Lefty Resource Library

Posting articles as I go

Tag: labour

Shorter working hours, freedom, and the Left (v. focus on equality)

‘The one-sided focus of most Marxists and socialists on distributional questions has obscured the fact that the animating principle of the Left is not so much equality, but rather freedom — freedom from alienating work and freedom touse our time and creativity for our own self-directed ends. Socialism does not equal the roughly equal distribution of stuff; the martyrs of the labor movement didn’t give up their lives so that everyone could have the right to buy an iPhone or a plasma screen TV, or to waste their lives working at crap jobs. Marx himself was rather clear on this point. Near the end of Volume 3 of Capital, he famously argues that the “true realm of freedom” lies beyond the sphere of material production, and that “the shortening of the working day is its prerequisite.” While the necessity for people to do some sort of potentially alienating work to ensure social reproduction will likely never be totally abolished, it should entail “the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature.” So long as the Left does not seek to fundamentally alter the labor process nor shorten the working day to the least amount of time possible, it fails to act on what should be its most fundamental principles.

‘As an employee of a strapped government agency looking to cut costs wherever possible, I was offered the opportunity earlier this year to reduce my work week for the rest of the fiscal year to 21 hours with a concomitant reduction in my annual salary. While I was worried about voluntarily giving up 40% of my pay, my mounting dissatisfaction with the technological deskilling that hollowed out much of the appeal of my job provided me with the impetus I needed to trade some financial security for a three day work week. I can say unambiguously that working much less has dramatically improved the quality of my life, especially my psychological well-being. It has given me the ability to pursue graduate study and spend more time with friends and in political activism. It has even made me an objectively better worker from the standpoint of capitalist rationality during the three days that I am at work; I probably do the same amount of work now than I did in five days, and with a much sunnier disposition to boot.

‘Economists who study the social effects of a shortened work week have found empirical support for my overwhelmingly positive subjective experiences. Earlier this year, the New Economics Foundation in Britain issued a report calling for the normal work week to be reduced from its current level to 21 hours. They find that experiments in working less are often popular with both workers and employers, cut down on environmental pollution because of a reduction in commuting, help to reduce unemployment, encourage a balancing of gender relations at home and at work, and improve workers’ physical and psychological well-being. I don’t mean to portray shortening working time as a panacea, and I admit that I have been able to perform my small experiment in freedom because I am a young man with low overhead costs and no familial obligations. The fact that my union continues to protect my position while I work a reduced number of hours certainly doesn’t hurt either. But the potential benefits are clear and could be a central component of a new political program for the Left.

‘Clearly, the prospects of building a movement around such a program currently appear to be bleak. But so are the prospects of building a movement around a more traditional Left program that continues to operate under the assumptions of mid-twenty-century social democracy. In this time of crisis and uncertainty, all potential options should be considered and pursued.

‘A demand for less work and more free time could be the thing that activates the formation of a new collective political subject with the capacity to pursue a class politics appropriate for the twenty-first century. It might create the conditions under which “a Left endowed with a future rather than burdened with nostalgia for the past might re-emerge,” as Gorz incisively put it. Besides, we have already earned that general distribution of products and universal holiday that Paul Lafargue talked about over a century ago. It’s time to cash in.’


A bit on fair work, esp rejecting much of the ethic that keep us oppressed

‘the nature of a product is irrelevant to how we should theorize, legislate, or organize the labor involved in producing it. Workers are not socially accountable for whatever may come from their work. To accept otherwise encourages the over-identification with work that management finds so efficient in getting us to do more for less. It allows capital to extract not only time, but also ethical responsibility from workers.’


Online moderators as hate ‘sinks’ – they absorb the worst to maintain a facade of civil society and prop up power

The facade of liberal democracy only stays clean by putting young women in hate’s way.

‘Moderators bring silences to the Internet’s city of words. They read everything so that we don’t have to. In sites under moderation, they have filtered everything we see.

‘This imperceptibility means that we may not stop to think much about moderation as a form of labor that composes the Internet.

‘The online expression of voice, political participation, and democracy are smoothly, unproblematically equated.

‘This complex tension—between voice and civility, eyeballs and deliberation—is one that future-of-news enthusiasts are good at waving away, but that comment moderators must bear. Within representative democracy, we can think of moderators’ bodies as being like that element of an electronic circuit that dissipates excess energy and allows it to function. They absorb the excess affects in a period of political dysfunction, and allow institutions to appear stable and unchallenged. They maintain the semblance of civility after older infrastructures have fallen into disrepair. They suck up discursive heat so that political communications systems can keep flowing according to their archaic fantasies of civil, public discourse. If computers have such heat sinks, moderators are hate sinks.

‘Observing contemporary communicative and affective excess—the kind that moderators encounter daily— political theorist Jodi Dean also notes liberal democracy’s enduring, systemic resilience, and names this disjunction ‘communicative capitalism’. She thinks that the upsurge in the circulation of political content “in the dense, intensive networks of global communications relieves top-level actors (corporate, institutional and governmental) from the obligation to respond.” The energies of mediated oppositional debate and activism are reabsorbed as informational commodities. The gap between “politics as content” and the workings official politics widens. As for ‘democratization’: “the proliferation, distribution, acceleration and intensification of communicative access and opportunity, far from enhancing democratic governance or resistance, results in precisely the opposite.” Comments promote not critique, but control [emphasis mine].

‘But if this is true, it happens at the expense of moderators. Dean risks making communicative capitalism seem weightless. She leaves out the affective labor of that allows a semblance of liberal conversation to persist. We must add to her version of our impasse by emphasizing how this systemic resilience relies on a precariously employed and female labor force. We must understand how they are deputized to shore up the legitimacy of institutions which have historically excluded and currently exploit them, freeing the powerful to present all of this as a democratic undertaking. Until we do, moderators will suffer in vain, preserving the facade of civility in an era of sharpening antagonisms.

‘In bringing this to light we will also notice that the work of moderation is gendered. It is not just that the powerful have found a way to mute our discontent, but they have done so in a way that puts a lot of young, mostly female bodies in the way of hate speech. In my qualitative research, I found that the overwhelming majority of moderators were women, and most were relatively recent graduates. This is consistent with the high ratios of female to male graduates in journalism and communication degrees in the U.S. (about three to one) and Australia (up to four to one in some degrees),  and also with the disproportionate number of men occupying full time and prominent positions, further up the chain. In the era of social media, this adds up to a cruel equation: Not only do women face streams of hate directed at themselves on personal accounts, they also scrub similar threads clean for their employers.

‘For many women, as Amanda Hess has shown, encountering hate online is an everyday reality. But if some spaces appear devoid of such abuse, it is because there are women absorbing still more negative affect in order to preserve a zombie version of liberal civility. Dispelling the lonely silences of moderation will not only let us recognize workers’ labor but will also allow us to better understand how politics fails to satisfy in liberal democracies. And when we better appreciate who bears the costs of our vaunted communicative freedoms, we may be less inclined to see democracy as the ability to sound off, and more insistent on defining it as the capacity to speak together as equals’ [re: Bolt etc.]