A Public Service Message from the American Income Life Insurance Co.Waco, TexasBernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer LABOR AT THE CROSSROADS V BY GUS TYLER In 1844, several years before he and Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto, Marx noted “The Alienation of Labor” in an essay by that name. What then do we mean by the alienation of labor? First that the work he performs is extraneous to the worker, that is, it is not personal to him, is not part of his nature; therefore he does not fulfill himself at work, but actually denies himself; feels miserable rather than content, cannot freely develop his physical and mental powers, but instead becomes physically exhausted and mentally debased. . . . Through his work, the laborer loses his identity. The “alienation” of labor was the loss of identity by workers as “spiritual” \(a word that Marx would have years later in The Manifesto, workers would rediscover their identity as part of a collective in the camaraderie of the work site where they would be compelled to unite. Capitalism would bring workers together under one roof where they would experience a common life, express common complaints, develop common aspirations, organize common voices in the form of unions and political parties. The work site would become a community that, in due time, would replace the oppressive domination of that alien being, the capitalist. Whether the Marxist millennium the collective commonwealth was a misreading or not, there can be no denying that capitalism did produce labor movements in every country in the world, and that these labor movements have profoundly affected economic, political, and social relations across the globe. While the factory fostered spiritual alienation, it also gave birth to a sense of economic, political, social, and ideological solidarity that as an active element in a capitalist world tamed, civilized, modified, and ultimately rescued capitalism from its own suicidal compulsions. That positive force can be eliminated or, certainly, much lessened by modern technology. The work site as we have come to know it may no longer be a work site. the work force may be scattered and strewn, many workers never leaving their homes if they so choose, many of them paying only casual visits to the workplace. Even those who have a fixed job at a fixed place are not likely to stay there for any great portion of a lifetime. Consider this possibility: two hundred machines are packed tightly into an underground box where there is no light, no space for humans, no need for steady ventilation. These robots are set up for flexible manufacture. They can produce a variety of products since, upon instruction, they can drop some tools and pick up other ones. These smart little inorganic imps respond quickly and cleverly to instructions that are fed into the “factory” from a terminal operated by a woman in another county or another country. The robots run twenty-four hours a day and never strike. Is this really the future? Extend the paradigm: in some other part of the world, another person is operating a telephone “central” from home, a job requiring not much more skill than that of the old-fashioned telephone “operator.” Still another equally isolated being is keeping the books for a bank where clients are making their daily deposits and withdrawals. Other invisible workers are taking orders for products seen on video screens. Or consider this: a thousand workers who were members of the steel workers’ unions because they were employed in factories making steel are suddenly unemployed not because of imported steel or even because their corporation opted to move production to another country, but because steel has been replaced by glass, ceramics, plastics, paper, or eegwags \(geetransportation, new ways of communicating, new ways of building all these obsolesce entire careers. The persons who can identify themselves as steel workers, linotypists, designers, or individuals dedicated to any given occupation or line become fewer as the economy finds itself in constant flux. Add the high number of transients and part-timers in such an economy indeed, in our present economy. How does one organize such a protean, elusive, atomized “working class,” many of whom operating out of their own homes will be legally listed as “independent contractors”? American Income Life Insurance Company EXECUTIVE OFFICES. P.O. BOX 208, WACO, TEXAS 78703, 817.772-3050 BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer 20 AUGUST 28, 1987
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