This year has been hard for us, as I am sure it has been for many of you.
We make a living through a small creative business, through which we sell ceramic art. In a world where shops/galleries have all but shut and our workshops were all cancelled, we have had to evaluate constantly whether we could still make this work.
Having said all that, would I change my decision to give up my old ‘day job’? Not for one second. I still count my blessings daily – not because my old job was not ‘important’ – I remain grateful to those who still do it – but rather because the way I think about work, and earning a living, has changed entirely.
Some of this has meant embracing periods of feast and famine- in making do with small amounts and enjoying being able to be a more extravagant when we can. None of this has felt like a sacrifice- we have not ‘gone without’. In fact, we do not feel poorer in any way. Quite the opposite in fact.
Michaela has had to learn this lesson again more painfully recently, as after breaking her wrist, she has had to take a holiday from the physical skill of pottery- almost like an enforced sabatical.
We have got by. We are OK.
Another way of living is possible.
After ‘these times’ one of the things that I beleive has to happen is a re-examination of the nature of the contract between employer and employee, but more than that, a re-examination of the nature of work itself in our increasingly post-industrial societies.
I post this in light of this article, discussing a book by Sara Jaffe, whose title I stole for the tag line on this blog.
Sarah Jaffe’s book Work Won’t Love You Back is an extremely timely analysis of how we arrived at these brutal inequalities and of some of the ways in which a deliberately atomised workforce is beginning to organise to challenge them. Through a series of detailed case studies of modern “labourers of love” – the unpaid intern, the overburdened teacher, the 24/7 domestic help, the NGO employee, the fixed-term academic, the discarded Toys R Us worker, the working single mother – Jaffe, a New York-based journalist, examines two of the most damaging philosophies of our times. The first is the idea that we need to get used to a “disrupted” world in which job security and regular hours and living wages are necessarily a thing of the past, quaint, pre-internet relics such as affordable housing and three TV channels; the second, perversely, that work is supposed, more than ever, to bring us pleasure, meaning, fulfilment, that we should be grateful for it and happy in it and if we are not, we are simply not trying hard enough or being “smart” enough. (Or, as she writes: “How dare we ask questions about the way our work is making other people rich while we struggle to pay our rent and see our friends.”)
We live in perhaps the first period in history when the wealthiest members of society make a noisy virtue of never not being at work; weekends and evenings and families are all part of this advertised sacrifice. They never stop, they tell their employees – their staff at work and their staff at home – and they sell the idea that everyone must be equally prepared to do the same. Long gone is what Jaffe calls the “Fordist compromise” of labour in which workers would give up a reasonable amount of time and effort – five eight-hour days of work a week – in return for a pay cheque that was enough for a family to live on, with a bit over to enjoy free time and holidays and a pension at the end of it, what William Morris called “work for hope of rest”.
We work for the hope of rest
Because each hour of toil
Brings the weekend closer
Work does not ennoble those
Who have no choice; those who
Lost their collective voice, not
When the deliverer is not delivered
When cleansers are not cleansed
When carers do not receive care in return, and
When clocking off is performed remotely
(And reluctantly) by an unblinking eye
In the corner of a screen, or
When the worst jobs are reserved
For those given the lowest value
Whilst far away, the profit of their labour
Is enjoyed by others who already
Have too much, then it must be time