Fever

Self-managing the Titanic

All over the world, a consensus has been built around the idea that we’re all in the same boat: a ship of humanity, sailing the seas of the pandemic. If that is true, then it sways dangerously, hurling many of us into the waters of death, hunger and unemployment. While they celebrate in the captain’s quarters, here on deck the bosses prepare a purge in our ranks to save the commodities down in the hull, and to guarantee that exploitation continues at full steam.

The pandemic and the economic crisis rage on across our planet. We see the intensification of conflict over work and reproduction, as well as an increase in surveillance technologies, which are probably here to stay. Although the suspension of normality unfolds in different forms in each region, workers all over the world face a common problem. Fever is an attempt to bring together comrades from around the globe, to share reflections on the class struggle and to build a collective understanding. As part of this collective process of exchange and confrontation, we have decided to write a regular editorial: a platform on which to debate the burning questions of this unprecedented period of catastrophe and upheaval.

In the past weeks we’ve published letters from the frontlines of the pandemic. From hospitals where workers are treated as cannon fodder; from struggles in workplaces over income and safety; from workers left unemployed and without income, and from those who scrape by with informal and self-employed work, risking infection. Among the various articles we’ve written, those which have sparked the most interesting debates in our midst were around the question of workers’ self-management within the pandemic. We don’t intend to give any firm conclusions on the subject, but rather to share what we think is a meaningful debate.

In Argentina, where worker-owned enterprises employ roughly 15,000 people, self-managed factories have begun producing essential medical equipment, such as hand sanitiser, masks and hospital furniture. Other occupied factories have given space over to local neighbourhood aid organisations. Halfway across the world, we find a similar situation in France, where McDonald’s workers seized their fast food restaurant and converted it into a hub for the donation and distribution of food.

In a context where many will face ever greater difficulty in securing their basic needs, workers will have to make ends meet, especially in places where there is little or no government assistance. In many cases, the need to come up with ways to survive leads to individualistic solutions to the situation, and to the eulogy of resilience and self-preservation. There are, however, experiences in which workers will pursue a more collective path: either through networks of cooperation that distribute food and other items – which are not very different from those organised by NGOs or churches and even resemble government assistance networks – or through more radical actions, such as the occupation and self-management of companies. But capital’s capacity to absorb these practices of self-organised mutual aid as free labour is one of the major difficulties faced by proletarians who struggle for survival against capital.

In the case of Argentina in the early 2000s, the occupation of factories or other companies was the result of a process of class struggle. In most cases, the company in question had closed and left its employees without pay, causing the workers to take over the company and to start running it in order to keep their jobs. In these cases, courts were able to recognize workers’ ownership of the enterprise as a form of payment for unpaid wages. From the moment they become managers, workers face the imperative of keeping the productive unit running, thus facing the same problems as any other small business. If these workers previously could have fought for overtime pay or salary increases, it is possible that now, in a self-managed factory, they will work longer hours for a lower salary. This is because as a workers’ cooperative they are still forced to follow the demands of the market, having to keep up with technological innovations while having little capital to invest.

This situation already poses a number of problems worthy of reflection. By looking at self-managed factories as workplaces like any other, we can investigate what conflicts and forms of exploitation workers can end up being subjected to. But it seems that the reports about the factories in Argentina or McDonald’s in Marseille raise other dilemmas as well. In those cases, the experience of self-management is largely consolidated. The novel element is that, in the context of the pandemic, these companies have taken up the production or distribution of necessary commodities such as food and medical equipment. How do we see this initiative of adding efforts to the supposed general, national mobilization to fight Covid-19? There are reports that, in a number of countries, General Motors and other automakers have adapted some of their production lines to build ventilators. In the US the United Auto Workers union also submitted a proposal to shift production to critically needed protective equipment. Aside from the difference in scale of these enterprises, does the form of management introduce real differences from the point of view of class struggle? To what extent do these self-organized attempts to combat Covid-19 escape the mechanisms of management and exploitation?

After debating such questions with our comrades, one thing seems clear: in isolation, under the logic of urgency, there are no right answers other than survival. But besides the questions of how and what to produce, many ask: why produce at all? For the capitalists – pandemic or not – the answer is always the same: to make money, to which they sometimes add: “to create jobs”, “to save the nation,” and so on. This answer gives us a list of targets to destroy.

But before we can find our own answer to this and other questions (How can we live rather than just survive? How can we take care of each other whilst not just managing poverty?), there are walls we need to break down. These are the concrete walls of capital, painted in national colours, and built on the steel frame of the state. And even if we cannot provide many certainties, we have at least two: these walls will not fall by themselves, and we will only be able to demolish them if our offensive is international. Fever wants to contribute to this demolition by disseminating, supporting, stimulating and building connections between offensive working class struggles around the world.

Newsletter

Since the launch of the site, we’ve published several types of articles.

In reports, we try to inform our comrades around the world on ongoing struggles. We don’t want to produce pretty pictures, we avoid sensationalism and buzz. We try to provide useful information to the comrades in struggle, while avoiding what can help the police as much as possible.

Under flyers you can find a section in which the different groups of comrades involved in Fever share their leaflets and pamphlets as a presentation of their efforts to participate in the fight, and so that they can be used elsewhere.

We have also proposed some analysis, to try to participate in the collective effort to understand our situation as workers. Until now, we’ve published:

A reflection on the evolution of the relationship between the Argentine state and the workers’ movement.

– A view on the discussions inside our class in times of crisis.

– An analysis and critique of the utilitarian reactions of states in the pandemic crisis. Some hypotheses on the prospects for the exploited, and a story talking about origami and crisis management.

Some insights on the situation of informal workers in Brazil.

A short summary of global Covid-19 struggles.

A declaration of intent from the assembly of the Camarade space (Toulouse, France) to the Fever project

An analysis of the housing question during the pandemic.

All articles on the site are translated into English, which is the common language of FEVER.

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