“A Self-employed Society” by Colin Ward

The split between life and work is probably the greatest contemporary social problem. You cannot expect men to take a responsible attitude and to display initiative in daily life when their whole working experience deprives them of the chance of initiative and responsibility. The personality cannot be successfully divided into watertight compartments, and even the attempt to do so is dangerous: if a man is taught to rely upon a paternalistic authority within the factory, he will be ready to rely upon one outside. If he is rendered irresponsible at work by lack of opportunity for responsibility, he will be irresponsible when away from work too. The contemporary social trend towards a centralised, paternalistic, authoritarian society only reflects conditions which already exist within the factory.

Gordon Rattray Taylor, Are Workers Human?
The novelist, Nigel Balchin, was once invited to address a conference on ‘incentives’ in industry. He remarked that ‘Industrial psychologists must stop messing about with tricky and ingenious bonus schemes and find out why a man, after a hard day’s work, went home and enjoyed digging in his garden.’

But don’t we already know why? He enjoys going home and digging in his garden because there he is free from foremen, managers and bosses. He is free from the monotony and slavery of doing the same thing day in day out, and is in control of the whole job from start to finish. He is free to decide for himself how and when to set about it. He is responsible to himself and not to somebody else. He is working because he wants to and not because he has to. He is doing his own thing. He is his own man.

The desire to ‘be your own boss’ is very common indeed. Think of all the people whose secret dream or cherished ambition is to run a small-holding or a little shop or to set up in trade on their own account, even though it may mean working night and day with little prospect of solvency. Few of them are such optimists as to think they will make a fortune that way. What they want above all is the sense of independence and of controlling their own destinies.

The fact that in the twentieth century the production and distribution of goods and services is far too complicated to be run by millions of one-man businesses doesn’t lessen this urge for self-determination, and the politicians, managers and giant international corporations know it. This is why they present every kind of scheme for ‘workers’ participation’, ‘joint management’, ‘profit sharing’, ‘industrial co-partnership’, everything in fact from suggestion boxes to works councils, to give the worker the feeling that he is more than a cog in the industrial machine while making sure that effective control of industry is kept out of the hands of the man on the factory floor.

They are in fact like the rich man in Tolstoy’s fable – they will do anything for the worker except get off his back.In every industrial country, and probably in every agricultural country, the idea of workers’ control has manifested itself at one time or another – as a demand, an aspiration, a programme or a dream. To confine ourselves to one century and one country, it was the basis of two parallel movements in Britain around the First World War, Syndicalism and Guild Socialism. These two movements dwindled away in the early 1920s, but ever since then there have been sporadic and periodic attempts to re-create a movement for workers’ control of industry.

From some points of view the advocates of workers’ control had much more reason for optimism in 1920 than today. In that year the Sankey Report (a majority report of a Royal Commission) advocating ‘joint control’ and public ownership of the mining industry in Britain, was turned down by the government for being too radical, and by the shop stewards for not being radical enough. When the mines were actually nationalised after almost thirty years, nothing even as mild as joint control was either proposed or demanded. In 1920, too, the Building Guilds began their brief but successful existence. In our own day it is inconceivable that large local authorities would let big building contracts to guilds of workers, or that the co-operative movement would finance them.

The idea that workers should have some say in the running of their industries was accepted then in a way that it has never been since.And yet the trade union movement today is immeasurably stronger than it was in the days when workers’ control was a widespread demand. What has happened is that the labour movement as a whole has accepted the notion that you gain more by settling for less.

In most Western countries, as Anthony Crossland pointed out, the unions, ‘greatly aided by propitious changes in the political and economic background, have achieved a more effective control through the independent exercise of their collective bargaining strength than they would ever have achieved by following the path (beset as it is by practical difficulties on which all past experiments have foundered) of direct workers’ management. Indeed ,we may risk the generalisation that the greater the power of the unions the less the interest in workers’ management.’

His observation is true, even if it is unpalatable for those who would like to see the unions, or some more militantly syndicalist kind of industrial union, as the vehicle for workers’ control. Many advocates of workers’ control have seen the unions as the organs through which it is to be exercised, assuming presumably that the attainment of workers’ control would bring complete community of interest in industry and that the defensive role of the unions would become obsolete. (This is, of course, the assumption behind trade union organisation in the Soviet empire).

I think this view is a gross oversimplification. Before the First World War, the Webbs pointed out that ‘the decisions of the most democratically elected executive committees with regard to wages, hours and conditions of employment of particular sections of their fellow workers, do not always satisfy the latter, or even seem to them to be just’. And the Yugoslav scholar, Branko Pribicevic, in his history of the shop-stewards’ movement in Britain, emphasises this point in criticising the reliance on the idea of control by industrial unions:

Control of industry is largely incompatible with a union’s character as a voluntary association of the workers, formed primarily to protect and represent their interests. Even in the most democratic industrial system, i.e. a system in which the workers would have a share in control, there would still be a need for unions . . . Now if we assume that ma1lagers would be responsible to the body of workers, we cannot exclude the possibility of individual injustices and mistakes. Such cases must be taken up by the union . . . It seems most improbable that a union could fulfil any of these tasks successfully if it were also the organ of industrial administration or, in other words, if it had ceased to be a voluntary organisation . . . It was unfortunate that the idea of workers’ control was almost completely identified with the concept of union control . . .

It was obvious throughout that the unions would oppose any doctrine a1ming at creating a representative structure in industry parallel with their own.In fact, in the only instances we know of in Britain, of either complete or partial workers’ control, the trade union structure is entirely separate from the administration, and there has never been any suggestion that it should be otherwise. What are these examples ? Well, there are the co-operative co-partnerships which make, for instance, some of the footwear sold in retail co-operative societies. These are, so far as they go, genuine examples of workers’ control (needless to say I am not speaking of the factories run by the Co-operative Wholesale Society on orthodox capitalist lines), but they do not seem to have any capacity for expansion, or to exercise any influence on industry in general. There are the fishermen of Brixham in Devon, and the miners of Brora on the coast of Sutherland in Scotland. This pit was to have shut down, but instead the miners took it over from the National Coal Board and formed a company of their own. Then there are those firms where some form of control by the employees has been sought by idealistic employers. (I am thinking of firms like Scott Bader Ltd., and Farmer and Co., not of those heavily paternalistic chocolate manufacturers or of spurious co-partnerships). There are also odd small workshops like the factories in Scotland and Wales of the Rowen Engineering Company.

I mention these examples, not because they have any economic significance, but because the general view is that control of industry by workers is a beautiful idea which is utterly impracticable because of some unspecified deficiency, not in the idea, but in those people labelled as ‘workers’. The Labour Correspondent of The Times remarked of ventures of this kind that, while they provide ‘a means of harmonious self-government in a small concern’, there is no evidence that they provide ‘any solution to the problem of establishing democracy in large-scale industry’. And even more widespread than the opinion that workers have a built-in capacity for managing themselves, is the regretful conclusion that workers’ control is a nice idea, but one which is totally incapable of realisation because of the scale and complexity of modern industry.

Daniel Guerin recommends an interpretation of anarchism which ‘rests upon large-scale modern industry, up-to-date techniques, the modern proletariat, and internationalism on a world scale’. But he does not tell us how. On the face of it, we could counter the argument about scope and scale by pointing out how changes in sources of motive power make the geographical concentration of industry obsolete, and how changing methods of production (automation for example) make the concentration of vast numbers of people obsolete too. Decentralisation is perfectly feasible, and probably economically advantageous within the structure of industry as it is today.

But the arguments based on the complexity of modern industry actually mean something quite different.What the sceptics really mean is that while they can imagine the isolated case of a small enterprise in which the shares are held by the employees, but which is run on ordinary business lines – like Scott Bader Ltd. – or while they can accept the odd example of a firm in which a management committee is elected by the workers -like the co-operative co-partnerships – they cannot imagine those who manipulate the commanding heights of the economy being either disturbed by or, least of all, influenced by, these admirable smallscale precedents. And they are right, of course: the minority aspiration for workers’ control which never completely dies, has at the same time never been widespread enough to challenge the controllers of industry, in spite of the ideological implications of the ‘work-in’.

The tiny minority who would like to see revolutionary changes need not cherish any illusions about this. Neither in the political parties of the Left nor in the trade union movement will they find more than a similar minority in agreement. Nor does the history of syndicalist movements in any country, even Spain, give them any cause for optimism. Geoffrey Ostergaard puts their dilemma in these terms:

‘To be effective as defensive organisations, the unions needed to embrace as many workers as possible and this inevitably led to a dilution of their revolutionary objectives. In practice, the syndicalists were faced with the choice of unions which were either reformist and purely defensive or revolutionary and largely ineffective.’Is there a way out of this dilemma? An approach which combines the ordinary day-to-day struggle of workers in industry over wages and conditions with a more radical attempt to shift the balance of power in the factory? I believe that there is, in what the syndicalists and guild socialists used to describe as ‘encroaching control’ by means of the ‘collective contract’. The syndicalists saw this as ‘a system by which the workers within a factory or shop would undertake a specific amount of work in return for a lump sum to be allocated by the work-group as it saw fit, on condition that the employers abdicated their control of the productive process itself’

The late G. D. H. Cole, who returned to the advocacy of the collective contract system towards the end of his life, claimed that the effect would be to link the members of the working group together in a common enterprise under their joint auspices and control, and to emancipate them from an externally imposed discipline in respect of their method of getting the work done’.

I believe that it has, and my evidence for this belief comes from the example of the gang system worked in some Coventry factories which has some aspects in common with the collective contract idea, and the ‘Composite work’ system worked in some Durham coal mines, which has everything in common with it.The first of these, the gang system, was described by an American professor of industrial and management engineering, Seymour Melman, in his book Decision-Making and Productivity, where he sought ‘to demonstrate that there are realistic alternatives to managerial rule over production’. I have been publicising this book for years simply because in all the pretentious drivel of industrial management literature (which may not fool the workers, but certainly fools management) it is the only piece of research I have come across which raises the key question: is management necessary? Melman sought out an identical product made under dissimilar conditions, and found it in the Ferguson tractor made under license in both Detroit and Coventry. His account of the operation of the gang system in Coventry was confirmed for me by a Coventry engineering worker, Reg Wright.Of Standard’s tractor factory (he is writing of the period before Standard sold the plant to Massey-Ferguson in 1956, and before Leyland took over Standard), Melman declares, ‘In this firm we will show that at the same time thousands of workers operated virtually without supervision as conventionally understood, and at high productivity: the highest wage in British industry was paid; high quality products were produced at acceptable prices in extensively mechanised plants; the management conducted its affairs at unusually low costs; also, organised workers had a substantial role in production decision-making.’ The production policy of the firm at that time was most unorthodox for the motor industry and was the resultant of two inter-related decision-making systems, that of the workers and that of management:

‘In production, the management has been prepared to pay a high wage and to organise production via the gang system which requires management to deal with a grouped work force, rather than with single workers, or with small groups . . . the foremen are concerned with the detailed surveillance of things rather than with the detailed control over people . . . The operation of integrated plants employing 10,000 production workers did not require the elaborate and costly hallmark of business management.’

In the motor-car factory fifteen gangs ranged in size from fifty to five hundred people and the tractor factory was organised as one huge gang. From the standpoint of the production workers ‘the gang system leads to keeping track of goods instead of keeping track of people’. For payment purposes the output that was measured was the output of the whole group. In relation to management, Melman points out:

‘The grouped voice of a work force had greater impact than the pressure of single workers. This effect of the gang system, coupled with trade unionism, is well understood among many British managements. As a result, many managements have opposed the use of the gang system and have argued the value of single worker incentive payments.’

In a telling comparison, Melman contrasts the ‘predatory competition’ which characterises the managerial decision-making system with the workers’ decision-making system in which

‘The most characteristic feature of the decision-formulating process is that of mutuality in decision-making with final authority residing in the hands of the grouped workers themselves.’

Emphasising the human significance of this mode of industrial organisation, Reg Wright says:

The gang system sets men’s minds free from many worries and enables them to concentrate completely on the job. It provides a natural frame of security, it gives confidence, shares money equally, uses all degrees of skill without distinction and enables jobs to be allocated to the man or woman best suited to them, the allocation frequently being made by the workers themselves. Change of job to avoid monotony is an easy matter. The ‘gaffer’ is abolished and foremen are now technicians called in to advise, or to act in a breakdown or other emergency. In some firms a ganger will run, not the men, but the job. He will be paid out of gang earnings, and will work himself on a small gang. On a larger gang he will be fully occupied with organisation and supply of parts and materials. A larger gang may have a deputy ganger as a second string and also a gang-steward who, being a keen trade unionist or workers’ man, will act as a corrective should the Ganges try to favour management unduly or interfere with the individual in undesirable ways. Gang meetings are called as necessary, by the latter and all members of the gang are kept informed and may (and do) criticise everything and everybody. All three are subject to recall. Constructive ideas, on the other hand, are usually the result of one or two people thinking out and trying out new things – this is taking place continuously…

He remarks that ‘The fact of taking responsibility in any of these capacities is educative in every sense.’ Certainly the usual methods of work organisation are not only divisive (‘They’d cut your throat for a bit more overtime,’ a Ford worker told Graham Turner) but are profoundly de-educative, reducing the worker, as Eric Gill used to put it, to a ‘subhuman condition of intellectual irresponsibility’.My second example comes from the mining industry in Durham. David Douglass in his book Pit Life in County Durham criticises the attempts of the National Coal Board to introduce more and more supervision into the miner’s work, with the intention of working the mines like factories, remarking that ‘one of the few redeeming features of pit work, and one that the miners will fight to maintain, is that of independent job control’, for while ‘most factory workers would regard the mine purely and simply as a black and filthy hole, funnily enough the miner in turn regards the factory as a prison and its operatives as captives’. In the early days of mining in Durham, he explains, ‘the miner was practically a self-governing agent. The hewers were allowed to manage their own jobs with practically a total lack of supervision. The degree of job control (though necessarily limited by private ownership) was almost complete.’ Douglass describes such traditions as the cavilling system (selection of working place by ballot in order to equalise earning opportunities) as:

the fundamental way in which the Durham miner managed to maintain an equitable system of work, and managed to stave off the competitiveness, bullying and injustice of the hated butty system. In essence it was an embryo of workers’ control, as can be seen from its ability to handle disputes between sets of workers without recourse to outsiders. It was a little Soviet which had grown up within the capitalist system. In a sense it was of necessity restricted in its development. It is, however, a feature of the worker intervening in the productive process in a conscious way to say: this is how I run it, you adapt it accordingly.

The same kind of attempt to run the mines as factories that David Douglass complains of, accompanied the introduction in the post-war years of the ‘long-wall’ system of working. A comparative study was made by the Tavistock Institute of conventional long-wall working with its introduction of the division of labour, and of factory type methods, and the composite long-wall method adopted by the miners in some pits. Its importance for my argument can be seen from the opening words of one of the Tavistock reports:

This study concerns a groups of miners who came together to evolve a new way of working together, planning the type of change they wanted to put through, and testing it in practice. The new type of work organisation which has come to be known in the industry as composite working, has in recent years emerged spontaneously in a number of different pits in the north-west Durham coalfield. Its roots go back to an earlier tradition which has been almost completely displaced in the course of the last century by the introduction of work techniques based on task segmentation, differential status and payment, and extrinsic hierarchical control.

A further report notes how the investigation shows ‘the ability of quite large primary work groups of 40-50 members to act as self-regulating, self-developing social organisms able to maintain themselves in a steady state of high productivity . . .(P. G. Herbst) describes the system of composite working in a way which shows its relationship to the gang system:

 The composite work organisation may be described as one in which the group takes over complete responsibility for the total cycle of operations involved in mining the coal face. No member of the group has a fixed work-role. instead, the men deploy themselves, depending on the requirements of the ongoing group task. Within the limits of technological and safety requirements they are free to evolve their own way of organising and carrying out their task. They are not subject to any external authority in this respect, nor is there within the group itself any member who takes over a formal directive leadership function. Whereas in conventional long-wall working the coal-getting task is split into four or eight separate work roles, carried out by different teams, each paid at a different rate, in the composite group members are no longer paid directly for any of the tasks carried out. The all-in wage agreement is, instead, based on the negotiated price per ton of coal produced by the team. The income obtained is divided equally among team members.

These examples of on-the-job workers’ control are important in evolving an anarchist approach to industrial organisation. They do not entail submission to paternalistic management techniques – in fact they demolish the myths of managerial expertise and indispensability. They are a force for solidarity rather than divisiveness between workers on the basis of pay and status. They illustrate that it is possible to bring decision-making back to the factory floor and the face-to-face group. They even satisfy-though this is not my criterion for recommending them – the capitalist test of productivity. They, like the growing concept of workers’ rights of possession in the job – tacitly recognised in redundancy payment legislation, actively demonstrated by workers taking over physical possession of the workplace as in the ‘work-in’ at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders – have the great tactical merit of combining short-term aims with long-term aspirations.Could the workers run industry? Of course they could. They do already.

Neither of the two examples I have given of successful ‘on the job’ control, exists in the same form today, for reasons which have nothing to do with either their efficiency or their productivity. In the Durham example it has to do with the shift of emphasis in the (publicly-owned) National Coal Board to the coalfields of South Yorkshire and Nottingham, and in the case of Standards with the mergers (sponsored by a Labour government) which led to the formation of British Leyland as a combine large enough to compete for markets with the giant American-owned and European firms.Industry is not dominated by technical expertise, but by the sales manager, the accountant and the financial tycoon who never made anything in their lives except money.For a lucky few work is enjoyable for its own sake, but the proportion of such people in the total working population grows smaller as work becomes either more mechanised or more fragmented Automation, which was expected to reduce the sheer drudgery of manual labour and the sheer mental drudgery of clerical work, is feared because in practice it simply reduces the number of income gaining opportunities. It is a saving of labour, not by the worker, but by the owners or controllers of capital. The lucky few are destined for the jobs which are either created by or are unaffected by automation. The unlucky ma1ority, condemned from childhood to the dreary jobs, find them either diminished or extinguished by the ‘rationalisation’ of work.

Can we imagine that in a situation where the control of an industry, a factory, any kind of workplace, was in the hands of the people who work there, they would just carry on production, distribution and bottle-washing in the ways we are familiar with today? Even within capitalist society (though not within the ‘public sector’ which belongs to ‘the people’) some employers find that what they call job enlargement or job enrichment, the replacement of conveyor belt tasks by complete assembly jobs, or deliberate rotation from job to job in the production process, can increase production simply by reducing boredom. When everyone in an industry has a voice in it, would they stop at this point?In his brilliant essay Work and Surplus, Keith Paton imagines what would happen in a car factory taken over permanently by its workers. ‘After the carnival of revolution come the appeals to return to work’ but ‘to get into the habit of responding to orders or exhortations to raise the GNP would be to sell the pass straight away. On the other hand production must eventually be got going on some basis or other. What basis? Return to what sort of work?’

So instead of restarting the assembly track (if the young workers haven’t already smashed it) they spend two months discussing the point of their work, and how to rearrange it. Private cars ? Why do people always want to go somewhere else? Is it because where they are is so intolerable? And what part did the automobile play in making the need to escape? What about day to day convenience? Is being stuck in a traffic jam convenient? What about the cost to the country? Bugger the ‘cost to the country’, that’s just the same crap as the national interest. Have you seen the faces of old people as they try to cross a busy main road? What about the inconvenience to pedestrians? What’s the reason for buying a car? Is it just wanting to HAVE it? Do we think the value of a car rubs off on us ? But that’s the wrong way round. Does having a car really save time ? What’s the average hours worked in manufacturing industry Let’s look it up in the library: 45-7 hours work a week. What’s the amount of the family’s spending money in a week that goes on cars? 10 3 per cent of all family income. Which means more like 20 per cent if you’ve got a car because half of us don’t have one. What’s 25 per cent of 45 hours ? Christ, 9 hours ! That’s a hell of a long time spent ‘saving time’ ! There must be a better way of getting from A to B. By bus ? OK, let’s make buses. But what about the pollution and that? What about those electric cars they showed on the telly once? Etc., etc.

He envisages another month of discussion and research in complexly cross-cutting groups, until the workers reach a consensus lor eventual self-redeployment for making products which the workers consider to be socially useful. These include car refurbishing to increase the use-value of models already on the road), buses, overhead monorail cars, electric cars and scooters, white bicycles for communal use (as devised by the Amsterdam provos), housing units, minimal work for drop-outs, and for kids and old people who like to make themselves useful. But he sees other aspects of the workers’ take-over, voluntary extra work for example: ‘As work becomes more and more pleasurable, as technology and society develop to allow more and more craft aspects to return at high technological level, the idea of voluntary extra over the (reduced) fixed working week becomes feasible. Even the fixing of the working week becomes perseded.’ The purpose of this voluntary extra? ‘New Delhi needs buses, provide them by voluntary work.’The factory itself is open to the community, including children; -thus every factory worker is a potential “environmental studies” instructor, if a child comes up and asks him how something works.’ The factory in fact becomes a university, an institute of learning rather than of enforced stupidity, ‘using men to a millionth of their capacities’ as Norbert Weiner put it.

The evolution and transformation of the factory envisaged by Keith Paton leads us back to the idea of the Community Workshop envisaged in the previous chapter. We tend to think of the motor industry, for example, as one in which iron ore comes in at one end and a complete car rolls out at the other (though the purchaser of a ‘Friday car’ in today’s society had better watch out, for that car rolled off the assembly line when the workers were waiting for their real life at the weekend to begin). But in fact two thirds of the factory value of a car is represented by components bought by the manufacturers from outside suppliers. The motor industry, like many others, is an assembly industry. The fact that this is so of most consumer goods industries, coupled with the modern facts of widely distributed industrial skill and motive power, means that, as the Goodman brothers said in Communitas:

‘In large areas of our operation, we could go back to old-fashioned domestic industry with perhaps even a gain in efficiency, for small power is everywhere vailable, small machines are cheap and ingenious, and there are asy means to collect machined parts and centrally assemble them.’

 But it also means that we could locally assemble them. It already happens on the individual spare-time level. Build-it-yourself radio, record-playing, and television kits are a commonplace, and you can also buy assemble-it-yourself cars and refrigerators.Groups of community workshops could combine for bulk ordering of components, or for sharing according to their capacity the production of components for mutual exchange and for local assembly.The new industrial field of plastics (assuming that in a transformed future society, people find it a genuine economy to use them) offer many unexploited possibilities for the community workshop. There are three main kinds of plastics today: thermosetting resins which are moulded under heat with very high pressures and consequently require plant which is at present expensive and complex; thermoplastics, which are shaped by extrusion and by injection moulding (there are already do-it-yourself electric thermoplastic injection machines on the market); and polyester resins, used in conjunction with reinforcing materials like glass fibre which can be moulded at low pressures by simple contact moulding, and are thus eminently suitable for the potentialities of the community workshop.

As we are frequently reminded by our own experience as consumers, industrial products in our society are built for a limited life as well as for an early obsolescence. The products which are available for purchase are not the products which we would prefer to have. In a worker-controlled society it would not be worth the workers’ while to produce articles with a deliberately limited life, nor to make things which were unrepairable. Products would have transparency of operation and repair. When Henry Ford first marketed his Model T he aimed at a product which ‘any hick up a dirt road’ could repair with a hammer and a spanner. He nearly bankrupted his firm in the process, but this is precisely the kind of product which an anarchist society would need: objects whose functioning is transparent and whose repair can be undertaken readily and simply by the user.In his book The Worker in an Affluent Society, Ferdynand Zweig makes the entertaining observation that ‘quite often the worker comes to work on Monday worn out from his weekend activities, especially from “Do-it-yourself”. Quite a number said that the weekend is the most trying and exacting period of the whole week, and Monday morning in the factory, in comparison, is relaxing ‘ This leads us to ask – not in the future, but in our present society – what is work and what is leisure if we work harder in our leisure than at our work? The fact that one of these jobs is paid and the other is not seems almost fortuitous. And this in turn leads us to a further question.

The paradoxes of contemporary capitalism mean that there are vast numbers of what one American economist calls no-people: the army of the unemployed who are either unwanted by, or who consciously reject, the meaningless mechanised slavery of contemporary industrial production. Could they make a livelihood for themselves today in the community workshop ? If the workshop is conceived merely as a social service for ‘creative leisure’ the answer is that it would probably be against the rules. Members might complain that so-and-so was abusing the facilities provided by using them ‘commercially’. But if the workshop were conceived on more imaginative lines than any existing venture of this kind, its potentialities could become a source of livelihood in the truest sense. In several of the New Towns in Britain, for example, it has been found necessary and desirable to build groups of small workshops for individuals and small businesses engaged in such work as repairing electrical equipment or car bodies, woodworking and the manufacture of small components. The Community Workshop would be enhanced by its cluster of separate workplaces for ‘gainful’ work.

Couldn’t the workshop become the community factory, providing work or a place for work for anyone in the locality who wanted to work that way, not as an optional extra to the economy of the affluent society which rejects an increasing proportion of its members, but as one of the prerequisites of the worker-controlled economy of the future? Keith Paton again, in a far-sighted pamphlet addressed to members of the Claimants’ Union, urged them not to compete for meaningless jobs in the economy which has thrown them out as redundant, but to use their skills to serve their own community. (One of the characteristics of the affluent world is that it denies its poor the opportunity to feed, clothe, or house themselves, or to meet their own and their families’ needs, except from grudgingly doled out welfare payments). He explains that:

When we talk of ‘doing our own thing’ we are not advocating going back to doing everything by hand. This would have been the only option in the thirties. But since then electrical power and ‘affluence’ have brought a spread of intermediate machines, some of them very sophisticated, to ordinary working class communities. Even if they do not own them (as many claimants do not) the possibility exists of borrowing them from neighbours, relatives, ex-workmates. Knitting and sewing machines, power tools and other do-it-yourself equipment comes in this category. Garages can be converted into little workshops, home-brew kits are popular, parts and machinery can be taken from old cars and other gadgets. If they saw their opportunity, trained metallurgists and mechanics could get into advanced scrap technology, recycling the metal wastes of the consumer society for things which could be used again regardless of whether they would fetch anything in a shop. Many hobby enthusiasts could begin to see their interests in a new light.

‘We do’, he affirms, ‘need each other and the enormous pool of energy and morale that lies untapped in every ghetto, city district and estate.’ The funny thing is that when we discuss the question of work from an anarchist point of view, the first question people ask is: What would you do about the lazy man, the man who will not work? The only possible answer is that we have all been supporting him for centuries. The problem that faces every individual and every society is quite different, it is how to provide people with the opportunity they yearn for: the chance to be useful.