“Work, work, work!”… Why?

“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.


11 thoughts on ““Work, work, work!”… Why?

  1. Don’t disagree that work can help the environment. But we don’t need a lot of the things we call ‘work’. The mass consumption and production activities themselves are anti-environment. Also, the possibility for self definition and liberation is central to environmental concerns. Also, we can’t see ourselves as some master of nature; all this would allow for the potential for more self sustainable livelihood with nature.

    I detest how this system is organised on the basis that work is the be all and end all. It also classifies only certain jobs as work, and grades in accordance to the most ‘valued’ aka exchange values. Also, the technological advancements and investment in renewable energy would be a key aspect of a new economy.

    I think there is a potential to look at doing things differently. We have reached a stage where we can do things differently, even if the means that we have got here by have been very damaging.

  2. It’s a generational thing, I’m sure. Work defines who you are for people of a certain age, it’s bound up in pride, respectability and a sense of duty. I do agree that the mindset that other people are going to pick up your tab is a deeply unhealthy one, if not for the welfare system which WILL collapse if we don’t encourage people to want more from their lives, but more importantly for the individual who’s potential is being unexplored by their buying into this mindset. But you know what? Governments need to take the blame for that because they are the cynical bastards who manipulate people’s social mobility so that they always have a ready supply of voters. Politicians have never been about the people and their well being, they are ALL about themselves.

    It’s also about materialism. People’s obsession with ‘stuff’ is just crazy. Western society seriously needs to rethink it’s values in this area.

    There’s absolutely no doubt that routine and activity are essential for good mental health (I’m speaking from my own experience of being out of work and inactive and comparing that to being active, be it at college, working part time or simply having the self-discipline to put some structure into my day) but it’s the TYPE of activity that matters, not – as you point out – work for the sake of it. Actually you reminded me of a blog I wrote 3 years ago on pretty much the same subject!


    To give particularly disabled people and those with mental illnesses the wrong type of work is utterly disastrous, and it’s far better for a person to be given work/activities that they CAN cope with than be shoved into any old job that fits the conventional model of ‘work’. I really can’t see how the government haven’t realized that they could actually cost themselves MORE money in sickness benefits when people have breakdowns as a result of being shoved into work environments they were nowhere near ready for!

    This gentleman illustrates the point beautifully. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/12/iain-duncan-smith-work-related-activity

  3. Gania,

    Yes, but the problem here is that the actual system is set up in a way that it makes it hard for everyone to get a job; its impossible – and the kinds of jobs that are on offer are often not that encouraging either; especially their work structure and pay.

    Totally agree regarding the obsession with ‘things’ – that’s central to the capitalist structure working though; people buying into goods all the time.

    Thankyou for the links. I totally agree. When talking about disabled people, I think it is always important to bare in mind the social model of disability! Its about considering the structures of supply, instead of focusing on the demand as this government, and those before, are/have doing/done.

  4. I’m 49 years old, have Asperger’s syndrome and have never had a job, and because of this I feel like an empty shell; useless, shunned and excluded…and everybody’s scapegoat. Medically I’m a member of the species home sapiens…but, believe me, because of my circumstances, I’m no longer a human being.

    Having a job for which you receive wages is a significant part of a person’s identity. It is your place in society; it is acceptance and recognition, it defines who you are, who you were and who you’d like to be in the future. It provides you with worthwhile challenges, status, pride and dignity…it is your membership card which allows you to join civilised adult society.

    Additionally, since 80% of people meet either their husband or wife through their job, either directly or indirectly, it means , that unlike myself, no matter how much you dislike your job, you won’t be chronically lonely like I am.

    Please don’t flippantly dismiss the concept of work…it provides both yourself and society with far more than you might initially imagine.

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I am really sorry to hear that, but this was precisely the point of my blog. You shouldn’t have to feel like that, but it’s all the pressure the current relations places upon work – work that pays.

      I don’t feel that life should be just about working ALL of the time, which for many people it is. It undermines people’s ability to do other things that they would like to do, which are also fundamental to many people’s sense of identity.

      I want to make it clear that I never dismissed work as a concept, I just was criticising the centrality of work for society. Some people may want to work all the time, but others want time to do other things. There isn’t much choice these days, when in fact it doesn’t need to be like that. The emphasis on growth growth growth is central to this.

  5. Hi Lee & Jane,

    Lee, many of the points you make are confirmed by research.

    Work provides 1) time structure, 2) money (more economic power) 3) social opportunities 4) self esteem. Surveys have showed that work is placed high up in happiness ratings. Top is dancing and dining with friends, work was about 4th, and right at the bottom was watching TV. See Bills of Health, link below.

    The uniquely green insight into work is its connection with life and society. Its meaning. It is clear that job satisfaction is an immense aspect of work motivation, totally undervalued in any direct way. Thatcherism wrongly put £ as the top single motivator of mankind.

    There is a record of a group of waste disposal workers before and after recycling came in. Their self-esteem skyrocketed.

    The concept of work as an act of increasing (or not) the level of ecological (which includes social) order allows us to evaluate work, and re-model it to bring forward a line of thinking that links work with the common good. Or not, as the case may be.

    Our Party has long recognised the importance of valuing (whether by payments or in other ways) unpaid work like parenting. This is one of the strengths of Citizen’s Income.

    Work is central to economics, but as Jane says, should not be central in our lives. We work in order to live, and not the other way round.

    The foundation of green economics is in our access to water, food, energy, housing and waste disposal.

    Its what we do when we go camping.

    On this foundation is built the rest of the economy – trade, transport, security, administration and, finally, at the end, money.

    Green Economics totally reverses the order of priorities of the old, failed market/growth economics. It will replace the old economics – sooner rather than later.

    I wrote a book about this in the 90s.
    [Tech Q: Is there a way of making these links live? Can I use HTML?]

    It shows that unemployment is definitely bad for individual and social health.

    The brilliant thing is that there is no need for unemployment in a green economy – even though the Citizen’s Income will enable surfers to make their lifestyle choices.

    Green work is generally labour intensive. There is so much vitally important work to be done in healing our environment and society that there can be good work for all.

    Sorry to bang on about this, but it is particularly important to get these points across in order for the revolutions taking place around the southern Mediterranean.
    Best wishes

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