”Teach people to fish… and most will choose to eat the bait instead”

Recruiting for a worker collective involves ploughing through hundreds of applications from those who failed to read the advert. The few accompanying cover letters are generic, typically extolling the candidates self-proclaimed predisposition for teamwork, or their aptitude for “thinking on their feet”. Those that demonstrate any degree of awareness, often come from people who seem ominously “keen to make a mark”. Interviews are dominated by candidates making all the right noises, but who fail to comprehend that we’re ultimately seeking to recruit a co-owner rather than a wage slave.

Hence one of the challenges faced by a worker collective is separating those who genuinely desire freedom, equality, and solidarity, from those who “just want a job”. This scenario is analogous to offering free fishing trips, only for people who are starving to sign up because they perceive this as an opportunity to chow down on the bait. You can explain the benefits and principles of fishing until you’re blue in the face, but these misguided souls will slowly nod their heads, and be like “it’s just so much hassle learning all that shit. What’s it to you if we just sit here eating the maggots? Drive the Goddamn damn boat wherever you want. Nom nom nom.”

Capitalist conditioning is so insidious, that many people actually perceive autonomy as “a hassle” rather than empowering. It’s akin to someone opting for a jail sentence over a holiday, because the chalet is self-catering.

Part of the issue appears to be, that cooperating ostensibly consists of doing much the same stuff as employment. This is like saying “well in prison we eat, sleep, and wander around, so I don’t really see any difference between that and being on vacation. Sure on vacation I’d have freedom to wander around more, but what if I can’t be assed?” The logic is clearly lacking, but try communicating that to someone who has been incarcerated from birth. Their take on it will be, “but surely there must be guards? I know you say there aren’t any, but without guards how will people know when it’s time to get out of bed, to eat, shower, or visit the bathroom? Surely everyone will just spend all day lying in their bunks? What you’re describing is a nice thought, but it’s impossible, because people aren’t like that! Without the guards, what’s to stop us all just beating the shit out of one another? Such behaviour is not a symptom of incarceration, it’s just human nature.” And so on…

The underlying problem is that someone institutionalised from birth, would struggle to imagine how any other social structure would operate, and at best they’d see freedom as an alternative way of doing things, rather than a vastly superior experience. Hence a cooperator cannot directly convey the advantages of worker self-management to those institutionalised by wage slavery, any more than it’s possible to convey the reality of a 3D existence to Pacman. The best we can do is to provide some indication of contrast based on analogy, but anyone sold on the concept has to engage with the experience, because yes… it’s entirely possible to treat a holiday chalet as though it were a prison cell. First free your mind.

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