I have been meaning to join a union for a long time. There is so much necrophilia in the world, a globalized obsession with The Economy that prefers numbers over life, that to be alive is an obligation to fight against deadening discourse.
I say "discourse", and I sound flaky, but I really do believe in the magical power of stories. Stories are why we get up and go to work in the morning. Granted, some correlation makes a story more powerful -- of Richard Stallman having Emacs at his back when he said, "Let there be GNU" -- but stories project into the future, generating the ongoing present.
But a bard alone does not a story make. A story is a relationship between people that feed each other. Groups that realize this have immense power, power over the ongoing present -- power to fashion (hu)man in their own image.
That's why I'm interested in unions. Most people work at the poo end of the capitalism stick, and they know it. They know that capitalism is also just a story, one among many; and that retelling another kind of story can lead to a better present.
I'm 30 now, and Churchill be damned, I'm growing more leftist by the year. But perhaps it is tempered, if "tempered" is even an appropriate verb, by a growing appreciation of the value of autonomy -- freedom, but of the kind that ends that ends where another's nose begins. Generally speaking, coercion is an evil.
The corrupting influences of the very existence of coercion are not widely appreciated. Everyone knows that politicians tend to be despotic, but few people appreciate that anyone in such a position of control would tend to poison their community, and themselves. The problem is not the politicians, it is power itself. It's the "absolutely" in "absolute power corrupts absolutely". It's why Gandalf refused the ring.
Since it's an underappreciated point, let me draw a diagram. ASCII in the house!
human machine +-----------------+------------------+ authoritarian | socialists | fascists | +-----------------+------------------+ libertarian | anarchists | randroids | +-----------------+------------------+
To divide all of politics into two dimensions is a conceit, of course, but to me this is the most useful division. A further conceit is for those dimensions to carry a value judgement, but hey, it's my blog, and blogs are conceited anyway.
By human, I mean what in Spanish one would call solidario -- people working in support of each other. In contrast, machine privileges "the system" -- the economy, for example.
In the US, the common way of describing the political divide is "liberal versus conservative", which to me makes no sense whatsover. First of all, it misuses words: "liberal" has an accepted meaning in the international context, generally translating to "free-market". "Conservative" has the positive connotation of preserving traditions, but none of the practical implications -- practically speaking, conservatives are more "free-market" even than the liberals, and that free-market ideology leads to Wal-Mart and the death of Main Street and all those things that any US resident knows about.
These connotations obscure the real problem: the liberal-conservative axis represents but a part of the space that I showed above, a part mostly on the authoritarian-machine side. There are differences, but they are slight, given the big picture.
At the risk of belaboring the point, I'll point out one thing. Rural areas in the US are typed as being "conservative". But in reality many people are simply rebelling against an imposed authority -- "outsiders coming and telling us what to do". This is a libertarian sentiment. But these people then get caught in the (masterfully told) Republican story of "personal freedom is the freedom to do whatever you want, other people's noses be damned", and many come off believing it. The story creates reality.
apt-get install anarchy
It should be clear that I'm really attracted to the anarchist project. The anarchists are practically the only people that recognize the corrupting nature of power. Anarchist unions have no union bosses, unlike the majority of unions, here in Spain or otherwise. And anarchist unions are not just working at ameliorating working conditions, which is important, but also at the general plan of revolution, of enacting that story that we retell and dream: a world without coercion. That's what freedom means to an anarchist.
Personally speaking, my working conditions are fine, which gives me some liberty to write about these topics. I'm happy that I'm able to say that, but given that my needs are met, it's really an obligation to work for the freedom of others.
(I can't really leave this point without mentioning Propagandhi's Resisting Tyrannical Government.)
Many programmers are in a similar situation. It seems that computer programming is fundamentally tricky, and that the demand for programs always outweighs the supply of practitioners.
Of course if you're stuck in a shit job it might not appear that way. You're probably feeling a bit indignant, reading some of this, and I understand that. In that case you really need to protect yourself, via the traditional organizing methods of a union. See Val Aurora's negotiation notes for some steps you can take on your own; but we programmers are an individualist bunch. It's hard to accept that one can exhibit solidarity without abandoning personal freedom. I think unionizing programming shops is a fine idea, depending on the union of course.
Here in Barcelona there's a splendid anarchist tradition; beautiful, and heartbreaking too. The evening waxes long, so I can't dig up more links than this; but it hit close to barri here. The nearby Fabra i Coats textile plant, here in my Sant Andreu neighborhood, was colllectivized, along with many other workplaces.
The tradition lives on in many forms; in hearts, yes, but also in outward manifestations like the anarchosindicalists. It's not just about better working conditions; it's about better ways of inter-human relations, about a world without coercion.
So it's with all these thoughts in mind that today I stepped into the offices of the CGT. There was some confusion about what sector I was working in, finally resolved as "the commercial sector" (what?), but it seems I have joined a union.
Further bulletins as events warrant!