The Wage Labour Gulag

‘Fire and rehire’ is the most blatant example of a practice that has existed most recently since the Thatcher era. Zero hour contracts are its institutionalisation. No one dependent on selling their labour has ever felt secure but now with the P&O scandal the fiction of ‘rights’ at work has been blown apart.

Under capitalism, work is our means of survival, a need. At best we can earn enough to be comfortable producers but never enough to escape our dependence on employment. At worst we can work hour by hour remaining cold and hungry. Is work a choice? Only in as much as having food and a roof over your head, or starving and being excluded from society are equal choices. However, as precarious and poorly paid as it is, capital needs our dependence on it for social control, whilst ‘bread and circuses’ and sheer fatigue distract us from the theft of the value of what we produce.

The long since gone promise of a job for life was only ever a sentence to be served, not a privilege to be savoured. If wage labour was so good you can be sure the rich would have kept it for themselves!

The big lie is that work is standardly 9-5 or an 8 hour day – it never has been. We are forced into unpaid choices dictated by work that under cool reflection are abominable – to wake at 6, nourish and prepare ourselves for an unchosen journey for which no one pays us. A lunch break chained close to our machines.

Then the journey home, shopping, food and laundry accomplished in a timescale to meet bedtime to recover and repeat the process. Rest is a disturbed sleep and rude awakening to fit in with the work clock again, day after day for the whole extent of our fit and healthy existence.

As Paris revolutionaries said in ’68 “The difference between our work lives and our leisure time is that no one pays us for the work we do in leisure time.”

The wage labour gulag rules half our waking lives for two thirds of our lifespan – and that’s if all goes well. What do most of us think we’re working for? At first escape the dread of the poverty of benefits but ultimately the ability someday or other to escape work itself!

Whether we are lucky enough to enjoy our jobs or loathe them, the common factor is we simply have no choice. Even if we love our job we don’t have the choice when to go in, how long we stay there, whether to choose not to work or when we finish. As for the social benefits? Think of the style of relationships you are forced to tolerate at work, the petty power, the instruction, the hierarchies and demands without your decision or consent. These are the exact opposite of the relationships we choose to create freely amongst our peers in any other part of our lives where we have some control. Dignity and belonging, meaningful activity and contribution are not synonyms for wage labour, they are the opposite to be found in its rejection and abolition! P&O is just the tip of a titanic iceberg of the abuse and exploitation of workers everywhere. We must defend jobs and improve working where we can as our current means of survival, but continue to recognise that while dole is poverty, ‘work’ is slavery – one solution, revolution!