communists in situ

leberwurst proletariat

Tag: employment

Fuck work

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by James Livingston, aeon.co

Economists believe in full employment. Americans think that work builds character. But what if jobs aren’t working anymore?

Work means everything to us Americans. For centuries – since, say, 1650 – we’ve believed that it builds character (punctuality, initiative, honesty, self-discipline, and so forth). We’ve also believed that the market in labour, where we go to find work, has been relatively efficient in allocating opportunities and incomes. And we’ve believed that, even if it sucks, a job gives meaning, purpose and structure to our everyday lives – at any rate, we’re pretty sure that it gets us out of bed, pays the bills, makes us feel responsible, and keeps us away from daytime TV.

These beliefs are no longer plausible. In fact, they’ve become ridiculous, because there’s not enough work to go around, and what there is of it won’t pay the bills – unless of course you’ve landed a job as a drug dealer or a Wall Street banker, becoming a gangster either way. . . [continue]

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Trapped at a Party Where No One Likes You

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By surplus club, frankfurt

When considering unemployment, social exclusion or precarity, it is inadequate to simply take refuge within the empirical question of which groups live under these conditions. Contemporary sociological identities are themselves forms of appearance, moments of the totality of the reproduction of the capital-labor relation and therewith in the devaluation of the labor-power commodity presently unfolding through the category of the surplus proletariat.

Introduction

At the outset of 2015, anyone hoping for a recovery of labor markets is told to lower their expectations.[1] Specious apologetics on the resilient turnaround of unemployment rates and job creation stumble against continuously revised growth forecasts reflecting the inertia of both high-GDP and emerging market economies. On a global level, the period since the crisis of 2007-08 has witnessed, at best, tepid economic activity despite unprecedented monetary stimulus and liquidity injection. Business investment remains predominantly stagnant, most recently with energy producers dramatically cutting back total capital investment.[2] Even China is stuttering and decreasing its appetite for raw materials[3], while the professed German success story cannot be read without the unfolding process of precarious capital concentration of a rapidly declining Eurozone, rather than as an indicator for lasting growth.[4] At the same time, the world economy continues its recourse in unrestrained leveraging[5], further exacerbating credit-to-GDP ratios, with, according to a recent report by the International Centre for Monetary and Banking Studies, total public and private debt reaching 272% of developed-world GDP in 2013.[6] The recent alarm of deflation means a rise in the real value of existing state, corporate, and household debt. Corresponding to the fiscal approach of higher budget deficits is, since 2010, the outright purchasing of government, corporate and real estate bonds by central banks and paid for with newly printed money – i.e. ‘quantitative easing’. The European Central Bank has, most recently, followed the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan in the latter policy despite the fact that it has yet to demonstrate itself as an effective response to decelerating economies. Instead, the money created enters into the banking system, shoring up balance sheets on finance capital and fomenting bubbles within assets held.

These conditions outline the phenomenal contours of the present crisis of capital accumulation, which is at the same time a crisis of the reproduction of the capital-labor relation. Since the economic restructuring of the 1970s, deregulation has expanded the flexibility of labor markets and fundamentally reoriented the conditions of the class relation. While unemployment remained relatively abated during the postwar period – alongside the assurances of the welfare state – developments in capital accumulation since then have witnessed an unprecedented ascendance, in terms of duration and concentration, of both unemployment and underemployment.[7] Since the early 1970s and through the dismantling of the Keynesian wage-productivity deal of the postwar period, the capitalist mode of production has been stumbling to combat the anguish of diminishing returns. Its recourse of economic restructuring consisted in the expansion of finance capital and increasing the rate of exploitation in an attempt to stabilize and defer its own inherent propensity to undermine the process of self-valorization. The 21st century thereby opened with a reign of labor-power devaluation that has only intensified its duress, which, alongside fiscal and sovereign debt crises expressed in austerity, continues to wield unrelenting immiseration.

Materially, the crisis of 2007-08 has only worsened the conditions of labor with, for example, the labor participation rate in the US now at a 36-year low[8], eclipsing any earnestly lauded low-wage job creation and its feeble average hourly earnings. For that segment of the proletariat not losing their jobs or dropping out of the labor force altogether – for which unemployment statistics have very little to say – the types of employment still available are largely temporary, part-time, seasonal, freelance, and in general, precariously informal without contractual guarantee of compensation. Thus, as the present moment finds an overcapacity of surplus capital unable to find lasting investment, the effective demand for labor-power follows suit and diminishes. Through the critique of political economy, this phenomena finds systematic expression in what Marx refers to as the “general law of capital accumulation”. Here, the proportional expansion of total capital, itself resulting from the productivity of labor and therewith in the production of surplus value, yields a mass of workers relatively redundant to the needs of the valorization process. This tendency arises simply from the nature of capital.[9] As capital develops labor as an appendage of its own productive capacity, it decreases the portion of necessary labor required for a given amount of surplus labor. Therefore, the relation of necessary labor needed by capital continuously declines. This occurs through the organic composition of capital in which competition between competing capitals induces the generalization of labor-saving technologies such as automation, thereby increasing constant capital at the expense of variable capital, resulting in a relative decline in the demand for labor.[10] The production of this relative surplus population is the devaluation of the total labor-power that takes on the form of a dislodgement of workers from the production process and in the difficulty of absorbing them through customary or legally regulated channels. If the labor-power of the proletariat cannot be realized, i.e. if it is not necessary for the realization of capital, then this labor capacity appears as external to the conditions of the reproduction of its existence. It turns into a crisis of the reproduction of the proletariat who is surrounded, on all sides, by needs without the means to adequately satisfy them.[11]

Friends have pointed out that surplus population is a necessary product of capital accumulation and therefore a structural category deriving from the ratio of necessary and surplus labor. It is a tendency that is always already there and inherently constitutive of the capital-labor relation independent from its historical configurations. So why might one justify its emphasis within the present conjuncture? After all, the notion of a surplus population “is already contained in the concept of the free labourer, that he is a pauper: virtual pauper.” (Grundrisse) The task therefore remains to demonstrate why the relative surplus population is paradigmatic of the class relation in the present moment and what are the implications for contemporary class struggle.

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It’s A Tough Economy!

[One part fantasy noir, one part all-too-real workers’ inquiry for the perennially underemployed, It’s A Tough Economy! plumbs the psychological depths of the current economic crisis through surrealist illustrations and claustrophobic prose. The following is a short excerpt from Jarrod Shanahan’s It’s a Tough Economy!]

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It’s A Tough Economy!

by Jarrod Shanahan 

The waking have one world in common; sleepers have each a private world of their own.

-Heraclitus

I. The Screen

My eyes flitter open to a dark Brooklyn apartment, a sink that never stops dripping, and a dull headache to match. The space is sparse but it will do, as it has done, as it must. Grubby naked walls frame a checkerboard of weathered linoleum tiles interspersed with the bare wooden squares left behind by others long come unstuck. Nicked and chipped sticks of creaky furniture dot the floor and line the walls as they once crowded curbs on my neighborhood trash day. A metal gate rusted firmly over my one window to the outside catches the street light and casts the shadow of interlocking bars across the entire room—hardly abating my gnawing claustrophobia, but at least lending it an air of poetic melodrama which is decidedly preferable to ordinary everyday hopelessness. This gate is firmly and irrevocably locked with a long-lost key, leaving me praying modestly for an apartment fire anywhere but the main doorway, my only route of escape. And this battered, world-worn, and barely fastened front door opens to a hallway of creaking and splintered boards poised to alert me to the approach of whatever misguided bastard decided this to be a good place to rob. The sink drips on, calmly, consistently, infuriatingly. Here I can come and go whenever I want and nobody cares, as long as I pay my rent. Nobody tells me what to do. Nobody owes me anything. I am completely and utterly free.

What time is it? How long have I been sleeping? The light makes me wince. I have such a headache my hair hurts. My mouth is parched, creaking open like a rusted hinge, and my hands feel caked in dry mud, splitting and flaking. At first my arms and legs refuse to leave the unfortunate position in which I fell asleep, melded around the hard contours of my couch like a wilted flower. They yield only with a wretched, painful fight. My sinuses throb, suspending everything around me in a fog.

Well, back to this.

After day after unemployed day of hour after uninspired hour of applying for job after unattainable job and hearing absolutely and remarkably consistently nothing back, I have begun to lose hope in the whole endeavor entirely. How is it, I can’t help but wonder, that am I less employable than I was when I was eighteen years old? Why is it that nowadays, nobody even wants to string me along with a prospective position in order to scam me? Why does nobody want me to wire them $500 in advance of an interview to be paid back with interest upon my arrival? Where is my hapless heiress embarked on a frantic blind-emailing search for her inheritance-rescuing prince charming? I haven’t even received a single request for my social security number in weeks and at this point I’m so lonely and defeated I’d probably give it up in full knowledge of the con. Maybe whomever steals my identity can do a better job with it than I’ve managed to all these years. Maybe they can get a nicer apartment. Maybe if they use my identity to get a job, I can do it part time, or go in when they’re not feeling well? Or take it over if they find a better one? I’d gladly pay a finder’s fee. I’ve flooded every corner of this immense city with cheerful, professional, visually-striking resumes on par with every tutorial I’ve suffered through and every template I’ve scoured for clues. And as I’ve continuously received nothing in return save an endless gaping silence as large and looming and ominously hollow as life’s greatest mysteries—less like the calm preceding a rainstorm than that of a lifeless body tumbling anonymously through empty space at the most remote and starless corner of the unknown universe—it has become impossible to even imagine anyone on the other end of my job applications. The specter of undeniable and utterly crippling futility, always nipping at my heels at even the best of times, has almost overcome me. And no sooner did I admit to myself that I’m almost ready to give up, that my body took the cue, and just went to sleep…

RING RING RING RING 

There it goes again! I thought it was part of a dream I can no longer even recall. Don’t hang up! I don’t see the phone anywhere. In the fragmented street light this room looks utterly foreign, its every contour assuming a menacing grotesque shape. A fearsomedemonwith a horrid contorted visage springs from the shadow of my tattered overcoat slung over a wobbly old chair, which hardly of the netherworld, is sulfuric in odor alone. I shrink back at the sight of a ferocious beast of prey poised to tear me to shreds, until it scampers across the window sill and darts into an unseen mouse hole. These damned papers are all over the place. The phone could be anywhere…

RING RING RING RING

Why does the state send you a hundred pages in the mail when the only piece of information you need to know is that food stamp benefits are only available for people who already have a steady job and can provide their four most recent pay stubs ending with the previous week, so that if you’re completely out of luck, you’re completely out of luck…

RING RING RING RING

Of course, its under the classified pages. Since I feel about as necessary to the current job market as the printed classifieds, it made sense to pick up a copy. I figure we can at least keep each other company in our shared obsolescence, and at the very least, it matches my landline phone. Maybe I’ll buy a used boat while I’m looking for work, or go on a date with a sane, commitment-minded divorcee. Maybe I’ll adopt a lovable playful tabby cat in need of a good home and we can be lovably, playfully, unemployed, together.

RING RING RING RING

Don’t hang up!

“This is Jarrod speaking.”

I drop this line exactly as prepared, but speaking rattles my sinuses. I can’t remember the last time I spoke out loud. In my endless rehearsals for this day, which I had begun to doubt would come, I have planned to sound professional with an underside of approachability; all business in the right places, but no stranger to good clean all-American horseplay; a real go-getter who can pithily wisecrack at the absolute right moment, like a Hollywood action hero strolling cavalierly from an explosion that nips his heels but leaves him unscathed. You know, the kind of guy you want on your side when the going gets tough, and to bullshit with in the time in between. Cool boss material. At once I’m glad I practiced this, because I think I nailed it. They’re on the hook now.

“I am wonderful, and you!… That is wonderful… Why yes, wonderful! I have read the job description thoroughly and I would say that I am interested. Of course I have other offers at the moment… Yes, of course… Wonderful!”

If only I had any clue to which position this is was in reference, out of the hundreds of applications I have sent out in a somnolent haze since losing my job who knows when. Why do they always assume you know exactly who they are? I could always ask, but I‘ve already lied, and now there’s no turning back. My head is throbbing. I venture a guess.

“As soon as I read the words ‘Innovative creative start-up seeking productive associate’, I knew my search was over… Oh no, yes, no I said ‘Seeking self-starting innovative associate for creative productions!’ Of course. Sorry, I just got out of an interview and the reception is bad here. Let me move to a different part of this lobby… There, can you hear me? Great… Describe myself? In a word, innovative. Another word? Creative. Most of all, I’m a leader. Not afraid to make the hard decisions. I’m most comfortable working independently. I’ve been called a… self-starter…. Sure, tell me about the position…”

I press my hand to my forehead. It’s burning hot. Is this natural? What is my temperature supposed to be, 125 degrees? No, that’s the temperature at which an egg cooks. When was the last time I ate anything? I wonder when I’m going to realize that I’m hungry… And then I do. Or had I already, prior to formulating the question? The voice on the other end drones on, firing off rhetorical questions and answering them in rapid succession before I get a chance to hazard a response. Eventually a prolonged silence hints that my turn to reply has come.

“Oh yes, I understand that this position is not directly creative. What I meant to say is that… I understand creativity to extend to… the smallest detail, that may seem mundane to most people but to me seems… creative. Take… tying your shoes… for instance! There are… infinitely… many ways that can be done. What if the rabbit runs up the tree… and runs around in tree for a while… and still gets to the hole… but even faster? Doing the everyday, in a creative way! That is how I define innovation. And what’s more, when I said that I like to work independently I meant of course, working within a team. So I’m one thing… and the team is another thing… but I am within the team… as my own thing… and within the team… as its own thing… as a team player. So we’re on the same page there! And of course this position isn’t for a team leader, I know that! I meant to say that… I am a leader… with regards to myself… in my position on the team… with regards to itself! In a word, I’m a real self-starting innovative independent team player. Or… that’s at least what I’ve been told. Yes I’ll hold…”

Fuck! Where did I get the idea that they wanted a team leader? What the hell was I even talking about? And how is it that ten minutes ago I didn’t even know this job existed but now I can’t imagine my life continuing without it? And I still have no idea what it is! I may as well hang up and go back to sleep. Maybe I’ll beat this headache once and for all.

“Come in right now? No problem! Well… I have another interview, but I suppose I can move some things around and come right in!” At once I notice that its pitch black outside. What time is it?

“That’s perfect, I’ll be right in. Thanks, me too. Thanks, you too.”

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