The Knowledge and Power of Direct Production Workers

I, the International Liberation Reference Person (ILRP) for Working-Class People, was the overall leader of a Working Together to End Classism Workshop for the RC Regions in Australia. Gwen Brown, the ILRP for Raised-Poor People; Seán Ruth, the ILRP for Middle-Class People; and Jo Saunders, the ILRP for Owning-Class People led classes for the whole workshop and also for their constituencies.

It has always been encouraging and a contradiction to fears about classism for people to see the four of us working and thinking together and to see our closeness and support for each other’s leadership.

It was also great to have Jane Lesley as organizer. She brought to the workshop the intelligence and skills she had gained as a crane operator and organizer of workers on the wharfs of Sydney.

The workshop began with people working in separate groups on ending racism, genocide, and the oppression of Jews. And as at all the recent Ending Classism Workshops I’ve led, there was a panel of direct production workers—the sector of the working class engaged in the direct production of goods and services. It consisted of twenty-three people, including me, fifteen of whom had been raised poor and/or working class and eight of whom had been raised middle or owning class. We each spoke briefly to the following questions:

What do you do for work?

How long have you done that work?

How much are you paid for that work?

What do you love about the work?

What do you hate about the work?

Do you have any workplace injuries? What hurts?

How will RC be different when direct production workers dominate the leadership?

What do you know, as a person in your type of work, that the rest of us do not know?

The last question was related to an earlier class on the climate emergency in which it was mentioned that direct production workers have information known only to people directly engaged in their kind of work.

I will share one example: Most of the people at the workshop thought that cement or concrete dries after it is poured. Some panelists who had worked with cement knew that it does not dry. Instead there is a chemical reaction in which the water added to the concrete mix bonds with the dry ingredients.

All the water used in concrete is forever lost to the environment. Intercontinental ballistic missile silos built in the dry parts of the United States during the “Cold War” removed forever huge amounts of “fossil water” from underground aquifers that had taken millions of years to form. Similarly, the United States border wall is draining the water sources (aquifers and groundwater) of many Native people and others who live close to the southern border of the United States.

A concrete truck driver told us how many liters of water, not including wastewater or the water used for cleaning his equipment, are used in each of his deliveries. He then told how many trucks of cement were involved in certain common constructions.

We then linked that to the large number of concrete buildings going up in Sydney (and many other wealthy cities of the world) and the efforts of Indigenous people, and their allies, to protect the nearby rivers. And we linked it to the water used to protect the houses being built in the bush [countryside] from more frequent bush fires due to global warming.

It is clear that the familiarity we direct production workers have with our planet, its resources, and the details of our economic system is critical to rebuilding our society to a point of sustainability. Not to mention the enormous power we have to demand change by simply stopping our work.

Can we succeed in building a sustainable society without the knowledge and power of this group?

Dan Nickerson

International Liberation Reference Person for Working-Class People

Freeport, Maine, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussionlist for leaders of wide world change

(Present Time 198, January 2020)

Last modified: 2020-01-24 00:15:25+00