I never understood the way the world worked until I had to work. It was scooping out frozen yoghurt in the middle of the night in the bowels of a giant casino for youth wages, that I felt a deep anger about the way things are. There’s something painful about doing something you deeply hate everyday because you have to. You feel trapped. And if I’m honest, I was one of the privileged few. I could still work to earn a wage, and I was studying so I could have a role with more autonomy and meaning.
Everyday many of us wake to a tyranny that has no end in sight. A dictatorship that controls our movements, tracks us to the second and shapes our thoughts. We devote our lives to this monster, so that we may go on surviving. Daily we sacrifice our values, our families and our communities. But the ruler wants more and more, and we have less and less to give up onto it. It is the dictatorship of the workplace. And it is the last bastion left that the long march of freedom has not yet comprehensively over run.
It is the dictatorship that hereto has been invisible but in its steady disappearance, more and more of us have begun to notice the beast in its absence. The declining rate of investment in real production across the developed world has left more of us outside of work. And more of us stuck in a forever shadow land of precarious semi-employment. The truth is though this tyranny needs the unemployed and the underemployed. If alone you challenge the hierarchy at work, chances are you will end up amongst the rank of the damned. No effective tyranny can operate effectively without an everyday reminder of the fate of those who don’t comply. Burning at the stake, imprisonment, torture, disappearance or banishment. The fate changes but the role remains eternal. Saints, sinners and the forever damned.
It does not have to be this way. Do we seriously think that the great mass of humanity needs a hierarchical and disciplinary structure to work to fulfill our needs and build a prosperous community? Workplace democracy is an idea whose time has come. To oppose it, is to oppose people in the service of the master tyrant that sits above all; profit. Every day in every sort of workplace and every sort of industry, there are already those who productively work away in truly democratic workplaces. You might not have noticed but 2012 is the UN Year of the Co-operative. From everyday people making brewing beer in Oregon to making industrial parts in Spain, more and more of us proving that we can work successfully without being wage-slaves.
Meanwhile there are some of our friends who may support the idea of workplace democracy in theory but tell us it’s entirely unrealistic. That deep systemic change is impossible or impractical. Such an argument only makes sense to those without a sense of history. Imagine that very same person telling the serfs that they should not revolt because feudalism will never change. In the affairs of humanity, change is the only constant. It’s highly unlikely that tomorrow we will wake up in a socialist paradise. But a few of us can still take our hands, our knowledge and our limited resources to build a new world. We can start in the hidden gaps, within the cracks in the wall.
On our deathbed many of us will regret wasting our lives in the service of a series of petty economic overlords; forever denying us the opportunity to build relationships or participate in a meaningful community. Well, if a regret is good enough to be a regret on our last day, it is good enough to be a regret today. Now is the only time that matters. Now is the only time we can grasp. Now is the time for change. We have to rise to power or we will be forever overpowered.
Check out the good people at Earthworker Cooperative. It’s a place we can make a start here and now in Australia.