Brad Spangler: Direct action in the workplace does not have to mean sabotage that destroys property.

18 Feb 2010 |

A correspondent asks:

“Does anyone else read support for direct action of this sort [in the workplace] as support for ‘the destruction of property as a legitimate part of the bargaining (collective in this case) process’?”

It can happen that way if the workers in question don’t know any better. Conversely, title to stolen loot can be uncritically accepted and a whole class of what would be ethically acceptable tactics can be foolishly disregarded.

The pertinent thing to keep in mind would seem to be the understanding that the more statist the economy, the less likely it might be that the property of any given business is legitimately held property in terms of libertarian theory.

But direct action in the workplace does not have to mean sabotage that destroys property. In a lot of cases, management is so dysfunctional and clueless that a stringent adherence by workers to the rules handed down amounts to “sabotage”. The normal order of affairs in many corporations is for incoherent and contradictory mandates to be pushed down by management more interested in CYA than production. Many of the decisions about which corners to cut and what priorities to set get pushed down to the lowest level. Think of it as limited worker self-management through the imposed terror of potential job loss. In such a (common) environment, “sabotage” can be as simple as stopping trying to make the bureaucratically hamstrung production process work. Or stopping trying to make intelligent decisions in situations where any choice made results in arbitrary punishment if it comes to the attention of management.

An astute observer might recognize a bit of Atlas Shrugging in such approaches to the workplace in an oligopsony job market:

“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

In other words, a lot (if not most) so-called “managers” out there aren’t managing squat. They go through the motions and find a scapegoat if their bosses find anything wrong. When the rules are incoherent, following them strictly can grind things to a freakin’ halt. Recognizing and exploiting this is not a new labor tactic. It’s called “work to rule”.

Brad Spangler is the director of the Center for a Stateless Society and publishes a blog:

  1. stuartbramhall says:

    Excellent blog. I have recently turned 62 and just discovered I am an anarchist. All the other political blogs seem to be framed as exposes on government scandals and conspiracies. Sometimes I think this is a deliberate strategy – outrage fatigue is now well documented. People simply tune out and withdraw. The only blogs that actually propose solutions are the ones who identify as anarchist. The problem I see with the violence/non-violence protest debate is that it’s portrayed (in the official “left” media funded by CIA-front foundations) as a debate over values – forcing sincere political activists to take a stand committing to absolute non-violence. Non-violence is not a value – it’s a strategy – the main promotors of non-violence in the 20th century (Ghandi/Martin Luther King) advocated non-violence as a strategy for political change and not an article of faith. If non-violence ceases to work for us we have to find a new strategy.

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