Overtime (was Re: happy autoworkers)

Marta Russell ap888 at lafn.org
Sat Jul 11 00:37:17 PDT 1998

Yoshie Furuhashi wrote:

> 'Work ethic' becomes (or has always been) a racialized, gendered, and
> sexualized ideology in this context, and it increases suffering for both
> the dominant and the subordinated groups of the working class, only in
> different ways. Beyond the fact that it serves the bourgeoisie, 'work
> ethic' divides workers.

The focus on the work ethic has other consequences. The Nazis euthanized hundreds of thousands of disabled people because they were "useless eaters" meaning unexploitable as labor. The eugenics/euthanasia movement was essentially a move to rid the world of the "unfit." In the US there was a mass sterilization of disabled people (and minorities and criminals) to rid society of those of no use to the capitalist class. "Unfit" unquestionably meant those of no use to the market economy, the non-working members of the society, the "unproductive."

Eugenics was viewed by a large segment of the population as a secular, rational means to control what it perceived as meandering nature that interfered with the march of progress. It entirely missed the link to market capitalism, which de-valued disabled people's non exploitable bodies. It missed the link to social Darwinism where the "unproductive" of no use to building more wealth were disposable. The majoritarian political spectrum simply missed the fact that social power relations control the nature of work and by having political power oppress those perceived to be of little use to their ends.

Now comes the disability civil rights movement's foray into the world of work. Activists contend that disability oppression is about discrimination and lack of access. Since society grants status based on work, being able to work is a way to move beyond dehumanization. While the promotion of employment for disabled people is badly needed to counter inaccurate assumptions about disability, some go so far as to say that if barriers were removed and reasonable accommodations provided in the workplace that all disabled people could work. While disability is a social construct to a large degree(jobs not tailored to accommodate it, patronizing assumptions of DPs not being able to do the job), it is simply a gross overstatement to claim that all can work. Many on the rolls (if not most - we don't know) are disabled in accord with the Social Security definition and cannot physically, mentally or emotionally meet the demands of an eight, four, or even two hour work day .

Some say "You can't have it both ways," meaning you can't have the right to employment and the right to benefits because they are contradictory paradigms. In this view all disabled must be mainstreamed into the workforce and into society making disability unremarkable and thereby diminishing the difficulties associated with minority status. But we need to look at reality, not agenda-based rhetoric. In reality, there are disabled people who do work, there are disabled people who can work but are prevented from doing so for various reasons, and there are those who cannot work. It is discrimination to deny a disabled person who can work an opportunity to do so but it is not "special" treatment for people who cannot work to be guaranteed a humane standard of living -- rather it is a measure of a just civilization that they are decently provided for.

Others say decent provisions would encourage people to claim they are disabled, essentially dis-empowering and discouraging citizens from taking "personal responsibility". In part, this is a struggle between opposing views of human nature, between those who believe that people want to be productive and engaged members of society (even if that doesn't include work in the narrow sense of contributing to corporate profits) and those who believe that people are fundamentally lazy and must be disciplined at all costs to work hard. The latter rationale is driven by a fear of losing control of the means of production. We in American have come to equate morality with financial productivity and immorality with laziness or non-productivity. Unfortunately, these equations don't derive from the intrinsic "good" or "bad" in either, but rather from the owning class drive to exploit labor for profit. The all-encompassing value placed on work is necessary to produce wealth. The American work ethic is a social control which ensures capitalists a reliable work force for making profits. American business retains its power over the working-class labor force through a fear of destitution which would be weakened if the safety net were to actually become safe.

If work defines human worth and work is the central criteria for human validation, then the worker has his/her pride and the capitalist has their labor to exploit, two sides of the same paradigm. If work was to be the end-all of existence, then disabled people (who could not work) inevitably would get marginalized, and relegated corner of society.

Work is not the defining quality of our worth. Employability and aptitude for earning money are not the measure of what it means to live, to be a part of the human race. The goal of social justice is to ensure the dignity of each and every person. To buy into the capitalist propaganda that work is god, that people are laborers first and human beings second, serves only to oppress us all.

Marta Russell

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