An insightful author wrote a letter to the editor of an antiwork publication, Processed News, describing how the standard Left-influenced approach to reforming work is insufficient:
Too many groups in the past have been unable to move past the point PW is at now. Instead they’ve ended up liberal or doctrinaire or just burned-out. All the activism of the ’60s and ’70s has ended in apathy and disappointment with political movements that have assimilated to the mainstream.
This apathy, even though an obstacle to the goals of PW, is a valid feeling and we should accept it. Within the apathy is a potential for a genuinely radical position. That is, people are apathetic because they realize how much is wrong with society. Old political formulas aren’t good enough anymore. The potential is for this feeling to become a willingness to consider new alternatives, to question one’s stake in the system.
PW has done a good job of tapping into this feeling among office workers. But can this alienation be translated into a desire to resist social control and to work for something better? The issue of how to relate to the labor movement and unionism is a good example. Can unions address the alienation office workers feel today?
I don’t think so. Unions always assume that we accept our roles as workers. But we don’t! And that’s what PW has been pointing out. Even if the wages were better, we’d still hate office work.
But unions, by definition, limit their scope to the workplace and issues of workers. For those of us who’d like to see work itself redefined, to unionize is almost a contradiction in terms.
Is there an alternative? A way to move beyond the worker role, to address the socio-economic control that jobs exercise over our daily lives?
I emphasize the idea of daily life because I think we’ve been asked too often to give energy to movements on the basis of abstract or theoretical goals. We’re always talking about the “workplace” or the “voting booths” or even the “streets”. But these are abstract metaphors for political processes and not concrete situations in our daily lives. We may demonstrate for the human rights of people in a country we’ve never been to. But we often don’t even know the people who live in the apartment next door. This contradiction ultimately tends to negate our political work.
My point is that these abstract political arenas can never help us achieve our goals. Processes based on the use of power (that is, coercion), from the marketplace to the halls of Congress, are what creates alienation. We can’t use them to end alienation!
…We need to think about political change in a whole new way. We can’t accept issues in the terms that corporations define them. They want to talk about productivity and wages. But we’re concerned about the value of work and the quality of life. They want us to define our needs in terms of salaries and benefits. We want to meet human needs without money.
Our concerns today are not as workers or producers (which has always been the basic premise of the labor movement). We want freedom from work that is useless and alienating. But what forces us to remain workers is our role as consumers. Despite all the abundance and over-production of our economic system, we’re still forced to pay money for basic survival needs, as if these things were scarce. And as long as we need money to survive, we’re forced to sell our labor.
…But today, the corporations are determined to co-opt all our needs into the cash economy. If we don’t address these needs ourselves, they will soon have a price tag on them and we will be all the more dependent on the economy. Dropping out of the cash economy, its laws and its values, is a genuine act of resistance.
The whole thing is worth reading, but these excerpts provide the clearest insights. The Left-influenced mass culture tends to look toward making work better by passing more laws/regulations and by providing direct subsidies, with both efforts amounting to subsidies for the workers, at the expense of high overhead. Perhaps a more direct approach is needed.
Our entire way of life is inhuman and illogical. It is based on the idea that we can control people, or shape equal units into little droids that we command by our intentions, instead of looking at how people quality — moral, intellectual, character and inclinations — matters, and how our intentions are often unrealistic both as individuals (evil) and as groups (collective insanity).
Jobs are the effect; the cause is a civilization without purpose that is caught in the grips of dangerous illusions. These illusions arose because they flatter something within us that we want to give in to, because it is more mentally convenient, despite it contradicting many known aspects of reality.
Conservative antiwork activists tend to focus on this existential, or quality of life in the soul, aspect to modern life. It is soulless and soul-crushing. The herd rushes toward distractions, but is afraid to face the core problem, because it indicts our individualism which becomes selfishness and insanity in groups.