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The Future of Work

ActivismThe Future of Work

Marilyn Langlois – TRANSCEND Media Service
Do you know anyone who genuinely loves their job, greeting each new work day with focused energy and joyful anticipation? Do you know others who dread going to work, can’t wait for the weekend and cringe at the sound of the alarm clock on Monday morning? What is it that makes work enjoyable and rewarding for some, while for others it is a torment?  And why are so many people unemployed or underemployed, living under the constant stress of not knowing how they will manage from day to day?
Ten key components to job satisfaction include:
1 You like what you do.
2 Your work is fairly compensated, acknowledged and appreciated by others.
3 You have some say in shaping the parameters of your work either directly on the job or via union participation.
4 You have positive relationships with co-workers, clients, supervisors, mentors, trainees and trainers.
5 Your work offers you a healthy amount of variety and challenges.
6 You can access effective support systems for addressing problems and conflicts.
7 You have opportunities for learning and stretching yourself on the job.
8 The hours you devote to work allow ample time for family, friends and personal time.
9 You’re generally good at what you do and are open to constructive feedback so that you can do better.
10 Your work is actually making people’s lives more wonderful without harming anyone.
If any of the above qualities is missing, dissatisfaction starts setting in.   If many are missing, it’s a recipe for distress affecting you and others around you.
The picture I’d like to paint is moving towards a world where every person can say “all of the above” about their work.  Impossible you say?  Well, perhaps not in my lifetime, but if we don’t dream of what we want and put our collective talents to achieving it, we’ll remain stuck in our present quagmire.
Humans from early childhood are naturally active, curious, creative and social beings who strive to meet their basic needs, take care of each other, solve problems as they arise and come up with new and better ideas for doing all of this.  Too often, these impulses are stifled by the way work is structured in so-called “advanced” and “civilized” societies.
In modern urban and industrialized settings, young people are conditioned that working hard, even if you’re unhappy on the job, is necessary for survival.  A certain level of unemployment and job insecurity must be maintained so that people are grateful for whatever paid work they can get.
In rural and indigenous communities with longstanding traditions of healthy ties to the land, more and more people are being driven off of their ancestral lands and forced to work under abusive conditions as plantation laborers or in sweatshops.
Many workplaces ignore worker grievances, sending the message:  if you don’t like it you can quit, there are plenty more who want your job!  Despite official policies to the contrary, many workers face discrimination and bullying from supervisors and colleagues conditioned to get ahead by putting others down.
The actual content of more and more jobs is soul-deadening and de-humanizing.  High tech whizzes sit long hours at computers devising ever more complex and inscrutable financial and marketing instruments aimed at increasing and consolidating wealth for the few.  Others concoct an endless stream of consumer products that are superfluous, wasteful and often harmful, in the race for market share and profit.  “Security” sector workers (soldiers, security guards, police, prison guards, airport screeners and other enforcers) are given tiny realms of power within rigid chains of command and trained to forcefully order others around, usually in the service of the rich.   Propaganda and PR sectors distort and manipulate messages to poison people’s minds with a narrative that upholds a grossly unequal and unjust capitalistic system.
Capitalism requires corporations to maximize profits for the few.  They do so by increasing revenue via deceptive and manipulative marketing, while reducing costs–including labor costs–as much as possible.  Labor costs are minimized via union busting, lobbying against minimum wage increases, outsourcing, restructuring, layoffs, and shifting from fixed employment to contract piece work.  Automation is the ultimate cost-cutting measure, eliminating countless jobs permanently. Watch out, professional drivers–self-driving vehicles are on the way.
So how to get there from here?
Adam Simpson’s insightful TMS article notes:  The Problem isn’t Robots Taking our Jobs.  It’s Oligarchs Taking our Power. “Training for the jobs of the future keeps workers trapped as long as workers can’t shape how technology is used and who profits from it.”
As Simpson points out, “Capitalism also relies on what is popularly referred to as ‘unskilled’ labor [e.g. in food systems and on farms]. It is labor that is both essential in maintaining society (and capitalism itself) and simultaneously poorly compensated–if compensated at all.  Without the minimum wage workers in Amazon’s fulfillment centers, the ‘high-tech’ company’s executives get nothing—and neither do Amazon’s high-skilled software development engineers and machine learning scientists.”
It’s time to dismantle the capitalist house of cards propped up by low wage workers hoodwinked into believing that their survival depends on the whims of wealthy oligarchs.  What if more and more workers looked around and asked each other, why are we doing this?  What if we instead believe in the collective power of our own skills and relationships with each other, engage in global strikes, let the structure collapse, and re-build a more solid and sustainable one?  The house we can all live in would have a quality-of-life floor of a minimum living standard, a ceiling of maximum personal material wealth, and a beautiful garden, open to the sky, where everyone can enjoy unlimited social, intellectual and cultural wealth.
In the process we need to democratize power by getting money out of politics and eliminating excessive profit motives for a few.  Truly democratic government institutions can focus on providing high quality basic services to all.  Private sector enterprises should be incentivized to become worker owned cooperatives, practicing workplace democracy.  Instead of being exploited, agricultural workers who grow the food we rely on for our very survival are especially deserving of optimal working conditions, generous compensation and elevated status.
In order to prepare our children for the future of work we need to teach them in school about worker solidarity and the history of the labor movement.  Instead of being prodded to compete for limited spaces at universities and scarce “dream” jobs (guaranteeing that many will lose out), young people should be learning how to build a society where every job is a good job.
We should teach children about worker ownership models such as the extensive worker cooperative network in Mondragon, Spain; Cuba’s transition of many former state-owned enterprises to worker cooperatives; Italy’s rich tradition of cooperatives including social cooperatives for those facing barriers to employment; indigenous traditions of communal labor; and worker cooperatives in their own neighborhoods.  From early ages on, children and adults need extensive practice in collective decision making and peaceful conflict resolution.
We need to vastly expand all job sectors that actually make people’s lives more wonderful: organic food production; infrastructure and housing construction; useful, innovative and environmentally friendly industries; fair trade commerce; the arts and recreation; public banking; honest and people-centered journalism; education at all levels; and the vast array of healing professions, including counseling, coaching and mentoring.  We need to instill cooperation over competition as the driving engine of human activity, with a massive influx of mediators to ensure inevitable conflicts are resolved in healthy ways that serve all parties’ needs.
We should minimize or eliminate jobs in de-humanizing, coercive and deceptive sectors like private finance, insurance, military, polluting industries, and PR, offering ample “re-skilling” and job placement in all of the above life-affirming sectors.
We can bust the myth that prospects of exorbitant payouts are necessary motivators for technical advancements.  In Gaviotas[i] , Colombia, a few decades ago, community-minded engineers developed highly innovative and ecological systems for energy production and local agriculture motivated by the sheer joy of figuring it out and for the benefit it brought to others.
As technology and automation evolve, we should reduce working hours for everyone, leaving more time for leisure, family, friends, and learning.  Community volunteerism during people’s spare time and in retirement should be encouraged.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23, affirms everyone’s right to dignified work under favorable conditions and protection against unemployment. Everyone can contribute in some way.  Parents and family caregivers who are not in the formal workforce should have support to raise children and care for loved ones.  The severely disabled can still engage in stimulating activities and be taken care of.  Those who appear lazy or unwilling to work are likely depressed and need a healing intervention to integrate them into a productive and inclusive community.  The elderly should be able to retire with comfortable pensions to honor past contributions, yet encouraged to stay involved and contribute in whatever ways they choose.
Humans do have the capacity to make this happen!  By harnessing our imagination, intelligence, energy, and solidarity we can most certainly figure out how to heal the pathologies of greed and violence; how to utilize and share the earth’s abundant resources to give everyone, including future generations, a joyful life.
[i] Weisman, Alan: Gaviotas:  A Village to Reinvent the World, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, Vermont, 1998.

Marilyn Langlois is a member of TRANSCEND USA West Coast. She is a volunteer community organizer and international solidarity activist based in Richmond, California.  A co-founder of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, member of Haiti Action Committee and Board member of Task Force on the Americas, she is retired from previous employment as a teacher, secretary, administrator, mediator and community advocate.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 18 Mar 2019.

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