So what if it is a capital strike that we’re facing? Wouldn’t the answer lie in a genuine national bank? It’s an interesting question to raise this month as China privatizes a fifty-year-old agricultural bank. What the Maoists could teach us is that when capital is not forthcoming in time of national crisis a national bank can step in for five or more decades to tide the people over. Nothing has to last forever.
At the level of pure concept there is no reason why the contemporary crisis of labor paralysis cannot be directly addressed at the speed of light by bit torrents of micro investments lightning-flashed to entrepreneurs looking for a little startup help organized around heartland exchanges in places like Omaha. And there are probably a few folks in Omaha who could rack a server for this kind of thing by Labor Day.
The problem with the capitalists who are on strike now is that they are living under an antiquated paradigm of exotic genius, channelled communication, and crony networks. Their secret hero is John Galt of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged who privately invented the secret to prosperity but refused to share it with the workers who would be needed to make it so.
The appropriate answer to this calculating heart of striking capitalists is to say, but John Galt you are not. Just because you own the vaults where you have stashed the fruits of labor past does not mean you own the future. As San Francisco economist Henry George argued, capital does not pay wages. Wages are produced by labor.
I’m no economist, but anyone can see that it is a bad deal for any community when the needs of the community are no longer being produced by the community itself. A capital strike is a way of saying that a part of the community has the power to shut down the wherewithal of the whole. A capital strike withholds the tools to make value with, leaving labor out to rot.
Nor am I a labor historian, but usually when workers go on strike you can find some leadership who represents workers’ demands. In a capital strike on the other hand, as Ayn Rand instructed us, the workers can spend the rest of their puny little lives asking questions like, “who is John Galt?” or “where did he hide his demands?”
If there is a capital strike afoot as internet chatter suggests, then there ought to be a way of publicly discovering the strikers’ motives and forcing the issues into arbitration. Profits, like any other form of private property, are distributed by legal conventions that ultimately rest upon the consent of the governed. Profits are handed over to capitalists because there is an implied social contract that expects the profits to be converted into new tools of value creation. If capitalists are going to break the cycle deliberately, and withhold next year’s tools, then it is time for some kind of renegotiation.
I think that the value of negative social mood might lie in the way it determines us to revisit all the things we used to trust. Either employers are going to come out and level with the workers they are striking against, or the struck workers are going to have to find new ways of creating employers they can trust.
The dot com boom brought us not only the tools to more rapidly reconfigure our networks. It also generated a cooperative model of open source productivity energized by genuine engagement from folks who have organized themselves to build value. The open source consortium is neither anti-corporate nor pro-corporate. It is a way of organizing community needs while parsing consensual divisions of labor between use value and exchange value.
In the emerging Facebook world order, where all ideas can be YouTubed and PayPalled, there is no reason for all us little tugboats in the harbor to waste our engines pushing against the hull of some delusional USS Ahab. It ain’t hardly American to wait for anybody’s high up permission to get along as best we can. The Constitution is ours only if we keep it. It will sink with Ahab only if we let it go.
“Labor coop seeks entrepreneurs and engineers,” says a notice that is not yet found via Google search. “Meet us down at the national bank.”
GREG MOSES is editor of TexasWorker.org and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. He can be reached at email@example.com.