Questions Considered: What are the important ontological questions of ‘DIY’ culture(s)? What does it mean to be DIY? Or more practically >>how<< is DIY culture a recognizable movement, organization, or disorganization of people or of creations? Does DIY entail some attachment to labor or autonomous creativity? Retrospectively, what are the questions that might help us to narrow the terrain of DIY? Questions of being in the sense of DIY might consider not only the history of DIY culture or DIY action, but must look at the negative definitions (what isn’t DIY, what ought not DIY be).
What isn’t DIY culture? As Derrida writes in his letter to Professor Izutsu,”The question would be therefore what deconstruction is not, or rather ought not to be” (Derrida 1983), to build a constructive definition of DIY risks limitations to a moving process, to define is to engage in an act of normativity. Though, to say that DIY is in movement does not give reason to completely ignore any constructive questions of engaging in DIY process. The difficulties of construction, especially in definition, ought not suffice to prevent action in the process of describing the world or engaging with the world. Here, I would argue, from Hannah Arendt, that there is an important distinction between action (praxis) and fabrication (poiesis) that helps to build DIY as a dialectical process. To resist (collectively or personally) is to define oneself against another. This means that to ‘Do it Yourself’ doesn’t necessitate any sort of isolation or fragmentation from other subjects, but rather a resistance to a fabricated or determined structure (which one or a few are defining their actions against). It is in this sense that DIY culture is not a commodified or decaying reference point, nor is it rooted into the structure that it seeks to resist. DIY is routed within resistance, and routed away from determined fabrication and certain bureaucracies.
What is Labor? As Marx defines Labor Power, “By labour-power or capacity for labour is to be understood the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which [s]he exercises whenever [s]he produces a use-value of any description” (http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch06.htm), DIY has a sort of attachment to a mental and physical activity which produces some autonomous connection with the world. Within the context of labor, (though, I do think there are problems with limiting DIY to laborious pursuits), DIY might intend to re-appropriate labor-power to maximize personal autonomy, or agency in the act of reconstructing new standards (flexible) of living. This definition can change in the acts of production that are outside of the bounds of use-value (which is more complicating).
The Worker’s Cooperative, DIY? I would argue that according to many of the above standards of ‘seeing’ DIY or engaging with DIY, the worker’s cooperative and even many forms of Trade Labor Unions fall within the bounds of DIY culture. A Worker’s Cooperative can be described as a location where the manager is considered a worker, and the workers own shares and participate in the majority of company decisions, democratic action and resistance has developed the cooperative into what it is today. I think it is essential to look at the history of the labor movement, as it has operated as a sort of resistant or dialectical movement away from the stabilizing force of fabricated bureaucracies throughout history.
Historically the Worker’s Cooperative has been founded in a series of Principles (the Rochdale Principles 1844):
1. Voluntary and Open Membership
3. Democratic Participation
4. Engage in Service and Social Duty
5. There ought to be a fair proportion of trade and surplus
6. Not credit based, only cash trading.
7. Continual education of membership
These principles come with the history of the worker as being defined negatively against ownership and with that has come the abuse of the worker as a passive subject within the workplace, and hence maltreatment and resistance.
One example of a contemporary worker’s cooperation, one of the largest in the UK, is SUMA Wholefoods:
Ah, the magic ‘C’ word. We don’t really like to blow our own trumpet here at Suma, but we do like to think that being a workers’ cooperative is one of the fundamental keys to our success.
So what’s it all about? Unlike most UK companies, Suma operates a truly democratic system of management that isn’t bound by the conventional notions of hierarchy that often hinder progress and stand in the way of fairness. While we do use an elected Management Committee to implement decisions and business plans, the decisions themselves are made at regular General Meetings with the consent of every cooperative member – there’s no chief executive, no managing director and no company chairman. In practice, this means that our day-to-day work is carried out by self-managing teams of employees who are all paid the same wage, and who all enjoy an equal voice and an equal stake in the success of the business.
Another key feature of our structure and working practice is multi-skilling. At Suma we encourage members to get involved in more than one area of business, so individuals will always perform more than one role within the cooperative. This helps to broaden our skills base and give every member an invaluable insight into the bigger picture. It also helps us to play to each member’s various different strengths while enabling us to think ‘outside the box’ when it comes to creativity and problem solving. And as for job satisfaction and staff morale – just ask yourself when was the last time you heard someone complain that their job involved too much variety? It is the spice of life, after all.
This all sounds great, but does it work? In a word, yes. Here in the UK we’re often sceptical about workers’ cooperatives, but that’s largely because of our more conventional business culture and the fact that the vast majority of UK companies are purely profit-driven. Workers’ cooperatives are far more common in many advanced European countries and developing world economies. Of course it’s not all plain sailing, but if you look at Suma’s growth over its 30-year history, we think you’ll agree that we must be doing something right.
While Suma Wholefoods does not define itself negatively. One can pull from the values of the company a sort of resistance toward traditional business structure. The cooperative, being in flux as a democratic entity, entails the option of resistance. This is what I would argue makes large organizations, such as worker’s cooperatives and many trade labor unions DIY.
Check out Worker’s Coop’s in New York: