The Matter Of Public Workers: Should Anarchists Celebrate The Federal Government Shutdown?

In their efforts to fight the Affordable Care Act, Republicans in Washington have “shut down” the Federal government to supposedly cut spending due to the costs of the health care legislation. On the first day of the shutdown most of us woke up, had coffee, and went to work. In other words, nothing had really changed for us. So the question is, what actually “shut down?” According to government officials, all non-essential government employees have been furloughed until an unspecified time. But this only accounts for less than a quarter of the Federal government.

It would appear that, in fact, the government has done nothing close to shutting down.

Despite the majority of Americans polled opposing the shut down and the bad press that comes with that, the people who should be affected, the political class, have not even been touched. Who, then, is being impacted by this political theater? The productive class.

Now, some will argue that public workers are not part of the productive class, and are parasites just like congress. But is that really fair? Sure, some or all of them may be foolish for believing that their job is funded through anything but theft. Some may also know that they are parasites, and don’t care. At the same time, we anarchists should be careful about judging other people from our lofty position as non-public workers and realize that for many people, no matter how duped they have been, regard their job at a public museum or a park as just that – their job. For them this “shutdown” is an example of how much the State does not care about them, and here lies our opportunity for discourse on the political class’s war on the productive class.

Our main job now is to keep those workers from going back to the State sector.

It is not unreasonable to say that in a free society we would see wilderness parks with caretakers, workers at centers for disease control and space exploration organizations. In other words, government technically provides services that the public might demand anyway in a free society; it is just that they do it via authoritarianism and coercive monopoly.

Anarchists do not support the State, its existence, or its theft, and we certainly do not support its violent co-opting of services that could otherwise be provided peacefully (and arguably much better) in a free society. Furthermore, even if only a few members of the “non-essential” government workforce are actually productive members of society, it is a shame to see their work stifled from full expression because of State monopoly. In some ways, it would be better to just pay them to stay home, or work peacefully on whatever they choose. More importantly, anarchists seek a smooth and peaceful transition into a stateless society, not through the further suffering of working people and families.

In all of this, though, is the opportunity for anarchists to show how such services would be better safeguarded in a free society. Building the new within the shell of the old becomes much easier when the crumbling system is shedding good, hardworking people that want to make a difference. While tyrants are often raised in the ashes of the old State, so too can a free society emerge readied with mutual aid services, security organizations, large, digitally linked networks of decentralized communities and so on. This illusionary “shutdown” has created a pathway for people to look for something different. Something sustainable. Something new. It is our job to show them the possibilities.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory