Work Woes (Or How Work Destroys Us All)

In Wrestling terms, “work” refers to anything part of the wrestling storyline. In the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s, wrestlers treated each aspect of their life as “work.” This led to hilarious results. Once, a wrestler’s wife arrived in the arena with a handgun. To kill the wrestler who had beaten her husband. Yes, wrestlers weren’t allowed to tell their wives about the “fake” aspect of wrestling. So, overall, their lives had become entrenched in show business; their lives had become about work. This happened with factory work as well. If you view the history of how Carnegie managed his companies, you’ll come across the story of “company towns.” By providing them with houses, with entire communities built around the company, they had made the workers dependent on them. Whenever they fight against the horrible conditions in the factories, they risk losing housing and their entire lives. So, they would never protest. They would never be able to have free time, and work would loom all around their lives. Lower salary bands and multiple ways of measuring productivity reconstruct the same scenario for today’s workers. A “bond” that fresher signs to work for a company for at least three years before quitting is a sign of this scenario. History repeats itself daily, and more aspects are repeated than ever before.

The Narratives Built

In the 2019 movie, “Velaikkaran,” the hero goes to work at an FMCG company. In a rousing speech on the first day, the manager (an inimitable villain played by Fahadh Fassil) asks everyone to scream, “We’re the best!” The narrative of being good is baked into every workplace’s philosophy. But it’s a philosophy meant to raise support, not one meant to build a better world. In the movie, the villain usurps power through complicated maneuvers. The hero still wins by creating a protest that lives on in the daily work ethic of the workers. But, we want to focus on the narrative first. How often have you heard of an open, inclusive, and welcoming workplace? How many times do start-ups offer unlimited PTOs? How many times do enterprises flaunt their LGBTQ-forward credentials? The unified narrative around a “good” workplace is created to foster a sense of safety. But a safe workplace doesn’t exist in principle. This is because work is not optional and is necessary for survival. In the same way, anything that is mandatory can never be safe. It has already violated every sense of consent. Sure, there are moments of respite, but that exists everywhere. Think of the times in schools where we’re taken on trips. Or the tiny spaces within the prison where the community plays together. Exceptions, in this case, prove the law. Crafting these exceptions (team fun days, casual Fridays, etc.) is to create a sense of community and safety where there isn’t any. In “Velaikkaran,” the hero realizes his workplace creates toxic chemicals. It’s poisoning the community it serves. On the other hand, he realizes that he’s in between these circumstances, being faced with defective products and costs rising on all fronts. While not as explicitly, how many of us can say that what we do isn’t harming someone down the chain?

Why does work suck?

We often see work as a unique relationship. This starts with the family. We have started viewing work as a family outside the family. So, the low pay and the underappreciated work hours all make sense in the large picture of the family. We’d sacrifice for our community, for our family. But, we’re not working in the family or having fun. Reframing work as a fun part of life is a difficult thing to do. It’s mechanical, most people work in an assembly line where they contribute one small portion repeatedly. And without the spirit of collaboration or the spirit of coming together. The spirit of work today demands that you have fun, that you create a family around your co-workers, and live your life with them. Your social apps become an extension of the workplace and suddenly you’re in a company town.

Against Work

One of Graeber’s central arguments focused on “play.” He observed that animals played with one another, even in nature, without goals or scores. Think of puppies engaging in small fighting competitions only to make up and lay with each other later. Think also of how cats often engage in small, silly explorations into the places they know very well. We did this as children, too, playing randomly, without scores, and without a uniform goal. In a way, you don’t want to go beyond that. You don’t want to build hierarchies and scorebooks and tire yourself out. The life against work needn’t be perfect, Community-led playing is a great way to move beyond work. Today, many systems can work without us putting in work at all. Focusing on creating an experience where you can have fun and do something collaborative is great. This can be anything from painting to writing to discussing knowledge. The point is to have fun while creating or destroying something (“Destruction is inherently a creative urge after all.) You won’t be alone in history to find these collaborations more efficient than normal work. For example – The Spanish Civil War brought together Anti-Fascists from all corners of the world and succeeded in thwarting the advance for a time before an overwhelming force.

Your Future and Mine

Many a communist rejoiced with the emergence of AI. The perspective was simple: if AI can automate our work, we can spend our lives doing something fruitful instead. However, this is a short-sighted view of the world. AI, Bitcoin, and other tech revolutions that promise an apparently free-er future are also gated by tech. Plus, the tech itself depends on a lot of energy and electricity. Both factors can complicate our future of the planet. I don’t advocate for AI because most of my comrades can’t afford or access with, and unless we remove the gating, we can’t dream of this future. And even with equal access, we might not want the future it’ll build. Being without work requires community. It might not be available to you right now, but you’ll have to build layers of mutual aid to survive without work. And these can’t only be urban or rural either. Your connections must transcend borders and limitations and grow like a rhizome to defeat work. But, you can, because I want you to. And you will, because you have will.