• Left Without Work

  • By Ruurik Holm | 27 May 09
  • In April, Left Forum, a Finnish component of the Transform network, published a volume entitled The Left Looking for Work (in Finnish: Vasemmisto etsii työtä, Like Publishing Ltd.), authored by the research cooperative General Intellect.

    The book addresses the changes in capitalist production, which cause change in the content and conditions of work. The book’s main thrust is that the left should adjust its thinking to take account of these changes.

    Collective working-class identity is disappearing. People do not identify themselves as belonging to the working class even if, in terms of their material conditions and position in the hierarchy, they in fact do. The world has become more individualistic, but the left has not been able to respond to this challenge. Instead, left demands are still formulated in terms of the old Fordist compromise model, the dismantling of which already began in the 1970s.

    Indeed, the left defends workplaces more than the workers do. For example, by demanding public support for hiring people who are less able to employ themselves, the left is directly undermining the negotiation stance of other workers. By thus increasing the supply of labour, the price of labour will fall.

    Instead, the left should seek options to decrease the supply of work. In this way, the negotiation stance of an individual worker would be improved. One method for achieving this could be an adequate and unconditional basic income.

    The cultural identity of contemporary workers is not determined by their class relations. Working-class culture has disappeared. People can no longer locate their identity - and certainly not from the shop floor. However, this does not mean that all has vanished into mainstream commercialism. A new kind of subculture is forming in the movements where people come together by free will. New movements could be the organisational and cultural forms of the new working class.

    Migration is where the change in the conditions of production are most clearly visible. Migrants are the most vulnerable to new control mechanisms and power structures. The problem of immigrant labour is not free movement of people, but instead restrictions of free movement. These restrictions force migrants to work in the black market and hide from authorities instead of seeking help from them.

    The left has almost exclusively focused on wage labour, although an adequate concept of work is much broader. Work includes everything that contributes to the overall production of wealth expressed in the most general terms. One could say that almost everything is work and work is done almost everywhere. Especially domestic work is also work. The traditional impulse of the left to encourage women to enter the sphere of wage labour should be reassessed since it tacitly implies that work done at home is not valuable. Moreover, the emphasis on wage labour ignores the fact that one of the original aims of the workers movement was the liberation from capitalist wage labour.

    The Left Looking for Work is currently available only in Finnish, but some highlights of the book may appear in English in a later issue of this journal.