|Idle Pleasures: Rousing the Age-Old Dream of the Heavy-Laden|
|Written by Chris Floyd|
|Sunday, 01 July 2012 22:57|
Idle Pleasures: Rousing the Age-Old Dream of the Heavy-Laden 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 votes.
When I was growing up, the "four-day work week" was considered a viable political and social goal: the next logical step after the long and often bloody struggle to win a five-day week for most working people. Like "full employment," this idea was sometimes actually built into the public platforms of serious, broad-based parties and political movements.
... Conservatives have always loved to pontificate about the moral virtue of hard work and much of the left, focusing on the terrible effects of mass unemployment, understandably gives "more jobs" as its main solution to the crisis. Previous generations would have found this hopelessly disappointing.
"Our machines, with breath of fire, with limbs of unwearying steel, with fruitfulness wonderful inexhaustible, accomplish by themselves with docility their sacred labour. And nevertheless the genius of the great philosophers of capitalism remains dominated by the prejudices of the wage system, worst of slaveries. They do not yet understand that the machine is the saviour of humanity, the god who shall redeem man from working for hire, the god who shall give him leisure and liberty."
Oscar Wilde evidently agreed – in his 1891 essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism, he scorns the "nonsense that is written and talked today about the dignity of manual labour", and insists that "man is made for something better than distributing dirt. All work of that kind should be done by a machine". He makes quite clear what he means:
"Machinery must work for us in coal mines, and do all sanitary services, and be the stoker of steamers, and clean the streets, and run messages on wet days, and do anything that is tedious or distressing".
Both Lafargue and Wilde would have been horrified if they'd realised that only 20 years later manual work itself would become an ideology in Labour and Communist parties, dedicating themselves to its glorification rather than abolition. ... American industrial theorists, strangely enough, seemed to share [these later] socialiists' views.
Of course, as Hatherly points out, in the hands of our wealth creators and universe masters, technology did eliminate a lot of work -- but not for those who labor and are heavy-laden. As with so much else in our system, the risks and downsides of technological development have been "socialized" -- borne solely by ordinary people -- while the profits and benefits are "privatized" into the coffers and control of the elite:
Yet the utopian vision of the elimination of industrial labour has in many ways come to pass. Over the past decade Sheffield steelworks produced more steel than ever before, with a tiny fraction of their former workforce; and the container ports of Avonmouth, Tilbury, Teesport and Southampton got rid of most of the dockers, but not the tonnage.
Yes, in our ultramodern, technologically super-savvy 21st century, we all must be grateful -- yea, humble and worshipful -- if we are lucky enough to be vouchsafed the privilege of wage slavery by the masters and creators.