Work Sucks: Life After Work

Work Want Work: Labour and Desire at the End of Capitalism

By Mareile Pfannebecker and J.A. Smith

Zed Books (2020)

Book Review

In this book, authors Pfannebecker and Smith summarize the current anti-work movement and literature. In view of rapid displacement of blue and white collar workers by robots and computers, coupled with the offshoring of most manufacturing jobs, there are growing calls for an end to waged work altogether.

The chorus has only increased following the 2008 global economic crisis, which has caused a large proportion of young people to face a lifetime of precarious low paid, part time, and temporary employment.

The economic shutdown accompanying the COVID-19 pandemic makes a examination of the role of work especially timely. With the forced closure of non-essential businesses – and resulting bankruptcies – many analysts are predicting unemployment levels as high as 33% – or higher.

The first half of Work Want Work looks at the big change in the nature of work over the past few decades. The authors start by providing numerous examples of the monetization of non-work activities (eg the collection and sale of our personal data by Facebook and Google to corporate advertisers). They also delineate how more and more workers are required to perform tasks outside their training and job description – for example teachers are asked to identify potential terrorists, university professors to guarantee jobs placements, and doctors to manage health promotion.

The book introduces new terminology to help explain categorize these changes in the nature of work:

  • malemployment – refers to work that fails to provide sufficient income to live on, precarious employment, work in healthy or unsafe environments, work falsely categorized as self-employment (eg the “gig economy”), and “workfare” (where recipients are forced to work at a sub-minimum wage to receive unemployment, sickness, and disability benefits).
  • disemployment – refers to workers expelled from the economy (and society) when they cease to qualify for benefits.
  • young-girlification – refers to the complex phenomenon enabling corporations to profit from the bigger-than-life persona people cultivate on social media and reality TV (eg YouTube and Instagram “influencers,” the Kardashians, and the Pope).

Examining what a post-work world might look like, the last third of the book asks what people will do with their new-found leisure time. Obviously we don’t want a system in which government and/or experts decide the best way for us to spend our time. At the same time nearly all have us have been conditioned by advertising and government/corporate propaganda to desire stuff that probably isn’t good for us.

Detroit’s Urban Gardens: The People Take Over

Urban Roots: Urban Gardens in Detroit

Directed by Leila Connors and Matthew Schmid (2011)

Film Review

This incredibly inspiring film is about the mainly African American Detroit residents who have converted abandoned properties into productive urban farms. As the filmmakers demonstrate at the end of the video, grassroots urban farming has become a common strategy for rehabilitating decaying urban areas. To me, what is happening in Detroit and other distressed cities indicates the revolution has already begun. The system is failing, and ordinary people are already taking over.

Owing to the steady decline in US car manufacturing, Detroit’s population has dropped from 2 million in 1950 to less than 900,000 in 2019. The city has 44 square miles of abandoned property and 40,000 vacant lots. This could potentially provide 10,000 acres of farmland.

The filmmakers visit several of Detroit’s urban farms, where they interview the groups running them, as well as the army of volunteers who staff them. Although many volunteers are unemployed or retired, many have paying jobs and garden in their spare time. Many of the older volunteers with Southern roots already have extensive agricultural experience. All participants speak of a a new sense of self-reliance and control over their existence, stemming from their involvement in meaningful, non-repetitive work.

Given that most of metropolitan Detroit is a food desert,* urban farms are the only access to fresh produce for many residents. Urban farmers also sell produce at farmers markets and to local restaurants. Meanwhile the restoration of community activity in abandoned neighborhoods discourages drug dealing and other criminal activity.

Although a few farms have permits from the city to cultivate the abandoned property, most of the gardens are technically illegal. City officials (quoted in the film) refuse to zone city land for agricultural purposes because they’re still holding out for a Walmart or a major supermarket or golf course to spawn commercial redevelopment.

The urban gardeners deride this sentiment, pointing to failed city projects to rebuild Detroit through massive investment in casinos and a sports stadium.


*A food desert is defined as an area with limited (or no) access to affordable nutritious food.

Anyone with a public library card can view the full documentary free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine to register.

 

 

 

Restoring Community

Planet Community

Foundation for Intentional Community (2018)

Film Review

Planet Community is a series of five ten-minute documentaries about creating “intentional communities” – situations where people choose to live cooperatively with non-relatives. Many sustainability activists (myself included) believe rebuilding our communities will be fundamental to the transition to a lower tech, non-fossil fuel economy. Pooling resources makes it much easier for people to lower their carbon footprint. Even more important, living in intentional community can go a long way towards alleviating the loneliness and social isolation that plagues modern society.

Part 1 looks at life in the Dancing Rabbit eco-village in northeastern Missouri. This episode explains the the concepts of Outer Sustainability (which includes developing a local microgrid to provide electricity, local food production and distribution networks, eco-housing and recycling and reclaiming resources); Interpersonal Sustainability (relearning skills people need to live cooperatively – such as communication, conflict resolution, and embracing diversity); and Inner Sustainability (confronting unearned privilege and social oppression).

Part 2 explores a number of student housing cooperatives for University of Michigan students in Ann Arbor. The coops were created by the Inter-Cooperative Council (ICC) for students unable to afford dorms or rental housing. The student cooperative houses, which are self-governing. The ICC, which owns the houses, also offers residents training in trauma survivor support, personal stress reduction, and coop management (eg how to pass a kitchen inspections.

 

Part 3 is about the Enright Ridge Ecovillage, established in 2009 around a Cincinnati forest reserve. At Enright Ridge, each family owns their own home and participates in a governing body that runs various community projects, including a pub, a low income housing project and a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture schemes connect food producers and consumers more closely by allowing consumers to “subscribe” to the harvest of a particular farm or group of farms).

 

Part 4 visits a cluster of three co-housing schemes involving 300-400 residents in Ann Arbor Michigan. Each scheme is run as a “condominium association” to satisfy Michigan state law. Residents, who make governance decisions via consensus, work cooperatively to share meals, organize community events, compost, recycle, and operate a “common house.”

Part 5 concerns the Black Oaks Center for Sustainable renewable Living. The latter is a non-profit organization in Kankakee Illinois started by an African American woman and her son to teach permaculture principles to local residents to help them become more resilient. Their program offers training in sustainable agriculture and lifestyle choices, as running markets in food insecure city neighborhoods.

 

The Role of Exiled Spanish Anarchists in the 1968 Near Revolution in France

The Angry Brigade: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Britain’s Urban Guerilla Group

PM Press (2008)

Film Review

The film traces the role played by anarchists exiled from Spain during the Franco dictatorship in inspiring anarchist movements in Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Turkey, Netherlands and the UK. It primarily focuses on the Black Cross, an international group providing material and psychological support for anarchist prisoners; the French First of May Group; and Britain’s Angry Brigade.

For me, the most interesting part of the film is the role of the First of May group in instigating the mass insurrection (and near revolution) that occurred in France in 1968.

The only serious inaccuracy in the film relates to the identification of German’s Beider Meinhoff gang as an organic First of May anarchist group. It’s now recognized as a Gladio operation heavily infiltrated (and possibly run) by CIA operatives. See The Secret CIA Program to Control Europe

 

 

Black Lives: Beating the Odds in Baltimore

Black Lives: Doom. Choosing Between Good and Bad in Black US Neighborhoods

RT (2019)

Film Review

The ninth and final episode of RT’s Black Lives series focuses on positive changes Black community leaders are making in Baltimore – against great odds.

It starts by profiling a Black barber who learned his trade in prison, after being locked up at 16 for dealing drugs. Coming out with a skill he could use to support himself provided a clear pathway out of illegal activities destined to send him back to jail.

They also interview a black postal worker who asserts he claims he never had the “nerve” to dabble in illegal drugs.

We also meet a former gang leader who founded Men Against Murder after getting out of prison. The group enlists the help of other ex-cons to monitor illegal street activities and partner with families to get kids out of gangs and off drugs. He talks about running a group that assists young people transition out of foster care (in most states, the foster system simply suspends services at 18, leaving many of their wards homeless and jobless).

There are also heartbreaking scenes following a young African American with a good resume and no criminal record in his unbelievably disheartening struggle to find a job.

 

The Movement for Youth Liberation

Common Notions: Handbook Not Required

Directed by Carla Berman and Corine Browne (2016)

Film Review

This documentary concerns a “youth liberation” space called The Purple Thistle a group of Vancouver BC young people ran between 2001-2015. This project was started by eight teenagers as an alternative to school. They involved a series of adult volunteers to sign the building lease, apply for grants and help them find mentors for their various projects.

The film features commentary by several activists and educational specialists who explain the phenomenal success of The Purple Thistle. They feel it’s a big mistake to exclude young people from the community by confining them to a classroom. At all levels, we need to focus more on teaching people to work collectively.

The only rules at The Purple Thistle were no alcohol, no drugs, no assholes (ie no racism, sexism or homophobia and clean up after yourself) and no sleeping (naps were okay). Kids at The Purple Thistle governed themselves via anarchist-based principles of consensus decision making and mutual aid.*

Most of the film focuses on on various creative projects Purple Thistle teenagers undertook.

The project was forced to close in 2015 due to funding cuts. (See letter to the community)


*The principle of mutual aid creates a safe space for people to ask for and offer help. It also promotes economic solidarity whereby no member of the community is allowed to go without.

 

 

Rebel Voice: Biography of Woody Guthrie

Bound for Glory

Directed by Hal Ashby (1976)

Film Review

Starring the late David Carradine, this is a feature-length biography of radical songwriter Woodie Guthrie. For me its greatest strength is its unflinching portrayal of the brutal poverty and physical violence (by corporate-hired thugs) of the Great Depression.

The film begins with Guthrie’s early married life in rural Oklahoma and his struggle to support a wife a two kids as a sign painter and occasional fiddler for square dances.

Hoping to find work picking fruit, Guthrie, along with thousands of other unemployed men, hitchhikes and hops freights to California. Those who don’t have at least $50 are stopped at the state line by Los Angeles police and turned back.

Penniless, Guthrie finds alternative entry and is sardined into a work camp with thousands of other out-of-state families. The massive worker surplus translates into starvation-level pay.

Guthrie falls in with union organizer Ozark Bule, who recognizes his talent and helps him land a gig with a local radio station. Owing to pressure from sponsors to censor his songs, Guthrie chucks it in (included a gig an agent lands him with CBS) to retain his political and artistic freedom.

Of the songs featured, my favorite is Do Re Mi about the blockade at the California state line.

Although the film can’t be embedded for copyright reasons, it can be viewed free at the following link:

Bound for Glory (1976 – Hal Ashby)