Some time ago, Michel Bauwens asked me to report here on an article I’d written at League of Ordinary Gentlemen on free market labor struggle, and particularly on the P2P angle: “Labor Roundtable: Kevin Carson.” This is my (very) belated attempt to oblige. As Michel pointed out, the article is pretty U.S.-centric insofar as it discusses the legal regime set up under Wagner and Taft-Hartley, so readers will have to make allowances for translating it into the terms of their own legal systems. But since the discussion of networked labor struggle and the asymmetric warfare model concerns to a large extent evading the authoritarian strictures of employers and of the corporate state, I suspect a great deal of that model would translate pretty effectively to authoritarian regimes where more conventional labor organization meets with official hostility.
At least five of the six categories of labor struggle I listed in the article are amenable to ideas from the P2P community. Although many of these basic models of labor struggle predate the network revolution, marrying them with networked organization promises a quantum leap in their effectiveness.
For example, my second, third and fourth headings are the French model of socially-based unionism (“unions derive membership from the unemployed and from individuals in non-union workplaces, as well as members of certified bargaining agents, and offer services like affordable insurance and assorted forms of training“); the guild model (“offering insurance and training, negotiating with employers on behalf of members, and offering reliable certification of skill for prospective employers“); and the countereconomic model (in which unions “promote self-provisioning in the informal and household economy, promote production for barter between members, offer cheap group housing and subsistence for the unemployed, provide assorted risk- and cost-pooling arrangements…, provide access to cheap micromanufacturing facilities and internet cafes for members, and generally increase the base of independent production in which subsistence needs can be met outside the wage labor relationship“).
Those three considerably overlapping concepts, although they have been proposed since long before the rise of the Worldwide Web or even the Internet, become far more exciting when considered in light of the new potential of networked platforms. Think of the kinds of unions described in these two headings when you read David de Ugarte’s work on phyles, or John Robb on “Economies as a Software Service.”
The fifth category, “open-mouth sabotage,” is probably as old as wage labor itself. But when mated to contemporary practices like “culture jamming” (e.g. Frank Kernaghan’s campaign against Kathie Lee Gifford’s sweatshops) and the Streisand Effect, it bears the same relation to traditional Wobbly open mouth campaigns that a supersonic jet bears to the Wright brothers’ first plane.
The sixth category, the networked model of the Imolakee Workers and the Wal-Mart Workers’ Association, and the organization of pressure campaigns based on loose coalitions of community social justice organizations, is essentially the model of the post-Seattle anti-globalization movement.
Put them all together, and they’re an application in the specific field of employment relations of Tom Coates’ observation that the desktop and network revolution make it possible — in an increasing number of information and cultural fields — to produce work of a quality at home that rivals the quality of what one produces in the traditional workplace.
The asymmetric warfare model of networked labor organization, Coates’ paradigm of an individual with a desktop computer at home producing work of a quality that once required a giant record company or publishing house, even the million percent return on investment” in destructive terms for a terror attack by an Al Qaeda cell, all are examples of the “individual superempowerment” which Robb attributes to the availability of distributed infrastructure and networked platforms as force multipliers.