that characterize the development of capitalist relations). A central point she makes is that primitive accumulation is not only the accumulation and concentration of exploitable workers and capital, it is also the deepening of divisions and differences within the working class. The most recognized “differences” are race, gender and sexuality, but others like age and ability exist.
This point is so important for two reasons. One, it helps us understand how capitalism has developed historically and one of the reasons why working class struggle has often fallen to defeat. Two, it drives home the point that the struggle against white supremacy and patriarchy are central to the class struggle; or, rather, they are the class struggle. That doesn’t mean the fight against patriarchy or white supremacy always has only revolutionary implications (we can look for proof at tendencies within Black Power that strove to reform white supremacy in ways that permitted some black folks to participate in the rule of capital). It does mean that capitalism cannot be overthrown without overthrowing the divisions it sows within the class.
From Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, pp 74-75:
“With the demise of the subsistence economy that had prevailed in pre-capitalist Europe, the unity of production and reproduction which has been typical of all societies based on production-for-use came to an end, as these activities became the carriers of different social relations and were sexually differentiated. In the new monetary regime, only production-for-market was defined as a value-creating activity, whereas the reproduction of the worker began to be considered as valueless from an economic viewpoint and even ceased to be considered as work. Reproductive work continued to be paid — though at the lowest rates — when performed for the master class or outside the home. But the economic importance of the reproduction of labor-power carried out in the home, and its function in the accumulation of capital became invisible, being mystified as a natural vocation and labelled ‘women’s labor.’ In addition, women were excluded from many waged occupations and, when they worked for a wage, they earned a pittance compared to the average male wage.
These historic changes — that peaked in the 19th century with the creation of the full-time housewife — redefined women’s position in society and in relation to men. The sexual division of labor that emerged from it not only fixed women to reproductive work, but increased their dependence on men, enabling the state and employers to use the male wage as a means to command women’s labor. In this way, the separation of commodity production from the reproduction of labor-power also made possible the development of a specifically capitalist use of the wage and of the markets as means for the accumulation of unpaid labor.
Most importantly, the separation of production from reproduction created a class of proletarian women who were as dispossessed as men but, unlike their male relatives, in a society that was becoming increasingly monetarized, had almost no access to wages, thus being forced into a condition of chronic poverty, economic dependence, and invisibility as workers.
As we will see, the devaluation and feminization of reproductive labor was a disaster also for male workers, for the devaluation of reproductive labor inevitably devalued its product: labor-power. But there is no doubt that in the ‘transition from feudalism to capitalism’ women suffered a unique process of social degradation that was fundamental to the accumulation of capital and has remained so ever since.”
I’m reading this interesting piece put out in the latest Gurgaon Workers Newsletter (which, by the way, puts out some really good writing and analysis with a focus on workers’ self-activity and from-below struggle). I’ve copied below a section they wrote on developing trends among call centers globally. It’s worth reading for what it raises about the changing contours of the economic crisis and aspects of the recomposition happening among the global working class.
[Read the rest of the Newsletter here.]
According to Plan – General information on the development of the region or on certain company policies
*** Shifts in the Call Centre Industry: Gurgaon Tata Workers’ Report and Global Re-Locations ***
Call centres can be seen as ‘the industry of globalisation’. The came up in the 1990s as a product of Taylorisation of office work: information technology enabled to undermine the ‘individual skills’ of accountants, bank and other office workers. Contrary to what a lot of lefty ideologist thought the technological restructuring lead to a massification and concentration of work-force. By the end of the 1990s call centres went global, jumped the English speaking global wage scales from the global north to south. The patriotic populism of most of the trade unions proved helpless facing global relocations. India became the global back-office and call centre. Call centres combined ‘excess capital’ (finance, dubious personal services etc.) with an excess educated working class (students, graduates etc.). Unemployed post-graduates in Tunisia phoned for French Telecom, their Indian work-mates did the same for British Telecom. With the crisis one of the main pillars of call centre industry – the finance sector and personal services – came under pressure, so did wages in the global north. Currently we can witness rapid changes and shifts within global call centre work. In the following we give a sketchy overview on recent trends. Gurgaon is probably still the biggest call centre hub world-wide, so we are glad to document a short letter by a worker at Tata Consultancy Services based in Gurgaon.