In last week's Anti-Capitalist Meet-Up, northsylvania described a wonderful example of non-alienated labor among a community in Britain whose citizens join together freely into neighborhood clubs to create extensive Guy Fawkes Day celebrations, expending hundreds of hours throughout the year in building parade carts for the festival to raise money for local charities. Democratic decision making rules in these endeavors, and the participants derive great personal satisfaction from their communal creations.
This principal of "freely associated labor" is fundamental to Karl Marx's vision for the truly human, organization of an economic system which liberates all individuals to be able to not only meet their basic survival needs but develop all their talents and skills.
Freely-Associated Labor Made Real.
"Freely associated labor" has been made a reality by the workers at the Grafitos factory in eastern Venezuela. Here's their story.
When, in 2009, the private owners of the Grafitos factory in eastern Venezuela refused to bargain with its workers' union and threatened to remove the machinery from the factory and close it, the union members physically occupied the plant, stopped the removal of the machinery and won official permission from the Venezuelan government to re-open and run it themselves.
Now the plant, which supplies materials to the large nationalized Sidor Steel factory, is being run by its workers, to the economic and social benefit of themselves, their local community and the larger movement in Venezuela towards a human, egalitarian and socialist economic democracy.
Ewan Robertson, writing in "Revolutionary Democracy in the Economy? Venezuela’s Worker Control Movement and the Plan Socialist Guayana" published by www.venezuelanalysis, reports that:
"A workers council was installed, which from September 2010 debated how to organize the workers’ control of the factory. Escalon and the other workers described to me how at first they had been unprepared for self-management. One of the mistakes that had been made was the attempt to make every decision in a factory assembly with all the workers, which is the “sovereign” decision making body at Grafitos. This proved inefficient and “wore out” workers, with Escalon emphasising that “holding an assembly to agree to buy a screw, no, that’s falling into the abyss”. Yet, in the process of debating and trying different models “we learnt as we went along”
Equal Pay and Equal Opportunity for Job Duties, Profits Shared.
The key decisions are made in the assembly, and every worker has a voice and a vote. Cited examples of decisions taken include making an investment into buying a bus to provide transport for the workers, and agreeing on costs upon which the graphite parts the factory produces will be sold to the nationalised Sidor steel plant, Grafitos’ main client. “It’s to say that here, nothing is done without the workers, all the workers have a minimum or maximum level of participation,” explained one of the committee members, Cesar Barreto. Also, every worker is paid the same (before, the factory boss earned 15 times that of a worker), from the “president” to the cleaner, and workers can change positions if they wish, helping to overcome the division between manual and intellectual labour.
New Sense of Fellowship and Cooperation Among Workers.
Yet more than just material benefits, there have been value-based gains and an increase in the quality of the working environment, including a growing sense that the workers are part of a common project linked to the wider industries of the region. “We no longer come just to sell our labour power for eight hours. We’re part of a hub that boosts the production of the basic industries [of Guayana]…we have raised consciousness, and gained a sense of belonging,” said Escalon. Cesar Barreto conveyed how the relationship between workers had changed, saying “before there was persecution by the boss. Now there is freedom. The sense of fellowship, in comparison with other companies, has been strengthened”. To illustrate their point the workers gave me the example of when one of their colleagues suffered an accident in
November 2011. All workers gave two days salary to help him with his recovery, a gesture “from the heart,” as one worker present put it. In the opinion of Barreto “this solidarity and comradeship that’s been constructing itself is really valuable and important” for working life in the factory.
Without Democracy in the Work Place, No Democracy At All.
A last question I had for the workers regarded their views on whether it was possible to have a democratic society without democracy in the economy. Cesar Barreto offered to answer, stating:
"I think that historically in our countries we’ve been sold a false idea of democracy, a democracy where the minority take the economic decisions that affect the great majority. I believe that socialism comes to democratise the economy, that is to say, where everyone is involved in decision making over resources, of the state and its institutions: not continuing to be managed by a minority that takes advantage of the resources produced by the majority. Right now we see in Spain, in Europe, resentment in society against the cases of “democracy” that exist there. Here in Venezuela we’re making an important effort to substitute these relations, the old democracy, with a much more democratic system: so that the decisions are transmitted above from below,
not imposed downward from above. I think this is the key to truly begin to change things”.
Marx's Dialectic At Work.
This story exemplifies, not only Marx's vision of "freely associated labor', but its development from an abstract idea to a living reality through the dialectic movement.
Had the private owners of the Grafito factory not refused to bargain with their workers, the workers would not have been impelled to fight for their rights. Had the private owners not threatened to remove the machinery from the factory and close it, the workers would likely not have occupied the factory. It is equally likely that in the process of occupying the factory, the workers had many debates with each other about the best course of action to take to preserve their jobs, out of which came the idea to organize themselves to actually run the plant and keep it open.
Today, the Grafito workers have made their ideas into reality. Let us hope that the power of this idea will take currency throughout the world so that we can build a new economic system which truly liberates all human beings from the tyranny of capitalist production and its devastating alienation of individuals from their own humanity.