Sunday, 1 August 2010

What is 'work'?


The news that the government are removing compulsory retirement at 65 is another crucial step in making sure we all have to toil until we drop dead. Perhaps the next ConDem step will be to make pensions payable only after you have deceased? But more seriously the reality is we are all being made to work harder for longer. It's simply not true that pensions are unaffordable. The truth is that the capitalist class don't want to pay towards our pensions anymore. They are rolling back all the gains working people have made over the last century or so under the cover of 'economic necessity'. Its not economic - its political. Though a lot of people haven't grasped that yet. These changes have been sold to us as being essential - they're not. The government have used the spurious analogy of the household budget. But the national 'budget' is a very different matter. We have higher peacetime deficits in the past and have never defaulted on our debt.

If some people want to work beyond 65 that's OK with me as long as the rest of us can retire. But I have to say that I wonder why anyone would want to work beyond 65 - it is a mystery to me. After a lifetime of work people ought to be able to look forward to a decent retirement and pursue their interests. I accept that some people have no interests outside work and if they want to carry on that should be up to them. Some of us have lots of things we would like to do that are a lot more useful and fulfilling than mere work. My neighbour has retired (at 60) and he assures me that is a full time job - he's never been so busy.
Of course there are some people who think that we should work ever harder to compete in a global market. But we're not wage slaves! Workers around the world are being played off against each other by capitalist corporations that are intent on driving down wages and worsening our working conditions including our pensions.

But its worth considering what 'work' really means. In our society 'work' is something you have to do to keep a roof over your head. It is not something you want to do - which is the crucial difference. In a capitalist society most of us have to sell our labour as a commodity in order to survive. Capitalists expropriate the fruits of our labour for themselves - leaving us with (just) enough to live on. This is the primary reason why most people feel alienated by work - as described by Marx. Of course if you own the corporation then your 'work' is fulfilling because you a getting the cream - and most of the milk. Of course, capitalists put a lot of effort into persuading us that working (for them) is essential - we have all been conditioned to believe this. But there is little point in working to make someone else rich - unless you have no choice. People are not lazy, they want to work, but they want that work to be meaningful and rewarding, and they want it to do something useful for their community - not just be about making money.

If everyone understood basic Marxism it wouldn't be so easy for capitalists to pull the wool over our eyes - follow the links to 'alienation of labour' and 'surplus value' above. People don't freely choose to sell their labour - they have to because in a capitalist economy labour is a commodity like money and land. But there is no necessity for labour to be a commodity - and is wasn't until about 1834 when the poor laws were brought in in the UK. That, along with enclosures forced people off the land to seek work in factories.

Capitalism is not a 'natural' state of affairs as most people have been taught to believe. It is maintained by a set of rules (laws) which allow it to function. Change the rules and it won't function. To create a better society where people can gain the true value of their labour we need to change the rules - simple as that. In the meantime there is an alternative - mutualism. If you want to get the true value of your labour join a co-op. Its democratic and you will not only be rewarded for the work that you do but you will also have a measure of control. Something which doesn't apply to most workers worldwide. Outside my 'work' I chair a community co-operative. Now this is useful work. It benefits me and my community and worthwhile work. I'd do it full time if I could.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You may find the Tories afford you the opportunity to di it full time as a result of the doubledip recession and the assault on our public servants jobs....careful what you wish for unless you're a person of independent means!

Jeni

Howard Thorp said...

I'm not wishing for it but it could well happen.