Municipalist syndicalism: organizing the new working class
By adopting a municipalist agenda, the labor movements of the new working class have the power to democratize not just the union, but also the city itself.
A municipalist revolution is impossible without the support and cooperation of labor unions. In some cases, labor unions might themselves take the lead in promulgating a municipalist shift. To effectively pursue this path, the left must grapple with the diverse composition and structure of the working class — joining calls for union democracy with nascent municipalist movements. Experiments in participatory democracy can then be tried and tested at the intra-union level, nourishing possibilities for subsequent municipal-wide implementation.
Developments in the United States and Spain are showing that municipalist participatory platforms can win. Examples include the mayoral election of Chokwe Lumumba Jr. in Jackson, Mississippi on a three-pronged platform of building peoples’ assemblies, a solidarity economy and a network of progressive political candidates. A number of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) candidates are running on platforms of expanding participatory democracy and the workers’ cooperative sector. Municipalist movements are proliferating as a means of resisting Donald Trump and a rising far-right.
This comes at a time when labor unions are in decline, with internal democratization needed for revitalization. To raise their appeal, stimulate favorable public opinion and extend their influence, labor unions must also provide and act on a political vision. This is a vision of attaining power at the municipal level, and working to transform it.
Which Working Class?
While there have been positive developments in fomenting a municipalist movement, other segments of the left are grappling with Trump’s victory and liberal Democratic failure in different ways. In the United States, a number of analysts locate the source of these developments in the forty-year decline of the condition of the working class. Advocating a Sanders-like social democratic program in Jacobin Magazine, Connor Kilpatrick writes that “The working class is central to a meaningful progressive politics because they have the numbers, the economic incentive and the potential power to halt capital in its tracks.” On its face, this is not inconsistent with municipalism. The differences in analysis and political program emerge from highlighting and reifying particular sections of the working class. For Kilpatrick, the focus must be on the white working class.
Why the white working class? The majority of today’s working class is white. It cannot be denounced as some angry “outnumbered minority” — The New York Times itself was leading with post-election headlines: “Why Trump Won: Working-Class Whites.” Leftists point to the Democratic Party presidential primaries demonstrating that the white working class overwhelming supported Sanders’ social democratic agenda over Clinton’s neoliberalism. Liberal Democrats have ignored the material circumstances of the white working class. And so it goes that “Donald Trump didn’t flip working-class voters. Hillary Clinton lost them.” Some socialists believe this calls for an unabashed return to class politics. That identity politics has held back the left, and we are now paying for it with the rise of the far-right.
Yet the working class is comprised of more than just its rural white male contingent. Such a discourse risks reducing “the working class” to “rural white people.” Acknowledging this also means grappling with the fact that Bernie Sanders did not do well among black voters. Furthermore, the working class does not only reside in Appalachia or Lake Charles, Louisiana, and it is not only white and male. The working class also resides in Oakland and Jersey City, and it can be black, brown and of any gender (which is not to erase racial diversity outside of cities) and work in sectors outside of industrial manufacturing.
As Gabriel Winant writes in Dissent, “while the idea of a new working class is not yet widely accepted, its distinguishing features are, on their own terms, familiar. We can reduce them down roughly to feminization, racial diversification and increasing precarity: care work, immigrant work, low-wage work, and the gig economy.” A recent study has found that “union membership as a share of total employment, by race and ethnicity” is highest among black workers. The same study notes that the US working class will be majority people of color by 2032. It finds that “the prime-age working-class cohort, which includes working people between the ages of 25 and 54, is projected to be majority people of color in 2029.”
There are other indications that this is where the future of progressive politics lies. Care economy occupations comprise an increasing segment of the emerging worker cooperative sector. Cooperative Homecare Associates, the largest worker cooperative in the United States, operates in the care economy. This democratic employee-owned firm contains over 1,500 worker-owners, and is unionized by SEIU. Initiatives, such as the Cleveland Model, the NYC Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative, and San Francisco Bay Area startup development also focus on developing care economy enterprises, with a number owned and operated by immigrants and based in large municipalities.
The care economy is growing at a tremendous rate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “healthcare occupations and industries are expected to have the fastest employment growth and to add the most jobs between 2014 and 2024.” In a number of states universities and their affiliated hospital systems are the largest employers. Much of the employment is centered in growing metropolitan regions, with working class people of color. The largest cities in the United States are among the most racially and ethnically diverse areas.
Acknowledging all of this is to identify where the left can build power right now. In the immediate term, the left’s power does not lie in white working class rural settings. If the left works for it, it lies in the cities, and among a multi-racial working class. A sector of the working class that has faced severe discrimination, including under New Deal policies which reified racial hierarchies — policies that are still held up as part-and-parcel to the golden age of US progressivism. Nonetheless, a return to social democracy would require input mechanisms and shaping from those who have been historically disenfranchised.
This does not mean abandoning the white working class — groups like Red Neck Revolt are proving effective in organizing the rural white working class along anti-fascist lines. Rather, the question being posed here is what role labor unions can play and where they can be most effective. Embracing an intersectional socialist agenda right now means unions must pursue a politics that channels resources into centering the voice and power of women and people of color.
The choice, then, is not solely between white-centric social democracy or Clintonian neoliberalism. There is another politics to choose, a fusion of the best of the US left: the participatory politics arising in Jackson, Mississippi, with the municipal-focus of UNITE-HERE in New Haven, Connecticut. This third choice — this fusion — is municipalist, participatory and syndicalist.
A New Municipalist Syndicalism
Incipient anti-fascist coalitions hold the potential to call a new politics into existence in the United States. Socialist municipalism could be a means for both resisting the far right as well as articulating a libertarian socialist alternative. While there is much to critique in Bookchin — even from a municipalist angle — the basic guiding principles hold.
Within cities, Bookchin discusses the possibilities of advancing a minimum program and a maximum program. The former meets demands for improved welfare of residents and generates pockets of direct participation and empowerment that can serve as stepping stones to more wholesale institutional transformation. The maximum program is one in which people power is at the center of this institutional transformation: here, decision-making power is transferred from municipal-level representative institutions to that of direct-democratic assemblies.
Municipalist syndicalism offers an enduring platform and long-term strategy for ensuring that the multi-racial urban working class possesses voice and power. While it is easier to declare than to set into actual motion, unions appear to be best positioned to bring strength to a municipalist turn, to be an agent of participatory democracy; best positioned to prepare themselves to pursue the municipalist hypothesis, and follow-through on the conclusions drawn from it.
One major reason: money. Unions hardly have the resources to compete with capitalists at the national level. Nonetheless, they do have substantial resources and autonomous control over them. In addition to money, labor unions own buildings, schools, meeting spaces and a variety of other resources. The question is at what level these resources could be most effectively used. With a fiscal base totaling $8.6 billion, unions are the one force that can mount successful municipalist drives across the United States — specifically, a coordinated movement of municipalist efforts in multiple municipalities.
The strength of municipalism lies in its locality, in its attention to the particular — an attention that some of the best unions have and harness. But to offset against at least some pressures, it must also find strength in its multiplicity. That is to say, not just the multiplicity that lies within a given locale, town or city, but the multiplicity that is at the core of notions of confederalism.
I call this type of politics municipalist syndicalism because, although it is socialistic and premised on multi-tendency coalitions, different chief agents will arise in different contexts. In the context of unionized “eds & meds” metropolitan regions, the unionized “new” working class can be that agent. Where will the meetings be held? Who will have resources to establish an effective communications system? Who will do the canvassing (whether for candidates or as part of a participatory process)? Unions can do a substantial part of this work. And in that way, it is syndicalist: unions deploying their self-organized power and resources towards a political end. Yet, it is municipalist in that organized labor’s eyes are turned for more far-reaching transformation. A transformation beyond the point-of-production.
Before this can take place, however, there must be a democratization of unions themselves.
Community-Focused Union Democracy
As I noted in a previous piece for ROAR Magazine, concepts and designs of union democracy have remained quite thin. Participatory budgeting for union dues can be part of a union’s democratized design. I have argued that participatory budgeting can help stimulate class consciousness, serve as a means for worker education (particularly in the area of self-management), and help transform bureaucracy into a collaborative iterative form of administration.
Participatory budgeting also has an intersectional character. It has been a forum for including and empowering immigrants. It has also increasingly become a staple of the Movement for Black Lives. Public Agenda’s research of PB in North America finds that “black residents were overrepresented or represented proportionally to the local census among voter survey respondents.” In an official statement addressed to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Black Youth Project 100 called “for a participatory city budget in which the public has the power to defund the Chicago Police Department and invest those dollars and resources in Black futures by setting a living wage with union representation.”
BYP 100 member Rossanna Mercedes writes that she has “witnessed first hand the organizing power of black people in participatory budgeting.” Mercedes recounts that “formerly incarcerated persons, mostly Black men, organiz[ing] together through a local community based organization and decide how to spend tax dollars in their neighborhoods. Black youth let[ting] their neighbors know about the process by knocking on doors, taking the vote to them to build support for projects they’ve proposed for their communities.” Mercedes goes further, imagining “what we could do with Community Development Block Grants, the billions in federal funding for those of us in low income communities.”
Participatory budgeting for a labor union could potentially help ground and scale this work, and also connect to it. It can be an organizational form that materially connects labor unions to community groups, with the backing and creative leadership of membership. It can create the necessary alliances for a real municipalist program and movement. There can even be cross-union and cross-local participatory budgeting processes, reminiscent of the regional assemblies once held by the Knights of Labor in the nineteenth century.
Unions can even help community groups achieve their targets, by deploying both their fiscal capital as well as social capital. A labor union participatory budgeting process, for example, could include a budget category of external or “community relations.” Union members could propose ideas and craft projects that directly benefit or work together with the larger community.
This dimension of a union participatory budgeting process could then flow into a democratized “Bargaining for the Common Good” initiatives (partnerships between labor unions and community-based organization that pursue “broad based campaigns that demand common good solutions to win progressive revenue and advance community fights such as affordable housing, universal pre-k and expanded after school programs, and improved city services, as just a few examples”). Such Common Good Bargaining frameworks would be more thoroughly co-designed, which itself would flow out of experiences of co-design and co-production practiced in project development phase of the labor union participatory budgeting process.
There are other ways that democratic union processes can be designed for intersectional ends. One way of explicitly doing this could be through a participatory mapping process. Here members themselves bring their “local situated knowledges” and “standpoints” to the mapping of a workplace or work-location. For example, a number of public schools in the United States fall short of meeting requirements prescribed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Even when accessibility grievances are lodged through unions, such grievances either fall through the union’s bureaucratic cracks or are simply ignored. Participatory mapping processes could be formally linked to what ends up on the bargaining table between unions and employers. Member participation would achieve results by substantively reorienting unions towards intersectional concerns, while also informally pressuring union leadership to act accordingly.
Participatory budgeting and mapping processes within labor unions would also prepare unionized workers to take part in municipal-level participatory budgeting processes. Beyond cultivating trust, this would train union members to operate large-scale participatory budgeting processes in preparation for significant scaling and expansion of participatory democratic processes. Competencies developed within unions would be readily available for transference and scaling at the municipal level. With all of these initiatives being inclusive of non-labor community groups, coalitions would be in place and there would be a backlog of trust-generating experience of having worked together.
Working with this variety of community groups and associations — such as retirees — unions can also streamline the creation of a sector of workers’ controlled enterprises. Soon-to-be retirees hold a stock of businesses that could be converted to democratic employee-ownership. Retiree associations possess networks that could connect those seeking to convert their enterprise with those who can help carry out the conversion. Retirees are also a significant segment of the voting base. Through lending legal and fiscal capacity for converting businesses to democratic employee-ownership (this itself is a tremendous opportunity considering that nearly 25 million workers are employed in businesses susceptible to conversion), soon-to-be-retirees will have found an exit-option.
Municipalist takeover by unions would then enable redeployment of this legal capacity — with greater resourcing, staffing and generalized support. With an autonomous federation of workers’ controlled businesses, democratized unions would have another ally possessing extensive fiscal resources — an ally operating according to socialist relations of production.
A number of unions in eds & meds already see the municipality as a key site of political engagement. In New Haven, a number of current or former UNITE-HERE organizers or officers have been elected to the Board of Alders (effectively, the City Council). There, a coalition of unions and community groups successfully called on Yale University to hire five-hundred residents from communities of color. The Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) has run multiple teachers as candidates for the city’s Board of Alders and mayorality. It has also publicly forged ties with community groups, earning the CTU’s reputation for practicing “social movement unionism.” Power is being leveraged in these cities not only for organized labor as it stands, but the city as a whole. Labor unions are already heading this way. The key is imbuing this movement with a democratized form, imperative and character.
DSA as Potential Platform for Municipalist Syndicalism
There is another question: through what inter-union platforms could this be coordinated. One potential organization is Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the fastest growing socialist organization with 25,000 members. Countless members have demonstrated a commitment to an intersectional socialism as well as one focused on the labor movement. As shown by the intersectional character of participatory budgeting and other processes above, municipalist syndicalism gives content to this commitment.
Thus, as DSA turns towards creating a Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC), it would be wise to consider how union democracy can help flow into the construction of a municipalist socialism. Subsection 3 of the priorities resolution states that “DSA is committed to building democratic labor unions that empower and activate their rank-and-file members.” Putting forward a mix of reforms that include union dues participatory budgeting and common good bargaining adds programmatic weight to this statement.
A DSLC that “coordinates chapter-based labor branches” can do so along such lines, on the premise that if democratic socialism is to be implemented on the national level it must be first experimented with within our unions and within our cities. DSLC can help materially articulate a municipalist syndicalism. A socialism in which democratized unions take leadership, by constructing intersecting layers of self-governance and self-management at the municipal and regional level. Democratization of unions — and union capacity deployed-today towards democratization of the workplace — would remake unions into a “bridgehead” to a participatory society.
The seeds of a municipalist program already lie within the labor movement’s capacity. Once planted, the seeds of municipalism can grow from a democratization of the union to a democratization of the city itself — along direct and participatory lines. It is not the only pathway to radical municipalism, but it is the promise of the new working class. It is the promise of socialist-led union democracy in the twenty-first century.
Municipalist syndicalism: organizing the new working class
Greece: Alternative Economies & Community Currencies Part One – Athens Integral Cooperative
Athens, Greece – While capitalism and consumerism dominate the culture of the United States of America and the Western world, community currencies are creating a buzz elsewhere. The radical need for alternative economies and community currencies is becoming more commonplace among societies across the globalized world dealing with the crisis of mass poverty and inequality. In part one of our three part series shining a light on some of these alternatives, we look at the Athens Integral Cooperative.
In the summer of 2017, the self-organized squat of Embros Theater hosted a speaking engagement discussing community currencies and alternative economies. After the discussion, we interviewed Theodore from the Athens Integral Cooperative (AIC) inside a social center in Exarcheia (Athens, Greece) about the parallel economy they are creating. Theodore gave a run down of what AIC is, the importance of it, as well as its struggles and how it modeled itself after Catalan Integral Cooperative (see our special on the Catalan Integral Cooperative).
“We are building a substantial, alternative, and autonomous economy.” – Theodore of the Athens Integral Cooperative
Aggressive neoliberal policies have created a vicious cycle of austerity in Greece for the last seven years. Many people living in Greece, even today, experience a lack of dignity, unable to gain access to employment, housing, education, healthcare, and having to deal with pension and salary cuts.
In 2011, as the crisis was beginning to deeply impact public life, a ‘movement of the squares‘ swept through Greece, modeled after the indignados in Spain and the Tahrir Square Uprising in Egypt. Thousands took the public commons, occupying Syntagma Square across from the Greek Parliament in central Athens. Through direct democracy, they imagined a future without capitalism; this movement eventually made its way across the Atlantic Ocean to the USA in the form of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
These movements in Spain and Greece birthed political parties, Podemos and Syriza respectively, that have each taken power, and yet the effects of the crisis continue and evolve with no end in sight. We sat down with Theodore to talk about capitalism, the crisis, and the alternatives that have taken form to provide a sustainable living.
Theodore told us that a lot of people lost their jobs when the crisis first hit and that the banks imposed austerity measures and “social rules that were unbearable.”
“We tried to continue with our lives by building autonomous movements and trying to live by ourselves. This was a necessity during this seven years of our financial crisis where people [started] to create social groups and movements in order to cope with the diminishing structure of society, both economical and social.” – Theodore
Autonomous networks, mostly created by self-organized assemblies of anarchists, anti-authoritarians, autonomous groups and individuals, are a counter-force to the social services that the State either never provided, or stopped providing for the people due to the crisis. As Theodore stated, these networks are needed to gain the basic fundamentals of life.
Self-organized forms of resistance to capitalism and ways of implementing mutual aid to those in need are producing experiences that advance the prospects of the ability to live in an equal society, devoid of poverty.
Among the networks of resistance throughout Athens there are at least an estimated 1,000 assemblies with over 5,000 people participating in them. These assemblies are akin to horizontally organized working groups, each working towards a branch of fulfilling the needs of a community, or society, like; healthcare (see video below), housing, food, organizing space and even alternative economies that push to instill a non-consumer based economy.
Self-organized through direct democracy, Athens Integral Cooperative operates through an assembly that makes collective decisions based on consensus. The Athens Integral Cooperative (AIC) was inspired by the Integral networks of Spain, which Theodore says are “similar movements, cooperatives, and individuals who have managed to integrate their activities to a bigger network that could actually produce economy of livelihood.”
“From 2015 to now, we established an infrastructure for our network that is premises that we can do the exchanges and a platform that we can work the exchanges out.” – Theodore
In describing the ideas behind the alternative economy of AIC, Theodore said that “time banks” were “the first step in the social economy“. Time banks are “not money that you can claim from someone” and it isn’t debt; it is peer-to-peer exchanges, or services, that are valued by the hour. The hour is not exact, but is a tool by which to measure productivity.
“It [time banking] has this very good social effect of making people understand they can exchange their production.” – Theodore
The “social economy” is a facet of networks of cooperatives, individuals, organizations, and more, which have created institutions and policies prioritizing the social good over profits. The infrastructure built within a social economy is based on the common values or principles of the community(s) that are in participation with the social economy.
Theodore said that AIC works to integrate “individuals, collectives, and social forces, that already make a social economy” into a substantial economy. In the Integral network, there is “no such thing as debt or accumulation.”
Exchanges through the network are done with a self-institutionalized monetary unit through a digital platform using the LETS network (Local Exchange Trading System), using the free software of Community Forge. The alternative currency holds value only within collective working groups and cannot be exchanged outside of the network.
The goals for the “solidarity economy” of the Athens Integral Cooperative are clearly stated on their website as follows:
- Horizontal organization, with participation in general meetings, collective decision making and solution finding
- Coverage of basic needs and desires rather than consumerism focusing on self-sufficiency
- Jointly defining a fair price/work ratio on products and services
- Producing quality goods and services while minimizing our energy and ecological footprint
- Reciprocity in relations beyond the logic of profit and “free market” monopolies
- Monetary autonomy within the network using a local self-institutionalized monetary unit (LETS network)
- The foundation of and support for productive projects
- Cooperative education, direct democracy and ecological awareness
“People are always interested in finding a way of escaping the present situation.” – Theodore
AIC has at least 100 participants and around 30 people providing production in the substantial economy. Compared to the eco-networks of the model Integral societies in Spain, this is small, but as Theodore said, the necessary transformation into an alternative economy “takes time” especially in an urban environment. He furthered that people can’t rapidly “evolve to another system” without understanding the culture of it.
As Theodore says, education is key. One of the first goals of the AIC is educating and inspiring the community to become self-managed and autonomous within the networks. They are working on making their community full of producers, not simply consumers. They are re-learning the value of the exchange, of their production, and of their productive value.
Theodore stated that things would have progressed much more if, during the time that the crisis was hitting, people knew what they now know.
“The interest of the people was huge, I mean, hundreds of people were gathering in assemblies, trying to find a way out. But, we didn’t have the knowledge then.” – Theodore
This said, Theodore was still very optimistic. Theodore participates in the assembly of the Alliance of the Commons, which he states is “another step of the gathering of social forces.” The Alliance of the Commons is important, Theodore said, because in order to have a “community that is self-managed, we have to have a political basis.”
“The Alliance of the Commons, they bring the Commons as a political issue, as a political subject. So far, the alternative economy didn’t have the political direction … it was useful only for taking the pressure off the people.” – Theodore
Athens Integral Cooperative is pursuing a cultural revolution to transform the culture of consumerism and valuing one’s life in fiat currency, like the Euro or Dollar, into a culture of “autonomous exchange and autonomous productivity,” said Theodore, who continued by saying AIC was “doing a very good job at it.”
Stay tuned with Unicorn Riot for more on alternatives to capitalism, as we have two more specials on community currencies coming out in the next couple of weeks.
Greece: Alternative Economies & Community Currencies Part One – Athens Integral Cooperative
Seize The Means Of Automation
Another of the many delightful dystopian nightmares that may be looming in our near future is the automation crisis, which if left unaddressed will see rank-and-file humans increasingly beholden to the whims of an increasingly powerful plutocratic class who will have the ability to replace their labor with artificial intelligence and robotics. One way to address this problem which I haven’t noticed anyone discussing yet would be to turn automation and AI into publicly-owned resources.
I just read a new report which says that artificial intelligence software is already starting to replace local news writers around the world. A South Korean news agency has already replaced its soccer score reporters with an automated reporting system, and in a few years the west can expect to see tens of thousands of local news stories churned out by computer programs every month thanks to a large grant from Google.
It had honestly never even occurred to me to think of news writing as a job that could be replaced by AI in the near future, and I suspect that’s not unusual. It’s easy to imagine automation replacing simple, repetitive manual labor, but so many of the more mentally-oriented tasks that we just naturally assume people need to do will soon be done by software instead. ExtremeTech, for example, reports that AI programs are already vastly superior to even the best doctors and radiologists at diagnosing cancer on a medical exam. Harvard Business Review reports that AI may be close to replacing elite-level white collar consulting jobs.
The coming advancements in AI will not happen linearly — that is to say, advancements in software tend to be exponential, as in Moore’s law that the numbers of transistors we can fit onto a silicon chip doubles every two years. This means that it is not reasonable for us to expect that in ten years’ time AI developments will have advanced the same amount that they did in the last ten years; a much more reasonable expectation is that the evolution of AI will have covered many times more ground in the next ten years than in the last ten.
Because of these likely non-linear developments it is difficult to imagine what the job market will look like in the next decade, but some have speculated. Research firm PwC estimates that nearly forty percent of US jobs will have been lost to robotics alone in the next fifteen years. Kai-Fu Lee, a respected Chinese tech leader, says AI advancements will lead to fifty percent of all jobs being lost to automation in the next decade. An Oxford University study more or less agrees.
People disagree over what exact effects automation will have on the human jobs market, but anyone who thinks it won’t involve a large number of people losing the ability to get paid for their labor is fooling themselves. Free market capitalists like to appease themselves with the fairy tale that automation will open up new employment possibilities we never could’ve anticipated which will somehow magically fill the entire droid void, while socialists are so attached to the concept of labor that a lot of them resist the idea that people would ever tolerate a society where it’s done by machines instead. Meanwhile new money tech plutocrats Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are already consistently advocating for a universal basic income (UBI) as a solution to the problem that they both know is coming.
I used to think a UBI sounded like a great answer to automation, but now after spending some time elbows-deep in American political analysis I can hardly imagine anything more toxic. Think about what will happen if, in a system where money equals political power, the plutocrats who own the automation industry are able to exponentially increase their profits in exchange for paying a subsistence wage to the populace they’re rapidly phasing out of the work force. Power is relative; if everybody’s being paid the same low-level subsistence salary while the plutocrats grow ever richer, there’s literally nothing stopping those plutocrats from getting more and more powerful and consolidating their control over the world’s governments, and thereby all of civilization. A tax on the owners of automation to pay for a UBI would be an insignificant price to pay in order to have absolute rule over all humanity.
At that point we’d be in a world out of Orwell’s nightmares. There’d be no way of checking the power of the plutocrats, and they’d no longer have to play nice and remain hidden to maintain the illusion of freedom and democracy like they do now. We’d be at their mercy, and given the evils that the billionaire class is already inflicting upon the world there’s no reason to expect that to end well for us. There’d be absolutely nothing stopping the ruling class from doing whatever they like to us, and indeed nothing forcing them to keep us around at all.
Right now, though, there is a closing window of opportunity to nip this one in the bud. If people can successfully take their political power away from the plutocrats, they can create a society in which automation and artificial intelligence are democratically controlled public assets. Everyone becomes a part owner of these technologies, gets a share of the profits they generate, and gets a unit of control over where they’re headed.
Sound drastic? Any solution to the automation problem should. Artificial intelligence is on the cusp of permanently altering everything that we are as a species, and the changes it ushers in will dwarf everything that we have seen in our brief history here on this planet. Given the impact that these technologies will inevitably have upon society, and given the fact that they could easily get us all killed in all sorts of ways we can’t even predict right now, the people should have some control over where this tech is going.
My right-leaning followers always freak out whenever I go all leftist on them, and this will likely be one of those times. Following capitalism to its logical conclusion necessarily leads to an all-powerful class of those who own the new technologies regardless of whether you resolve the problem of corporatism or not. Shrinking the power of government leads to the tech billionaires becoming the government, growing it leads to the tech billionaires owning the government just like the old money plutocrats do now. A massive shift is coming, and the wealthy are going to snatch up and consolidate as much power as they can in the upheaval. Only an even distribution of wealth and power can prevent the massive and irreversible power imbalance that AI and automation will otherwise lock into place.
This is not an unreasonable thing to want. If we’re going to change humanity we should change it for the better, and we’ve already seen what handing more and more of our power to an elite class of plutocrats leads to. We’re looking at a fairly clear choice between possible utopia and horrific dystopia.
I remember back in the eighties my Mum telling me about how when I grew up, automation was going to take care of a lot of the work so it was important for the education of my generation to include hobbies. She was studying her masters in education and the theory went that in the future there would only be enough work for twenty hours a week so we had to be prepared to use all our new spare time.
Instead we’re seeing the workforce being phased out and kept poor while a sociopathic class of oligarchs get rapidly wealthier and more powerful, and people are creating more landfill and pollution with their interminable busyness in order to put food on the table. This does not need to be the case. We can create something better.
The depravity of the increasingly powerful plutocracy means that revolution is necessarily in our future. Whether it will be violent or not and whether it will be successful or not remains to be seen, but the longer we wait the less pleasant it’s going to be. Anyway, something to think about.
Seize The Means Of Automation