Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Time warp

"They weren't compelled by others to apply to any one place of labour, but they understood that once accepted for detention their boss or commandant had power over them just as great and far more immediate than the government of the country. ...

... he prescribed how and when men should come and go, how they dressed, when they ate, and the movements of thir arms and legs, the words they spoke. There were accepted facial expressions, compulsory signs of loyalty, accepted opinions, desirable morals, compulsory attendance on pain of loss of food money, and the rule, made by employers, that the prisoners must not refuse to work no matter how unfairly they considered they were treated. This had once been relaxed and the right to strike obtained, but this right was being eroded away and would soon be no right at all. ...

The days of five hundred lashes were gone but in their place were strike penalties of five hundred dollars a day. The word Democracy had been heard for centuries on political platforms but was nowhere to be seen in the daily earning lives of citizens. They knuckled under or they got out. ...

The funny thing was that with all this power, employers were not the State, they were free men. They could come and go out of one industry into another, they could employ or dismiss, make new rules and change old ones. No responsibility beyond the elementary one of providing themselves with a workforce able to work. If they didn't want to pay an extra cent in wages, they appealed to the prisoners' patriotism -- think of the economy's good. The economy's good consisted of each employer maximizing sales or profit or both: there was a maximum wage but no maximum profit."

David Ireland, The Unknown Industrial Prisoner (1971)

1 comment:

ThirdCat said...

each stooped unthinkingly...

I used this for my matric 'extension' project (whatever that might mean). And only just last week was fossicking through the oxfam bookshop trying to find myself a copy. God I loved that book - I probably didn't understand a word, but reading it made me feel quite grown up. Drove across the bridge to nowhere and watched the lights of the smelters and wished there were people rowing boats across the mangrove swamps.

Best be off, that's thunder I hear approaching...