From Labour as Commodity to Labour as a Common


Excerpted from a draft of an article by Hilary Wainwright,  via Michel Bauwens:

Another implication for our own organisations, political and economic, is the importance of building into them the nurturing and development of this commons. We need to do this in both a prefigurative sense and as an immediate means of strengthening their transformative capacity.

To develop and apply the idea of labour/creativity as a commons, it is important to think of it as a collection of useful tools to be ingeniously deployed, rather than the comprehensive, ready-to-assemble solution that the idea of socialism was often treated as. Here are some of the kinds of tools it might provide.

First, it opens up ways of seeing and understanding the wider potential of existing practices in the solidarity economy in achieving transformative gains in the broader social, public and private economy. An example here would be the importance of learning through and reflecting on practice; thinking of creativity as a commons leads to asking how we could envisage economic arrangements that build self-development, education and regeneration into daily life across what is now divided into work, consumption and personal life.

Understanding labour and the potential of human creativity as a commons changes our view of employment. We can see this already in practice in parts of the solidarity economy where workers are never seen as ‘redundant’ and the aim is always redeployment and retraining. We also see how the scandalous waste of human creativity now evident in capitalist economies across the world has been a driving motive in the explosion of resistance from 2011 onwards, led often by the young unemployed. (Mason 2012)

Human creativity as a commons also points to the importance of thinking at many different levels of economic and social relations and of inter-connecting them. So it leads to asking what institutional conditions for nurturing and realising creativity might mean at a micro level for how enterprises or urban spaces, for example, are organised; what it might mean at a macro level in terms of, for example, a means of livelihood beyond or autonomous from waged labour (what some have called ‘a basic wage’); and what it could mean at a mix of micro and macro levels – for example, in terms of legislative frameworks for the organisation of time. (Coote 2010)

In this way seeing labour as a commons challenges tendencies towards enterprise or community egoism or atomism (a tendency in parts of the social economy as well as in capitalist enterprises) and emphasises the importance of solidarity and flows of mutuality between different elements of attempts at a solidarity and commons-based economy. More generally, it provides the basis for a strong antidote to the possessive individualism that has been so rampant in recent years, without counterposing a reified collectivism. (Macpherson 1964)

More on this, here.