Sunday, May 02, 2010

Corners of the Worker's Union

Tristan's Palaces

Street Corners as Worker's Palaces

Here is a re-write of the next chapter of the first section of People Without Borders.

By John Taylor; 2010 May 02, Jamal 04, 167 BE

Flora Tristan and her Worker's Union and Palaces

In 1843 Flora Tristan (1804-1844) wrote "The Worker's Union," where she proposed that workers in every county (department) in France build for themselves a communal "Palace of the Worker's Union." In these communally built and owned settlements,

"children of the working class will be instructed, intellectually and professionally, and ... working men and women who have been injured at their jobs, and those who are infirm or aged, will be cared for." (Flora Tristan, "A Passage From Flora Tristan's l'Union Ouvriere," Translated by Doris and Paul Beik,

As an early feminist, Tristan hoped that these self-governing institutions would finally create an atmosphere in which working men would be emancipated from their traditional thraldom to the bottle. At the same time, women could find equality in what she called "communities of human unity."

Unlike the state-run socialism that grew up after her death, Tristan envisioned these centrally-located institutions as being paid for by workers themselves through a "fund for the self-emancipation of labour." By pooling their resources workers could build their own hospital, home for the aged, schools and center for advanced studies. These worker's palaces would be havens,

"where children of the working class will be instructed, intellectually and professionally, and where working men and women who have been injured at their jobs, and those who are infirm or aged, will be cared for." (Flora Tristan, "A Passage From Flora Tristan's l'Union Ouvriere," Translated by Doris and Paul Beik,

These institutions would "recognize, in principle, the legal equality of men and women as being the only means of constituting the unity of humanity." The workers palaces might also include a cooperative market, where artisans and farmers could sell their wares, where trade and professional associations run apprenticeship programs and have a venue for furthering the causes that their expertise by nature values.

Some of Flora Tristan's ideas were later taken up by Karl Marx and Fredrich Engel in their notorious Communist Manifesto. In all-too-typical male fashion, the Manifesto pitted workers against the bourgeoisie. They agreed with Tristan that workers must take their fate into their own hands, but they could only see them succeeding by engaging in a violent struggle against the exploiting capitalists who own the means of production. Workers were slaves, and the only way to liberate them is to do to the economy just what the British Empire had just done with slavery, that is, eliminate the institution completely.

Only forty years earlier an event unique in history had taken place. In the French colony of Saint-Domingue a series of bloody slave uprisings ended in the only successful slave revolt ever, before or since. The French half of the island of Hispaniola was renamed "Haiti." The great powers, France, England and America, united in crippling the new nation by a huge reparation debt to compensate for "lost property," that is, their self-liberated slaves. Marx and Engels were inspired by this example and proclaimed that the poverty-stricken, exploited workers of the world should take this example by "throwing off their chains."

Flora Tristan's dream was far more pacific than her male-dominated, contentious socialist successors.

Her cooperatives would have spread wealth and ownership of the means of production into more hands. With the extreme imbalance between the sexes, the artificial dichotomy between worker and owner seemed inherent to human nature. But she did not see this as natural or inevitable. She dreamed of progress based on economic cooperation, male temperance and conscious advancement of the lot of women. If this had caught the public imagination, if everyone, rich and poor, were trained in a trade in early education, then there would be no need for rebellion or the forced equalization of communism. Everyone would be both worker and owner and wealth would be spread around equitably. This would have left no need for violent struggle or confrontation. Ignorance, differences and iniquity would vanish gradually and naturally as everybody becomes a worker and entrepreneur. Social institutions would not be exclusively run by the state, they would be owned and run cooperatively. Since they would be more efficient and equitable, this system would spread on its own merits -- as indeed worker's cooperatives have done in recent decades, especially in Europe.

Why not actually build Flora Tristan's Worker's Palaces? Why not combine her ideas with the open software and open systems movement? Why not move her Worker's Palaces into cyberspace? Since everybody benefits from the means of production, why not take up her idea and let all of us, especially those in the neighbourhood, own a share in every large social institution, be it economic or otherwise?

Although history, in an age of large capital and absolute nationalist sovereignty, has answered in the negative to all these questions, it is the thesis of this book that a world government will have to re-examine them carefully. A Comenian world government could prove its mettle by adapting something very similar to Tristan's Worker's Palaces as part of a new, environmentally friendly, sustainable infrastructure.

As cooperatives, the worker's palace would be structurally more friendly to the social skills of girls and women. This would faster advance for women and allow greater equality than the present, hierarchical structures of large corporations.

The worker's palace might be incorporated into every street corner, in both cityscape and countryside. These domed over-crossroads would banish the automobiles that now dominate our street corners. Instead, autos, trains and other means of transit would be buried underground, out of sight and hearing. This would allow corners to be made into meeting places for every individual, family and other group living in the neighbourhood. The corner worker's palace would incorporate standard principles, such as equality of the sexes, into their charters, as Flora Tristan advocated. They might also include more recent developments, including racial, ethnic and linguistic equality.

Each street corner palace might specialize to some extent, but all would make allowance for interactive displays, open standard software, universal formulas and building codes. Latter-day worker's palaces also might include parks, a speaker's corner, a farmer's market and shops to showcase the wares of local artisans and shopkeepers, as well as storefronts for trade and professional associations, hospitals and schools.


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