Some of us love it, a lot of us hate it, but we all have to do it at some time often for a long proportion of our lives. In this increasingly modernised world humans’ relationship to work has, however, become much more bureaucratised, impersonal, and often totally futile.

The value that creation power of human labour once held, as Marx wrote, is slowly disappearing as the need for human labour in the traditional sense is diminishing as technology is advancing. Value is simply no longer created by human labour. This is where the inherent contradictions of capitalism become evident to anyone analysing the notion of work.

With this in mind, one has to critique neoliberalism’s oppressive ideology of work. Are we really “naturally” working beings? If so, are we meant to be working 40 hours a week? Is there any satisfaction working in what some may denounce as pointless jobs? Are there any realistic ways the current stubborn ideology of work can be inverted? And why is this important when considering George Osborne’s recent declaration that he is going to find a way to achieve full employment in the UK?

When George Osborne announced that the conservatives aim to reduce unemployment entirely, it was of course a blessing to finally hear that the conservatives have some kind of compassion and humanity. After being a party known for its “harsh but right” political and economic decisions for so long, it was a delight to hear that they desire the best for everyone. Or do they? Is this plan of Osborne’s entirely unproblematic?

Although it may sound like an undoubtedly good thing-having everyone in work is of course perfect-it nevertheless has underlying politically biased motives. The conservatives want us to work since it is undeniably beneficial to the functioning of capitalism. If we all work then we can all consume the services and products our consumerist minds have helped manifest, and consequently this will help money circulate around the free market. George Osborne’s desire for full employment isn’t a desire for a better quality of living for everyone at all; it is a method of creating a whole population of capitalist consumers who go to work so they can afford to buy stuff.

Matt Bolton talks of, in his article ‘Work isn’t Working’, how a conservative ideology of “only work will set you free” is so prevalent now amongst people’s everyday view of work. This is problematic because it has resulted in embedded shared values that see humans as working beings, thus dismissing completely the value of time given to leisure and relaxation.

This brings me on to a popular Marxist critique of capitalism which highlights the degradation of value in human labour and the increase in value creation through the manipulation and control of capital. In other words, one can increase financial capital by investing in financial capital. Marx’s view that value of a product can only exist based on the human labour that went in to it, has almost completely disappeared and been replaced with a situation where humans are completely detached from their work but nonetheless still have to go every day in order to satisfy consumerist needs.

Technology, that has made human labour redundant, has severely encouraged this problem. This is where capitalism is so bizarre and contradictory; on the one hand it wants all of us to work so we can consume products and services contributing to the economy, but on the other hand global capitalism is entirely dependent and dominated by the invisible flow of finance that has very little relationship to the act of work, and a strong relationship to debt (a strong indicator of why work isn’t working).

Soviet Union-style communism, a strongly principled egalitarian regime which supported full employment, also aimed to create humans into working beings. So why is it necessarily a bad, or immoral thing that we are working beings? Well, we are not naturally working beings at all. One cannot ever make the argument that humans are naturally working beings when most of the population work in futile jobs which hold very little actual importance.

David Graeber in his article, ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullsh*t Jobs‘ perfectly outlines how the meaning of human labour is now so abstract in its actual purpose that it’s become totally meaningless and rather unsubstantial to even work at all. Graeber also points out that technology was predicted to be a tool for freedom from work. The advance in technology was meant to liberate us from the arduous weeks of work by making 15-hour work weeks a reasonable possibility. Instead technology has been responsible for creating more banal jobs that never used to exist.

This fate is often attributed to capitalism’s encouragement to work as much as possible in order to continually consume. As a consequence, the majority of us who work sacrifice leisure time and work jobs we often admit to be inconsequential and pointless just so we can continue to consume. We are left with a society full of people doing jobs they are not good at nor enjoy. It’s just another curious product of capitalism.


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