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Thinking Like Workers

By Arthur J. Miller:

When I am given a job to do on a ship basically I am given an idea of what they want done and it is up to me to create a practical application to that idea in order to create what they want. On smaller jobs the leadman may just say, "go take out the sea values." On larger jobs I may be given some type of drawing which I study or sometimes the leadman will tell me that a piping system needs to be run from point A to Point B and what needs to be in the system, like valves and what not. So the first thing I do is think about the information given me to see if there is any additional information I may need. For example on being given a job to take out sea valves I will ask what size are the valves? And if there are smaller valves if they know if they are flanged or threaded valves? This will tell me what tools I'll need.

Next I'll go out to the ship and look the job over. If it is a simple job of just pulling a sea valve I will figure on how to do it safely and that could mean removing something that is in the way. If it is a larger job like running a new piping system I will first check out the route that the pipes will take. Sometimes I have to come up with the route and sometimes the route is given like on blueprints. Even blueprints can have mistakes. For example, I was once given a blueprint for drains below a galley and they all went aft. The problem was at some point a fuel oil fill line had been put in that blocked the route of the drains as drawn on the blueprint. Often blueprints will be drawn up in some office based upon other blueprints of the ship and sometimes things are not as the blueprints show them.

Another time I had run an exhaust pipe up a stack using a blueprint. The blueprint had in great detail how the hanger for the exhaust pipe was to be made and where it was to be located, and the pads of the hanger had to be welded to a bulkhead. The only problem was that the marine engineer gave no thought as to what was on the other side of the bulkhead. On the other side was a stove in the galley. That meant a lot of grease and to do the job the stove and a lot of sheetmetal had to be removed and the area cleaned of all grease. So the hanger had to be redesigned.

After I have determined the route and if anything must be removed, I will look for problems and safe ways of doing things. In some cases I could be replacing an old piping system and I must remove it first. If that means using rigging I'll plan that out in the safest way possible. I will make sure that the valves on each end of the pipes are closed. I may need to drain the pipes. Most of the pipes could already be drained but then I must check to see if there are any traps in the line. A trap in the line is when a pipe goes down and then back up and that section of pipe will trap fluids in it. Drain pipes and other pipes that have gravity flow should never have traps in them, but lines that are under pressure could have traps. Sometimes dumping a little water will not hurt anything but if the line has something like fuel oil in it you must find a way to drain the traps.

I make up a list of all material I need and see what is available and what needs to be ordered. Then I will start to figure my lengths of pipes, offsets, bends and saddles that might be needed. In pipefitting you have your learning that you got in the classroom and you have the Pipefitter's Handbook. I guess you could call that pipefitting theory. Most of that is mathematical formulas. When you get out on the job it is up to you to create practical applications to the theories you learned or in some cases through experience you learn better ways of doing things. Pipefitter theory seems to work better for building trades pipefitters because they are mostly fitting pipe in square boxes. Ships are not square boxes and I tend to use my stick rulers to measure everything out rather than use mathematical formulas. Most of the time I will bend a template for a bend I need rather than figure out the degrees of the bend I need.

On one ship I was working for a company that had been doing building trades pipe work and they had gotten a subcontract to do some pipe work on a ship. I started to run my pipes in place and they wanted all the pipes prefabed out of place. I told them that they could run into trouble if everything was not twohole squared, as is often the case on ships, but they would not listen to me. They made up all their pipes as they did in building trades and when they went to put the pipes in they would not fit. They lost a lot of money because they would not listen to experience.

And last I will planout the order in which I do things. And then I have a well planned out job with all the practical applications to the ideas and theories that goes into a job.

While it is true that marine pipefitting does take more direct thought from the worker in order to do the job than some other jobs, still most every job does take workers creating practical applications of ideas and theories for the job to get done. So when I say that we workers need to think like workers in social struggles, organizing and creating a new society, what I mean is that we need to take the ideas and theory as to what is wanted to be done and create practical applications in order to get it done.

The theoreticians of the left labor intelligentsia do come up with all kinds of theoretical abstract ideas for the working class and how they think a new society should be like. Matter of fact they have created, one of the few things they have in fact created by themselves, a culture of competitive debating where they will debate how many workers can dance on the head of a pin. But what they lack is practical applications of theory. And thus when ever they have been able to impose their will on society they have ended up with a mess.

When ever I write something about the intelligentsia there are some that get very defensive about it and say things like, "well I like to read, think and discuss theory." Or other such things. Workers do discuss ideas as much as anyone and we are trained to read and understand ideas and then do what the intelligentsia cannot do, turn those ideas into practical applications. Sit around with most any group of workers and they can tell you all about the dumbass ideas that are given to them and how they must find practical applications for them.

Too much of the ideas of class struggles comes down to workers from the left labor intelligentsia and we workers are expected to almost blindly follow those fools and if they lead anywhere they lead us to mistakes. Rather, I believe that we need to act and think like workers, take ideas that make sense to us, some of those ideas may even come from us, and then create practical applications to those ideas based upon our collective direct industrial experience. It is we workers who understand best how industry functions, and not just in theory as the intelligentsia understands it. We workers have the tools of production in our hands and we can seize control over the means of production and create a new society based upon common ideas, practical applications of those ideas for the common good of all. 

If you think I am too hard on the intelligentsia then let me ask you this: if your car broke down who would you take it to in order to get it fixed? An intelligentsia theoretician or an auto mechanic? With all the books written, with all the information in computers, and with all that comes out of the culture of intelligentsia debating, this book you are reading and books like it could not be written by any intelligentsia theoretician.

Politics and philosophy is dominated by the intelligentsia. In the class system it is the intelligentsia that is the authorities over philosophy, political ideas and history. Even when it comes to those things for the working class. People will listen and buy books by intellectuals about working people even though those intellectuals are clueless about the true reality of the work done by those workers. That is one reason why so many so-called socialist plans fail is that they lack a true understanding of working class practical application.

Though there have been some among the intelligentsia that have sought to find real common ground with working people, the class of the intelligentsia can never be other than what it is and do what comes naturally to it. And the domination of the classes below it in the class system is what comes naturally to the intelligentsia.

It is like the story of the mouse and the scorpion. A mouse and a scorpion are by a stream and they both want to get to the other side. The scorpion asks the mouse if he will carry him on his back and the mouse said that he did not want to get stung. The scorpion says that he will not do that. So they get about half way across the stream and the scorpion stings the mouse. The mouse says: "Why did you do that? Now we both will die." The scorpion says: "It is my nature."

Those of the intelligentsia that are also of the working class must come to understand how the class privilege of the intelligentsia oppresses and exploits the working class. One way to understand this is to understand how a white male worker, while oppressed and exploited by class, can also be a part of the oppression and exploitation of women and people of color. For that white male worker to truly be a part of the class struggle he must reject and struggle against that role that the class system would have him play, so must those of the intelligentsia who are also workers reject and struggle against the role the class system would have them play. Those that are able to do this have a lot that they can contribute to the class struggle.

So we must stop identifying with the class privilege of the left intelligentsia and its culture and start realizing that we are workers, and that it is workers who create in physical form of everything that is built (something that no other class can do without us, so who is in fact the most important part in any society?) and use our skills and labor, as workers, to create a practical application of our ideas.