Wednesday, May 01, 2013


It’s a day for international labor solidarity. Just based on the past history of this blog, I feel a need to mark it somehow, although I can’t think of anything witty or insightful to say. Doing so has become a job, an obligation, if only to myself.

I was thinking about the nature of work awhile back, the relationship between work and play, how at least for me work only works if it feels like play. Work is something you must do for reasons external to yourself or to the task itself, play is self-justifying. To use the analytical terms that have become somewhat of a personal trademark, they have different structures of agency.

Capitalism has a tendency to turn everything productive into work, while treating play as purely on the consumption side of the economic ledger.

Some of us have the luxury of bridging these worlds, of enjoying our work and having a form of play that is economically useful. I’d say I achieved this for a good part of my life and consider myself amazingly fortunate to have been able to. Most people don’t. For them, the labor movement, aside from its more basic functions of giving economic leverage to those who didn’t have it before, and imposing some standards on how work is extracted, also at its best restores a sense of agency to work. Some radical movements wanted to dispense with work altogether -- unfortunately, at the time they were active factories did not run themselves and fields were not harvested without human inputs. That is likely to change, in the not so far distant future.

The old labor movement seems deader each year. I’m pretty sure there will be new organization forms sprouting up to make work tolerable and to mediate between the working human soul and the soulless market, but I’m not sure what those will be. Cooperatives? Rhyzomatic organizations? Guilds? (I just signed up for an experiment along those lines – a consulting network which will probably not be called “The Refactoring Guild” but could be). Or something yet to be invented?

All I can say is that most of the ways we have now of harnessing human energy and creativity to create economic value really suck, and May Day is a good day to acknowledge that suckitude and dream of a better future.


hellotoast said...
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Kevin Simler said...

I really liked this post.

I too have been able to blend work and play in my life. I think a lot of engineering types like us are fortunate in this way. And yes, it seems like there must be some way of unlocking this for more people.