Friday, July 31, 2009

An industrial estate as it might be

Originally posted on the Socialism Or Your Money Back blog
Where I live, in a relatively quiet back-water in SW Turkey, there is one particular pointer to how I think things might be. I'm not suggesting that it's an example of socialism in practice, but I do believe it is an example of one way a socialist society might organise one particular sector of its activities on a local level – small industrial manufacture, repair and supply.

OK! Let's take a walk around my local Industrial Area (Sanayi Sitesi in Turkish) which meets the needs of a town of 25,000 and of the dozens of villages scattered about its administrative area. It consists of 5 back-to-back rows of small workshops that adds up to about 200 individual businesses each employing between 1 and 5 people. These units are rented from the local council for a very moderate sum which provides area services; road paving, cleaning, rubbish disposal, etc. It is sited on the edge of the town, close enough to be convenient but far enough from the centre that its activities are not an inconvenience. It is not a pretty place but it is fit for purpose, and in common with other sites around the country it takes industrial workplaces out of “normal” streets and concentrates them in one area.
Here you will find carpenters, blacksmiths/metal-bashers, glaziers, auto mechanics (2 and 4 wheels, tractors, trucks, buses, you name it), boat-builders, fibre-glassers, marine engineers, refrigeration engineers, agricultural engineers, irrigation system fitters, the list goes on. Mixed in with these producers and service providers are the various wholesalers of everything from timber and laminated chipboard to steel stockists, suppliers of bits for every major manufacturer of anything that runs on fossil fuels, stockists of tools and specialised equipment, plastic pipes and bits and bobs.
No repair or fabrication workshop ever needs to burden itself with stock because within a couple of hundred metres there will be a stockist. Larger or less common items can be got by cargo from anywhere in the country within 2 days. On the outskirts are the recyclers of metal, glass, plastic, etc. Brewers of tea, the staple drink, have their cubby-holes scattered around with orders relayed via a cat's cradle of wires from baby alarms. Vendors of locally produced snacks push their 3-wheeled carts complete with glass display cabinet around the area bellowing their wares. There is even a small cafeteria and a barber's shop.
Individual businesses cooperate and network to meet their customers' needs. For example, I always have the same engineer work on my car, but he is a motor engineer and if there is something outside of his expertise he will summon a specialist in that area to do the work whilst retaining full responsibility to ensure the job is properly done and the price is fair.
During school holidays there will be lots of young people around the place doing real work experience that also brings in some much needed income to their families. Before you flinch and mutter about child labour and exploitation I need to explain; in every case that I've witnessed these young people work by shadowing an experienced adult. They are not used to fetch and carry, get the tea, carry out repetitive chores, etc.; they are not patronised in any way, they are learning and they are treated and spoken to as one adult to another. It reminds me of Ron Cook's vision in Yes! Utopia where people move in and out of education or work to suit their particular needs/desires at that particular point in their lives. I can visualise it working in this environment. Learn what you need when you need it rather than the conveyor belt system that is the lot of those “fortunate” enough to get a state education where it is available. That is not to say that there is no exploitation here, people in Turkey are at the mercy of the same system and subject to the same pressures as workers anywhere else with people working long hours for relatively little pay
Conserving resources
So, there you have a broad pen-picture of how the place looks; with socialism areas like this wouldn't have to labour under the constraints that money presently places on them. There would be more trees and why not gardeners to tend some beautiful flower beds? The rainwater drains would work better – no, the rainwater drains would work! – and those ugly electricity poles and wires could go. Nevertheless, these places do have a significant beneficial impact on the environment, even allowing for the spilt oil and other noxious stuff around. How so? Because here, as well as in so many other “under-developed countries”, having a throw-away mentality is not an option. Here, if it can be repaired or recycled then it is. Here, there are still craftsmen who can make the part that will save an item from being scrapped.
I had a very practical lesson not long after moving here 12 years ago. I had shipped my old side-by-side fridge/freezer here because it still worked despite its age and it was convenient. That first summer in heat it was never designed to cope with it had a heart attack and died and I asked a Turkish friend's help as I tried to make some arrangements to replace it. “Why are you throwing it away?” he asked, whilst calling a local refrigeration engineer. This engineer has repaired and upgraded this battered old fridge several times and it is now functioning better than when it was new nearly 30 years ago. Until I came to live here it had never occurred to me that it could be cheaper to repair something than throw it away and buy new. When all you have seen is a mass-consumerist, throw-away, built-in obsolescence, Granny Smiths from Chile, 1 beefsteak tomato (from Holland) for 59 pence society, that is understandable.
I'm pretty sure that if I brought some of you here to tour my local industrial area to illustrate my points you would look askance. After all, the place does appear to be pretty “undeveloped world” when compared with the sanitised and health and safety at workified European industrial parks. But, what I am talking about is the seed corn of an idea of how we might tackle some things in a socialist future. Work areas would be attractive with pleasantly designed buildings where craftsmen would contribute their skills to their community and pass them on to others who wanted to acquire them. They would be safe places to work and safe too for the environment because there would be no financial or profit motive to compromise or cut corners. The same lack of financial pressure would drive up quality and durability bringing pleasure to the users and profiting (in the right sense) once again the environment.
Socialism is about striving always to find the highest common denominator, not the lowest. Work areas could become real centres for each community regardless of that community's size. There could be recreation facilities and places of education, learning and experimentation would naturally combine there as learning new skills and acquiring knowledge becomes a life-long practice instead of a one shot, hit or miss chance to become another bit of fodder for the factory, shop or office. They really would become places where work ceases to be a grind and instead becomes part of the pleasure of living a fulfilling life where everything and everyone is valued not for the surplus value they can generate but for the varied contributions they can make to the communities that make up our future socialist world.
In truth, our communities could be like that now, but where's the profit in that?
Alan Fenn

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