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News ::
notes on the general strike in spain
21 Jun 2002
Modified: 06:18:57 PM
personal reflections on the june 20th general strike in spain

General Strike. Imagine! At midnight last night, in every modestly-working-class neighborhood in the country picket lines closing the few bars and shops that remained open. and picket lines camped out in the industrial zones and in the bus lots and in the train lots and at the airports to ensure that at dawn no factories would ignite, no buses would pull out of the lots, no trains or planes would move. almost every single rural worker in andalusia simply staying home.
the radio says everything is normal and that -- never fear! -- the police have guaranteed order but: look! step out the door and the street is empty, there are no trucks delivering, there are no buses, the intimidated employees of big stores open and then are shut down by neighborhood pickets. the cotidian is interrupted. today is different.

many go to work. we spent all day today interviewing women: housewives, domestic workers, shop girls, waitresses, prostitutes, artists, small-businesswomen etc. women who were and who were not participating in the strike about how those of us who do not fit into the classic masculine fordist image of the worker and the union -- because our work is part-time or precarious or immaterial or reproductive or affective or illegal -- how we live the situation of a general strike.
there is so much fear. so much isolation and fear, so little capacity see present reality as an accumulation of history and not as simply 'the way things are.' daily lives spent in fear are revealed by shopgirls who confess thier terror of walking out as soon as the manager turns his back.

but the genius of a strike is that -- whereas in so many other things one can sit comfortably on the democratic fence -- in a stike there is no middle ground. you are working or you are not. it is a moment of crystalization, decision, risk. the leap of faith that if you walk out you will not be alone. the challenge of being able to imagine a community, imagine a multitude to which your risk is relevant when daily life seldom affords any sense of such a community, especially in these post-factory days of decentralized and non-contracted work.

and it is a moment in which consumer-democracy's articulation of the 'individual vs. collective problem' is brought into crisis. the picket lines are closing bars. you are there having a drink and argue, 'its my choice. i respect your choice to be on strike, you should respect mine to not be.' (more often than not this sort of argumentation is accompanied by a reference to that panacea-word 'democracy': i.e. 'thats how democracy works') but there is a point at which the i'm-ok-youre-ok equality ideology doesn't work. first of all, your individual choice fucks up a big project that a whole lot of people are trying to move. their big project simply is more important than your drink. second, it is a strike, a day in which the cotidian is explicitly politicized, like it or not; you don't have a drink in a bar (or go to work, or join the skinheads) 'because you feel like it.' and let us not be naive with respect to intimidation. it is not like everyone does exactly what they feel like and therefore reality reflects a democratic consensus of the greatest good. people are constantly intimidated into obeying and into conforming in all manner of systems: work, family, state. some counterintimidation seems justified.
and, moreover, the strikers are right and the strikebreakers are wrong, and its not a matter of miscommunication, its simply and frankly a matter of difference. a tough nut for those of us raised on friendly relativism and deeply appalled by the rather maoist sound of this. but i challenge you to come to a different conclusion.

which leads to the questions (infinate) about tactics, about violence, about the possibilities and limits of dialog. none of which is merely abstract because there we are, in the street, feeling the strength of ourselves, debating our own ethics and tactics, inventing new ones on the spot.

i still have no idea to what extent the strike stopped the country. the national radio and tv, controlled almost entirely by the ruling PP, say that tout va bien and that the strike was a nothing thing, but from all over the country the independent media wires are hot with reports to the contrary. whether anyone at a decision-making level gives a shit is another question entirely: this fall 90% of professors and students walked out of the universties and they passed the education reform law anyway.

what i do know is that it was thrilling. the streets ours, the city a carnival of pickets and picnics, no one at work except the police, multiple demonstrations of hundreds of thousands in various parts of the city. old folks dumping buckets of water from balconies onto sun-baked demonstrators, groups of migrants without papers cheering and banging pots and pans from their balconies (out of reach of the police). bewildered tourists. and our little tribe of tough girls, so smart, so wild, there singing our (very clever) songs to the astonishment and delight of the (otherwise rather uncreative) crowds.
a very different thing from these massive global resistance demonstrations (Sevilla, tomorrow) simply because it is the city we live in, and because it is a strike.

anyway. some reflections, far from complete, on a very full, very singular day. its not all the time one experiences a general strike. news and photos (poor ones, alas) available in spanish on
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on unionism and stirkes
21 Jun 2002
in response to these reflections, a friend wrote:

. . . for this reason
i have to continue to disagree with christina's
professed opinions on spanish unionism (about which,
incidentally, i asked a puertorican cowroker of mine
in new york who had applied for jobs with unions in
spain and who insisted that yes, indeed, even spanish
unions negotiate contracts that govern particular
workplaces and set legally enforceable rules in the
interests of wage-earners, though i must admit i still
don't know the details and am interested in at what
point a mutual confusion of such could have arisen).
. . .and what about extra-masculinist-fordist
economic production? an interesting question no doubt.
i don't know. but one thing i think is that whatever
one says about it, it doesn't undermine the
significance of power relations that do structure more
'conventional' production with its undeniable
importance in the daily lives of millions (i.e. the
significance of unionism, among other things), and
that to shy away from such questions, whether backed
up by rigorous poststructural sophistry or not, is,
well, the prerogative of what one less judicious than
i might call the petty-bourgeois intellectual (though
i must admit, i *hate* label-slapping ad hominem
bullshit such as this, and wish i could express the
point more fairly). anyway, the last thing i wanted to
do was to go on an ideological rant (aren't those days
behind us, one might hope?) all of which means, of
course, not that i think people should ignore the
issue of unremunerated work, black market work, etc.,
but that i am waiting to hear what anyone has to *say*
about it that gets to the point, i.e. what is to be
done? adam, incidentally, was on some kick about
autonomism which i (perhaps unsurprisingly) did not
fully understand from what he was telling me, but
which seemed to involve a lot of 'making work not the
central thing in life' and doing little about the
degree to which it would remain so, at least for most
people, regardless. . .
response: work now
21 Jun 2002
to which i replied:

i would take up the point of autonomist, petty bourgeous (sic), post-unionist complaints. for all my delight in the general strike and all that i recognize that without the massive organizing power of the unions it would be impossible to pull off, and for all i recognize that yes, the unions do, to a certain (limited) degree serve as a means of generating power for a substantial block of the population, i would emphasize that:
- every year a smaller portion of the population works in the kind of work to which union structures are relevant
- correspondingly, a larger portion of the population, including key groups like women, youth, migrants and intellectuals, work in precarious, non-contracted, decentralized or immaterial work. or don't 'work' at all, in the remunerated sense, but who's going to tell me that the housewife or the shopper are not contributing to the production of value?

this is not by accident. the cycles of antagonism go round and round, and capitalism learns, transforms. looking, for example, at inditex, the spanish textile giant (zara, pull&bear, stradivarius) we see that their astonishing success in the last several years has been entirely based on their crafty decentralization and precarization of all productive work (no factories, all at-home workshops) and their massive deployment of totally precarious work in consumer-surveying. not to mention the animating, immaterial labor of creating the compelling imaginary which drives millions of shoppers (consumption-workers) to starve themselves (self-discipline-workers) in order to squeeze into Zara's never-more-than-size-10 garments. this is all work. and in textile, that classic unionized-factory sector! remember the Lowell mill girls! the unions don't recognize any of it, and inditex prospers.
(more on inditex/Zara forthcoming on

so the players transform, and though the unionized industries remain important, it is perhaps doubly important to be thinking a couple of steps ahead. (antagonism proposes and capitalism runs to catch up! NOT the other way around! one must insist.) the horizon is work which is not separated from life. just as the factory was a space of social discipline and creation of citizen-subjectivity in one moment, the miasma of deregulated immaterial and self-disciplinary work has become the new terrain, most evidently here in the 'first world,' but far from exclusively. in other areas the fordist-unionist worker subjectivity was never particularly widespread, and affective decentralized work or 'unemployment' more to the point all along, as is is also the case of women and, in many countries, ethnic minorities in the first world. keep in mind that the problem of the picateros in argentina, for example, was not that anyone wanted to ‘exploit’ them as workers but quite the contrary: they wanted to make them disappear. they were, in terms of production, irrelevant. which is why the cutting off of highways was such a brilliant tactic. the ‘lumpen’ population is massive and ever growing. the question is not exploition nearly so much as exclusion: of collectives as diverse as laid-off workers, large portions of the female and black-american population, almost all of africa. . .

it is difficult to articulate a revindication of 'workers' rights in this context, but we rise to the task.
this is the project of the autonomist movement and of the social centers, in its own little way, in its own little corner of the world.

risky, the possibility of being a 'vanguard so far ahead no one can follow it,' (as scdt.marcos says) but worse yet dozing on the job.

so what? free money! why not? a shout of disgust at the misery and fear of daily life. a creation of joy and potency erupting out of the dreariness of privatized public space. breaking this agonizing interiorization of a work-ethic by which you are what you 'do' (ie get paid for) and the market determines all value. and more. the image (oh my heart!) of us singing our precarious, audacious story there amid the stolid union masses.

and later:

i just went downstairs to buy bread and the newspaper. in the news kiosk, three of the four nationally distributed papers (the same ones that came out yesterday, the same ones that are quite overtly controlled by the PP and OpusDei) cheerfully announce the total failure of the strike, and cite a 13% participation before moving on to more pressing issues like football.
El Pais however reports 84% participation, the total shut-down of major industries and transportation, 2 million in the street.

At 8am yesterday a minister had already announced the failure of the strike and broadcast it on all national radio and tv. what better way to guarantee that whoever was doubting hurry up and get to work?

this is the real battle. like so many things, the total transformation of the country for a day can be made to simply disappear. even those who experienced it can be made to doubt or discount their experience. and so we plod along, convinced that 'there is no alternative,' each affirmed in her solitude.
how miserable, how miserable.

they will make this day disappear and then they will pass the new labor law, effectively eliminating unemployment salaries, making firing cheap and contracts non-obligatory.

and then they will go to the european summit in seville and they will pass a european accord to augment police powers against migrants without papers and punish the countries who do not cooperate in supplying a cheap labor force to europe in the manner and to the extent to which europe decides.
among other things.

and there we will be, hundreds of thousands, strong and intelligent and different. and we will be invisible.

what is to be done?
Why Work?
21 Jun 2002
Why Work?

No one should ever work.

Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

That doesn’t mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a ludic revolution. By “play” I mean also festivity, creativity, conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child’s play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance.

Play isn’t passive. Doubtless we all need a lot more time for sheer sloth and slack than we ever enjoy now, regardless of income or occupation, but once recovered from employment-induced exhaustion, nearly all of us want to act.

Curiously — or maybe not — all the old ideologies are conservative because they believe in work. Liberals say we should end employment discrimination. I say we should end employment. Conservatives support right-to-work laws. I support the right to be lazy. Leftists favor full employment. Like the surrealists — except that I’m not kidding — I favor full unemployment. Trotskyists agitate for permanent revolution. I agitate for permanent revelry.

You may be wondering if I’m joking or serious. I’m joking and serious.

My minimum definition of work is forced labor. Work is production enforced by economic or political means. But not all creation is work. Work is never done for its own sake; it’s done on account of some product or output that the worker (or, more often, somebody else) gets out of it.

Usually — and this is even more true in “communist” than capitalist countries, — work is wage-labor, which means selling yourself on the installment plan. Thus 95 percent of Americans who work, work for somebody (or something) else.

Only the embattled Third World — Mexico, India, Brazil, Turkey — temporarily shelters significant concentrations of agriculturists who perpetuate the traditional arrangement of most laborers in the last several millennia, the payment of taxes (i.e., ransom) to the state or rent to parasitic landlords in return for being otherwise left alone. Even this raw deal is beginning to look good.

But modern work has worse implications. People don’t just work, they have “jobs.” One person does one productive task all the time on an or-else basis. A “job” that might engage the energies of some people, for a reasonably limited time, for the fun of it, is just a burden on those who have to do it for 40 hours a week with no say in how it should be done, for the profit of owners who contribute nothing to the project, and with no opportunity for sharing tasks or spreading the work among those who actually have to do it.

Work makes a mockery of freedom. The official line is that we all have rights and live in a democracy. But there is more freedom in any moderately de-Stalinized dictatorship than there is in the ordinary American workplace. A worker is a part-time slave.

The boss says when to show up, when to leave, and what to do in the meantime. He tells you how much work to do and how fast. He is free to carry his control to humiliating extremes, regulating, if he feels like it, the clothes you wear or how often you go to the bathroom. With a few exceptions, he can fire you for any reason, or no reason.

You find the same sort of hierarchy and discipline in an office or factory as you do in a prison or a monastery. In fact, as Foucault and others have shown, prisons and factories came in at about the same time, and their operators consciously borrowed from each other’s control techniques.

The demeaning system of domination I’ve described rules over half the waking hours of a majority of women and the vast majority of men for most of their lifespans.

You are what you do

If you do boring, stupid, monotonous work, chances are you’ll end up boring, stupid, and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home in the end, are habituated to hierarchy and psychologically enslaved.

Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias. Their obedience training at work carries over into the families they start, thus reproducing the system in more ways than one, and into politics, culture and everything else. Once you drain the vitality from people at work, they’ll likely submit to hierarchy and expertise in everything. They’re used to it.

Play is just the opposite. Play is always voluntary. What might otherwise be play is work if it’s forced.

Playing and giving are closely related; they share an aristocratic disdain for results. The player gets something out of playing; that’s why he plays. But the core reward is the experience of the activity itself (whatever it is).

There are many good games (chess, baseball, Monopoly, bridge) that are rule-governed but there is much more to play than game-playing. Conversation, sex, dancing, travel — these practices aren’t rule-governed but they are surely play if anything is. And rules can be played with at least as readily as anything else.

Let’s pretend for a moment that work doesn’t turn people into stultified submissives. Let’s pretend, in defiance of any plausible psychology and the ideology of its boosters, that it has no effect on the formation of character. And let’s pretend that work isn’t as boring and tiring and humiliating as we all know it really is. Even then, work would still make a mockery of all humanistic and democratic aspirations, just because it usurps so much of our time.

Socrates said that manual laborers make bad friends and bad citizens because they have no time to fulfill the responsibilities of friendship and citizenship. He was right. Because of work, no matter what we do, we keep looking at our watches. The only thing “free” about so-called free time is that it doesn’t cost the boss anything.

Free time is mostly devoted to getting ready for work, going to work, returning from work, and recovering from work. Free time is a euphemism for the peculiar way labor, as a factor of production, not only transports itself at its own expense to and from the workplace but assumes primary responsibility for its own maintenance and repair. Coal and steel don’t do that. Lathes and typewriters don’t do that. No wonder Edward G. Robinson in one of his gangster movies exclaimed, “Work is for saps!”

The Kapauku of West Irian have a conception of balance in life and accordingly work only every other day, the day of rest designed “to regain the lost power and health.”

Our ancestors, even as late as the 18th century, took a long time in submitting to the tyranny of the bell, predecessor of the time clock. In fact it was necessary for a generation or two to replace adult males with women accustomed to obedience and children who could be molded to fit industrial needs.

Even the exploited peasants of the ancien regime wrested substantial time back from their landlords’ work. According to Lafargue, a fourth of the French peasants’ calendar was devoted to Sundays and holidays, and Chayanov’s figures from villages in Czarist Russia — hardly a progressive society — likewise show a fourth or fifth of peasants’ days devoted to repose.

Controlling for productivity, we are obviously far behind these backward societies. The exploited muzhiks would wonder why any of us are working at all. So should we.

To grasp the full enormity of our deterioration, however, consider the earliest condition of humanity. The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins surveyed the data on contemporary hunter-gatherers in an article entitled “The Original Affluent Society.”

Sahlins concluded that “hunters and gatherers work less than we do; and, rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society.”

They worked an average of four hours a day, assuming they were “working” at all. Their “labor,” as it appears to us, was skilled labor that exercised their physical and intellectual capacities; unskilled labor on any large scale, as Sahlins says, is impossible except under industrialism.

If these objections to work, informed by the love of liberty, fail to persuade, there are others that we cannot disregard. Work is hazardous to our health. In fact, work is mass murder. More than 6,000 workers are killed annually in this country on the job; over two million are injured on the job every year.

How to abolish work

What I’ve said so far ought not to be controversial. Many workers are fed up with work. There are high and rising rates of absenteeism, turnover, employee theft and sabotage, wildcat strikes, and overall goldbricking on the job. There may be some movement toward a conscious and not just visceral rejection of work. And yet the prevalent feeling, universal among bosses and their agents and also widespread among workers themselves, is that work itself is inevitable and necessary.

I disagree. It is now possible to abolish work and replace it, insofar as it serves useful purposes, with a multitude of new kinds of free activities. To abolish work requires going at it from two directions, quantitative and qualitative. On the one hand, on the quantitative side, we have to cut down massively on the amount of work being done. At present most work is useless or worse and we should simply get rid of it.

On the other hand — and I think this is the crux of the matter and the revolutionary new departure — we have to take what useful work remains and transform it into a pleasing variety of game-like and craft-like pastimes, indistinguishable from other pleasurable pastimes except that they happen to yield useful end-products. Surely that wouldn’t make them less enticing to do. Then all the artificial barriers of power and property could come down. Creation could become recreation. And we could all stop being afraid of each other.

Twenty years ago, Paul and Percival Goodman estimated that just 5 percent of the work then being done would satisfy our minimal needs for food, clothing, and shelter. Theirs was only an educated guess but the main point is quite clear: directly or indirectly, most work serves the unproductive purposes of commerce or social control.

Right off the bat we can liberate tens of millions of salesmen, soldiers, managers, cops, stockbrokers, clergymen, bankers, lawyers, teachers, landlords, security guards, ad-men, and everyone who works for them. There is a snowball effect: every time you idle some bigshot, you liberate his flunkies and underlings also. Thus the economy implodes.

Forty percent of the workforce are white-collar workers, most of whom have some of the most tedious and idiotic jobs ever concocted. Entire industries, insurance and banking and real estate for instance, consist of nothing but useless paper-shuffling.

Next we can take a meat-cleaver to production work itself. No more war production, nuclear power, junk food, feminine hygiene deodorant — and above all, no more auto industry to speak of. Already, without even trying, we’ve virtually solved the energy crisis, the environmental crisis, and assorted other insoluble social problems.

Finally, we must do away with far and away the largest occupation, the one with the longest hours, the lowest pay and some of the most tedious tasks. I refer to housewives doing housework and child-rearing. By abolishing wage-labor and achieving full unemployment, we undermine the sexual division of labor.

Bound up with this no-nukes strategy is the abolition of childhood and the closing of the schools. We need children as teachers, not students. They have a lot to contribute to the ludic revolution because they’re better at playing than grown-ups are. Adults and children are not identical, but they will become equal through interdependence. Only play can bridge the generation gap.

I haven’t as yet even mentioned the possibility of cutting way down on the little work that remains by automating and cybernizing it. All the scientists and engineers and technicians freed from bothering with war research and planned obsolescence should have a good time devising means to eliminate fatigue and tedium and danger from activities like mining.

There is, I think, a place for labor-saving technology, but a modest place. The historical and pre-historical record is not encouraging. When productive technology went from hunting-gathering to agriculture and on to industry, work increased while skills and self-determination diminished. The further evolution of industrialism has accentuated the degradation of work.

Intelligent observers have always been aware of this. John Stuart Mill wrote that all the labor-saving inventions ever devised haven’t saved a moment’s labor. The enthusiastic technophiles — Saint-Simon, Comte, Lenin, B. F. Skinner — have always been unabashed authoritarians also.

We should be more than skeptical about the promises of the computer mystics. They work like dogs; chances are, if they have their way, so will the rest of us. But if they have any particularized contributions more readily subordinated to human purposes than the run of high tech, let’s give them a hearing.

Just play

What I really want to see is work turned into play. A first step is to discard the notions of a “job” and an
“occupation.” Even activities that already have some ludic content lose most of it by being reduced to jobs that certain people, and only those people, are forced to do to the exclusion of all else.

Is it not odd that farm workers toil painfully in the fields while their air-conditioned masters go home every weekend and putter about in their gardens? Under a system of permanent revelry, we will witness the Golden Age of the dilettante. There won’t be any more jobs, just things to do and people to do them.

The secret of turning work into play, as Charles Fourier demonstrated, is to arrange useful activities to take advantage of whatever it is that various people at various times enjoy doing.

To make it possible for some people to do the things they could enjoy, it will be enough just to eradicate the irrationalities and distortions that afflict these activities when they are reduced to work. I, for instance, would enjoy doing some (not too much) teaching, but I don’t want coerced students and I don’t care to suck up to pathetic pedants for tenure.

Second, there are some things that people like to do from time to time, but not for too long, and certainly not all the time. You might enjoy babysitting for a few hours in order to share the company of kids, but not as much as their parents do.

The parents, meanwhile, profoundly appreciate the time to themselves that you free up for them, but they get fretful if parted from their progeny for too long. These differences among individuals are what make a life of free play possible. The same principle applies to many other areas of activity, especially the primal ones. Thus many people enjoy cooking when they can practice it seriously at their leisure, but not when they’re just fueling human bodies for work.

Third, other things being equal, some things that are unsatisfying if done by yourself or in unpleasant surroundings or at the orders of an overlord are enjoyable, at least for a while, if these circumstances are changed. This is probably true, to some extent, of all work. People deploy their otherwise wasted ingenuity to make a game of the least inviting drudge-jobs as best they can.

To some extent we may want to return to handicrafts. It’s a sobering thought that the Grecian urns we write odes about and showcase in museums were used in their own time to store oil. Art should be abolished as a specialized department catering to an elite audience, and its qualities of beauty and creation restored to the integral life from which they were stolen by work.

The reinvention of daily life means marching off the edge of our maps, so the abolitionists will be largely on their own. No one can say what would result from unleashing the creative power stultified by work. Anything can happen.

Life will become a game, or rather many games, but not — as it is now — a zero/sum game. An optimal sexual encounter is the paradigm of productive play. The participants potentiate each other’s pleasures, nobody keeps score, and everybody wins.

The more you give, the more you get. In the ludic life, the best of sex will diffuse into the better part of daily life. Generalized play leads to the libidinization of life. Sex, in turn, can become less urgent and desperate, more playful. If we play our cards right, we can all get more out of life than we put into it, but only if we play for keeps.

Workers of the world... RELAX!

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