Tag Archives: workers

Work is desirable…?

“Work: Exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish.” That is the definition from Dictionary.com. For many of us however work is not simply the accomplishment of something. Instead it is the accomplishment of something unwillingly. We would rather do something else; instead of doing paperwork we prefer working at a construction site, or as a teacher, or as a fisherman, to break the monotonous rhythm of paperwork and excel spreadsheets. Others would break from the monotony of the assembly line, or the barber shop, or the classroom (as a student or teacher).

According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report only 30% of US employees are “engaged and inspired” at work, the rest are either disengaged or are not excited about their jobs. What is the cause of this disengagement? The sole cause of the disengagement of work is the monotonous and repetitive nature inherent in the extreme division of labour; a requirement of high productivity and subordination, thus a requirement of capitalism. Division labour is the specialization of tasks of individuals so that these tasks are carried out more effectively. The natural consequence, however, is the continuous repetition of the task as the high productivity means that the need for the individual’s input in other compartments of production become unnecessary and might even add to the costs.

A common argument might be that only low-skill work is boring. Let us consider high-skill labour. Consider those working within the corporate bureaucracy; marketing directors, managers, accountants, and their subordinates. Sure, the people in these positions might be allowed greater creative input in their work, but ultimately, the work and its product are mandated from a member of the higher levels of the corporate hierarchical chain. Thus they still have to go to work at least eight hours a day, five days a week, to sit in front of a computer to complete work over which the individual has little self-determination over. Does this sound appealing? Not in my opinion at least.

Then let us return to the cause of the monotony of labour; the division labour. We have seen that divided labour forces the individual to focus on a few amounts of tasks for a long time without being allowed to use his or her creative input. Labour is still necessary for the production and distribution of goods and services. The apparent conclusion is thus that boring labour is necessary for efficient allocation within the economy. We must remember one important fact before making this conclusion: Labour in the capitalist society is naturally alienated, meaning that it separates the individual from his or her natural way of producing. That is, labour through one’s own self-determination and creative lust, unlike the present way of producing; being told what to do without a desire to do it but earning money.

The cause of the division labour is then the alienated labour which is the root cause of the disengagement of workers from their work. Labour is separated from their essence since it appears alien, as the motivation for it is not a creative stimulus or an act of self-determination. Instead it is motivated by the necessity of a wage, making it a necessity to subordinate one-self to an employer, making it a necessity to follow orders, with the ultimate consequence; the alienation of labour. Thus alienation creates the tedious and undesirable labour.

Why not accept this as the reality of life? Because it is not. But isn’t the division of labour a necessity since it allows for high productivity? Not really. Perhaps the division of labour within the individual production units is a necessity in order to provide for the population, but not the social division of labour. What is meant by the social division of labour? That people specialize into certain productive activity so that they are forced to pursue that form of labour. So for example, the fact that we have engineers, marketing directors, assembly line workers, plumbers, (etc…) is all part of the social division of labour. If the social division of labour is eliminated then an individual can fish in the morning and work the fields in the afternoon, thus ending the monotony of production since one is not forced into producing the same commodity or service every day. The effect of alienation decreases as a result.

The prerequisite for eliminating the alienation of labour must be the elimination of the market system, as competition forces productivity to remain as high as possible thus making the social division of labour a necessity. A replacement for the market system would naturally be the infamous planning system, that is, society plans and organizes production based on needs rather than distorted consumerist desires in order to decrease the amount of labour. This would reduce the necessity of work, thus individuals experience greater freedom as they are not coerced into working during the working hours dictated by the employer, allowing the individual to work in the morning, and perhaps educate himself in the afternoon so that he can work as something else in the future, perhaps a mechanic. The first step for the elimination of boring labour is thus the elimination of capitalism.

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The Need for Radical Solutions

The title may seem misleading, the point is not to reform the system itself, by the system I mean capitalism and its political counterpart liberal democracy, but to completetly overhaul it; to end it, destroy it, and with its destruction plant the seeds of the foundations of a less flawed system, that is, without grotesque inequities, a system that grants the rights to our truly free, natural and creative existence while still being able to preserve the positive aspects of modern society.

Yet what is it about about modern society that makes it so grotesque? Why is it that we should not accept the thesis of Francis Fukuyama in The End of History? Well, to answer those questions all we have to look at are statistics:

  • 870 million people in the world do not have enough to eat according to WFP (http://www.wfp.org/hunger/stats)
  • 69.9% and 66.7% of the people in Sub-saharan Africa and South Asia (respectively) live on under 2$ a day (PPP) according to the world bank (http://data.worldbank.org/topic/poverty)
  • These statistics are naturally quite unfairly in favor of the anti-capitalist, especially while not looking at the trend of general improvement of lifting people from poverty into a relatively comfortable material existence, by no means a desirable one, but enough to get by. And for the neo-liberal status quo apologists this seems to be enough. But for the socialist this is far from enough, for although the most grotesque aspect of capitalism seems to be eliminated, there is no denying the fact that if production was organized differently those who live in relatively destitute conditions in comparison to their employers could lift themselves from these conditions to live more meaningful lives by owning the product of their labor. As opposed to expropriating the product in exchange for meager wages.

    The capitalist apologists would now make two arguements against what is said above. The first is that the exchange of the worker’s labor for wages is a voluntary exchange. This is false because the worker needs to produce in order to exist, and in order to produce he needs to enter the capitalist production relations where the owner of capital employs people to produce using the capital. Well the worker could just start his own bussiness, right? Probably not since he probably does not have the necessary human capital in order to acquire productive capital from creditors. Even if he did, say, have a genius bussiness plan, the bank would still most likely reject a loan due to the lack of a bussiness major or at least some form of higher level education diploma. Hence the exchange of labor for wages is not voluntary but coercive, not by physical forces but by market forces. The second arguement which the apologist would make is that a job is better than no job. And while this is true he or she does not look at the most obvious alternative; that the workers own the means of production themselves and have the right to set wages, employment, investment etc…

    This naturally transitions into the actual solutions to the innate inequalities within the capitalist production which extracts surplus value for the accummulation of wealth into the hands of a marginalized population. Workers control seems to be the obvious solution to general inequality, the question remains; How can it be implemented? The fact is that bussiness leaders would not sympathize with idea that the basis of their wealth should be expropriated to the workers. Hence I conclude that socialist production relations must be created within a world dominated by capitalist relations through setting up cooperatives (of which there are many successful examples in Argentina for example) to eventually replace capitalist relations. Cooperative production will eventually dominate traditional industrial production through the aid of the state by tax discrimination, creating state owned banks for cheap capital to cooperatives and other state measures.