The Illusion of Self-Employment in a Capitalist Economy

by x365097

It’s considered a high honor in the American value system to open a business and “be your own boss.” From a Wobbly point of view, a problem with this idea, even for those who operate without employees, or for worker-owners of cooperative enterprises (both of which categories qualify for IWW membership), is that the broader marketplace in which the business must operate is still almost entirely under the control of the capitalist 1%.

What that means, first of all, is that the supposedly independent businessperson or persons must, in most cases, purchase tools, fuel, and other business supplies primarily from exploitative, monopolistic, for-profit entities. Also, for owner-operators whose industry is so consolidated that there are only a handful of customers to whom they can sell their goods and services, the lack of independence is even more pronounced.

All a situation like that amounts to is that the worker or group of workers must provide her, his, or their own equipment, and yet there is still a powerful economic dependency. In effect, the controllers of the market remain a boss even for the supposedly self-employed, or for workers who, within their workplace, have substituted the rule of an owner or manager with a cooperative system. The market-controlling 1%, by virtue of their sheer economic influence and power, are able to determine prices and set a number of other conditions that the workers, despite the certain degree of control they have asserted over the way that they work, must obey.

Given this, it is clear that for such workers to remain disorganized and estranged from other each is for them to willingly accept the very sort of submission that the praise they receive from their communities for their “self-employed” status presumes that they have rejected. The IWW has a solution, which is for workers of all backgrounds to organize by industry into One Big Union governed by direct democracy and aimed at breaking the 1%’s control over our economic lives.

Workers today can either embrace the illusion of independence and continue to be manipulated by the capitalist owning class, or we can unite to break — in reality — their control over our labor and redirect production according to human need as determined through democratic processes. This is the purpose of the IWW: to agitate, educate, and organize all workers in the understanding that until all of us are free, none of us are free.


SMIWW at First Friday Art Walk in Portland, 12/7

Southern Maine Wobblies will be tabling near Congress Square (corner of Congress and High) in Portland tomorrow, December 7, from about 5-8 PM as part of the First Friday Art Walk. We’ll be handing out free literature and selling hats (see image at right), stickers, patches, posters, pennants, books, and other items from the IWW Literature Department. See you there!

UPDATE: Tabling canceled due to rain, sorry!

Paul Boggs on Right-Wing Populism

by x365097

In the last five years, the U. S. mainstream has seen a sharp increase in right-wing populist activism, from the Ron Paul supporters of both the 2008 and 2012 election cycles to the Tea Party movement and beyond. While often calling themselves “libertarian,” a term which, in countries other than the U. S., tends to refer to IWW-style anti-capitalism, people caught up in this circuit have made calls for a total razing of the concessions won during the New Deal and Great Society reforms of the 1930s-1960s and a return to Social Darwinist, “law of the jungle” capitalism.

The claim is that such a program will somehow be beneficial to the average American, but on pages 129-130 of his 1986 book, Social Movements and Political Power, author Paul Boggs, a professor of political science at USC, eloquently lays bare the implications of the demands of movements like these with the following critique:

The sharpening institutional, economic, and cultural crisis of American society has given rise, since the 1960s, to resurgent populist movements on both the right and the left. These movements and the organizations they have spawned reflect an erosion of the Keynesian welfare-state consensus that has shaped two-party politics since the 1930s. Set in motion by the fiscal crisis and bureaucratization of the state, the two populist revolts share an anti-statist, decentralizing vision with deep roots in U. S. history. Both legitimate their goals through appeals to democracy [although this is increasingly less the case on the right in 2012], the community, self-help, and the everyday concerns of the common person, and both envision gradual but militant struggles to restore civic participation against the encroachment of powerful interests. Further, both offer solutions to the present crisis that contain a strong moral as well as economic and political thrust. The right-wing populists, who helped catapult Ronald Reagan into the presidency, urge a return to the mythic free-enterprise economy, with its glorification of unfettered individualism, self-regulating market forces, and private incentives, and to traditional values embodied in an old-fashioned work ethic, the neighborhood, religion, patriarchal sex roles, and patriotism. […]

In terms of any real democratizing potential, it is difficult to take rightist populism very seriously. Beneath its antibureaucratic rhetoric lies an elitist and corporatist project designed to strengthen multinational corporations, the military, and the authoritarian state. Poorly camouflaged by symbols of traditional morality, self-reliance, and “supply-side” economics, the corporatist “solution” is little more than a cover for policies beneficial to the affluent and powerful and cynically brutal to workers, the poor, minorities, and the vast majority of women. It follows that Reaganism could not for long reconcile the rationalizing imperatives of capital accumulation with a populist legitimation urging a return to early capitalist principles, or laissez-faire myths, appropriate to the frontier. Something had to yield — in this case, the new-right ideology of a free-market economy already suffocated by the requirements of both monopoly and governmental expansion. Still, the ideological success of a right-wing populism that has strong appeal among blue-collar workers, urban ethnic groups, Christian fundamentalists, and small proprietors has been impressive.

The broad diffusion of populist sentiment, even where its ideological content remains highly variable and unpredictable, signifies a fundamental shift of American social and political forces that was well under way before the 1980s. If the right wing (and the Republican party) appears to be the main beneficiary in the short run, the direction of change could be altered in the long run to the degree that space for leftist mobilization is extended.

Working people, although the “traditional American values” you’ve likely been handed during your socialization in the U. S. may cause you to veer for some time towards the flag-draped right-libertarians and their hard-money “hearts of gold,” the Austrian economics they frequently promote does not and cannot resolve the fundamental contradiction within capitalism: the exploitation of labor through the employment relationship. Rather, its adherents will try to convince you that workers’ sale of labor to capitalists for wages is a voluntary and mutually beneficial arrangement.

Wage labor might beat starving to death, but it certainly isn’t equally beneficial to both parties, coming to the table as we do with dramatically uneven bargaining power. Having entered into this relationship, the worker, when all is said and done, loses control of the products of her or his labor and receives wages in return, while the capitalist retains full control over how the surplus is distributed. Most of it usually goes right into her or his own pockets, while we workers struggle to meet our basic needs, often going into debt just to try to do so (as we then enjoy the privilege of paying interest to the for-profit loan masters). No matter how “personally responsible” we are with our finances, our standard of living as a class steadily continues to drop right alongside our level of organization as workers.

Is there truly no possible improvement to this system, which grants the capitalists, through their monopoly on decision-making productive authority, the ability to steer humanity and the rest of the natural world to an uncertain tomorrow? Is capitalism, a system which, on the other hand, promises hardship and insecurity to the all-producing worker, really the end of history, or can the working class organize, seize control of the means of production, and institute a cooperative, planned economy in which human need is satisfied and creativity increased exponentially?

The IWW offers a proven path toward this revolutionary possibility, and the change will start to happen as soon as you put your mind to it to do so. Why let the capitalists continue to hoard the wealth that you and your fellow workers have created? Every day that approaches is another opportunity to organize with the IWW’s support.