Democratizing Work

Democratizing Work

I was a bit skeptical of the Global Forum on Democratizing Work. It seemed to me that rushing into an online conference was perhaps a bit over ambitious and misdirected for a relatively new initiative that arose out of a collective letter to the editors of newspapers.

Anyway, I attended three-session today, two of them for their entirety and I was not disappointed. I mean my skepticism was not disappointed. A session on working time presented some fascinating accounts from a gig worker, an academic, and an organizer but then simply neglected to open up the hour and a half session to questions and discussion from the audience. Who did they think we were, chopped liver? The session I only attended briefly had an interminable powerpoint slide show, narrated by a coughing, monotone old coot. The third session was on “No Bosses” and featured Michael Albert promoting his most recent book and pontificating about how a future society would operate. 

Albert has it all figured out, So, when I asked him a question about whether leisure would exist as a benefit in his new model economy or would become a central organizing principle, he confessed he didn’t understand the question and went on to explain about how leisure was interchangeable with income as remuneration for work. So you can work more and earn more income or you can work less and earn less income but have more leisure. In other words, the income/leisure trade-off of vulgar neoclassical economics would become a reality.

I pushed the button to allow my webcam and microphone to be activated and nothing happened. Then I got a message telling me my webcam and mic would be turned on when they got to my question (which they already had). After several more minutes of being ignored, I posted a comment about the undemocratic moderation. That got a response and they let me say my piece. I was brief (I hope) I explained how historically the movement for the emancipation of work had centered around the concept that “real wealth is leisure” going back to William Godwin and that Marx had analyzed surplus value as the appropriation by the owners of capital of the workers’ “disposable time” — that is the time left over after the worker had produced sufficient value to cover the cost of subsistence. I thanked the moderator and panelists profusely for giving me the opportunity to follow up on my question and explained that part of what I intended with my intervention was to “break the fourth wall” of audience passivity.

Albert replied with an appropriate anecdote breaking the fourth wall but then proceeding to make a straw man out of leisure, to extoll the pleasures of work in the emancipated society of his dreams, and to gently gaslight me about relying on old authorities.

Which is all very good. I don’t expect anyone to grasp immediately my radical point that no one really is interested in fantasizing about the glorious workhouses of the future. “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses,” asked Scrooge after being shown two pauper children by the Ghost of Christmas Present. Truth is we have prisons and workhouses enough. 

Eight and a half years ago, I wrote an essay titled “Labour power as a common pool resource.” (a revised version of an Ecological Headstand post, “Labor is (not) a commodity“) Inexplicably and annoyingly, common pool resource essay was behind an idiotic Captcha wall, so I just now reposted it to EconoSpeak. What I really need to do, though, is to write a new essay titled “Disposable time as a common pool resource,” which recants and debunks that previous one. I have written a 10,000 word essay that presents the theoretical ground for that second essay and I am scheduled to present a conference paper in November, so hopefully, I will have the skill, energy and perseverance to accomplish that task.