Florence Johnston Collective Points of Unity
1. We understand that in our society, the current mode of production (capitalism) is defined by the necessity for a segment of the population to work for a wage in order to sustain itself. We also understand that the less our wages are, the more the bosses get.
2. In order to be able to work every day, we require a “production” process that happens outside of the workplace as well. We must be housed, fed, nursed, cared for, even loved. Some of these services are done by other wage workers, others we distribute amongst our families, friends, or simply do ourselves. We can call this process “social reproduction.” Our wage is supposed to pay for our social reproduction but it is never enough.
3. We also understand that because of this, there is constant pressure to make the daily maintenance of human life and capabilities–the reproduction of human beings–as simple, quick, and subsequently degraded as possible. In our society, the impetus is on getting workers to work at the cheapest possible cost, not people having long, healthy, and happy lives.
4. However, we are all still human beings who need to be fed,clothed, housed, taken care of when we are sick and when we are old, and regardless of whether or not we can work. We need people to do this kind of work, but in capitalist society this work has to be done as cheaply as possible. This means that those of us who do this kind of work are paid nothing or next to nothing, are forced to work quickly, for long hours (or not enough hours), and have a difficult time doing what we need to do.
5. Social reproduction is not merely for wage laborers. Many of our society’s most vulnerable, including the elderly, the terminally ill, and the disabled, require special care, though they may be unable to work. Keeping with our society’s need to reduce subsistence to the cheapest possible means, those who find themselves in this situation and are unable to pay for expensive private care are cared for as cheaply as possible: in facilities that increasingly resemble factories and by overworked workers. People are not kept alive out of any kind of benevolence by the state or non-profits. Instead, these insufficient institutions (both public and private) are necessary byproducts of keeping the lie going that our system works for everybody, even the very poor, sick, and elderly, and to prevent civil unrest. Others are cared for by their families, free of charge. This care, or reproductive, labor is made invisible, or dismissed as not really work.
6. As workers engaged in social reproduction, we are therefore responsible for the functioning of the majority of both working and non-working human beings, and thus for the reproduction of society as a whole. Traditionally women and people of color have done much of this work and not been paid for it. Now, women and people of color still do the majority of this work, and are still paid very little and have to work very hard.
7. For these reasons, we are committed to building an organization both in specific workplaces and across workplaces where we can take direct action against our employers in order to gain the wages we need to survive, and the amount of time and support we need to take care of our clients and ourselves. Generations of workers have struggled for wages, but also to control when, where, how, and how much they work. We see ourselves as part of that struggle. We also need to support each other when we have difficult or abusive clients, and demand that our bosses do this. Our goal is not to put reproductive work on a pedestal, but to live in world where this labor is a truly free choice, and performed amongst an entire community.
8. We work independently of trade unions and non-profits. Contemporary trade unions have developed historically to help our companies move business forward; they no longer work for workers, but instead use the militancy of workers to gain political leverage, elect representatives of the same state that exploits and oppresses us, and at the end of the day tell us to go home and be happy with our lot in life. This is because unions work from a representative framework: they seek to represent workers, instead of build the power of workers to stop and reorganize work. They also are often limited to a single workplace or a single kind of worker instead of society as a whole. This separation of workers and non-workers is the root of our exploitation, and destroying the separation is the key to our liberation. Similarly, non-profits, as companies that exist in capitalism, are incapable of liberating us from the alien nature of our lives. Even non-profits that seek to “help” poor people, can only function because they are exploiting people, usually women, youth, and people of color as workers. Others before have written more on women and unions as well as on non-profits.
9. Our goal is a world where we live for the sake of living, and work for the sake of producing for all humans, not for someone else to profit while we suffer. This goal will take a lot of work, dedication, and will mostly take the organization of those of us who keep the world going with little respect but a lot of fierceness every day. We will work towards this goal by building our capacity to organize collectively against exploitation and for liberation. We believe we need to be the ones to develop strategy and theory–not academics, not politicians, and definitely not bosses, even and especially if they are bosses of non-profits and unions.
10. We take seriously the ways in which capitalism reproduces race, gender, and class social relations and seek to develop the leadership and confidence of oppressed people. However, we reject the idea radical social change can happen by organizing around single identity categories. We believe that people within any given social category hold diverse experiences and political beliefs, and the problems of capitalism cannot be solved by simply inserting oppressed people into capitalist institutions or leadership roles. We instead organize across subject positions in order to collectively struggle against the dominant mode of production and exploitation.
Long before the Haymarket Massacre, the worldwide workers’ movement, and the very existence of a worldwide working class, May Day was a celebration of what we hold in common. Before modern capitalism, vast stretches of the world were held by communities, not individuals. Everyday people with no conception of wage labor shared expansive tracts of land for farming, grazing, hunting, fishing, and coming together to celebrate their communal bonds. May Day originated as a celebration of the fertility of the harvest season, which would provide the food necessary to subsist for the entire year, and of the commonly held land and communal social ties that made survival, merriment, and love possible.
From the fifteenth century continuing through the present day, the development of capitalism has violently enclosed the commons, placed the planet’s resources in private hands, and compelled most people to live in isolation from their neighbors, working for wages in jobs unrelated to their daily lives. This was and is a brutal process involving the theft of land, the massacre and torture of untold millions, and the institutionalization of racism, sexism, and homophobia on a worldwide scale, as capitalism has divided and hierarchized the worldwide working class it has created. This process of enclosure continues to the present day, and will never end so long as there is a free breath of air for the worldwide working class to take.
The communal resources we have lost are not simply land, food, and potable water. We have also forfeited our common knowledges of the body, and our abilities to care for each other regardless of income status. With the establishment of capitalist medicine, women especially were forced out positions of power, knowledge, and authority in matters of health. The power of women over their own reproductive lives, never mind communities’ control of their own social reproduction, has never been fully recaptured, despite many important battles.
Indeed, the relationship of our society to health and to the body itself has increasingly become one fitting the capitalist mode of production — compartmentalization, alienation, and commodification have taken the place of holism, communitarianism, and care based on need. Today, all the “progressive” politicians can talk about is making alienated health care more “affordable”, while still leaving room for the insurance and pharmaceutical industries to make a fortune, and not addressing the social causes of our society’s deadliest ailments: overwork, undernourishment, pollution, stress, and self-medication.
This May Day the ghosts of our lost past continue to haunt us. As hospitals servicing the poorest New Yorkers close their doors, care workers find their labor ever devalued, women’s reproductive rights are threatened all over the US, and low income people of the world are shut out of basic health services, we must remember the past, and recall that this does not have to be the fate of humanity. Another way of caring for each other is possible. We cannot return to the past, nor should we desire to, but we can fight for a future inspired by humanity’s greatest achievement: the commons.
May Day is not a day for politicians to give speeches about reforms and compromises. It is not about searching for a kinder gentler capitalism, or a more diverse ruling class. In a world without commons it is a day of loss. And this loss calls not for mourning, but for action. It is only through struggling together as a class that this loss can be redeemed, towards a future of the commons reborn.
And now from around the world (and maybe next door) and brought to you by lots of people, web sites, etc.
MAY DAY EVERYWHERE
Demonstrators hold photos of the five garment workers killed during clashes on Veng Sreng boulevard last January. Cambodian workers unions gather in the streets of Phnom Penh to rally for an increase in the minimum wage and the release of garment workers detained in January strikes
Public health workers march through Havana's Revolution Square during the May Day parade
A man tries to protects himself as security forces beat him during the International Workers' Day rally at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh May 1, 2014
Crowds fill Trafalgar Square during the annual May Day rally in London May 1, 2014
A Salvadorean worker takes part in the May Day parade organized by the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front and various worker unions in San Salvador, El Salvador, on Thursday.
People take part in a demonstration during May Day in Berlin, May 1, 2014. The placard reads: "Resistance to crisis. Uprise revolution."
A man holds a placard reading “No to the markets dictatorship” as he demonstrates during a May Day rally on May 1, 2014 in Marseille, southern France.
Supporters of the Lebanese Communist party take part in a May Day rally in Beirut.