What, How, and How Much to Produce [translation]

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Editor’s Note: Controlavoro [Against Work], which ran from 1977-1980, was a magazine produced by the Porto Marghera Workerist Group and was collected and published online for the first time this year, alongside Lavoro Zero (1973-1980). The movement, largely made up of workers in the chemical industry, developed anti-capitalist theory from the production line, such as 1971’s Against Noxiousness, that showed how capitalist work was a health hazard in both its unsafe working conditions and in the alienating relations of production it mandated.

New Multitude selects Cosa, Come, Quanto Produrre/What, How, and How Much to Produce as a succinct dispatch from the workers’ struggle, highlighting how the demand for another future cannot not be reduced to the mere negotiation with capital for higher wages, but requires a qualitative shift in how workers relate to the wealth they create.

What, How and How Much to Produce.

Many times, we have been accused of being ludditesi, of being people who want to destroy the results of hard work and the wealth created by human activity. This is because our writings and therefore our actions call into question, both theoretically and practically, some key concepts of capitalistic society.

In reality, what we want to do is not to destroy wealth, but to destroy that part of labor that only creates profits and power for bosses and to organize the rest in a different manner.

We’re certain that fighting against and for the destruction of factories such as Seveso’s ICMESAii, Cirié’s IPCAiii, the PHOSGENE department of the Petrolchimicoiv, etc., fighting to dismantle the principle of “those who don’t subject themselves to work in line with the current conditions, don’t eat”, and trying to explore which part of our labor is necessary and which part only serves for the accumulation of profit, doesn’t mean we want to destroy wealth, it means we want to create real wealth.

Speaking of labor and wealth, Marx said that the real wealth of society is realized through the free expression of social individuals and their qualitative needs thus ‘the measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time.’v

What we need to challenge today is the organization of labor, not only challenging the hierarchies of ranksvi, but also on the field of choices that make us produce commodities and not goods. These are things we don’t need that are produced solely to keep us, the class that produces wealth, away from the opportunity for political and social control of economy.

What is certain is that we can’t throw away many long years of struggles for secure employment by accepting the bosses’ mantra of productivity increases. We don’t understand why we should cede now what we would have never ceded back then.

What changed?? What could have changed??

Mobility and productivity cannot be exchanged today for a few more qualifications or for narrowing salary parameters. This isn’t the way to change course!!!

WHAT, HOW AND HOW MUCH TO PRODUCE must be the parameters of our struggle, which must be confronted within a relationship of power with the bosses and the reformists. In this perspective, we can’t position ourselves solely with counterprogrammes or with demands, but we must try, even with all the existing contradictions and fears, to give concrete indications of what should be done, which is something we think everyone needs.

We can’t reach this objective by allowing more exploitation of labor, nor through the “politica dei due tempi”vii-sacrifice first and then wait for what?..By that time, capital will be stronger and more organized than ever before. No wonder that when we hear about restructuring, productive re-conversion, or sector plans, we immediately think about all the workers who will lose their job or how many, after a period of CIGviii, will go down the road of precarious and informal work.

Technical progress, the increase and improvement of machines and the increase of productivity means producing the same quantity of products with less workers. And this is true in both capital and labour-intensive businesses because this means, and we always see it in practice, either an expansion of basic industries (chemical sector, energy sector, etc.) or development of Taylorized labor (cars, household appliances, etc.). The sector plans proposed by the Unionix and the PCIx wholly accept the logic of market and profits as they range between these two proposals without suggesting an alternative.

Bosses, PCI and the Union have one common objective: reviving the process of accumulation that would stop otherwise. To pick up again what we were saying at the beginning, we need to say that the development of our political subjectivity and the fulfillment of our emancipatory needs, doesn’t go through either of these models, but through the reconstruction of the two roles of producers and consumers that capital has always kept separated.

The new organization of labor can’t be regarded as a function of a more efficient productivity: only by choosing what, how and how much to produce can we begin to question the concepts of mobility and productivity.

Paper of the Territorial Proletarian Committee of Venetoxi.

Translated for New Multitude by “Yuri Gagarin”- trying to find a way back to space. Thanks also to Lorenzo Feltrin for comments and support.

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i[Editor’s Note] Luddism was a textile worker’s movement in the English East Midlands in the early 19th Century, most notorious for the destruction of new machinery. While the movement was a well-organised political campaign against the deregulation of the industry and the subsequent reduction in wages (c.f. Thompson, E.P. The Making of the English Working Class), the word Luddite came to be used as an insult against people percieved to be against new technology, which appears to be the use here.

ii[Translator’s Note] Situated in the town of Meda, northern Italy, the ICMESA company became infamous on the 10th of July 1976, when an accident at an industrial plant led to a dioxin cloud contaminating a vast area of Lombardy in what is now known as the “Seveso disaster”. No person died, but 76.000 animals were euthanized and 3300 died of direct exposure to dioxin.

iii[TN] A chemical industry that produced pigments in the small town of Cirié, province of Turin. The working conditions in the factory were extremely poor but widely ignored by authorities at the time. Workers handled aromatic amines that cause bladder cancer. Workers of IPCA were known for urinating blood. Thanks to the investigation of two former workers, the owners and managers of IPCA were convicted in 1977 for the negligent homicide of 168 workers, but the actual number is much, much higher. The company shut down in 1982.

iv[TN] Petrolchimico refers to the petrochemical plants situated in Porto Marghera, Venice. The area is well known for the pollution and for the horrible working conditions for those who worked in chemical industries. In 1998, 28 managers of the Petrolchimico were acquitted of the homicide of 157 workers who died of cancer.

v[TN] This is a summary of what Marx says in the notebook VII of the Grundrisse

vi[TN] Ranks and parameters are what decides salary and benefits for workers.

vii[TN] The “two halves policy”, refers to a saying of the PCI inspired by football: the first half is where everyone must make sacrifices, while the second half is when we are supposed to reap the benefits of those sacrifices. As PCI correctly pointed out, this second half never came, and everyone had to keep making sacrifices for the sake of a future that will never come.

viii[TN] Cassa Integrazione Guadagni, or CIG. When a company is in dire waters and needs to suspend production for various reason, they can ask the state to pay part of the salary of their workers. Despite the fact CIG is a measure to prevent factory closures and help workers, is it often abused by companies to make the state foot the bill for the salary of their workers while they reap the benefits. In 2020 CIG scams costed to Italy 2,7 billion euro.

ix[TN] Refers to CGIL, the oldest and biggest leftist trade union in Italy. Nowadays is just yet another yellow union.

x[TN] Il Partito Comunista Italiano

xi [EN] The Territorial Proletarian Committee of Veneto was one of many names adopted by the militant workers of Marghera in their actions and publications. This group are best known as the ‘Porto Marghera Workerist Group’ or the ‘Porto Marghera Group’.