Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Don't scab: don't use self check stands at the market

Contrary to popular belief, Luddites weren't against technology
We have all seen the self checkout stands at the stores we go to these days.  From Home Depot to Safeway, the stands are slowly beginning to make their presence felt.  Here in California Democratic Assemblywoman Fiona Ma has authored a bill that would ban the purchasing of alcohol at these stands.   She claims it is to combat underage drinking  and the cost of policing it which apparently costs the state close to $2 billion a year. "AB183 seeks to prevent alcohol from getting in the wrong hands and protects the public and our youth" Andrew Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle reports Ma as saying.

Although all the retailers have the self checkout stands, the hardest hit if the bill passes would be Fresh and Easy, a subsidiary of Tesco PLC which relies solely on the stands.  Fresh and Easy is crying foul and accuses  Ma and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) of being in cahoots.  UFCW local 324 in Southern California has organized numerous protests and boycotts of Fresh and Easy for some time for its non-Union environment.  John Perez, the California, Assembly speaker in the state legislature is a former UFCW political director, a not uncommon route that Labor officials take as they fulfill their ambitions and political careers in the Democratic Party.

Ma denies the Union has any influence in the process but whether it is or it isn't the main issue for working people is that the self checkout stands are a job killer; the Union is right to oppose them for that.  Fresh and Easy relies solely on self checkout as a "cost saving measure as well as a customer convenience" the Chronicle says, but this is a little misleading.  Customer convenience is secondary to making profit. "Cost saving" in not the right term either, "profit enhancing" is a more accurate description of the role of self checkout stands.  If the bosses cared about customer convenience we wouldn't have to spend 30 minutes pushing buttons on a phone talking to a computer when we had the need to contact them.

The bigger issue for us is the control and management of all aspects of production.  The self checkouts are like the scanner, the backhoe and robots, they are devices that increase the productivity of Labor.  They introduce real problems for the capitalist as their introduction changes the ratio between capital invested in machinery and plant and that used to buy Labor power which is the sole source of profit.  So these Labor saving devices increase the ability of the owners of capital to exploit living Labor and throws untold millions of us out of work; they generally tend to deskill us.  You may have noticed that many check stand workers can't add any more because they simply swipe a commodity over a scanning machine.

The introduction of self checking stands is a bad thing for one reason, it will mean fewer jobs and increased exploitation of those of us that remain, dehumanizing the work environment turning us in to mere robots.

The benefits of technology and Labor saving devices are not felt by the mass of the working class in a real sense. We do not own the machine and we do not own the process of production or the means by which we produce. Scanners and other technology should mean that we work fewer hours, have more leisure time rather than make automatons of us and turn us in to paupers while filling the pockets of the capitalists. 

So don't scab, don't use the self checkout stands.  All you are doing is doing workers, maybe yourself, out of a job.  The more we use them the less they'll hire.  But don't leave it there.  We have to participate and build in some way or another, an independent workers' movement that can counter the capitalist offensive on the ground through mass action and in the political arena through the building of our own independent political party.

Don't reject technology.  The TV isn't a bad thing, we have to liberate it from its owners; we have to own the technology and its use.  We don't want to smash the scanners or reject self checkouts or any such invention. We want to own them and determine how they're used.

After all, we're not Luddites.

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