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August, 2006

Vision and the Fight for a New World
This column is a place for revolutionaries to debate why a cooperative society is a practical solution to the problems people are fighting out. We welcome your thoughts about the articles we are running and we welcome your articles. You can view all articles at here. E-mail info@peoplestribune.org or write: People's Tribune, P.O. Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654

The 'Work Ethic' and The Electronic Age

By Bob Lee
 
Homeless, and dreaming of a home.
Homeless, and dreaming of a home.
ILLUSTRATION/LAUREN ALEXANDER
 

Why do we work? Most people would probably answer, "Because I have to if I want to eat, and because it's expected." But consider these two facts: First, the wealthy few who tell the rest of us to get a job don't do any work themselves, and second, we're moving rapidly toward a society where no one will have to "work" in the traditional sense.

The "work ethnic" is the idea that a person who is physically and mentally able to is expected to work for a living. It has roots in both necessity and a capitalist inspired morality.

Historically, we worked out of necessity, to survive. When capitalism arose, the capitalists needed our labor, and they ensured that work was also seen as a moral obligation.

Work is considered our contribution to society. We are taught that hard work will be rewarded -- anybody can get ahead if they work hard enough. And we're taught that we have to compete with one another for the best jobs.

But it's becoming clear that there is a real contradiction between the work ethic and reality.

There are not enough jobs to go around. And for many of us, the jobs we do have don't pay enough. Most of us never do "get ahead," no matter how hard we work. Indeed, many homeless people are working full-time.

On top of this, the work ethic is used against us. The powers that be in this country use it to turn us against one another. They get us to believe that some people are unemployed simply because they don't want to work. The country is in crisis because we've turned our backs on "traditional values," we're told.

And what about the handful of capitalists? What do they do, besides sit back and watch the money roll in?

In any case, the world is changing in a profound way. It is making the capitalist "work ethic" obsolete. Our jobs are being taken by computers and robots. The jobs that are being downsized today are never coming back. We are moving steadily toward a workless society, meaning one where most of the work is done by machines, not people.

We are at the dawn of an age where we no longer need to work, at least not in the traditional sense, because society's new electronic tools are so productive that they are eliminating jobs and also creating unlimited abundance. All of us could have a high standard of living, without "working" in the sense of selling our labor power to someone else.

We need to redefine the work ethic in terms that reflect the interest of the majority of the people. In a workless society, there won't be any "jobs" in the traditional sense to compete for, and no need to compete just to eat. But there will be things that need doing. Each of us will have the opportunity to make a contribution, whether it's rearing our children, providing health care, or building housing. In return, each of us will get what we need to live full and satisfying lives.

We have to ask ourselves, what is a moral person today? Is it someone who denounces those who can't find work and supports the dog-eat-dog competition of a failing capitalism? Or is it someone who recognizes that they're part of society, and that they have common interests with all who must sell their labor power in order to live? Our morality, our "work ethnic" today must reflect both the electronic age that has dawned and the moral and political struggle that has been spawned by the resulting crisis.


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