Supporting Workers’ Rights and the Willingness to Implement These Rights

In a ZNet commentary, Bill Fletcher talks about the rights of workers to organize and form or join unions. In this article, Fletcher tells a revealing story:

This is not simply a matter of whether an employer is conservative, liberal or even progressive. It is really about class politics and class struggle. In the 1980s I helped to organize a non-profit agency in Boston. The employer, who at first glance seemed like a good-natured liberal, was VEHEMENTLY against a union forming. This individual, who saw himself as, at least a liberal, if not a progressive, was in favor of unions forming anywhere… except in his workplace. 1

Often the words are not met by action. For example, in the debate2 between ZNet’s Michael Albert and Socialist Worker’s Alan Maass, Maass writes:

[B]alanced job complexes sound like an excellent idea. It was Karl Marx, after all, who said — in an affront to vegetarians everywhere — that communism would make it possible “to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” I would only suggest that “balanced job complexes” should be seen as a positive good in themselves, rather than something necessary to prevent the rise of “coordinators.” After all, it will never be possible for everyone to do every task that needs accomplishing in society. The key to preventing the rise of privileged “coordinators” is democratic control over production.3

In response to this, Albert asks Maass:

I am very happy to hear that you think “balanced job complexes sound like an excellent idea.” If so, however, does that mean that your newspaper and party utilize them? Shouldn’t they — both to experiment with structures that can become part of a new economy and to provide evidence of their commitment to the new goals, as well as to enjoy the benefits? What do you think?4

Maass never responded to Albert’s questions. I never received any response to my email request for comment either. That’s very telling. It’s just like Fletcher’s reporting about the liberal employer whose workplace he helped organize in the 1980s. In Fletcher’s article, we have an example of an employer who is apparently an avowed liberal and all for workers’ rights — just not fully for his workers. With Maass, we have an avowed socialist who claims to be for workers’ rights — just not fully for his workers.

As I have already argued, balanced job complexes are as fundamental to workers’ rights as reproductive control is to women’s rights.5 Yet the topic is one that seems little debated among socialists. In an article that explains “why a socialist society would produce a flowering of universal creativity,” Paul D’Amato writes:

Even more odious tasks, such as collecting garbage and mining, are far less odious if the workers have control over the work process. The combination of control over working conditions and processes, the application of the safest and fastest methods, the reduction of work hours, and finally, the rotation of the population into those jobs so that no single person is stuck with it would make even this kind of work far more enjoyable than it is now.6

No. No, no, no. A million times, “No.” I don’t want to hear about job “rotation.” If you’re claiming to represent the working class, I want to hear about balanced job complexes. This thing you call “rotation” is not good enough. The best explanation of why is given by Albert when he talks about balanced job complexes:

The aim is not to eliminate divisions of labor, but to ensure that over some reasonable time frame people should have responsibility for some sensible sequence of tasks for which they are adequately trained and such that no one enjoys consistent advantages in terms of the empowerment effects of their work.

We do not mean that we have doctors who occasionally clean bed pains [sic], nor secretaries who every so often attend a seminar. Parading through the ghetto does not yield scars and slinking through a country club does not confer status. Short-term stints in alternative circumstances — whether slumming or admiring — do not rectify long-term inequities in basic responsibilities. [emphasis added] We do mean, instead, that everyone has a set of tasks that together compose his or her job such that the overall implications of that whole set of tasks are on average like the overall implications for empowerment of all other jobs. 7

This is what I want to hear from anyone who would claim to represent the working class, and who would claim to be fighting for their rights. I’ll decide whether or not I think you’re fighting for my rights. And if you’re avoiding the subject of balanced job complexes like a hot potato, I say you’re not.

One last thing — and this is actually true across the entire left. When Albert asks Maass if he will incorporate balanced job complexes into Socialist Worker, Albert is engaging in strategic thinking and planning. It’s completely within the power of Socialist Worker to implement balanced job complexes right now. So why not do it?

Doing this would be an excellent way of beginning the hard work necessary to create a new society from the ground up. It would be inspiring, and, over time, it would be something that working people would respond positively to as they learned more about it. It’s simply the right thing to do.

At the very minimum, a conversation about this type of strategic thinking is in order. It’s time to honestly assess where we are, where we want to go, and how we might go about getting there. If we can’t engage in valid self-analysis, openly and honestly, then how can we possibly ever expect to win anything?

  1. Bill Fletcher, “Why should employers have a role in deciding whether workers have unions?” zmag.org. []
  2. Michael Albert and Alan Maass, “Debating Marxism,” zmag.org []
  3. Alan Maass, “First Reply To Albert’s Opening Essay,” zmag.org []
  4. Michael Albert, “Albert Rejoins,” zmag.org []
  5. Eric Patton, “Fundamental Workers’ Rights,” dissidentvoice.org []
  6. Paul D’Amato, “The economics of laziness,” socialistworker.org []
  7. Michael Albert, Parecon: Life After Capitalism, Verso Press, 2003, p. 104. []
Eric Patton lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. He can be reached via e-mail at: ebpatton@yahoo.com. Read other articles by Eric, or visit Eric's website.