Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Abolition of Work?

In 1985 Bob Black wrote 'The Abolition of Work', an essay which called into question the relationship most of us have with employment and employers.

He noted that most of us spend more time with our co-workers and bosses than we do with our family, friends or lovers, that for most of that time most of us are engaged in tasks we don't much enjoy (and sometimes are of questionable social value too) and asked whether that was the best way of organising our lives.

Of course, such ideas seem almost commonplace now (someone much more clever than me once observed that no-one, on their deathbed, wishes they'd spent more time working, but almost everyone laments time spent apart from their loved ones), but they certainly didn't 27 years ago.

Anyway, with unemployment rising fast (particularly among young people and women) perhaps now is a good time to revisit these questions: in short, perhaps we should stop worrying about how to create jobs for jobs' sake and instead focus our efforts on how to promote happiness and well-being, perhaps by redefining social attitudes to work.

I'm not talking about just making it easier for people to work part-time, or job-share, or to find better ways of valuing the unpaid caring, parenting, housekeeping or voluntary work so many of us spend so much of our time doing (though all of those things matter greatly) - I'm talking about changing the nature of society so we all do less work and have more leisure time, even if we've got less material possessions to show for it.

If we want to do this, a good place to start is surely in schools, which increasingly seem to be just about giving pupils the skills they'll need in the workplace - and incarcerating them in the day-time to allow their parents to work all day too.

Perhaps they should be more about having fun, and learning the skills needed to live a long, and, crucially, happy, life.



  1. As I mentioned on Twitter, you'll probably be interested in Are jobs obsolete? By Douglas Rushkoff (http://edition.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/09/07/rushkoff.jobs.obsolete/index.html)

    The take-away line from the article is:

    "Our problem is not that we don't have enough stuff -- it's that we don't have enough ways for people to work and prove that they deserve this stuff."

  2. Thanks JD: a really interesting article. In the 1960s (before I was born, I hasten to add!) we were all promised the advent of affordable computers would deliver an age of leisure. Of course as it turned out most people's working hours went up while the profits of those controlling the new technology went through the roof! Ben