The Counterfeit Blues

The Industrial Revolution started in the UK in the late 18th century. This culture of mass-production is still spreading today across continents and is arguably the primary reason that we face such deep environmental and social problems in the world.

Before the advent of the machine, most products in Europe were handmade by craftspeople and artisans. Each reaping the economic benefits of the skills passed down to them from their families and guilds. Then, quite suddenly people with money or access to credit were able to purchase a machine that could do the work of 100 artisans, with a single operator. This ‘capitalist’ machine owner also became an authoritarian employer, as 100 former artisans that were put out of work by the machine, scrambled over each other like crabs in a bucket to attain the 1 job, so that they could ensure that their family would be fed. The capitalist was in a bargaining position and dictated the terms of employment to maximize his profit; low wages, long hours and horrid working conditions. If the worker didn’t like it, the next person was in line to take their place ready to sacrifice their integrity and spirit to earn a basic income. This new industrial order spread over the land, destroying communities and nature. Since the machines drastically increased the capacity for production output, the capitalists aggressively sought raw materials for inputs and fabrication of more machines. This new model became a runaway train. Once the natural resources began depleting in Europe, the capitalists hired prospectors to explore the Americas for ferrous and precious metals, timber and fish. For the most part the capitalists were backed by imperialist armies and proceeded to pillage the land. They massacred whole civilizations and cultures of indigenous people and enslaved others in their blind quest for riches, all to feed the never ending hunger of the machine.

As time went on this mentality continued and is carried on by multinational corporations today, only now with the support of advanced technologies, exploded populations, increasing wealth disparity, trade liberalization, investment mechanisms and global institutionalized bureaucracy. We all know that this kind of production system cannot continue for very long, but somehow we have become numb to the undeniable destiny of our planet and for the most part continue on working for a living, operating the machine for the capitalist and consuming the products that the capitalists sell us. What a trap!
During the industrial revolution, times were really quite desperate for workers and they formed the first formal worker co-ops. If you have had to opportunity to travel you might have also seen very similar circumstances faced by workers and communities in many parts of the world today, often laboring to fuel a machine in a far off land in an industrialized, rich nation.

Why am I ranting about this? I guess because I am feeling fed up and want to start creating change so that my children may have the opportunity to live a fuller life outside of this cycle, without becoming isolated from society. This is why I work for Just Us! Our philosophy as a worker co-op is for the machine to work for us, rather than us working for the machine. We collectively own the machine, so there is no capitalist exploiting us to maximize profits. We respect the value of artisanal quality over mass-production and hope that we can have inspiring work.

To close off, I would like to share an anthem for the people:
(from country singer Corb Lund and the Hurtin Albertin’s song Counterfeit Blues)
There seem to be an awful lot of charlatans ‘round here
and hustlers, cheats and anglers, fixers, sharps and mutineers;

The factory and subterfuge and corporato cheat
conspire to fast reduce us to the stamping of our feet;

The lords of mass producto mass-produce at quite a pace,
it won't be long until these counterfeit blues will run the whole damn place

counterfeit blues

Thanks for the inspiring blog entry. As a non-profit literacy organization in New Brunswick, we are looking for ways to continue to serve the needs of the community while at the same time becoming more financially independent. Social enterprise and workers co-operatives are potential means to allow people to use their dollar power to effect positive social change.

Stacey Doyle
Saint John Learning Exchange