Whether you’re a corner boy in West Baltimore, or a cop who knows his beat, or an Eastern European brought here for sex, your life is worth less. It’s the triumph of capitalism over human value. This country has embraced the idea that this is a viable domestic policy. It is. It’s viable for the few. — “Interviewing the Man Behind The Wire,” Slate
When I was a full-time writer, I heard a certain question a lot. It was posed different ways, but it always amounted to the same thing: “Do you make any money doing that?” And the implicit question behind it was: “Why don’t you get a real job?”
Real job meant, of course, a job that paid a salary. A job that took place somewhere other than my home. Where I had a boss telling me what to do.
The idea was certainly attractive. As a writer, money and my next project were constant worries. I had to provide my own benefits and pay my own Social Security. But it was only after I took a couple of gigs that didn’t feel were right for me — but still, I needed the money — that I decided to chuck it in and get that real job.
Here were some things I learned while I was working my real job. Nothing can be done without holding a meeting — or preferably, a whole series of them — first. “Collaboration” means spending countless hours consulting everyone without anyone helping you do the actual work. Having to be in a certain place at certain hours even if it wasn’t the most productive use of my time feels unpleasantly like being back in middle school.
I don’t have a real job anymore. I don’t have any job right now, unless you count mothering as a job, which most people don’t. And it feels great. I know that I don’t want to go back.
Reflecting on this brings to mind the eye-opening book Your Money or Your Life. We must each ask ourselves: “How much value does my life have? How many hours should I have to work to buy this pair of designer jeans or this new television or this DVD I don’t need? Is it worth it?” No one else — certainly not your boss or the company that gives you that real job — will be asking these questions for you.
It saddens me when I hear people say things like: “I’m lucky just to have a job.” Yes, even in these tough economic times, we must remember that our time and labor still have value. We have to establish our own value. We can’t let our employers determine how much our lives are worth.
Everyone acknowledges that there are no more jobs for life. I would argue that there are no more real jobs, even. Companies showed no hesitation at shedding workers when hard economic times hit. Wages have been stagnant for decades. Health insurance and other benefits are being cut back, and more of the cost is being passed on to workers. Companies show no loyalty to their workers, so why should workers be expected to be unquestionably loyal to their employers?
We all work for ourselves, even if we have real jobs. We can’t expect our employers or the government to look out for our best interests anymore. Each of us is a corporation of one, and we are our own CEOs. And it’s time we start deciding for ourselves what our time, what our labor — what our lives — are worth.
For further reading:
- The Disposable Worker (BusinessWeek)
- Are Americans a Broken People? Why We’ve Stopped Fighting Back Against the Forces of Oppression (AlterNet)
- Study: Bush Tax Cuts Cost More than Twice as Much as Dems’ Health-care Bill (Crooks and Liars)
- America Without a Middle Class (Huffington Post)
- White Faces in the Day Labour Queue (Futurismic)