Radical media, politics and culture.

Wage Discipline and Primitive Accumulation

I have not posted for some time. Partly because i am generally lazy, but i also created a new blog elsewhere and have been posting stuff there. However, since i made some friends on info exchange i thought i could republish my last two blog postings. The first is a conversation, or rather a lecture, on wage discipline in South Africa. The second is a few ideas i am testing in preparation for writing something for publication about the introduction of prepaid technology in the delivery of municipal services. as usual comments are not only welcome, but desired Wage Disciple: A few months back, spurred by a friends challenge, I bowed at the feet of one of my many masters (this particular master also enjoys the title of ‘our leader’) and asked a question. What follows is a snippet from our discussion (or rather his lecture) on yahoo messenger. Its point of reference is mainly South Africa and I have left it virtually untouched except for the deleting of my distracting nods and exclamations of agreement. I also took out anything that would betray my lack of imagination, wit and intelligence ...that is, i took out everything i said.

hi F, i need your help with a small matter. or rather i need u to explain this notion of the 'extension of the wage discipline'. It came up in a friendly polemic. this is, perhaps a problem only because of my poor formulation, but i am moving from the view that a feature of this period (our time) is the extension of forms of disciplining of the class so that it extends beyond the factory. However I was backed into a corner for my historically inaccurate deployment of the notion.

F : no, not at all. It's a very important issue. F : What I mean by extension of wage discipline is precisely what you write, that wage labour is being exploded beyond the factory walls to become an all-encompassing metaphor, a master narrative of social inclusion whose propping up at the level of everyday discourse is specifically aimed at disabling an imagery based on radical decommodification F : anyway, the reason I am writing this has not only got to do with the disappearance of wage labour as a conduit of social citizenship and as a meaningful/dignified social reality for the poor... F : ... in fact the rise of wage labour as master narrative, disembodied from its more conventional meanings, has for me to do, quite simply with the fact that no matter how wage labour has become insignificant as a social reality or force, it is increasingly placed at the centre of the policy discourse... F : ...and it is put at the centre of policy discourse not as something that can be realistically attained or generalised (not even in the form of public works job creation, let alone full employment policy) but because it is a myth that has to engender in the poor representations geared to the individual's entrepreneurial self-activation (hence the disciplinary function of wage labour) F : from this point of view, what i am finding in my PhD is chilling. I mean, this use of wage labour as a metaphorical and disciplinary device is theorised openly by govt and its rising intelligentsia in ways that are clearly aimed at forestalling and preventing the spread of radical decommodification themes across the social body. This is just blatant. F : exactly. I mean, the broader implication of all this is that political work on representations, and genealogies and counter-genealogies of discourse is crucial, and all projects of liberation based on some historical mission of waged employment will just disable ourselves and play in the enemy's hands. For this reason I think that the whole discourse of the "right to work" has to be unpacked, no matter how useful it is for tactical advances F : and at the same time the issue is not limited to South Africa. Wage labour is crucial to the whole project of postcolonial modernity, not so much in terms of social policy or collective bargaining, but as the attempt by the state to harness social subjectivity through myths that fondle its radicalism while disabling the far-reaching implications of its demands F : Anyway, I think this whole issue is crucial because it is here that you can crack the ANC's libidinal-political economy and its appeal, so we should debate this whole wage labour issue more thoroughly instead of wasting time with things like organisation vs spontaneity (just to mention the latest Durbanite contributions... dionysusstoned: i agree...an that’s not just the effect of the my fetish of spontaneity I decided to put this on my blog after resuming the debate with another very smart friend of mine. She however remains unconvinced. Although I am wholly unqualified to offer anything like an account of her position, I will venture a summary of her main argument. For A the wage, and by implication wage discipline, refers more specifically to arrangements implying disciplinary technologies of societies in which the mass worker is the hegemonic figure of the class. Therefore, to invoke the concept of the wage discipline, in the context of the decline of wage labour, tends to obscure matters and undermine our ability to understand precisely ‘the hows and whats’ of those strategies of control which characterise neoliberal governmentality, while taking into account their continuities with the older disciplinary strategies. She said a lot more and perhaps I will return to this later and write more. (dionysusstoned is a name i sometimes write under) Prepaid and Primitive Accumulation: The text that follows is an outline of an argument that I would like to test. It follows from my political interest in municipal services restructuring in post apartheid South Africa and its significance in relation to the transformation of the state and capitalism. The argument is in two parts. This is the first: Proposition One: In so far as prepaid meters (electricity and water) involve the forced separation of people from their social means of production/reproduction they may be characterised as an aspect the ongoing process of primitive accumulation.

1) Non-payment for basic services (water; electricity; housing) invests the “life strategies” of township communities. 2) These life strategies are the product of the of various process within these communities, centrally the payment boycotts of the 1980s 3) In spite of this characterisation (2) they are however not wholly circumscribed within the ideological formations. They ar, in contrast, a practical responses to the challenges of bare life 4) Their defence/attack, however, has historically invested various ideological co-ordinates. (These investments animate the conflict between the alliance left and NSM over the historical position given to the payment boycotts and the appropriate tactical models for a post apartheid South Africa. For the former they were no more then tactic meant to obtain political leverage against the apartheid state and cannot structure post apartheid responses to the crises in the delivery of basic services. For the latter the tactics of 1980s are valorised in the current context by the persistence of the socio-economic conditions that ‘gave rise’ to them). 5) The process of commodification of water and electricity is reflected in the movements of strategies for its collection and distribution 6) Non-payment presents the limit of the ongoing process of commodification of water in South Africa 7) As such (6) the investment of non-payment in the life strategies of township communities presents the state with a subject standing partially external to the forces of the market and frustrates the restructuring of municipal services (and the South African state and economy). 8) The commodity form of water and electricity is disorganised in confronting these life strategies 9) Therefore, overcoming the limits to commodification presented by investments in non-payment is dependent on the transformation of these life strategies. 10) Non payment secured for township communities a form of social income reproduced in struggle 11) Such transformations are therefore aimed at the separation of people from this income 12) Attempts to transform these life strategies through the explicit functions of ideology as well cohesive and punitive measures to police these life strategies have simply failed or met with fierce resistance. Notably the illegal reconnection of services has made such interventions meaningless 13) Prepaid meters as a response to the failures of these strategies attempts to bring together the ideological and cohesive aspects of previous strategies while reducing the cost of intervention 14) Their precise function however may be described as pedagogical in the sense that it attempts induct communities in alternative life strategies (with functions beyond the specific relationships between household and the delivery of basic services) 15) It is in this sense that we draw a link between the ongoing process of primitive accumulation and the restructuring of the delivery of water and electricity. This might seem a little cryptic without a context. maybe that will come as well.