6 works that will answer all your anti-labor questions


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I haven’t always agreed with anti-work books. I grew up in Iowa, the daughter of an appointed partner at a CPA firm. Every tax season, from the moment I had the dexterity to push stacks of paper into envelopes, I was put to work. I didn’t get paid for this job until I was 16 and it never occurred to me that I should be paid.

I worked because I believed that working made me “good” and that not working would make me lazy and “bad”. I believed hard work led to rewards – higher pay, happiness, a more established sense of accomplishment.

In the years that followed, I worked a whirlwind of different jobs. From server at several Steak ‘n Shake restaurants to comment screener for an online obituary, third-shift inventory specialist and assistant to four attorneys at a commercial insurance company. Since 2007, I have worked exclusively as a copier/editor.

If hard work really led to financial rewards, the hardest of those jobs would pay the most. Of course, we all know the opposite is true – I make a lot more writing about books for a living than as a waiter when I came home with bleeding feet and calluses on my hands every night. I worked a lot harder counting thousands of screws in my lap at 3 a.m. at your local hardware store than I did sitting around picking obituaries, but my salary didn’t reflect that.

Then, of course, there are those who would respond to that by telling me that jobs that don’t pay “aren’t supposed to” and that they’re for teenagers, as if being a teenager means fair wages were not a reasonable and strict minimum expectation of literally anyone working any job. Get out of there.

For many years I fought for higher wages and benefits for workers. I wanted the whole country to have labor laws that went beyond the best labor laws in the country in California. I was a proud member of the National Union of Writers for years.

But eventually I realized that working to increase salaries and benefits is just a band-aid. I don’t want to fight for a bigger piece of the same shit pie anymore – I want to abolish the fucking shit pie in the first place. Let’s eat cake without shit!

Trust me when I, your neighborhood socialist, tell you that I’ve heard all the arguments against these ideas. “But who will take out the trash ???” “Not everyone can just STOP working! you yell at me. If you want to understand the answers to these frequently asked questions (and others), here’s a program of books that will give you those answers – written by people far smarter and more qualified to lecture you than I am.

The problem of work: feminism, Marxism, anti-work politics and post-work imaginaries by Kathi Weeks

There are two things you should know about my first of the recommended anti-labor books. Un: This is not a fun read. Two: This is the most comprehensive of the many anti-work books I’ve read.

The author, Kathi Weeks, is a professor of gender, sexuality, and feminist studies at Duke University, and it won’t surprise you when you read this book. This is a book clearly written by an academic and it covers a wide range of anti-work arguments from different ideologies. If you really want to get into a textbook-style tome, this is it.

Bullshit Jobs book cover

Bullshit Jobs: A Theory by David Graber

What started as a viral trial, “On the phenomenon of bullshit jobsis reviewed here in book form.

While Graeber doesn’t name specific jobs as “bullshit jobs,” he does provide a definition. Essentially, if your job disappeared tomorrow, would the world notice? If you’re driving a city bus for a living, chances are people will notice – it’s not a shitty job.

Examples of potentially crappy jobs include human resources consultants, communications coordinators, telemarketing researchers, and corporate lawyers.

Graeber suggests the answer is a shift in values ​​in which caring and creative work should be at the center of the workplace – not the corporate shilling.

Dirty Job book cover

Dirty Work: Essential Jobs and the Hidden Consequences of Inequality in America by Eyal Press

There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic should cause society to think carefully about what is meant by “essential jobs”. Whether or not this happens on a significant scale is another question altogether.

What is clear is that some jobs are more than crap jobs. As Press explains, some jobs carry significant emotional, psychological, and physical risks. Some jobs carry with them a “moral wound” in which workers are forced to choose between not having a job and working on jobs that are morally questionable (at best).

Worse, these jobs a) often fall to women, people of color and undocumented workers and b) often pay no more than minimum wage. If capitalism is supposed to reward those who work the hardest, then why aren’t those who do the dirtiest jobs rewarded with the biggest paychecks?

Cover of the book Do what you love and other lies about success

Do What You Love and Other Lies About Success and Happiness by Miya Tokumitsu

In a world where work is “necessary”, doing what you love is the goal of many. “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”, right?

Tokumitsu takes this quote from Confucius head on and highlights the fact that today’s workers are being asked to do more and more and they are being paid less and less. Along with “successful” and immorally rich people as Oprah and Steve Jobs told workers to “do what you love”, the billionaires in charge decided to pay workers less and less.

Not only are workers now expected to earn enough money to pay their rent/mortgage at a time when real estate prices are skyrocketing, pay their student loans totaling over $1.6 trillion, and continue to afford in one way or another increasingly expensive food, you’re also supposed to LOVE the work you do, while being paid less. Seems reasonable!

In do what you love, Tokumitsu articulates and examines the sacrifices people make for a chance to have kind, self-fulfilling and, of course, wealth-generating work and the conditions facilitated by this quest. This book continues the conversation sparked by the author’s previous article on Slate and offers a devastating look at the state of modern America’s work and workforce.

Lost at work book cover

Lost work: escaping capitalism by Amelia Horgan

If you want to know what’s wrong with capitalism, you need look no further than this comprehensive and highly readable book – the simplest breakdown of any anti-labor book.

Horgan seeks answers to three main questions:

1. What is work?
2. How does work harm us?
3. What can we do about it?

Spoiler alert: his ultimate answer is not to “give up work altogether,” but rather for workers to take control of the places in which they work.

Essentially, it’s Marx for people who want straightforward analysis without all the gibberish. Not that there’s anything wrong with gibberish – my own gibberish pays my mortgage – but sometimes you want a brilliant woman to make sense of a grand man’s words.

do nothing book cover

Doing Nothing: How to Break With Overwork, Overdoing, and Underliving by Celeste Headlee

Celeste Headlee, author of We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter is ready to bring you a book-length convo that matters – how to stop trying to “hack” all the fucking things you do.

At the start, a scathing take on the idea that we need to be at “peak performance” at all times, Headlee gets to the heart of not just why you shouldn’t do this, but what to do instead; there are baths involved! Not the most anti-work of all the anti-work books, this tome provides a key analysis of current work/life balance arguments.

We live in an economic age where many people don’t like their jobs, don’t feel secure in their jobs, and/or don’t feel like their work is worth it. We live in a world where the wealth of the 1% keeps rising while the middle and lower classes lose wealth through no fault of ours.

Is the end of work as we know it the answer? Read these anti-work books to become a smartypants who understands the arguments that boil down to an anti-work conclusion. And while you’re here, check out this great list of books on unions to learn how activists worked to make the pie better.


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