As the triple-dip recession hits, major stores have embarked on a jobs massacre. Jessops, Blockbuster and HMV have collapsed, placing thousands of jobs at risk.
Having nothing to lose but their high street chains, HMV workers in Limerick responded by occupying a number of stores.
Today, as more HMV workers faced the sack, the company's Twitter account was taken over by an angry employee. "There are over 60 of us being fired at once!", one of the tweets said, although a total of 190 redundancies have been confirmed. "Mass execution of loyal workers who love the brand." One hopes the workers have learned this much at least: loyal workers are always the first to get it.
"Under usual circumstances," another tweet explained, "we'd never dare do such a thing as this." But these are not normal circumstances, so "what have we to lose?"
Shortly before the tweets got deleted, the account was updated one last time: "Just overheard our Marketing Director (he's staying, folks) ask 'How do I shut down Twitter?'" Another lesson here: the cluelessness of management can always be used against them.
These scattered rebellions by HMV workers stand in a venerable tradition. When workers were threatened with redundancy at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago, workers occupied and won a series of demands. When Ford Visteon workers were unceremoniously sacked, they occupied production plants and called for solidarity.
What these examples have in common is that they involve groups of workers taking some control over their fate. We treat "the market" as if it was some impersonal god, rather than simply the effect of human behaviour. It feels as if we have no way out. Taking control means defying the logic of "the market". And this, in germinal form, constitutes the reappearance of an older tradition of workers' militancy, from factory councils in Turin in 1919 to the Recuperados in Argentina in 2001.
In recent years, Occupy raised similar questions about how we can take control of our fate, forming "liberated" spaces for democratic discussion and planning activism. But what Occupy couldn't successfully do was take control of the means by which real power is exerted. This is something that workers occupying factories, stores and even Twitter accounts have done first-hand. They are right to do so, and shouldn't stop at protest and rebellion. In the best tradition of the labour movement, they should say "we don't want just a bigger slice of the cake; we want the whole fucking bakery".
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © yoppy