Tuesday, November 9, 2010

invading socialist society of caring work?

So much going on in my head, hoping this will come out clearly! I have been thinking about these questions but most recently, was directed by a friend to a conversation on What in the hell blog about caring work and the dynamics of workers mobilization, self activity and creation of new values, which helped me clarify my thoughts around this.

I have been very influenced by a book called "The American Worker" by the Johnson Forrest Tendency (JFT). The book was written in the 1950s, from the perspective of an autoworker. It was an observation and diary of the work process that him and his coworkers underwent, as well as the social dynamics, expressions against the top-down control of their labor by the foremen and management.

I have had some problems with the book, but for the most part, have been inspired by it because it lays out how workers who are at the point of production, that is, workers who are doing the everyday work of producing, creating value in the capitalist process, are the ones who know best how to work those machines and run the work process, more so than the bosses who yell at them to do shit from their office on-high, more so than those who claim to be more intelligent/qualified because they manage.
(For all The Office fans, Boys and Girls, Episode 15 Season 2 shows exactly this!)

There is a sense that workers do not need management to run their workplace. They know how to collaborate to do it together. This is not out of any special knowledge or skill particularly, but because of the "definite relations, which are independent of their will" that workers are thrown into in the course of production. The experience of being stuck at a machine, surrounded by pungent smells and oily layers that coat your skin, the jarring noises of pounding machinery etc, as one sits along an assembly line with his coworkers, working on the same objects/machines, churning out day after day of boredom, frustration and production, creates a kind of collective solidarity and teamwork. What is also unique about JFT is the emphasis on how everyday people and workers also have an inclination to express their creativity, intelligence and mastery of tools. These ingredients combine to create workers who have the potential and ability to run their shit without management, support and accommodate one another's strengths and weaknesses on the shopfloor, to have the potential to overcome racial and gender oppression on the shopfloor, etc and basically, become a proto-formation of the new society, or the "invading socialist society."

So here we have this dynamic relationship between two of Marx's quotes here and here. On the one hand, that "It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness," ie. humans are products of our society and socialized as such. On the other hand, that "The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary practice." That is, that revolutionary practice involves not just a changing of external circumstances, but also active human transformation, and self-changing -- which means people gotta WANT to be better human beings, requires WILL POWER, and AGENCY!

Here is how I am engaging with these ideas based on my experiences and observations:

These dynamics are specific to the nursing home industrial complex and my conversations with CNAs in other nursing homes; I dont know much about the division of labor in hospitals to be able to comment on that. Please chime in if you do!

1) Based on the current division of labor, we can't manage the workplace on our own. We need other expertise that we dont currently have, and those who have it are our immediate supervisors. Their monopoly of this knowledge is also their justification for our subordination.

Many of my co-workers who hate the working conditions of the nursing home get out by applying to hospitals (unionized workplace) or try to become Registered Nurses (RN) or LPNs.

We always say that the RNs who have never been CNAs before are the nastiest cos they have no idea how the work is done and it is a bunch of numbers to them.

Then there are also those RNs who have been CNAs before and then forget all about it and become the nastiest assholes on the floor cos they think they been there, done that and can now play boss to those who are left behind.

In many nursing programs now, we are expected to get CNA licensing, and for some schools, concrete CNA experience/volunteering experience, to stand a better chance to enrol in the program.

This requirement however, is different from having a holistic view of nursing. It is to weed people out, to make it more competitive, to create more loopholes for people to BECOME RNs cos of the funding shortage for RN programs, even though this country fucking NEEDS nurses

This is yet another dimension of how the reproductive labor of society, ie. caring for the ill, elderly, and disabled, is now placed on the individual to compete and jump through major hoops, and not on society through state funding for such programs.

A training program that values caring work would combine dimensions of RN and CNA work together so there isn't such a clear division of labor b.w mental and manual labor.

Read more here

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