sindicat, dia zero

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.

axis powers

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!

11 responses

  1. iain says:

    well done
    I attended a few anarchist meetings here in Belfast, but they didn't seem to be doing a lot.
    I'm sure you've seen the political compass? If not
    I keep moving south west as I get older.

  2. Dan says:

    I have to agree about your assessment of US politics - though I think most Americans have a pretty uniform sense of what constitutes "freedom," but just put different priorities on what sorts of things should most temper it: religion, free market potential, and national security for the republicans, vs. social causes for the democrats.

  3. Jerome Haltom says:

    The anarchists already won. Thousands of years ago. As soon as they advanced to a point where they started to gain knowledge and learn what works and doesn't work about the world, they established government and invented leaders.

    I think that's a funny and ironic way to look at it.

    I find the position logically untenable. First by it's very definition, anarchy requires you to acknowledge that all individuals have a differing opinion on everything. The extension of that is that you have to admit that some people will not like an anarchist state of "society". Those people will group up and form their own society. If you do not respect those people's decisions to do so, and restrict their ability to do so, you have already failed at anarchy.

  4. Xan says:

    I'd say that considering all anarchists are socialists (and that much is said even in the Anarquist FAQ), your ASCII diagram is a bit misleading. I guess I'd use "Marxists", although that is also misleading, or "State Socialists", or even "Communists", which is also wrong but at least the term is so loaded at this point that I'd say is beyond saving (unlike, I want to think, Socialism), and I have no problem leaving the term to those advocating a vanguard party and a state controlled economy :)

    In any case, it's great you joined a union. Why the CGT and not the CNT?

  5. Adrian Custer says:


    Thanks for your post on anarchism which I saw via planet gnome. Nice to have a few like minded people in the community since it feels these days like we are drowning in the commercialisation era of free software.

    cheers, adrian

  6. andi says:

    socialism isn't necessarily authoritarian and also doesn't necessarily mean state involvement. In fact, one could even argue it contradicts those.
    I think your machine-human political table is just so much too trivial.
    when something belongs to me, it means i have to possibility to decide what I want to do with it. If somebody decides in my behalf what is to be done with something that formally belongs to me - I don't really own it. socialism means that people own their means of productions. you might say now, that this is the case in capitalism but then you are wrong. almost none of the workers (in a global context) own the means of production they are working with - neither collectively nor individually. In a way it doesn't make much difference whether you are controlled by a state you have no influence in or by capitalists who act as market demands.

  7. Tristan says:

    Socialism from below, Marxist socialism, is NOT authoritarian. And communism is NO state, so definitely not authoritarian.

    Check out the International Socialist Organization for socialist from below org in the USA, if you aren't in the USA I'm sure there is one there too :).

    And read what Marx was really about, as well as Lenin.

    Lastly, Propagandhi rules!

  8. Philip Van Hoof says:

    Good old Propagandhi. Always fun to watch them play. Reminds me of my old-school punk subculture when I was a naive 16 year old with rather few good ideas and mostly kicking and screaming tactics.

    Let's dissect a bit of the lyrics of Youtube's Q1y3AMzh7nw.

    > This song is called Resisting Tyrannical
    > Government and it's about, euh, killing elected
    > officials as a viable option for social change.
    > Well, it's also a critical analysis of it.

    Now I hope that he meant that it's a critical analysis of claiming that killing elected officials is a viable option for social change. Rather than that it's a critical analysis of tyrannical government.

    Else I have a few ethical questions about what he said.

    > Why don't we all strap bombs to our chests and ride
    > our bikes to the next g-7 picnic? it seems easier
    > with every clock tick.

    We call the reason why we don't do that, ethics.

    > But whose will would that represent? mine? yours?
    > the rank-and-file's? or better yet the government's?

    Not mine.

    > I don't want to catalyze or synthesize the second
    > final solution. I don't want to be the Steve Smith
    > of the revolution.

    Ok, fair enough.

    > Do you see the analogy?

    No, I don't.

    > We're the oilers. The world bank- the flames! And
    > just 2 minutes remain in the 7th game of the best
    > of 7 series! Yeah, Jesus saves! Gretzky scores! The
    > workers slave. The rich get more. One wrong move and
    > we risk the cup.

    The last century the gap between rich and poor became smaller thanks to i.e. schools. But certainly, you're right that we should continue closing the gap and growing the middle class segment of society. Just screaming and kicking wont help, though. Kicking and screaming makes the masses more stupid. You need smart masses to continue closing the gap.

    > So play the man, not the puck.

    I guess it's indeed a critical analysis of this lyric that he recognizes that he's playing the man, not the puck.

    > Why don't we plant a mechanic virus and erase the
    > memory of the machines that maintain this capitalist
    > dynasty?

    Why would the economic reality that would arise after that be better?

    The song writer is against the prisoners dilemma that all humans are in. That game is the puck. By erasing memory, the man, you don't change the rules of prisoners dilemma.

    If you want to change the rules of the game, propose ethics and try to infect the collective memory of mankind with it.

    I also hope that by machines, he means machines. Not the people in power. Else I again have a few ethic questions (erasing that memory means killing them).

    > I recognize the irony that the very system I oppose
    > affords me the luxury of biting the hand that feeds.
    > That's exactly why priviledged fucks like me, and all
    > of you, should feel likewise to whine and kick and
    > scream - until everyone has everything they need.

    Right, good that he recognizes this. This is the only reasonable part of the lyric. Maybe the song was about being a critical analysis of its own lyrics?

    I don't consider just kicking and screaming sufficient philosophical effort to get everyone everything they need.

  9. wingo says:

    Good morning, internet!

    @iain: I think I probably have seen the political compass before; it seems to be the kind of idea that sticks with you. Probably a more cogent expression of it, too.

    @Xan: Yeah, I think you're probably right, I'm definitely unfairly slurring socialism here. I just have a bad taste in my mouth from its instantiation here, like the "socialist" government in Spain (war in Afghanistan), or in Barcelona (Llei de Civisme, brutal mossos, ...). The corrupting effects of power, eh...

    @andi: Much too trivial, of course -- it only has two dimensions! But it has proved useful for my thinking.

    @Philip: I don't think the song was meant to be a logical proposition. Its meaning comes a sense of anguish and despair at the wrongness of the world. The rap of a baton on a shield; the tone of a newscaster. Sometimes reason seems far away; inaccessible, and unimportant.

    I linked to it because of its last lines, actually. Just because one is well-off does not mean working for justice is unnecessary.

    Actually, I probably shouldn't admit this, but I do tear up every time I hear that song.

  10. Yo'av Moshe says:

    Hey, congratulations!

    Really great post to see via Planet GNOME! We need more of this kind :)

  11. Jeff Walden says:

    If you think that the term "liberal" has been misused or co-opted in the United States, you should be aware (you might be, this post constitutes insufficient information to say) that the phrase "classically liberal" still unambiguously refers to that "accepted meaning" from the international context. It's probably more an academic/political-theory term these days, however, that doesn't see much use in popular discourse.

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