- Alastair Reith
Defenders of capitalism often claim that it is the most efficient, productive and effective system on offer. That for all its flaws (such as the misery that most of humanity is forced to endure), capitalism is at least capable of ensuring that everything operates the way it should, and all the jobs get done. However, this doesn’t stack up to reality.
I spend every Sunday pushing trolleys in the Countdown carpark. It’s a boring, monotonous job with very little to stimulate my mind - I walk outside, get trolleys, take them back inside, and repeat the process. Every now and again I shake things up a bit by taking a trolley into the store, collecting baskets and taking them out to the foyer.
Last Sunday, though, something was different. I don’t enjoy my job that much, and I don’t exactly pour every drop of energy I have into it, but over time I have become reasonably good at it. I can usually ensure that at all but the busiest times there are trolleys and baskets in the foyer and no major problems to do with supply of shopping bags, till rolls, etc. I can pretty much just zone out and let the day take its course as I get into my usual routine.
Not any more. Management has just bought a whole lot of new trolleys. This in itself is good - we’re beginning to run low (those pesky students keep making off with them), and the more trolleys we have the easier my job becomes… or so I thought.
The bosses, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to buy a completely different type of trolley. They’re lighter, shallower and feel generally flimsy, and the satisfying crash that used to come when you deposited a load of trolleys with their fellows has disappeared, taking with it most of my job satisfaction. All I get now is either a pathetic tinkling noise or a horrible metallic screech.
Most significantly, though, these new trolleys don’t stack with the old ones - they’re the wrong height and the wrong shape. This means that when customers put them in the trolley bays in the carpark, they don’t just fold into each other any more - they clump up in little bunches of two or three trolleys. Whereas before I could just grab ten trolleys out of the bay and haul them in, now I have to take them out in little groups, sometimes one at a time, and painstakingly separate the new ones from the old ones before I’m able to take any of them inside. It now takes me about three times as long as it used to, just to get a load of trolleys in the doors. That means that there tend to be fewer trolleys inside, more cluttering up the carpark, fewer baskets in the foyer and fewer menial chores getting done because I’m too busy desperately trying to sort out the mess that’s been made of the carpark. Basically, thanks to management’s stupid decision, I’m now a much less efficient and productive worker.
This is a good example of how, in practice, capitalism is not efficient at all - it’s the complete opposite. The bosses don’t have a clue about how my job is actually done, and their bad decisions are a result of that.
If Countdown was under workers’ control, with all decisions about how it operates, what’s going to be bought, what changes are going to be made and so on being made democratically by the workers who actually operate the store, decisions like buying the new type of trolleys wouldn’t get made. Instead, I would be able to get up at the assembly we’d hold to vote on decisions and put forward my perspective on what type of trolleys we should get - after all, who knows better than me, the trolley guy? The decisions would be made based on the first-hand experience of us workers, and it’s safe to bet that they’d be better than those made by the pricks who are currently running the show.
Another good example of how capitalism is actually an ineffective and crazy system is the story of a Workers Party member who lived in Wellington for a while. He was waiting for the bus near his house of an evening to get into town, and two days running no less than six buses drove past without picking him up! The drivers just waved sorry and kept going.
This wasn’t the choice of the drivers - they were forced to do it by the company management, who structured the shifts to deny drivers any overtime. This meant they weren’t able to pick people up on their way back into town even though the buses weren’t full, they were heading in the right direction, and people needed to go there. The bosses’ desire for profit resulted in an inefficient, ineffective system that messed up a lot of people’s plans for the evening.
This talk about workers’ control isn’t just idle dreaming - it’s a reality all over the world, where working people have dispensed with the parasites at the top of the stairs and started running things themselves. Without fail, when left to their own devices they’ve done a much better job of it.
In Argentina, there is a powerful and well-established workplace occupation movement. At Zanon Ceramics a factory making tiles, the workers were able to produce more tiles than before and sell them at a cheaper price, with all the workers enjoying better wages and more enjoyable jobs.
In Nepal in the past few days, workers at a tea factory and plantation have responded to their bosses’ refusal to negotiate better wages and conditions by seizing control of the plant and putting it under workers control! The workers’ union is affiliated to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), and with the Maoist revolutionaries being the largest party and the leaders of the new government, the workers are feeling more confident.
If it can be done in Argentina and Nepal, why not in New Zealand? Why not around the world, and in every single workplace that exists? Why can we not ditch this crappy system of exploitation, poverty and needless suffering that we currently have, and replace it with a system based on workers’ power, and a world of freedom, equality and material abundance? The working class has the ability to achieve this. Let’s get started!