12 February 2021

Michael McClelland: “The current semantic division of essential and non-essential work has inadvertently reminded workers what kind of work is socially necessary, and more often than not, these are jobs that are resistant to automation. … The reason these jobs couldn’t ultimately be abolished is that society relies on this work, which will always give essential workers a degree of leverage. … [But] better wages and conditions for essential workers… would only come about through collective demands, itself the product of a collective awareness of alienation. Luckily, the new category of ‘essential’ work, strategically designed by capitalists to suture up capitalism in crisis, has inadvertently provided space for such consciousness to form. By keeping the work that is necessary for human wellbeing, by expanding the work that is necessary for human happiness, and by abolishing the work that serves neither purpose, we would be making the most strategic move of all: protecting the vitality of the planet. But redefining work on such terms would be more than a merely defensive exercise. It would open the way to a further expansion of the imagination, leading to philosophy, happiness, and self-fulfillment. This was what Marx meant when he spoke of ‘that realm of freedom which begins when the realm of necessity is left behind.’ It’s a cause to work for.”