Self-activity, strategy and class power måndag, Jan 4 2010 

In this short text Kim Müller writes about why Kämpa Tillsammans see the workplace struggles as central and their strategic view on faceless resistance and self-activity.

Seven long years
About seven years ago a few work comrades and I wrote about the experiences of our struggles at the bakery we used worked at. Personally this constituted a start for a more forward looking and long term work in class- and political organization. Even though some of us (especially the members of Kämpa tillsammans!) already had grappled with these issues a lot, the publication of the first texts was a step into the leftist arena. The publication came quite soon after the riots during the EU-summit in Gothenburg and were received with both enthusiasm and doubts. Some saw it as a much needed ”turn” towards our everyday life and others were puzzled by our refusal to have a political position on the trade unions. They did not comprehend having a trade union position that was based on the interest of the class rather than a political motivation to strengthen one of the various factions. On the other hand out texts were received quite well by some union activists both from LO and SAC – simply put those who sees the working class’ independent workplace struggles as central and/or had experiences from active workers’ collectives.

The strategy forms the battle plan and its goals decides the individual battles which shall lead to the goal. This means the strategy outlines the different operations and incorporates the individual battles in the strategy.
– von Clausewitz

The Other Workers’ Movement
When we wrote those first few texts about the job we had we were not familiar with the concept of ”militant investigation/research” and how they were applied. But we had already started getting interested in those political currents that put the primacy on the working class’ struggles and we were soon reading about what comrades in Italy, France, USA and Sweden had done and written about before us. We recognized ourselves in the struggles of previous generations that we read about, and we identified with those previous workers who had similar insecure work conditions and had engaged in uncompromising class struggle. In this way we saw our history and our historical predecessors both in texts and struggles. When we in our workplaces turned to the union for help but instead got cold feet, and instead started directly, and outside of the unions, to struggle together with our work comrades it was easy to identify with the theories that argued that there was an ”other” workers’ movement next to the official one. We were the temporary employed who created influence through sabotage, wage increase through theft and reduction in working time through ‘go-slow’ actions.

Faceless resistance is a result in itself: an unmediated struggle doesn’t lead to a victory or gain but is itself a victory and a gain. If I leave work half an hour earlier than I should, something I often do, I have already won through the act of reducing my own workday. My goal is realized and a partial victory has been won. Of course new goals and situations occur out of this. But the important thing about faceless resistance and self-activity is that the means is in a way becomes the goal. Faceless resistance thus seem to have a completely different character than a mediated struggle in the way that it doesn’t function the same way as mediated struggle: unmediated struggle doesn’t generate a goal, but is a goal.
– Marcel

These struggles, or practices, that struck management directly and made out lives immediately easier we came to call ”faceless resistance” for lack of a better name. This was during a time when the left, our political environment, to a large degree saw that it was ”calm” or ”peace” at the workplaces, in stark contrast to our understanding of our situations at the workplaces. I still argue that an everyday class war is occurring and no peace is possible as long as capitalism exists.

The party, the trade union, the leftist group etc. are means – ways in which to organize the movement/struggle. They lead to a victory or a loss (…) faceless resistance is the movement, the struggle, the victory…
– Marcel

The concept of faceless resistance is one way to describe those methods of struggle that workers already use daily. We often emphasized the tactical in these methods. Especially in the form of ”the politics of baby steps” where you struggle together and can take on larger struggles afterwards as workers start to learn to know each other. In the first workplace reports we described how workers’ collectives were developed/built through the struggle and how its members supported each other. In later texts, e.g. ”Proletarian management”, we wrote more detailed about how workers’ collectives are formed. One of the things we stressed was that regardless of the view on the role of the trade unions, every successful struggle at workplaces came from the solidarity between workmates; a strong workers’ collective.

The fact is that all forms of class power comes from self-activity. Representatives of various sorts can never do anything without the ”the black man standing behind me with a Molotov cocktail.”Note Raven is referring to the (maybe false but thats not the point) quote by Martin Luther King Jr – “I am only effective as long as there is a shadow on white America of the black man standing behind me with a Molotov cocktail.” . Every organizer of various sorts will USE this self-activity for their own union/party/organization. Our position is that it is the self-activity that should be organized, developed and circulated.


Self-activity as strategy
For many of those who were struggling at workplaces it was enough, people understood what we meant. But at the same time we felt it wasn’t simply enough to just describe why we saw self-activity of workers as central to the long-term development of the class struggle. I am convinced that the class struggle is the dominant struggle in society and their clearest expressions are to be found at the workplaces. This conviction is not just based on the fact that it is there that the daily struggle and exploitation happens, but also because it is there that we most easily can find the community that enables us to struggle together. If we are to get any serious and permanent change of society it has to be based on the struggle against wage-labour that occurs at the workplaces. From the concrete experiences of collective struggles together with workmates and neighbours we have come to the conclusion that the only realistic possibility to create changes in society happens through self-organized workers’ struggle. So what we are doing, the struggles and dissemination of experiences, is something that goes beyond the ”microlevel” of the individual workplace. It is a part of the strengthening and construction of ”the other workers’ movement” – the only movement that can seriously change our current society. The working class’ self-activity is not just a tactic to benefit our direct needs but also a strategy, an overall and long-term plan to increase our power as a class and abolish all classes.

Translated by Khawaga

No peace in the class war måndag, Jun 2 2008 

Revolutionary perspectives today: society is a factory
The development of capitalism has reached the point where society is turning into one big ‘social factory’ that produces commodities. By commodities we’re not referring to things like food, clothes, soap, gadgets and houses, but also animals and human beings. Humans are commodities first and foremost in the form of labour-power. This is as true in our part of the world as it is on a global scale, i.e. everywhere. Capital’s power is not limited to the places where people are working for a wage; it has developed into a omnipresent system of dominance, shaping our entire existence.

The goal of the capitalist production of commodities is not to meet people’s needs, but to create surplus-value for capital. If you don’t have enough purchasing power your needs are discounted by capitalist commodity production. Purchasing power is money, and most people earn money by selling their labour-power to capital. The capitalists take the surplus-value that labour creates; they sell the commodities produced by the workers and reap the profits. It is not only the working class that work for capital, but also the middle class that manage this exploitation.

Life reduced to work
Capital is striving for all human activity to be subject to the demands of an effective and profitable production of commodities. Thus, life as a whole is reduced to work. Nowhere can we escape the laws of profit. The production of human beings, that is, the reproduction of labour-power, is also a form of work. This reproductive labour is the work required to recreate labour power: household work, social work and care, etc. A great deal of this work is unsalaried and performed by women.

The schools educate the workforce, and the universities are science-factories. Cognitive work (so called immaterial labour) and the production of ideology are often forgotten in various class analyses, but are nevertheless necessary and central to capitalist production.

The unemployed also serve a function in the accumulation of surplus-value. Through participating in reproductive labour, intensifying competition for jobs thereby keeping wages low, being part of the reserve pool of labour to be used by capital when needed and increasing the value of their labour-power through education and retraining (e.g. computer literacy classes). If you’re employed, you don’t only work when you’re at work, but also when you reproduce yourself in order to keep working. You have to eat, sleep, rest, exercise, be hygienic, wash your clothes and maybe party at the weekend. And you do it so that you‘ll be able to keep working for capital.

The struggle against work
The reduction of life into work in the social factory is not occurring through mutual agreement – on the contrary! Capital is constantly encountering resistance and being challenged by proletarian struggles everywhere in the social factory. All these struggles have one thing in common: they are antagonistic against the dictatorship of capital.

A consequence of the analysis of the social factory is that the working class exists wherever alienated work exists, regardless of it being at home or by the conveyor belt, if it’s salaried or not.

Class struggle and class composition
The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.” (Marx)

Those who share a Marxist view of history (so called dialectic and historical materialism) usually claim that the class struggle is the motor of history. However, what this really means is not at all that obvious. We will, in short, describe our view on these matters. In capitalist society, the main struggle is between the working class and the capitalist class. Working class struggles for a self-determined life and less alienating life leads to crises in capitalism. The crises force the capitalist class to change the forms of control and organization of capital accumulation (i.e. exploitation of labour-power). But at the same time, the capitalist class’ constant struggle for more surplus-value, i.e. more work for the working class, destroy former living conditions and the possibilities for working class struggles.

Class composition
It is the constant antagonism between the classes that produces the class composition; that is, the objective working- and living conditions of the classes and also their subjective forms of struggle and organization. The class composition is always changing, all the time, through the course of the class struggle. This means that we, through our collective and self-determined struggles, participate actively in the subjective creation of our new composition as a class. Or, as it is sometimes described: in the subjective prerequisites for revolution.

A tangible and up-to-date analysis of our class composition is essential in order to adapt our methods of struggle and forms of organization to the new conditions that are constantly being (re)formed by the class struggle. If we have a dogmatic in our politics we risk being caught in a predetermined and obsolete pattern of struggle that doesn’t fit the current class composition. The it becomes just a question of time before dogmatic politics, reluctant to renew itself, lapses into ritual and lose its content and relevancy.

Why the left is out of touch
No methods of struggle or organizational models can correspond to the class composition forever. Regardless, a large part of the left is not able to renew politics when society changes. They stick to their old truths and try desperately to represent an out-of-date understanding of the working class. The class struggle has inevitably left the institutionalized left behind and made old political truths obsolete. This is an important explanation to why communist parties, unions, and other leftist organizations that used to have considerable political relevance in the past, are totally out of touch today. Their methods of struggle and their organizational models simply do not correspond to the new composition of the working class. They don’t correspond to the possibilities of struggle, or to the interests of the class today. And most important of all: many of them haven’t taken the consequences of the fact that the emancipation of the working class has to be the making of the working class! Representative politics is bourgeois politics, and has never been a threat to class society.

The personal is political
It is necessary to denounce any political understanding that limits itself to the ‘public’ sphere and does not see that the personal is political. The separation of life, of struggles and relations, in ‘political’ and ‘non-political’ spheres (or ‘public” and ‘private’) is bourgeois politics maintained by patriarchal structures and interests. This perspective sees the political battlefield and the power relations in society as being separate from the social relations between human beings and their division into, e.g. classes and genders. This type of political understanding is destined to decay into something existing outside, or above, actual human beings.

It is of fundamental importance that we as subjects are responsible for how the class struggle develops, and that we are collectively participating in the creation of the new composition of the class in all spheres of society. The self-organized struggles that we fight today are seeds for the classless society of the future.

The course of the class struggle
In our text Same enemies – same struggle! we analysed the global restructuring of capital, which created a new class composition – a proletarianization. A short summary of this text is in order as this new class composition affects the preconditions for revolutionary struggle.

In response to the international struggles of the proletariat in the late sixties and early seventies, a global capitalist restructuring of the conditions of exploitation occurred. Capital’s offensive didn’t breach Sweden until the 1990s, which is very late seen from an international perspective. The working class (broadly speaking) was re-structured due to the new post-Fordist organization of production, expressed in unemployment, downscaling and privatizations etc. The old welfare state gave way to a ‘competition state’ that, in competing with other states, does its best in offering capital the most favourable conditions and the least restrictions. To make this possible, increased control and repression is needed everywhere in order to keep the newly composed proletariat in line.

Many people claim that the society of today is a so-called two-thirds society, in which one third of the population is excluded from the state’s social security system. This analysis has its merits, since it does not, like earlier leftist ones, emphasize the situation of the white, male, and educated worker; it sees all groups subjected to capitalist extortion. However, the analysis is imperfect, because it primarily concentrates on the dismantling of the capitalist welfare state and not on capitalism and class society as a whole. Our opinion is that the recent developments have staked out a new course in the class struggle, which has caused a general proletarianization in society as whole, with no exceptions. Although young people women, immigrants and marginalized groups are the ones affected first and the worst.

Proletarianization is caused by the aggressiveness and destructiveness of capital, and it is not possible to manage it away with any reformist politics of redistribution within the framework of the nation-state. There are no shortcuts to emancipation from class society. The dominion of capital is international and it has to be identified and crushed in all spheres of life.

The return of antagonism
We hope that this article will provide a clearer perception of the class struggle’s different courses throughout Swedish history: from rural population, via the ‘welfare-workforce’ of the social democratic model, to the today’s modern proletarianization. We can discern three different courses in the class struggle: before, during, and after the social democratic model. These different courses come from different class compositions, which in turn correspond to different forms of organization and struggle among the working class of the 19th and early 20th centuries – from relative social peace with moderate class conflicts, towards a rebellious 21st century! In the same way, the various courses of the class struggle correspond to capital’s varying phases of ‘free competition’, Keynesianism, and the neo-liberal state of global competition; and the modes of production from craftsmanship to Fordism, and from Fordism to Toyotism (or post-Fordism).

We are now living in a course of class struggle after the social democratic model, in a time of increasingly open class conflicts and antagonisms in our part of the world. We must therefore try to benefit from the struggles waged here in Sweden before the establishment of the social democratic model. That is, from the course of class struggle born out of the proletarianization and transformation of the 19th century farmers and rural workers into the ‘welfare workforce’ of social democracy.

The Swedish model: a politics of compromise
The social democratic welfare model has managed class relations in Sweden during most of the 20th century. The neutrality of the two world wars was advantageous to Swedish capitalists, who, especially during the 50s and 60s, could ‘buy’ themselves social peace in the form of improved living conditions for a large part of the working class. Through compromises and concessions they could avoid the rise of revolutionary movements. Those parts of the working class that were less privileged and couldn’t be bought off were repressed.
Norway and Denmark had similar political systems during this period, based on centralistic and bureaucratic unions (negotiating wages and working conditions), mass consumption and national welfare institutions. Keynesianism, the economic model these welfare states were built upon, was a temporary emergency solution and a historical compromise from capital. Internationally and historically speaking, reformism and capitalist welfare are just small detours and exceptions to the rule, practised only during a couple of decades in the 20th century and only in the imperialist countries. The European workers, a class born out of the industrialization of the 19th century, forced capital into this compromise through their will to struggle and their international victories during the early 20th century.

The threat of revolution
With the October revolution in Russia 1917 the European working felt that victory in the class war was close. The flames of revolution spread throughout the continent, and the existence of the proprietor class seemed to be threatened. To the rulers, the socialist victories were so alarming that they were forced to stage more or less fascist takeovers of the state in countries such as Finland, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Portugal. But in Sweden, as we know, it wasn’t necessary to go such measures. The rulers were still able to suppress the revolutionary struggle of the working class and to continue capitalist exploitation without restraint. Here, the open and intransigent class struggles were snuffed out by the social democratic model through state planning in the form of social welfare. Thus, large parts of the working class simply gained a higher material standard and more social security than they had had before. At the same time, this meant that they were ‘bought off’ and that their class interests were shaped more in line with the bourgeois.

From a short-term perspective, repression is a very effective way of disciplining the workforce than reformed capitalism. However, in the long run capital secures itself better through compromise in the form of material benefits. In Sweden, the ruling class could afford to enforce this expensive, but more effective long-term, strategy to stabilize the conditions of exploitation. Today, however, there is no revolutionary threat, which means that capital no longer has any interest in social welfare.

The imperialist division between rich and poor countries was one of the prerequisites of capital’s acceptance of the welfare compromise. It meant that the burdens of poverty could be increased on the three colonial continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Capital uses imperialist division to divide the working class in various parts of the world. It uses development in the central countries (Western Europe, USA and Japan) and underdevelopment on the colonial continents. Now, as before, capital uses this division to manifest its power. The idea is to prevent that the struggles of all exploited groups connect and strengthen each other. In other words, the imperialist division of the world is an absolute necessity for capital’s power. As soon as we realize this, we also realize what a formidable weapon international solidarity can be if we were able to use it effectively.

But social democracy was a project within the boundaries of the nation-state, just as the Soviet model of ‘socialism in one country’ and the various post-colonial development states in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The limitations within the framework of the nation-state had consequences for the class composition, which capital uses to its advantage in the restructuring of the late 1970s and onwards, a process which has come to be known as globalization.

Counterrevolution in the welfare state
The social democrats’ integration of the working class into the capitalist Swedish state was not possible without resistance and violent repression of the workforce and the revolutionary movements. Some examples: the bombing of the communist daily Norrskensflamman’s printing house in 1940, the internment of communists and syndicalists into labour camps during World War II, racially motivated forced sterilizations, the institutionalization of the nuclear family as a unit of production and consumption, constant militarization of the police force, and a ‘cold war’ waged in the workplaces during the whole post-war period. We now know that the social democrats didn’t stay clear of any means in their struggle for control over the unions and the worker struggles, using everything from espionage and informing to armed counterrevolutionary groups (so called ‘stay behind-groups’ controlled by the CIA).

The ‘register method’
In many ways, collective wage agreements and centrally coordinated negotiations with employers were the centre of workplace struggles during the social democratic model. Today, however, these methods have outplayed their role because of the new class composition and restructuring. Therefore, new methods of struggle and qualitatively different forms of organization need to emerge that correspond to our interests as unemployed, trainees, short-term, part-time or other types of flexible and replaceable employees. It is just a matter of time before the working class discover forms of struggle that are suitable to our material needs, and it is up to the left to speed up this process. We should let ourselves be inspired by earlier independent and militant worker struggles – collective wage agreements is far from the only means of struggle! In fact, the ‘work peace’ of the collective agreements was one of the reasons why the social democratic model was able to struck out workplace struggles of the openly antagonistic kind, such as wild strikes and blockades. One of these methods was the syndicalist ‘register method’, which we will examine closer.

A new model of compromise: the function of small companies
Today, a new model of compromise between SAF (the Swedish employers’ organization) and the unions is being planned, resembling the classic Saltsjöbad-agreement. This is without a doubt an attempt to counter the uncontrollable workplace struggles that, in spite of everything, are appearing after the restructuring of recent years. At the same time, the deregulation of the labour market continues and a governmental investigation has proposed the prohibition of strikes in small companies – where it is already quite hard for the workers to strike to begin with. This development is totally in line with the post-Fordist mode of production, with its turn to subcontractors, outsourcing and entrepreneurs. In addition, people are encouraged to start their own private enterprises. E.g., Telia (one of Sweden’s largest telephone companies) has fired good workers to make them start their own companies. This small company hype is linked to increased exploitation. In part because of increased individual freedom in work-situations, but mainly because the conditions of work in small companies form a state of exception where ordinary labour laws do not apply and where self-discipline rules. Thus, an informal ‘grey’ sector is created, where labour laws do not reduce exploitation. Nevertheless, this form of work is intimately incorporated in international capital as multinational companies’ insane growth of surplus value depends on it. In addition, it is also more and more common for companies to pay a little extra for temporary labour power since they have no obligations towards them.

The practical use of the register method
The syndicalist register method, dating from the early 20th century, was a totally unique method of struggle, used in the transition period preceding the establishment of social democracy. In our opinion, the method had certain qualities that, perhaps, should be resurrected today. Of course, the conditions of production and class composition are different now, which means that that the forms of struggle and organization also need to be different. But still, revolutionary perspectives have to be linked to concrete experiences of real class confrontations.

The register method was first used by syndicalist construction workers in the 1910s, as a militant alternative to the system of agreement. They demanded a fixed price for their labour power, without any margin for bargaining. The workers didn’t negotiate the salary, but posed ultimate, non-negotiable demands.

The worker teams of the construction industry in those days functioned as subcontractors, which meant that they had to put out tenders for work. When work opportunities were scarce, the competition between teams increased and salaries went down. The register tried to fight this competition with solidarity. By keeping statistics of salaries and a register of the prices for different types of work, the worker teams could agree on minimum prices that no one were allowed to undermine. In this way, salaries were raised and the difference between them decreased. No one had to sell their labour cheaper than their comrades or for a lower price than they had decided was fair.

Solidarity and militancy
The only way the capitalists could counter the register method and lower the salaries was by breaking the workers’ monopoly on labour power. They tried to employ skilled workers that didn’t participate in the register (that is, unorganized workers or people from LO, the largest union in Sweden) and were also prepared to work for lower wages. But these so called register-breakers were treated in the same uncompromising way as ordinary strike-breakers – with physical confrontation. Militant methods were needed to maintain the price lists of the register. Only violence, or the threat of violence, could stop people from becoming register-breakers and thereby lowering the wages. This meant that the workers connected to the register had to be in majority where they worked and it also required strong bonds of solidarity.

The register method depended on solidarity, but it also strengthened it. The largest fight was “the battle of Los” in west Hälsingland, where logging companies tried to break the register’s power by employing 1100 ‘work-willing’ LO-organized workers from other towns. However, they were met by 800 militant syndicalists that stubbornly refused them entry to the site until they accepted register prices. After a couple of days’ fight the scabs were forced back home again…

In some areas, the register also functioned as an employment centre, which further weakened the employers’ position. The register committee then decided which worker, or team of workers, was next in line for a given work. This was done according to principles of solidarity; for example, those who had been unemployed for a long time were usually first in line.

The results of the Register
The register functioned best in the construction and logging sectors and among the plant workers of Stockholm. In the logging sector, the last great register struggle was waged in the winter of 1949-50 when workers eventually won after four months of struggle. The register really led to higher wages. The average salary for an hour’s work was usually 30-40% higher than the salary of LO’s agreements. During the most active period approximately 30.000 workers participated in the register. Only a minority of these were syndicalists since many LO-members didn’t hesitate to join in when they realized its positive results. In some lines of work, those connected to the register were the highest paid workers in the country. In other words, the register was effective and the employers understood that it would become even more effective if more people joined. Therefore, it’s not strange that they were quick to sign agreements with LO as soon as they got the chance.

However, the depression of the 1920s meant massive unemployment and SAC (the Swedish syndicalist union), in order to keep their members’ jobs, was eventually forced to accept the agreement strategy of LO. At the same time, new recruits were scarce in the sectors where the register was in use, and the workers also became older and less willing to struggle than in the revolutionary years of 1917-1919. In time, this led to the gradual establishment of LO’s poor collective agreements. The turning point to the far less confrontational class struggle of social democracy came in the thirties.

Antagonistic struggle over consumption
A comparison can be made between the uncompromising antagonism of the register method and the autonomous so called auto-reduction struggles in Italy during the 1970s. These struggles were aimed at consumption, where activists collectively refused to pay the increased prices on e.g. public transportation or the cinema. The line of reasoning was that even if people couldn’t afford it, they were entitled to transportation and culture. Another popular form of action was proletarian shopping, which meant that people collectively simply took what they needed, but couldn’t afford, from the stores. With the refusal to pay more than what was considered fair even the costs of electricity and telephone facilities could be reduced. Due to the fact that autonomous comrades working in the electricity and telephone businesses reconnected all households that were disconnected, this auto-reduction movement grew until it consisted of 180.000 households in one single area (Piemonte)! In this way, the auto-reduction movement actually became a realistic, struggling alternative to the reformist unions. The common element in the register method and the autonomous auto-reduction struggles is that they put trust in the power of the working class, and that they try to establish a so called dual-power situation in their antagonistic struggle against capital. Such struggles can also have reproductive work as their point of departure. This has resulted in demands for wages fro housework among other things.

For recapturing human dignity and the whole fucking planet!
A revolutionary initiative today can’t simply be an attack upon the ruling social structures, it must also entail creativity, the development of collective feeling and the recapture of subjectivity – that is, the very life and human dignity that has been taken from us and smothered by competition. On the whole, we must focus on the positive, social dimensions of the struggle, if we are to infuse radical politics with any real substance. Too often, revolutionary analyses and perspectives have focused one-sidedly on the enemy, on capital, in a way that has damaged the revolutionary process. Marx reminds us that the revolution is necessary, not only because it is the only way the ruling class can be overthrown, but also because it is the only way the working class can free itself from its old shackles and create a new social order. We have to give priority to discussions about political substance and about the meaning of a classless society here and now. The left’s weakness and isolation isn’t just something forced upon us from outside, but also to a large extent a consequence of our own actions and lack of initiative. During earlier periods of the class struggle, social dimensions and contexts were created that formed the preconditions for solidarity and struggle. Today, we have to create these social contexts ourselves. The isolation, separation and individualisation of today’s society are consequences of our own actions, too. Thus, we can’t let our antagonism against the system suffice – we must also create a collective feeling and forums where radical politics can be shaped, developed and injected with real substance.

There are a lot of questions that have to be answered and many struggles to be fought. But one thing is certain: new revolutionary perspectives can’t be realized and victorious without being tested in reality. The revolutionary process develops through practical experiences of political struggle, and the key to success is starting!

Kämpa Tillsammans, November 1998

Published in Brand 1998
English translation: April 2008

Lernia Correctional Facility torsdag, Feb 14 2008 

Lernia Correctional Facility – a story from a Swedish unemployment programme

I have spent about two years in different unemployment programmes in a mid-size Swedish town and this is my story about that experience. For most of the time I was training to become a cook in the Lernia programme (nicknamed ”Lernia Correctional Facility” by its inmates). The following story will not discuss much the time I spent in different restaurants as a trainee, instead I will save the stories from that sector for later.

At the Lernia Correctional Facility I spent a total time of about 18 months at Lernia, starting in 2001 and ending in 2003. A few months before spending eighteen months at Lernia I was fired from a big industrial bakery that closed down (see the text Faceless Resistance – Everyday resistance at a Swedish bakery). However, the first programme I was forced into was a computer education programme. This was in the mid 1990s and the course lasted for twelve weeks. And that’s where I will start the story:

“Who has stolen a mouse from the Obelix classroom?”
Boss at the computer programme for the unemployed

The fact that a classroom in an unemployment program is named after a character in a comic book for children will not surprise anybody who has ever in these kindergarten for adults. The first unemployment programme I attended was a twelve week computer program dedicated to MS Office. We had seven weeks of lessons and and five for practice. This was in the mid 1990s when home computers weren’t that common, so during the course we could not e.g. use the internet. The five weeks of practice was a joke. One group of five people had five weeks to make a new menu for a local pizza restaurant. I had some prior experience with computers and learned far more from just playing around than from the actual lessons. Sometime during the course a few representatives from the local employment office made a huge mistake. They seemed to be unaware of how much people hate them and detest the employment office. While talking to a large group of unemployed in the program they hadn’t realized that the only reason we had been civil at other meetings (often as individuals was because they could threaten us. As we were already forced to do something we didn’t like they could hardly threaten us! We were divided into two groups to met one dole adviser each. It was great. For once we were in a large group and could act with the power and protection that the group gives you. The adviser we met with got the yelling of his life. People brought up all the pointless shit the dole office had ever handed to them. It all started when the old bastard of an adviser said that there were no more back breaking labouring jobs anymore. We gave the man a thorough lesson in class hatred and we left the class room smiling and stronger as a group. When we proudly told the other group of our achievement, they smugly replied, ”That’s nothing! Our adviser started crying!”.

The five week computer practice that a few others and I had to do was running the coffee house at the school. It was a bit unclear to us what we were supposed to learn about computers doing that, but of course it meant that the school board did not have to hire anyone to work there. It wasn’t so bad, we played some cards, drank a lot of coffee and could steal cookies. Since it was more than ten years ago, the computers sadly had no internet connection, but a nerdy teacher still gave us a lesson in netiquette, so we would not be totally lost and rude. He gave us a inspired speech telling us that if we only wrote in big letters we would be in serious trouble – “I promise you, the other users will bash you, they will for sure!”. We were scared stiff – nerds would threaten us over the internet!

The advisers promised to organize field trips to different companies for us, asking us if we had any suggestions. Karin who was a young mother of three and a woman of vision, suggested that we should go to the court. Stunned and surprised by her proposal they asked Karin if she planned to become a lawyer or a judge. She replied that she considered becoming a criminal since that career seemed to provide the best options for the future in her situation; her husband was in jail for armed robbery. In the end we never went on any field trips, not even to the court and I didn’t get any computer-related work after the course.

Lernia Correctional Facility
Lernia is an education company founded by the state, but is an independent profit-making entity selling education programs to the state’s employment office. Being run for profit means that Lernia takes on as many students as possible and it’s rather hard to get expelled. Their basic business plan is many students, few teachers and low-cost facilities. The consequences this has on the education people get at Lernia is another issue.

When I had been out of work for a few months after being fired from the bakery, the employement office decided I had to be activated. I was told to check out some of the education programmes and they made it reasonably clear that the best thing for me was to enroll in a program, get a job or else…

I picked the chef’s education. While I had no real interest to work as a chef because the restaurant business is a shitty business, I decided to take that course because I just love food and cooking. I thought that I could learn something. Because of reasons unknown to me it seemed to be an advantage that I had worked in a bread factory so I was easily admitted to the program. It lasted for about eighteen months and we made food for other Lernia programs, for some students and for those that were taking the ”Swedish for Immigrants” course. As part of the program we had practical work placements at six different places, mostly private restaurants but also at some larger institutions (e.g. hospitals).

“The factory worker lives and breathes dirt and oil.”
Paul Romano, The American Worker

The Swedish out-of-worker lives and breathes dreariness and boredom. The obvious reason for some people to call Lernia ”Correctional Facility” or ”Penitentiary Lernia” was that they saw the place for what it is: a place to keep us locked up. Sure, there were education programmes running, and some of us (me included) do actually work in kitchens now, but most of us had been forced to take the course and had no interest in food whatsoever. The chances of getting a job at a restaurant was slim – show me one restaurant owner who hires a chef of 55 years fresh out of school! The teachers had a divided attitude towards their work. The ones that were ok just taught us how to cook to those of us who were interested. They didn’t care about the managing part of the job, something the other teachers did. They were more interested in controlling us, such as what times we were present at Lernia. To begin with there was one teacher that hid in the bushes by the entrance to spy on people leaving the institution early. To out relief she was given other things to do.

Being at Lernia was a bit like going back to school, but with a greater mess of people of different backgrounds, ages and experiences. Some of the older students seemed to feel they had to explain why they were there – maybe because they identified themselves with their former job or something like that. But most of us were pretty used to being unemployed or flexible workers, and to being shoveled between lots of different jobs and programmes. We spent a lot of time in the school yard bullshitting and playing cards. We spent a lot of time in the school yard just bullshitting and playing cards. The ‘entrepreneurs’ among us smuggling and peddling moonshine and cigarettes had busy days, so at least some work got done.

Different backgrounds – different struggles
Almost all of us who went to the restaurant program had some previous experience of either the restaurant business or in food processing. It was easy to see the differences in the people coming from the two different backgrounds. I myself had worked in a big bakery, and I was used to regular breaks at certain times and to a collective spirit among the workers; a certain us-against-them attitude towards the management. These attitudes weren’t so strong among the restaurant workers who instead had a more individualist cockiness. While we were more used to fighting as a collective, they were more used to taking on the bosses as individuals.

Better stand up
I was honestly a bit tired of the huge conflicts and constant battles we had had in the bakery – I even thought they were rather funny at times, but they also wore me out a bit. After a bit of thinking I had decided to be a bit more hesitant when it comes to taking part in the conflicts that always occur in all workplaces and unemployment programmes. However, my desire to keep a low profile did not live long. Maybe this happened because you can’t always choose your battles – they simply happen and you have to decide whether you want to prove that you have a spine or not. There’s nothing honourable about it really. During this programme we had fairly common experiences and interests and that is always a good breeding ground for solidarity. That doesn’t mean that we all got along fine all the time (at a few occasions even fist-fights occurred) but on a general level we solved our conflicts among ourselves without running to the management.

Injuries and boredom
Every time someone burned or cut himself badly, which happened a lot in the beginning, there were always jokes about that the person did it on purpose to get a sick leave. This points to how boring it was being in the programme. We tried to avoid being there as much as we could, and at the same time trying not losing too much money because of it (if you called in sick you lost a days dole). The general scheme for getting away wasn’t very imaginative: we simply went home early.

‘Arseface Andersson’
Some of the teachers had become more and more annoyed by our habit of leaving early. One day one of them went mad because of it. He adressed ”Arseface Andersson”, who was a typical ars-kisser and yes-man, and sent him running around with lists of attendance . He runs up to me, Pavel and Markus while we’re loitering around chatting, and says to me ”Kim, you are an orderly guy. You take attendance for the basic programme and I will do the advanced programme.” I was surprised at being called orderly but answered: ”I am not checking any attendance, it’s not my job and I don’t care if people go home early or not.”. He gets very surprised by that reply and asks Pavel instead. Pavel, cool as always, answers in the czech language which makes Arseface speechless for a few moment before he asks Markus, the youngest of the crowd. Markus looks like he is going to panic but answers in a high piping tone; ”I can’t read or write!” Arseface then puts his tail between his legs and run away to snitch to the teachers. The next day everybody is talking about the incident and a kind of pride spread among the students. It is now unthinkable to help out with taking attendance.

Calling in sick
Even though it cost a bit, calling in sick was also widespread and a common way of not attending the programme. During the World Cup of 2002, skiving took on enormous proportions. The World Cup was played in Japan and South Korea so games were played during school hours because of the time difference. We suggested to the management that they could show Sweden’s games at school, but they refused. So naturally when Sweden played their first game, there were so many kitchen students calling in sick that the kitchen had hige problems supplying food for the rest of the school. The teachers got mad about this and threatened us with expulsion from the programme and being cut off from the dole for those that called in sick next time Sweden were to play. I missed most of this conflict as I had taken a week-long sick leave. Since every time you called in sick you got a day of waiting before you got your benefit, I had decided that it would be financially wiser to take one longer leave instead of several shorter ones. Besides I didn’t want to miss the World Cup. Eventually it turned out that the threat was just words – they couldn’t really kick someone out for just getting a game-day flu.

There is no such thing as a free lunch
Despite the fact that we made a hell of a lot of food and were unemployed and broke, the management actually thought that we should pay for our lunches. Of course, from the start we were only “tasting” the food and ate when we could do so without being noticed. After a while however, this habit became more and more widespread and open. When the teacher went to lunch a group of us stayed behind and organized something that became almost a little ritual. When the last teacher had gone it was like a signal for everybody to draw their spoons. We went around and tried each other’s food, had a good time, ate together and gave each other critiques on the dishes. When it was my birthday, the ones training in desserts had made a cake so this also turned into a tradition. Another way to get more good food was to order too much from the whole sellers. When we planned our dishes we had to tell the teacher how much we wanted. We started to order too much of the ingredients everybody liked so that we could share among ourselves. We could also steal some of the more expensive and easily concealable ingredients – for example, I have never eaten so much pâté de fois gras as when I attended Lernia. But generally the management were prepared against theft. For example, the knives were chained to the walls and the door to the phone room was locked. We could use computers and internet for finding recipes, but as soon as we started playing games and music on the computers, the teachers reacted on this and forced us to sign an “agreement” not to use the computers for anything not related to the ”education” we were given. We weren’t allowed to check email, pay bills, play games or listen to music. But the agreement was of course only a paper and those of us who didn’t take signing it too seriously didn’t really care anyway. You don´t stop something like that with a paper.

“As a union, we must be better in speaking out for better conditions for the employers.”
– A representative for the Hotel- and Restaurant Union (social democrats)

One fine day, a representative for the Hotel- and Restaurant Union came to visit the programme to persuade us to become members and tell us how great they were. I looked forward to hearing what kind of stupid bullshit they had to say and in any case, it was something that broke up the everyday monotony. The student who had invited them had never worked himself, so it wasn’t a surprise that he held some illusions about the union. The union representative held a short introduction and then we could ask questions. Josefa then points out that the Swedish unions are wimps and that we should “do like they do in France” (this generally refers to strikes, blockades and riots – the mythical french working class is the true vanguard for the Swedish workers…). This opinion is so widespread that you can tell that the representative has heard this many times before. The representative responds by saying that the results the french workers achieve by strikes and riots, we achieve through negotiations in Sweden. I wish I could say that I had a clever answer to this and that everybody cheered when I spoke up, but as usual the answer turns up a little later when you have time to think about it. If it is true that the french workers get their results from their own self-activity then they are aware of their own strength and learn through their strikes and riots. We have on the other hand have been “granted” our results as a kind gift by “our” talented negotiators. So in reality it is not the same results by far. However, the meeting ended with a gem from Pablo “The restaurant owners are also thiefs and bandits, just like us!“. On the other hand we only steal back a small part of the profit we make for the owners.

Friday afternoon coffee
Students in our programme were divided into basic and advanced level, and some of the teacher actively tried to encourage this hierarchical division, promoting pennalism and things like that. Of course a few of the students got a hard-on from the idea that they were a bit superior because they had spent a few more months on an education programme for the unemployed than others. One might think that it was a bit unnecessary with a division among us; the leftovers of the job market, the dregs of society that wasn’t even useful enough to get a job. Depicting us as useless was an image that we had been bombarded with by the media and the employment office, and sadly some among us really felt bad about being unemployed. The division between the two programmes had been even greater before I started – e.g. it had been customary that the basic stundets acted as dishwashers for the advanced. But a new tough group among the students had refused to do the dishes and it had stopped. On the traditional friday afternoon coffee break, it was a custom that people from different programmes sat at different tables, which was encouraged by teachers by them sharing tables with their respective groups and controlling conversations. When my group moved into the advanced programme, we knew what was expected of us on the first friday. Instead we went in late and just sat down with our old mates from the basic programme and that was it. The division at that specific occasion was broken down, even without turning into a conflict. No screaming or yelling, just a few evil eyes. It was obvious that we did as we pleased and that no one openly questioned it. The following fridays everybody sat where they wanted. Later on we started to going to the pub together with people from both programmes, and this also strengthend us as a collective. It was great to see how people acted when they were in a leisurely environment.

The reward
One friday the teachers made it clear that it was very important that everybody was present during afternoon coffee as they had an announcement to make. We sat down and the tension in the teachers faces were obvious when they told us the news. A company had given the school some kitchen equipment – knives and stuff like that – and instead of just using them as everybody’s property the teachers had decided to use them as a reward. We were suppossed to suggest someone as a winner of the reward and a name for it. They would provide a box that we could place our suggestions in. The criteria for the reward was that you should be “socially competent”, helpful and dedicated. I looked around the room and could see faces darken. It felt as an attack upon our unity and solidarity, as a way to whip up a more competitive and productive attitude in the group. No one had any suggestions or anything else to say and when the meeting was over we walked out in silence, feeling down and worried. Suddenly Juan says something that relieves all the tension as he asks: “Well, who are you gonna nominate for the Arselicker of the Year Award?”. Everybody starts laughing like mad and that second the our collective mood changed – everybody started joking and everything is fine again. This move from the teachers was of course meant to sort out an “elite” among us who would speed up the production and rush the other, but in reality it had the opposite effect. If someone had been nominated for the reward it would have been a way to make fun of that person. But as far as I know, the teachers never mentioned it again, and no nominations found its way to that box. The reward had a name anyway – we all knew that.

The evaluation
As the end of the programme was approaching we were given the task of completing an evaluation form for our period spent at Lernia. Although it was supposed to be anonymous the worst teacher was circling around us like a vulture over a corpse. The form had different options and the possibility to write something extra. There had been some complaints about that teacher, especially his ”fondness” for the female students (he was later fired). We were five people completing this form at the same time and all but one of us were very critical of both the programmes and of the said teacher. We handed in the form together so that no one could be singled out for repression. Hopefully we contributed to this asshole being fired. The programme hadn’t been a complete waste of time: we had learnt a few things about cooking, but also a few tricks about fighting for out interests and being loyal to ones’ mates.

A meaningless education?
If God decided to visit these Swedish programmes for the unemployed he would cry. The bureaucracy, boredom and agony that are built into these programmes and institutions are unbelievable. The vast majority of the participants had a hard time seeing any point in these daycare centers for adults. But if you think they are pointless you are very wrong; actually the lack of meaning is one of their most important purposes.

Lifelong learning – lifelong suffering
According to the employment office and the government, the purpose of these programmes is to fight against unemployment. However, this is wrong. Many critics claim instead that the purpose is to fight the unemployed. This isn’t true either. The purpose is to fight the working class as a whole. I will try to explain how and why. For example, take this guy called Göran. He is 58 years old and totally uninterested in cooking when he is forced to join a chef-programme. He also knows that no restaurant will hire him when he is finished. At first I was puzzled about it; what was the reason for keeping him there? My basic attitude when I started was that the employment office do things to support the companies and that no company would hire him. After a while it become clear to me – the old git isn’t being educated to work but to seek jobs. i.e. to be unemployed. This a part of what a marxist would call “the reproduction of the working class/work force”. Reproduction doesn’t just mean the birth of new workers, but also to force the existing workers to their workplaces. The point of having many unemployed workers that is prepared to take any job puts a lot of pressure on the workers who actually hold a job. The ones who have a job are very aware of how you are treated by the employment office and that by itself is a good reason to shut up and do as your boss tells you. Another purpose of these programmes is the free labor that these companies is offered: they don´t have to pay for the actual work being performed and they don´t have to hire someone to do the work the students perform. This also means they don´t have to raise the low salaries of the kitchen slaves.

To learn how to work or to learn how to be a worker
One of the main purposes of the education was to teach us to become workers, to “reproduce” us. Just because we were out of work we couldn’t be allowed to forget to get up early in the morning and do some pointless task that we hated. Even though today that doesn’t only mean blind obedience, we were supposed to learn the “norms and values” of the restaurant business; the customer is always right, no taking breaks during rush hours and etc. In the Swedish kitchens the norm is very few workers per kitchen, which means that it’s more important to learn how to work independently than to take orders. However, to learn how to be a worker also means to learn how to struggle together with others. The conflicts during an education are not the same as the ones that take place during ”real” work. Nevertheless, the conflicts at Lernia was harder than I had anticipated.

Kim Müller, Kämpa tillsammans!

Link to Communism of Attack and Communism of Withdrawal torsdag, Jan 10 2008 

Communism of Attack and Communism of Withdrawal was first publiced in riff-raff #7.

Attack/Withdrawal torsdag, Jan 10 2008 

Attack/Withdrawal (rough translation)

In this issue of riff-raff two texts are being published, carelessly brought together here under the honourable name ‘the critique’, both using the text ‘The Communism of Attack and the Communism of Withdrawal’ as a starting point for their respective understanding of communism and class struggle. Since the text in question will be followed up by a critical continuation, this text should be understood not only as an answer to the critique, but also as a teaser for a coming publication, Party and Exteriority, a publication that, being a critical continuation of ‘The Communism of Attack and the Communism of Withdrawal’, also will be a rejoinder to the critique aimed at that text. (mer…)

”Possibilities are found in the struggle outside the unions” torsdag, Jan 10 2008 

Interview with Swedish communist group Kämpa tillsammans about ”faceless resistance” and workplace organisation.

M: What is Kämpa tillsammans?
KT: We call ourselves a writing collective, where we have discussions together and a collective signature. What we are occupied with is class struggle theory.

M: What made you start the group?

Initially it was because we put together a pamphlet with texts from the autonomist movement in Western Europe. We called the pamphlet Kämpa tillsammans, but as a group we did not have a name. We weren’t really a group, more like an editorial board. We were interviewed by the danish magazine Autonomi and they referred to us as Kämpa tillsammans. When we some time later felt the need to write something by and express ourselves, we used that name. (mer…)

Proletarian management söndag, Jan 6 2008 

Informal workplace organization – Kämpa Tillsammans

The emancipation of the working class can not only be conquered by the working class themselves but the emancipating practices of the working class are its own making too. So the question about workers autonomy isn’t primarily a political question but a question about organization and this article deals with concrete and actual workers autonomy and how it exist in Sweden today in the 21st century.

Our main thesis is that the workplace struggles are not first and foremost happening through the mediation of the unions, but through the informal organization that often tend to take place among fellow workers. However, this organization is not something that creates itself; it has to be produced, and can therefore be developed and extended. Our basic assumption has always been that the potentiality of radical anti-capitalist workers’ struggle exist where it is actually taking place. Today this struggle is not carried out under the regime of the unions, but through informal workplace organization, and it is the independent, informal, and immediate character of this struggle that makes it truly radical and anti-capitalist. In this article we attempt to investigate how it arises and takes shape. We begin by looking at what our antagonists in the class struggle have to say about the informal workplace organization and its “informal leaders”, and how the development of their management theories proceeds through the testing of new practices for continued extortion. (mer…)

Faceless resistance söndag, Jan 6 2008 

Tales of work and struggle in a large Swedish bakery under threat from closure.

For almost two years I was employed at a bakery in southern Sweden, together with about 160 others; bakers, cleaners and mechanics included. From the first day of work, I was told that the bakery was under the threat to be closed down, and, indeed, with time, we got dismissed and the bakery shut down. Of course this affected the mood and ways of struggle at the bakery, and may be worth to keep in mind while reading the text. For example, it meant that the turnover of employees was rather big, and that many of the older people went looking for new jobs. (mer…)

Hamburgers vs Value söndag, Jan 6 2008 

Article by Swedish communist group Kämpa Tillsammans, examining the relationship between informal workplace activity in a hamburger restaurant, and the broader communist movement.

By Marcel, member of the communist group Kämpa Tillsammans! 1

This text has two goals. The first is to try to create an interest in the daily ongoing class struggle that is waged everyday in every workplace. I will try to show that something as completely unglamorous and ordinary as working at a restaurant, or rather the small hidden struggles that are waged against wage labour there, is part of the communist movement 2. The other goal is to show that theoretical notions like capital, communism, use value and exchange value are not something abstract and academic, but rather something concrete that influence our lives and which we in turn influence. (mer…)