Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Under socialism, everyone will have to do the shit work.

A Znet commentary reproduced on MediaLens discusses what it calls 'balanced job complexes'. Essentially:

Every workplace is just a set of tasks. Tasks are bundled to create jobs. Currently, tasks are bundled according to their relative desirability and empowerment effects to create jobs that are quite disparate from one another. So today, we have jobs like nurse aide ad doctor, secretary and manager, or assembly line worker and CEO. A relatively small percentage of people, whom I call the coordinator class, primarily do work that increases their self-confidence and gives them a fair amount of control over their own work lives. The majority of people, the working class, do work that is deadening, disempowering, and sometimes even dangerous - not to mention commonly smashing their self-confidence, and essentially never increasing it.

And so:

[W]hy should anyone be stuck with a job which consists of only screwing sprayers, or only sitting in a cubicle, while others primarily get to do work which increases their energy and confidence? Why can't workplace tasks be apportioned more fairly, so that everyone has to do their fair share of less-desirable labor?

It is precisely this which makes a balanced job complex what it is: Everyone gets to do some tasks that are desirable or empowering, and everyone has to do his or her fair share of shit work. It doesn't mean everyone performs every task. That would literally be impossible. It just means that everyone's work circumstances are comparable to everyone else's.

Of course, this is practically unimaginable in a capitalist economy, so chalk it up to Parecon's ongoing efforts to rethink the nature of production and exchange. The idea should resonate with anyone stuck in menial work as I have been, again. This time I'm temping in the City, which is even more lowly (if slightly better paid) than temping elsewhere. While not always onerous, the work is mundane, uninspiring, and drags out the hours. What is more, in an environment packed with bouffant-haired rich boys with crystalline accents, the menials are silent and invisible (while thinking things like, 'come the revolution, you guys are soooo fucked'). As I suppose you already know, in these kinds of roles it is necessary to "switch off", which practically everyone who has done call centre work, served at the tills or worked on production lines knows how to do. To put it another way, any kind of work that does not engage your creativity at some level generates a set of automaticities, machinic glances, clockwork smiles, tics, hand movements and so on, while your mind wanders off and solves the crossword puzzle. You become a simple means of production, an accumulation of dead labour time.

Classify this post with the zombie labour collection.