My libertarian-socialist working feeling
by Rainer Ammermann
Much can be said about the possible links between the current refugee influx to Germany and the idea of unconditional basic income. Now, I want to highlight just one obvious intersection: thousands spend countless hours to build and maintain a support infrastructure for refugees independent from public services. They are not paid and they do in part work others might judge as stupid or heavy. They are driven only by the obvious need and the feeling to be part of a group or a movement of common interest. Although involvement in civil society activities in Germany is traditionally high, the challenge to support thousands of refugees and migrants at short notice shows once more the desire to work and to participate as a deeply rooted intrinsic and social value. With this in mind we do not need to worry about a lack of willingness to work once an unconditional basic income is implemented. But some have to worry that the jobs they offer may not provide the values necessary for real useful work.
One impressive project of refugee support is the clothing depot in a Hamburg trade fair hall. Within days and weeks it has become a well equipped logistics centre completely run by hundreds of volunteers. Of course, people in the core team bring in some professional experience, but no extra money drives them. Most volunteers in the store sort clothes, pack boxes and stack pallets. Some organize free drinks and food for the volunteers, others run and further develop the software used to process packages and orders, and so on. The centre is open 7 days a week from 9 to 9. New in this project is not the fact that volunteers work in a clothing depot, but the large scale of the project and that it is managed independently of established aid organizations with a fluid and self-organizing crowd of supporters. One can start working there without formal registration and without becoming a permanent member of a team or social group. Many people there work in anonymity apart from the first name on their chest.
I work there several hours about twice a week. I am impressed by the atmosphere of a relaxed but effective bustle based on freedom and mutual respect. Although I feel some kind of duty to contribute to this kind of community work (a socialist value), at the same time I enjoy the total freedom of choice each day to start and stop working whenever I like outside public service structures (a libertarian value). No formal accountability undermines my motivation while I can trust in the self-organizing crowd of people that the service is going on well in the time I focus on other things. I call this “my libertarian-socialist working feeling” (while this doesn’t fully reflect my personal political stance) and I feel it bears a huge potential for a more humane and effective world of work. May it stimulate somehow the inevitable way towards unconditional basic income.
Rainer Ammermann is an activist in the Basic Income Network Hamburg.