Religion is not territory we’ve covered in any real detail here on our blog. The Democratic Party Platform, however, has raised an interesting intersection between work and religion that deserves some attention. Last week, the Democratic Party opted to alter the language of its 2012 Party Platform to remove the word “God” (though they have since reinstated the language). This created an immediate stir among Democrats and Republicans, and elicited an highly critical response from Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (his comments on the removal of “God” are at the beginning of the video). What this debate reveals is the particular way in which the Democratic platform describes, in the same breath, individual labor, and religion.
It’s an old debate, actually –think back to the 1950s, when a burgeoning literature emerged on the employment effect of automation. Or, think about fictitious portrayals such as Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano, which provided a dystopian image of a corporate-dominated society in which paid employment was virtually obsolete. More recently, we’ve seen books by such well-known scholars as Stanley Aronowitz, Jeremy Rifkin, Andre Gorz, and Ulrich Beck, among others, all adopting the Cassandra-like cry: Bid Farewell to Work!
J. Jill employee via Life Magazine
I’ve started to notice more “help wanted” signs in retail stores. Does this mean that the economy is recovering? People may be shopping more, and stores may be hiring more. But retail jobs will never improve this economy unless retail jobs are improved.
In this industry, full-time schedules are rare—most people are hired on a temporary and part-time basis—and pay is slightly more than minimum wage. These jobs offer neither benefits nor opportunities for advancement. Although many stores advertise “flexible” schedules, hours are worked only “as needed,” with schedules and hours shifting from one week to the next with little advance warning. Workers cannot support themselves on the wages from these jobs.
A brief response to Chris Land’s and Steffen Bohm’s Short Essay: “They are exploiting us! Why we all work for Facebbok for free”
The gist of the essay is the following hypothesis: The users of Facebook produce value in the same way as wage workers produce it. Hence, Facebook exploits users by expropriating this value.
Although I have a great respect for Land’s and Bohm’s good intentions and sympathize with their anti Facebook sentiments their claim that Facebook exploits users by extracting value from them is wrong.
Facebook definitely exploits someone. But whom? The answer is: the total world wage labor which is exchanged with capital (variable capital), including its own workers. This is Marx’s definition of productive labor under capitalism. From the point of view of capital only the labor that produces value and surplus value is productive. Only, in this limited sense productive labor is equated with the wage labor, whether material or immaterial, which is exchanged with capital. Otherwise, all labor as far as it is a purposeful activity is productive, because it produces something, whether material or immaterial.
We’ve all seen the potential for social media platforms to take part in some of the most important social movements of the last year. From Twitter’s use in Tunisia, Egypt and other Arab countries to the widespread use of social media during the worldwide Occupy protests, we’ve seen how social media can bring us together and bring down governments. More recently in Syria, we’ve seen how YouTube can emerge as the sole source of information on the ground in areas where the world’s traditional media may be unable to reach.
Last week, in the wake of Facebook’s decision to “go public”, I wrote a post about Facebook and the potential for the exploitation of its members. After some discussion among the editorial team, we decided to reach out to some of our colleagues for whom social media is a true intellectual passion. We’ve been able to put together a small panel on Facebook and the possibility for labor exploitation that seeks to address the ways in which all members of Facebook help to contribute to Facebook’s monetary value.
While we’re not “anti” Facebook – indeed, we at OOWBlog have our own Facebook page – we think the decision to “go public” by Facebook provides an ideal moment to reflect on the changing nature of business, labor, and leisure in the 21st century.
To that end, please check out my lead post as well as a response by the University of Maryland’s PJ Rey and two scholars are the University of Essex, Christopher Land and Steffen Böehm. We hope you enjoy them!
Facebook’s decision to file for an Initial Public Offering (IPO) with the Securities and Exchange Commission has made headlines and will likely be the most notable tech IPO since Google went public in 2004. Not everyone is rushing to “like” Facebook’s decision to make an IPO, however. The New York Times published an op-ed entitled “Facebook is Using You”, which criticized Facebook’s business plan and argued that the implications of an individual’s online activity extend far beyond the potential for embarrassing photos to surface. In sociological terms, there seems to be an argument surfacing that Facebook is exploiting the labor power of its users. If this is indeed so, Facebook may represent a new frontier for work and labor where even leisure activity can be exploited for the generation of profit.
ZD Net’s Emril Protalinski, who blogs about Facebook for the twenty year old tech site, responded to the Time’s piece and decried the position that Facebook somehow owed its users. Protalinski’s argument rests on the idea that becoming a Facebook member is a voluntary act. Users who enter into this relationship with Facebook receive a service that is free because Facebook can cover its operating costs through advertising revenue.
This piece is posted in cooperation with the Cyborgology Blog.
Facebook’s IPO announcement has stirred much debate over the question of whether Facebook is exploiting/using/taking advantage of its users. The main problem with the recent discussion of this subject is that no one really seems to have taken the time to actually define what exploitation is. Let me start by reviewing this concept before proceeding to examine its relevance to Facebook.
Warehouse work, hidden by its very nature from the view of the general public, is increasingly a low wage job. Dave Jamieson, a reporter for the Huffington Post recently wrote an excellent piece on working conditions inside U.S. warehouses http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/20/new-blue-collar-temp-warehouses_n_1158490.html. While his discoveries about piece rate systems and subcontracting are not new, he shows how the industry has significantly changed in the last decade. The article reminded me a lot of my early work on the garment industry in Los Angeles, where mostly Asian and Latina workers toiled in sweatshops. It has become clear that warehouse work for corporations such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon are examples of the new American sweatshop. Read More
In April I participated in the union assembly of Wal-Mart warehouse workers in Santiago, Chile. When I was invited to the meeting I thought to myself “how many workers are really going to come to a meeting on a Sunday morning at 9am.” Much to my surprise, the union had rented a theatre. Of the 1500 warehouse workers in Santiago, 1200 showed up that morning. I was blown away.
Wal-Mart workers in Chile are overwhelmingly unionized. This is in stark contrast to the U.S. situation where workers who have been trying to unionize have been shut down time and again with Wal-Mart’s aggressive anti-union tactics.