Radically changing the world of work: Different political movements and a common programme

“Anti-capitalist struggles must unite, and define a common programme to follow through as a united front among different movements from different countries, thus it must also have a transnational character to fight the transnational capitalist elite.” João Hermeto gives his thoughts on the future of the work on the back of the ‘Lavoro Se’ event that DiEM25 hosted in Milan. 

On June 21, 2022, DiEM25 hosted an event in Milan, Italy. The theme of the gathering was: ‘Work if…: Our proposals to radically change the world of work’ (Lavoro se… Le nostre proposte per cambiare radicalmente il mondo del lavoro). The two words ‘Work’ and ‘If’ reveal not only that the question of labour is central but also that one should not regard offering his or her labour in an unconditioned fashion to the capitalist class.

Among the speakers, some associates from the following organisations were present: Fridays for Future, Laudato Sì, Rete dei Numeri Pari, UDU, and DiEM25. I want to provide the reader with my perspective from tonight both as a viewer and a member of DiEM25.

From my perspective, the event presented two main lines of thought that we can reflect upon and learn from – a contemporary form of promoting social change and a classical one.

The contemporary form hoped that the COVID-19 pandemic would enable some conscious reflections about the many existing problems in society and, that with such a gain of awareness, some changes would hopefully come about. In reality, what we saw was a very different picture, the augmentation of the precarity of the many, on the one hand, and further enrichment and broader privilege of the few, on the other. How come this caught off guard those promoting social change under the contemporary form?

Additionally, some demands have also been advocated – namely, the need to reduce labour hours while simultaneously increasing salaries, or even guaranteeing them by the means of a universal basic income. Not only that, but the reversal of steeling back from machines the work that they have stolen from the labour class. How radical are these claims?

On a very positive note, the contemporary form presented a great diagnosis of social exploitation and the unsustainable use of natural resources and, accordingly, that we must put an end to these perils.

The extent of these problems portrays a quite realistic view of our reality and the existing social decay in Europe. The lack of illusion in these diagnoses is very important if one wants to try to create feasible solutions for social transformation. Solutions, moreover, start with another crucial aspect of the event: people were physically present, exchanging thoughts and critiques, this means, they are organising and debating ideas. It is time to leave the defence and go into the offence.

Yet, while the diagnosis seems correct, the contemporary form seems to fall into a trap, when deciding how to combat capitalist threats. The reason why, to some, it was a surprise that the immediate aftermath of COVID-19 did not bring about positive changes is the same reason why mild reformist measures now could appear revolutionary. The past is being projected into the future while the essence of capitalist social relations is not being fully realised.

When a tractor is introduced and thus replaces many manual workers, or when any great development in production takes place promoting a similar outcome, then the production of life becomes more social. Labour becomes more specialised. Thus individual isolated labour loses social meaning. Individual labour becomes more attached to social production, for its role is only a small and isolated part of a totality. Furthermore, science, which is by definition a social development, production integrates more deeply, thus making the whole process of production even more social.

This means that labour, as it was previously known, disappears, and people can potentially work much less with much greater output. As exchange value decreases so does the importance of money. With abundance, markets become obsolete since they only come to play when scarcity exists. The conflict arises, however, by the fact that history has granted a small class the privilege to control this whole process of production, and distribution. While the private property of the means of production helped to bring labour together during early capitalism, its development also fostered the socialisation of production, making the very private ownership of the means of production an obstacle to the further development of production and a social problem.

Thus, the classic form of promoting social change understands that neither the machine nor the reduction of labour represents the problem. Instead, property social relations that enable the private property of the means of production are.

Wanting to go back to the past and introducing palliative measures does not meet the necessary conditions for the working class to face the continuous challenges posed by the capitalist class struggle. Instead, the romanticisation of the past and analgesic measures gives the impression of capitulation. If the labour class wants to succeed, it cannot afford to fetishize labour; it also cannot idealise the state, which is by definition a tool controlled by the elite. Further, it must understand the class conflict between the capitalist class and those who do not own the means of production, the so-called working class.

In this sense, the notion of factories without owners, or working cooperatives, can help to point out the direction for new property social relations. However, one must not forget the great power that the capitalist monopolies still hold. Thus, the fight cannot be simply economic, where isolated companies can abandon the exploitative structure and become economic democracies (working co-ops), the main stage of the struggle for social change lies at the political level. Only when the working class fights as a class instead of isolated and separated units can it face the challenges posed by the capitalist class.

The contemporary fight is being crushed, hence, we must learn from the classic form of social struggle. But contrary to the classic form, we cannot afford to create divisions among our groups – the struggle cannot be monopolised by one organisation at the expense of others. Anti-capitalist struggles must unite, and define a common programme to follow through as a united front among different movements from different countries, thus it must also have a transnational character to fight the transnational capitalist elite.

Live in Italy? Visit lavoro-se.it/ and join us in taking a few, simple online actions to protect labour rights in the country.

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