Here’s the thing: we need politics in the workplace. Politics—that is, the act of negotiating our relationships and obligations to each other—is critical to the work of building and sustaining democracy. And the workplace isn’t separate from democracy—it is democracy. It is as much a part of the democratic system as a neighborhood association or a town council, as a library or youth center or food bank. By the very nature of the outsized role that work plays in our lives, it’s where most of us have the potential to make the biggest impact on how we—and our families and communities—live. Workers across industries have organized to secure a legal minimum wage, won laws against unpaid overtime, established workplace safety guidelines, improved patient care standards at hospitals, kept school classrooms to a manageable size, ended private collaboration with the military and border control, worked to pass laws condemning gender and racial discrimination, and the list goes on. They’ve done this not only within their own workplaces, but for all of us.
Because if remote work gives us anything at all, it gives us the chance to root ourselves in a place that isn’t the workplace. It gives us the chance to really live in whatever place we have chosen to live—to live as neighbors and caretakers and organizers, to stop hoarding all of our creative and intellectual capacity for our employers and instead turn some of it towards building real political power in our communities.
Judith Shulevitz: Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore (The Atlantic)
Our unpredictable and overburdened schedules are taking a dire toll on American society.
When so many people have long or unreliable work hours, or worse, long and unreliable work hours, the effects ripple far and wide. Families pay the steepest price. Erratic hours can push parents—usually mothers—out of the labor force. A body of research suggests that children whose parents work odd or long hours are more likely to evince behavioral or cognitive problems, or be obese. Even parents who can afford nannies or extended day care are hard-pressed to provide thoughtful attention to their kids when work keeps them at their desks well past the dinner hour.
What makes the changing cadences of labor most nepreryvka-like, however, is that they divide us not just at the micro level, within families and friend groups, but at the macro level, as a polity. Staggered and marathon work hours arguably make the nation materially richer—economists debate the point—but they certainly deprive us of what the late Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter described as a “cultural asset of importance”: an “atmosphere of entire community repose.”
Even if you aren’t asked to pull a weekend shift, work intrudes upon those once-sacred hours. The previous week’s unfinished business beckons when you open your laptop; urgent emails from a colleague await you in your inbox. A low-level sense of guilt attaches to those stretches of time not spent working.
Wall Street demands improved quarterly earnings and encourages the kind of short-term thinking that drives executives to cut their most expensive line item: labor. If we want to alter the cadences of collective time, we have to act collectively, an effort that is itself undermined by the American nepreryvka. A presidential-campaign field organizer in a caucus state told me she can’t get low-income workers to commit to coming to meetings or rallies, let alone a time-consuming caucus, because they don’t know their schedules in advance.
Reform is possible, however. In Seattle, New York City, and San Francisco, “predictive scheduling” laws (also called “fair workweek” laws) require employers to give employees adequate notice of their schedules and to pay employees a penalty if they don’t.
Then there’s “right to disconnect” legislation, which mandates that employers negotiate a specific period when workers don’t have to answer emails or texts off the clock. France and Italy have passed such laws.
It’s a cliché among political philosophers that if you want to create the conditions for tyranny, you sever the bonds of intimate relationships and local community. “Totalitarian movements are mass organizations of atomized, isolated individuals,” Hannah Arendt famously wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism. She focused on the role of terror in breaking down social and family ties in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under Stalin. But we don’t need a secret police to turn us into atomized, isolated souls. All it takes is for us to stand by while unbridled capitalism rips apart the temporal preserves that used to let us cultivate the seeds of civil society and nurture the sadly fragile shoots of affection, affinity, and solidarity.
Joe Keohane: In Praise of Meaningless Work (The New Republic)
Yes, we should all hope—demand, even—that the workplace of the future will be governed more by respect and sensitivity than cupidity and the Peter Principle. But until that day comes, we should embrace not the meaningfulness of work, but its meaninglessness. The cold, unromantic transaction. The part that keeps food in our bellies and a roof over our heads. The part that, theoretically, gives us our nights and weekends. Let’s demand that recompense, first and foremost, and deal with the rest later. With unemployment falling to pre-recession levels, employees are hopefully gaining the leverage to say enough. The prayer is that the line will be drawn, and managers will then see that the way forward is actually very simple: Hire good people. Treat them well. Help them succeed. Compensate them fairly. Let them go home.
Miya Tokumitsu: In the Name of Love (Jacobin Magazine)
Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO: his food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled. Job creation goes both ways. Yet with the vast majority of workers effectively invisible to elites busy in their lovable occupations, how can it be surprising that the heavy strains faced by today’s workers (abysmal wages, massive child care costs, et cetera) barely register as political issues even among the liberal faction of the ruling class?