2. The Future of Work

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Editorial

This second print issue of ROAR Magazine considers the future of work in light of an increasingly precarious present.

The Future Doesn’t Work

Featured illustration by Mirko Rastić.

We have seen the future—and it doesn’t work. The engine splutters, the machine has become stuck. In the years to come, it will swallow what it can and spit out the rest, trapping some of us on the ruinous treadmill of a 24/7 information economy while leaving the majority to eke out a meaningless existence on the margins. The lucky ones will work longer hours for lower pay, in shittier jobs with less security, to cover higher rents and mounting debts—while social rights and benefits are axed across the board.

As the crisis of capital thunders on through periodic cycles of boom and bust, ultimately settling into the new normal of jobless recovery and secular stagnation, copious quantities of capital and commodities will sit side-by-side with anxious armies of idle labor-power—and no one will be able to put them back together. The financial aristocracy and political elite certainly know what’s coming; we can smell their fear from afar. They, too, have seen the future. It’s already here.

This second issue of ROAR Magazine considers the future of work in light of our precarious present. What is this bleak prospect we find ourselves confronted with today? What do the rapid transformations of labor mean for class composition, for workers’ struggles and forms of organization? Can we still imagine a way out? Are there any alternatives on the horizon?

Featuring some of the world’s leading labor theorists, the issue departs from a world-historical perspective that recognizes the continuous remaking of working classes in the process of capitalist development. It emphasizes the fact that workers’ struggles are far from over, and recognizes the many ways in which the Global South has become the epicenter of a new wave of labor unrest and working-class militancy.

It places the rank-and-file worker at the heart of the analysis and at the forefront of a transformative political project that bypasses bureaucratic unions and institutionalized parties to create democratic workers’ councils and “street syndicates” whose aim is to establish communal control over the means of production. Crucially, it argues for a broadening of the concept of work to include reproductive, informal and digital labor—with the crisis of capital increasingly pushing these non-waged forms of work to center stage.

Finally, the issue joins a growing chorus of workers, activists and intellectuals in calling for a fundamental rethinking of the left’s relationship to labor more generally—discarding the obsolete notion of the “right to work” and reclaiming the “right to be lazy”; maneuvering strategically “between the wage and the common”, fighting for higher salaries and improved working conditions in the short term while building long-term reproductive resilience outside of the wage relation; moving beyond the social-democratic horizon of full employment to embrace a radical post-work politics that would see the left fight for a guaranteed material existence and the freedom to pursue meaningful and conscious life activity and to develop communal forms-of-life without one having to sell their labor-power as a mere means of existence. None of these themes are new, of course—they have been debated for centuries. But in the present crisis all of this acquires a renewed sense of urgency.

The crisis of work compels the left not just to rethink its relation to labor, but to rethink the very idea of the future. When the American journalist Lincoln Steffens returned from a trip to revolutionary Russia in 1919, he could still self-confidently proclaim that he had “seen the future—and it works.” This notion of a history beyond capitalism has long since been gutted and turned upside down, with the Friedmans and Fukuyamas of the world arrogantly claiming the future as their own. The time has come to rectify these neoliberal aberrations and put old Hegel back on his feet. If their future won’t work, neither will we.


ROAR Issue #2, The Future of Work, is available online now. Print copies will be delivered to subscribers in July/August. The PDF version can be downloaded from your personal account page. Haven’t signed up yet? Subscriptions start at just €20 per year!

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Jerome Roos

Jerome Roos is a postdoctoral researcher in political economy at the University of Cambridge, and the founding editor of ROAR Magazine. For more on his research and writings, visit jeromeroos.com.

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Source URL — https://roarmag.org/magazine/future-doesnt-work-editorial/

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