“Work, work, work!” This government’s replacement for New Labour’s “education, education, education” slogan. Work for the sake of working. Work because we don’t know life without it. Work because it feels ‘natural’. Work because the system requires it. Work because capitalism needs to justify itself. Work to make a living. Work for money. Work because the benefit system demands you to. Work because you are otherwise a ‘scrounger’. Work because it is what defines you.
What about enjoyment, ‘needs’, creativity, leisure and sustainability? These are seen to be meaningless philosophical topics that detract from the ‘necessary’ labour. However, full employment under this system is an ‘ideal’ – that is, unachievable. We never stop creating senseless jobs in attempts to massage the employment figures; ignoring the possibility of an alternative.
An alternative you say. Maybe there isn’t an alternative to this work obsessed society. I mean, is there any hope when society kicks up a fuss because the EU tries to implement working hour limits?
I’d say yes. There is the possibility. This includes reducing the working hours per week, the NEF have suggested 21 hours per week (but it could be even less than that). We could share out the jobs so that people maybe could mix and match their work – so that more people come into employment but that work is no longer the only thing they do. There would be a guaranteed income, so that everyone had more than a simple basis of subsistence. However, there should be possible experimentations in accordance to local currency and wages being worked out in relation to environmental value, for example. These are all details that many competent theorists have considered, especially amongst the ecosocialist and ecoanarchist traditions.
Whilst I don’t like the technological magic bullet argument, technology also provides the chance for reducing labour requirements – this is already happening (but in a negative way due to the system’s framing and orientation: growth etc.) and is a major reason for the falling rate of profit and the relating unemployment figures.
These changes would provide people the time, space and areas for creative expression and self-definition. People are often stuck in jobs that bore them (that are often of little ‘need’), working simply to maintain subsistence and because the state demands you take up any job that’s offered once on benefits. Of course, there are those who love working long hours every day; and noone would stop them from doing so, but it wouldn’t be necessary, nor would it be tied to the ludicrous exchange values as it is now.
But the government will keep on with the same old line that those who don’t work are morally repugnant and that they aren’t taking up the ‘opportunities’ for work. I’d like to see some of those ministers doing some of the ‘jobs’ on offer these days. They are senseless and evident of an economy running out of ideas. The state has the power to change benefits and force people to take jobs, even potentially illegal welfare, and ignore the alternatives. To conceded that the system is the cause of the things they stigmatise and attempt to eradicate; well that wouldn’t be very politician like, would it?
Update: I have had a comment seeming to suggest that I am implying that I want no work; that’s not what I am saying, and I am fully aware that work has beneficial aspects. Instead, what I am arguing for is better organised work, in terms of time, scale, value and wages. There needs to be more decentralised, democracy focused work – so through cooperatives for example. This is key when achieving sustainability through technology, renewable technology specifically. Central, as well, is a move away from mass consumption and mass production. It is to provide people more chance of doing work, but so that they also have more time for themselves, for creative orientation and to enjoy life instead of having so much pressure. That is environmentally, socially and economically sound, in my opinion.