Excerpts from “Work and the Free Society” by Anarchist Federation

Charlie Chaplin is gearing up for some anti-work!

I don’t necessarily agree with all of the points here but there’s plenty of food for thought here (and its largely anti-work though not necessarily my flavor of it) and the sections on how to resist work and the history of Taylorism, Fordism and McDonaldisation (a term I had forgotten about) and a few other things throughout as well.

From the intro:

Let’s face it, work as we know and loathe it today, sucks. Anybody who has worked for a wage or a salary will confirm that. Work, for the vast majority of us, is forced labour. And it feels like it too! Whether you’re working on a casual or temporary basis and suffer all the insecurity that involves or are ‘lucky’ enough to have a permanent position where job security tightens like a noose around your neck, it’s pretty much the same. Work offers it all: physical and nervous exhaustion, illness and, more often than not, mind-numbing boredom. You can add the feeling of being shafted for the benefit of someone else’s profit to the list.

Work eats up our lives. It dominates every aspect of our existence. When we’re not at the job we’re travelling to or from it, preparing or recovering from it, trying to forget about it or attempting to escape from it in what is laughably called our ‘leisure’ time. Work is a truly offensive four-letter word too horrifying to contemplate. We sacrifice the best part of our waking lives to work in order to survive in order to work. It’s a kind of drug, numbing us, clouding our minds with the wage packet and all the ‘benefits’ of consumerism it brings. Apart from the basic fact that if you don’t work and would rather not accept the pittance of state benefits you don’t eat, wage slaves are dragooned into ‘gainful employment’ by ideologies designed to persuade us of the personal and social necessity of ‘having a job’.

On religion and capitalism’s relation to work throughout history:

The ideas of the Reformation contained within them the source of our current problem. Work was divinely ordained but the reward of work, wealth and status, would set us free to perform God’s good works. Members of the ‘new’ religions, like Calvinism, dedicated themselves to working hard and accumulating wealth, mute witness to the favour God had bestowed upon them. This single-minded, methodical and disciplined ideology was highly useful to the emerging capitalist classes who were, in many countries, the religious classes as well. It also provided a theory of society that persuaded people that it was better to be ‘free’ (by which they meant a wage slave at the mercy of the master who needs labour) than the benighted serf of medieval times. As a result capitalism fundamentally changed the nature of work.

On Taylorism and Fordism:

Capital’s response, once it conceded that it could no longer absolutely exploit our living time, was to bring in technology so that the time it could get from us could be used more effectively. The scientific approach to analysing work and maximising productivity by controlling it was called ‘Taylorism’ and was one of the main shackles placed on workers (along with factory work, employment contracts and the conveyor belt). But Taylorism merely aroused fierce antagonism and resistance within the industrial working class, especially the powerful craft unions. In order to bypass these powerful obstacles to profit-making, new technology was introduced to increase the productivity of workers and replace craft working.

The greatest exponent of this trend was Henry Ford, who dramatically demonstrated the concept of relative surplus value by doing what at the time ­ the early 20th Century ­ was considered impossible. He paid workers 4 or 5 times the ‘going rate’ (actually the bare minimum that could be screwed from the bosses), yet still made a huge profit. By vastly increasing the production of relative surplus value through the use of the assembly line, coupled with FW Taylor’s ‘scientific management’ of the work process, he was able to vastly improve the productivity of his plants. This was a true [capitalist] revolution and its effects are still with us today.

On McDonaldisation:

McDonaldisation (the modern form of Taylorism, though management courses will not mention either word) is a system of producing goods and services in which the process is broken into its smallest part, systematically analysed, re-engineered to maximise profit and replicated in each and every working environment that produces those goods. Making things becomes a series of entirely independent, discrete, controllable actions, eliminating independent thought and creativity.

We become alienated from the process, required to perform a series of meaningless tasks. Such alienation from the work produces depression, anger, an unthinking and uncaring remoteness from other people.

And because I think it is good and important enough I will finish this post by quoting the Resistance in the Workplace in its entirety:


Here’s just some of the wonderfully inventive ways workers have found to defy the bosses and take back a little ­ in time, dignity and self-respect ­ that the bosses try to steal using the need for money to live.


Every industry is covered by a mass of rules, regulations and agreed working practices, many of them archaic. If applied strictly they can make production difficult if not impossible. Many of these rules exist in any case to protect management in the event of industrial accidents. They are quite prepared to close their eyes when these rules are broken in the interests of keeping production going. Even a modest overtime ban can be effective, if applied intelligently; it is particularly effective in industries with uneven work patterns. Here’s just one example of a work to rule in practice ­ an effective tactic with little chance the bosses can do anything about it except suffer: When, under nationalisation, strikes [on the French railways] were forbidden, their syndicalist fellow-workers urged the railmen to carry out the strict letter of the law… One law tells the engine driver to make sure of the safety of any bridge over which his train has to pass. If after personal examination, he is still doubtful, then he must consult the other members of the train crew. Of course trains run late! Another law for which French railwaymen developed a sudden passion related to the ticket collectors. All tickets had to be carefully examined on both sides. The law said nothing about city rush hours!


This is a very effective tactic where various industrial processes depend one upon the other and both supply and distribution are geared to continuous, steady rates of production, such as in the automotive or food packing industries. Here’s one example of a go-slow (which is an increasingly common tactic in the sweatshop factories of the developing world) from Fords at Dagenham, at the time one of the biggest car assemblers in the world: The company stated that the headliners had repeatedly refused to fit more than 13 heads in any one shift, saying that the management’s request was unreasonable. Yet “they had in fact fitted each headlining in less time than allowed, and spent the remainder of the time between jobs sitting down. They took so long over each car that they prevented other employees on the line from performing their operations thus causing congestion and frequently leading to the lines being stopped and sometimes other employees being sent home. Shop stewards however, supported by the convener, had always maintained on these occasions that the employees concerned were working normally and refused completely, in spite of numerous appeals, to persuade their members to remove restrictions”.


One of the serious problems facing militants in general and workers in the service industries in particular is that they can end up hurting the consumers (mostly fellow workers) more than the boss. This isolates them from the general mass of the population, which enables the authorities to whip up ‘public opinion’ against the strikers. One way round this problem is to consider techniques which selectively hurt the boss without affecting other workers – or better still are to the advantage of the public. The ‘good work’ strike is a general term which means that workers provide consumers with better service or products than the employer intended. One good side-effect of the good work strike is that it places the onus of stopping a service on the employer. Even if ‘good work’ leads to a lock-out of workers by the boss, service-users would still blame the employer rather than the worker. And lock-outs can be avoided by ‘wildcat’ good working: suddenly, without notice, and for limited periods – repeated at intervals until the bosses cave in. In New York City restaurant workers, after losing a strike, won some of their demands by heeding the advice of organisers to “pile up the plates, give ’em double helpings” and figure bills on the lower side. You can imagine similar situations in other industries, for instance postal workers behind a counter only accepting unstamped letters or people working checkouts refusing to work the tills. Here’s a final example: Lisbon bus and train workers gave free rides to all passengers. They were protesting because the British-owned Lisbon Tramways Company had not raised their wages. Today conductors and tram drivers arrived at work as usual, but the conductors did not pick up their money satchels. On the whole the public seems to be on the side of these take-no-fare strikers.


Sometimes telling people the simple truth about what goes on at work can put a lot of pressure on the boss. Consumer industries (restaurants, packing plants, hospitals and the like) are the most vulnerable. There is not a lot the bosses can do about ‘open mouth’ action other than improving conditions. There is nothing illegal about it, so the police cannot be called in. It also strikes at the fraudulent practices which business for profit is based on. Commerce today is founded on fraud. Capitalism’s standards of honesty demand that the worker lies to everybody except the boss. In the food industry workers, instead of striking, or when on strike, can expose the way food is prepared for sale. In restaurants, cooks can tell what kinds of food they are expected to cook, how stale foods are treated so they can be served up. Dishwashers can expose how ‘well’ dishes are washed. Construction and factory workers can alert newspapers and health and safety inspectors to the shoddy materials being used or cheating on safety regulations. Workers in public transport can tell of faulty engines, brakes, and repairs.


The sick-in is a way to strike without striking. The idea is to cripple your workplace by having all or most of the workforce call in sick on the same day or days. Unlike the formal walk-out, it can be used effectively by departments and work areas instead of the whole workplace, and because its usually informal can succeed even where no union exists to organise it. At certain times, just the hint of ‘flu doing the rounds’ and the likelihood of it spreading to important areas of work can work wonders with a stubborn boss or supervisor. Even workers contacting the personnel office to see how much sick time they have available can send a powerful message.


Sometimes the way to get what you want is to take it. This requires better and stronger organisation than any other direct action method but is also a powerful weapon in the worker’s arsenal. When workers decide that they are going to do what they want to do, instead of what the employers want them to do, there is not a lot the employers can do about it. There have been many examples of this taking place, from timber-felling in the USA, the heavy industries of Italy and South America and the automotive factories of USA, Britain and Europe. Here’s an example: A strong IWW Marine Transport Workers Union existed on trans-Atlantic shipping out of the port of Boston. One of the main grievances of the workers on these ships was the quality of the food served aboard ship. Acceptable menus were decided upon and published by the Union. The cooks and stewards, being good union members, refused to cook anything except what was on the menus – to the satisfaction of everyone except the bosses. But because work is often made up of a series of activities, involving different kinds of workers, it must be carefully co-ordinated and there must be high levels of solidarity between workers. This often requires there to be a strong union which can become just as much a ‘manager’ of shit work as it is the protector of liberated work.


Sit-Ins are relatively restricted and passive and are similar to ‘go-slows’ and ‘slow-downs’, only with a clear physical expression ­ people stop work and sit down. Occupations are more positive actions, actually to take over a plant and deny access to the management. The latter needs a high level of militancy and solidarity, as well as good rank-and-file organisation. Unity of purpose is essential for a successful Sit-In. While there is a fairly long record of sit-ins in Britain there have been few large-scale factory occupations such as are common in both France and Italy. Occupations require a high level of militancy and organisation on the part of the workers concerned. It is doomed if the factory remains isolated from the rest of organised labour, the working class and community generally but in the right conditions, it can be dynamite. What is needed is mass involvement. Workers should not be presented with a plan: an effective occupation must be preceded by departmental and mass meetings to plan the occupation, and lots of propaganda.


Workers and the work they do are a commodity, to be bought and sold like everything else. And in the marketplace, a low price often means shoddy goods. Why shouldn’t the same rule apply for workers? For low pay and bad working conditions, inefficient work. Working class sabotage is used more often than you would think. Although often used by frustrated individuals, it is most effective – like all direct action tactics – when all or most of the workers on a job are in on it. Here’s an example: When [the line] got over sixty, say, someone would just accidentally drop a bolt in the line and as soon as it worked its way round to the end, bang, the line would stop. Then there would be a delay and everybody would take their break. The same sort of thing goes on in every industry: neglecting to maintain or lubricate machinery at the correct intervals, punching buttons on complicated electronic gear in the wrong order, putting pieces in the wrong way, running machines at the wrong speeds or feeds, dropping foreign bodies in gear boxes, ‘technological indiscipline’: each industry and trade has its established practices, its own traditions.


Even the traditional unofficial walkout can be made much more effective than it normally is. The participation of the ordinary worker is often limited to attending the occasional mass meeting. They then stay at home, in isolation, watching the progress of their own dispute on the TV. Bosses have got wise to this tactic, and governments have begun to threaten unions with sequestration and deny hardship benefits to striking workers. Workers have responded with ‘guerilla’ strikes, involving different workers and without any fixed pattern minimise the cost of strikes to the workers yet maximise their disruptive effect. There is the chessboard strike, where every other department stops. The brushfire or articulated strike, which, over a period, rolls through every key section of a works. The pay-book strike, where every worker whose payroll number is odd goes on strike on certain days, with even numbers on strike on the other days. And strikes where blue-collar workers down tools in the morning but return after lunch, only to find that the white-collar workers and foremen are now out, making all work impossible thus achieving a full day’s stoppage for only half a day’s loss of pay.


One of the greatest unsung stories of the industrial working class is that of resistance at the point of production. Work is so unpleasant that it is not surprising it is resented. Informal resistance- in the form of piecework ceilings, agreements among workers as to what constitutes a fair day’s work and the refusal by workers to participate in their own exploitation – is what makes the difference between potential and actual production. Informal resistance and its effect on ‘productivity’, explains the steady and massive expansion of work-study, job evaluation, quality control, inspection, etc. Management also tries to solve this problem by introducing ‘workers participation’, to motivate their employees to identify with the interests of the company. In the long term all these measures will fail, as the basic problem, boring, unpleasant and often dangerous work, will not be removed.

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