Working nine to five..

My mate told me a funny story once. He said every time he was rotor'd in to work 9-5, he'd be walking along the long grey dreary road to work, all the while, Dolly Parton ringing in his ears.. "I'm working nine to five..."

Any who, tonight for the first time in a while I just spent the evening reading. It's nice to just dig your noes into something it ain't seen/felt/smelt/heard in a while..

I read again 'wage labour and capital' by Karl Marx. It is a text that has been lingering around (my brain) recently, in relation to unfostered thoughts of the economic system, the welfare state, the dole etc etc. reading it over I realised what a 'founding impact' it had on the way I view work. To quote an early paragraph..

"the putting of labour-power into action – i.e., the work – is the active expression of the labourer's own life. And this life activity he sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of life. His life-activity, therefore, is but a means of securing his own existence. He works that he may keep alive. He does not count the labour itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life. It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another. The product of his activity, therefore, is not the aim of his activity. What he produces for himself is not the silk that he weaves, not the gold that he draws up the mining shaft, not the palace that he builds. What he produces for himself is wages; and the silk, the gold, and the palace are resolved for him into a certain quantity of necessaries of life, perhaps into a cotton jacket, into copper coins, and into a basement dwelling. And the labourer who for 12 hours long, weaves, spins, bores, turns, builds, shovels, breaks stone, carries hods, and so on – is this 12 hours' weaving, spinning, boring, turning, building, shovelling, stone-breaking, regarded by him as a manifestation of life, as life? Quite the contrary. Life for him begins where this activity ceases, at the table, at the tavern, in bed. The 12 hours' work, on the other hand, has no meaning for him as weaving, spinning, boring, and so on, but only as earnings, which enable him to sit down at a table, to take his seat in the tavern, and to lie down in a bed."

Still very much today, tho one change. The worker still sells his 'life activity' to secure the 'necessary means of life', however, many workers have forgotten the simple humble beginnings of the trade-off they partake in - they see money as the reward, as a separate commodity, entirely unbound from their 'life activity'. They therefore spend their money (most indignantly in the voice of the great I am) tyrannically, dumbly, lavishly, indolently, furiously.. It is not their hours spent spinning, weaving, boring, typing, building, shovelling, clicking that the modern worker hands to the cashier -- to them it is simply money; they have lost the connection.

The modern wage-worker who spends his cash so fleetingly and can, on consideration, admit so, can also then (- once he has re-established the connection of his life-activity (labour) and the wage he trades it for -) see that he works beyond his needs. That the money he spends away on nothing is actually hours he's spent typing, building, shovelling etc for nothing. If he were not to burden himself with waste - several pairs of trainers, the latest gadgets, expensive sandwiches that still only fill a hole - he would not need to exchange so much of his 'life activity' for wage.

--
Any who, the above is a bit of a characterisation, so to fully divulge that character I'm thinking people roughly my age (young adults) with somewhat disposable income still (if not the ideal of a disposable income) . It's not an assassination of a particular kind of person; I can sometimes be this way myself, it is an assassination of a indolent way of being.

Mulling over  the other benefits you get from work with my mum, she pointed out job satisfaction, the joy of a job well done. This is true, however, it turned me on to something I believe is heady-prevalent in our society; just a landscape of socieatical nihilism. What I mean by this is simple;

With capitalism as the driving force, every nook and every smear that causes a crease in expenditure is ironed over once-twice; 'how can we squeeze this to make more money?' 'Where can we trim the fat?' (Not forgetting as Marx above suggests, that your wage-labour is simply another commodity much like the tools you use or the computer you type at) it is all about maximising profit

One example of this is McDonald's. McDonald's is a restaurant. It is (I know, I know). However you don't see a head-chef waltzing about the open back kitchen tasting the onion rings. There are no head chefs or suet chefs . Rather than hire skilled workers at a higher price, what McDonald's has very cleverly done is hire unskilled workers; rather than having the head chef, you give every pawn his one job. You! Flip the burgers. You! Toast the buns. You! Slam the cheese. As they are unskilled workers, they are employed on minimum wage, and easy to replace. This is the theory of the factory process line. Of course you can delve deeper, (like a Buddhist, exploring the interconnectedness of the whole world) where do they import there beef from? Is it slaughtered here or abroad? How many people are involved in that process, that back in the day, would have all been performed on a farm, before a dinner plate. The capitalist world often seems nonsensical & illogical, however remember, the logic lies in profit, regardless of the route to it.

So, with this happening to all areas of all employment (look into your line of work, do you see it?) we have moved ever graciously away from the big boss. Back in the day, your boss was visible, he was probably the bloke who owned the biggest house in town, or bought everyone a round once in a while. At work, you would probably pass him and maybe coyly say hello, or at the least know which door his office was behind.
Now however, the king (the big boss) has distanced himself greatly from the pawn. In between himself and them, he's put all the pieces, many knights many rooks, even bosses and bosses on top. The pawn now stands 50 lines ahead of the king.

To the pawn (the common, modern wage-worker) the king is invisible. He is just some man with a lotta money someplace distant, perhaps abroad, or perhaps part of a board,  some uptown twat in London.

So, returning then to job satisfaction, my point is this; for my generation, many of us had our first job experiences working for some big corporate chain like this - McDonald's, tescoes, HMV, sainsburys etc etc. we were bathed in it. and its a fool who doubts the power of formative experience in moulding lasting opinion.

My question to the lasting-practice of this king-pawn conundrum - how much empathy can be expected of the pawn when his master sits so far away? For these big corporations, they can thank their lucky stars that compassion within communities has grown colder and colder in the last 70 years - where we now instinctively imagine a tanned man with a beard to be a terrorist, or consider in equal measure,  whether the man holding the child that's not his own is either a good-Samaritan or a pedophile.

If the world were a little warmer, perhaps dominos pizza workers wouldn't care - and infact be rather happy - that the fresh, untouched, still warm pizza they had to bin because of legislation was now in the hands of someone who would have otherwise not eaten tonight. Or perhaps people working in supermarkets will 'give away' stock by merely turning a blind eye to his fellow man as he leaves without paying. Who does the working class feel empathy for more? One another? or the fatcat miles away. If we keep getting poorer and those corporations keep on swelling, perhaps we'll see a tilting of the balance..

Any who, that's that, socieatical nihilism, on your street corners, in your nearest tescoes.

3 comments:

Thomas Howard Gameson said...

Good points Tom. Very interesting reading, all I can say is thank god I'm self employed and love my job and not running around a wheel every day.

LeE John said...

Nice blog mate, i have not read any marx, but after that paragraph - sounds like i would Very much click with the theme. We are living to Earn, not living to Learn anymore, and I hate it.

lee.

toddthornback said...

Yes Tom! Loving the work :)

Todd