Nice Work (If You Can Get It)

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I recently completed a temporary job stint filing medical charts at Maine Behavioral Healthcare, in Portland. I worked there for a little over a month.

When the temp agency presented me with the job, they indicated it had the “potential” to become a full-time, permanent position. But, after a month, the employers decided I was not the “right fit” for the company.

According to my point person at the temp agency, the employers were “extremely satisfied” with my actual work at the job—which they called “excellent.”

But, in the 21st century capitalist workplace, it is no longer enough to merely be a capable—or even an “excellent”—worker. One must also fit in with the so-called “workplace culture.” You must, in other words, be just like the people you are working with. Likewise, they must like you as a person. Failure to assimilate, Borg-style, to the hive-mind collective has become more important than one’s ability to competently do the job.

Given that my immediate co-worker was an ignorant, gun-rights-spouting conservative, who insisted on calling Black Lives Matter an “anti-police” group, my chances of ever “fitting in” were pretty much shot from the get-go.

The job itself was, admittedly, boring and well below my education level. It was essentially eight hours of busy work. But, contrary to the claims of the bourgeois ruling ideology, capitalism does not offer members of the working class a choice when it comes to the type of work they perform. Those of us with nothing to sell but our labor power (i.e. our ability to work), must offer ourselves up to the exploitative capitalist workplace—an institution devoid of democracy of any kind.

Meager as the paycheck at MBHC was, I have grown rather fond of eating. And I am not about to go live in the woods, and hunt my own wildlife for food, Ted Nugent-style, thank you very much. (I imagine having a rock star’s salary behind him, certainly helps Nugent maintain his “authentic,” “self-reliant” lifestyle.)

In the world of temping, nobody really gets “fired” in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, the temp agency merely informs you that the “job assignment has ended.” I have worked some “job assignments” with this particular company that lasted six months, and others that lasted six days.

Employers love using temps because it allows them to “try out” workers—not unlike the act of test driving a new car at a dealership. Best of all, they do not need to offer temps any benefits, sick time, vacations or holiday pay. And if the company does not like the temp it was sent, they can just call up the temp agency and order a different one, avoiding all the messy hassle of actually having to fire somebody. From the capitalist’s viewpoint, temps are a wet-dream come true.

While both the temp agency and the company often hold out the potential of the temp job developing into a permanent, full-time position—assuming, that is, they like you enough—studies confirm that very few temp job actually turn into permanent gigs. This is largely due to employers’ unwillingness to pay the “finder’s fee” in order to “purchase” the worker. And given that the temp agency is also making money off of your surplus-labor, it begs the question how truly invested it is in auctioning off any of its temps.

Either way, the temp agency makes a profit, and the worker is once again unemployed.

Welcome to work in the 21st century: Temporary, part-time or contractual, with no benefits, job security, or union representation. And virtually none of these jobs pays a living wage. While economists and pundits whip up fear about a not-too-distant future where widespread automation replaces human workers, these prognosticators overlook the dystopian nightmare the process of securing and maintaining a job has already become.

Morrissey had it right: “I was looking for a job, and then I found a job/And heaven knows I’m miserable now.”

So much, it seems, for the much lauded “economic recovery.”

Indeed, nearly a decade after Wall Street laid waste to the global economy, ushering in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, working-class Americans are still struggling to get by. Businesses remain highly selective in their hiring practices—largely because they can be. This “reserve army of labor,” as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels termed it, is what allows employers to justify paying such meager wages, or exploiting immigrant labor for even less.

As Marx writes in Volume One of his three-part economic treatise, Das Kapital (Capital):

[C]apitalistic accumulation itself … constantly produces and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent a relatively redundant population of workers, i.e. a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the valorization of capital, and therefore a surplus population… It is the absolute interest of every capitalist to press a given quantity of labour out of a smaller rather than a greater number of labourers, if the cost is about the same… The more extended the scale of production, the stronger this motive. Its force increases with the accumulation of capital.

Even the process of applying for a job—to get one’s “foot in the door,” as they say–has itself become a Herculean effort. Job-seekers are made to jump through an increasingly absurd barrage of hoops just to be considered for a position.

Job-seekers are expected to craft precisely tailored resumes and cover letters, endure multiple job interviews, pass invasive drug tests and background checks, as well as snobbish scrutiny of their credit card histories, and spend hours filling out lengthy job applications–most of which prompt candidates to regurgitate the same information contained in their resumes and cover letters. These redundant applications are then sent to a computer software program which scans them for certain “keywords,” and determines which applicants warrant an invitation for an interview.

In other words, while robots have not yet taken over our workplaces, they are already in charge of the hiring process.

Contrary to the rosy economic picture the Labor Department routinely paints with its monthly jobs report, these measures fail to take into account the hundreds of working-age Americans—mostly men—who have simply given up looking for work, entirely. And I can’t honestly say that I blame them.

None of my friends in my age group are doing much better, economically. They are all working retail jobs with erratic, unpredictable schedules, or as Ed Techs in special education classrooms at woefully underfunded schools.

My generation—the “millennials”—is the most educated in history, yet is less well-off economically than our parents. We are also the most debt-saddled generation in history, due to the ever increasing cost of college. Little wonder then, that a majority of Americans under the age of 30 view socialism more favorably than capitalism.

All of this is to point out what is obvious to anyone who has not had the luxury of being gainfully employed at the same job for the last 30 years: The system no longer works for the majority of working class Americans. Indeed, as Marx and Engels so astutely observed a century and a half ago, it never really did work for them, in the first place.

The writers at the anarchist collective, CrimethInc. are right: We don’t have to live this way.

Work under capitalism is exploitative, degrading, sexist, and entirely devoid of any semblance of democracy. Workers have no say over the conditions under which they labor, how much they are paid, their schedules, or often even the type of work itself.

Under socialism, workers would own the factories, offices, and restaurants they toil in day after day. They would control their own economic, social, and political destinies–not just at the workplace, but in all avenues of life. Rather than spending most our waking hours toiling away at jobs we hate, workers’ lives would be governed by the old labor motto: “Eight hours for work. Eight hours for rest. Eight hours for whatever you please.”

Again, Marx’s understanding of the capitalist workplace as a prison, remains unrivaled.

“Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist,” he and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto in 1848.

Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.

 

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If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

Russia Stole My Election

President George W Bush visits CIA Headquarters, March 20, 2001.

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the CIA

The alleged Russian hacking scandal is the (fake) news story that just won’t die. And despite recent assertions to the contrary, the public has yet to be offered any compelling evidence to back the claims up.

The claims that Russia undermined the “integrity” of the U.S. presidential election remain just as flimsy as when I first reported on this fiasco last month.

As Counterpunch contributor, Paul Street writes in a Dec. 23, 2016 piece:

The Russian hacking charge seems designed in part to help the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and the neoliberal Democratic Party elite more broadly avoid responsibility for blowing the election. … The “Moscow Stole It” narrative is a fancy version of “My Dog Ate My Homework” for a dismal dollar-drenched Democratic Party that abandoned the working class and the causes of peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability a long time ago.

Nonetheless, the United States’ three top intelligence agencies—the FBI, CIA, and NSA—asserted on Jan. 5, in its strongest language to date, that they have “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved in the DNC email hacks, with the explicit intent of undermining “public faith in the US democratic process.”

The agencies’ report reads, in part:

We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.

But, again, this statement offers no tangible, concrete evidence or explanation as to why its authors have arrived at this conclusion.

As The Intercept’s Sam Biddle writes, the report “does not move the evidentiary ball forward even an inch.” Biddle goes on to call the report, “all confidence, no justification.”

“That confidence and consensus has meaning on its own—and certainly the claims are serious,” he writes, “but it is no substitute for some public understanding of what caused that confidence.”

Furthermore, it is worth examining the intelligence officials who are making these assertions, all of whom have a long, shameful history of deceiving and misleading the American public.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence, blatantly lied to the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing concerning the NSA’s mass surveillance program, in 2013.

When asked point blank, by Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden whether the National Security Agency knowingly collected “any type of data … on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” Clapper responded, “No sir, not wittingly.”

NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden’s subsequent revelations of the agency’s vast data-collection program one month after the hearing, however, cast doubt on Clapper’s assertion.

Clapper, as if channeling his inner-George Orwell, later told NBC News that he gave the “least untruthful answer possible,” to Sen. Wyden’s question. He also called the question itself “unfair,” likening it to being asked a “‘when are you going to stop beating your wife?’-type of question.”

President Barack Obama has ignored bipartisan calls to replace Clapper as head of the NSA.

The CIA, meanwhile, has an even worse track record when it comes to transparency.

Let us set aside, for the moment, the fact that the Central Intelligence Agency, established by Harry Truman in 1947, has no democratic or congressional oversight, whatsoever. American citizens cannot vote for its members. It is directly accountable only to the president.

Since its inception, the CIA has initiated violent coups throughout the world, including in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Haiti (1959, 1971, 1986 & 1990), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), and Chile (1973), to name just a handful. (But heaven forbid another country try to meddle with our “free” and “democratic” elections!)

The agency used lies and fabricated intelligence to launch the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. The CIA, along with the FBI, has spied on and frequently infiltrated nonviolent anti-war groups, civil rights activists, the Black Panther Party and other “subversive” organizations. It kept extensive files on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Howard Zinn. The FBI even went so far as to pressure King into committing suicide through blackmail.

Yet, despite the deep-state’s protracted role in launching illegal wars, spying on American citizens, promoting imperialism, advancing global capitalism, and undermining democracy and human rights throughout the globe, we are supposed to take its agencies at their word that Russia illegally influenced our presidential election…? Readers will have to excuse me if I remain more than a little skeptical.

Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority, here. (Well, I and President-elect Donald Trump, a strange and highly uncomfortable irony which is not lost on me, thank you very much.)

A solid majority of liberals not only accept the Russia-helped-Trump-win narrative, but now view the CIA more favorably than conservatives. According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, liberals and conservatives have basically switched positions regarding the government agency, which the left traditionally has looked upon with great suspicion.

“[F]or the first time since the survey asked about the CIA in 2002,” NBC News contributor, Carrie Dann writes, “Democrats now have a more positive view of the nation’s foreign intelligence agency than Republicans do.”

Additionally, the CIA is “much more” popular than Congress or “either political party,” according to Dann.

While the partisan reason for the left’s sudden admiration for the CIA is somewhat understandable, it is nonetheless quite disconcerting.

First, again, there is the lack of evidence. The intelligence community has mislead the U.S. public before, and I do not think I need to remind readers how that turned out.

But beyond the dubious assertions behind Russia-gate, Dann’s description of the U.S. intelligence agencies as “apolitical” is also deeply problematic.

The fact that the CIA does not explicitly favor either of the nation’s two capitalist political parties hardly makes it an “apolitical” organization. Indeed, the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA absolutely adhere to a political philosophy: Capitalism. As Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto, the modern state is “nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

As such, the CIA and other institutions of the so-called “deep state” exist to further the aims of capitalism, imperialism, and the economic elite. To call them “apolitical” is a bit like claiming the presidential inauguration is not a “political” event as Maine Green Party steering committee member, Ben Meiklejohn childishly insists.

In other words, we should take the intelligence community’s dubious claims about Russian hacking with extreme skepticism. And this is to say nothing of the abject hypocrisy of the U.S.–which has done more to undermine, subvert, sabotage or violently overturn the results of democratic elections throughout the world when citizens vote the “wrong way”–complaining at the highly remote possibility that another nation may have covertly meddled with its election.

Do not misunderstand: If Putin did in fact play a role in swaying the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor it would (noted hypocrisy aside) constitute a serious violation of international law and warrant some sort of response.

But, as The Intercept‘s Biddle points out in a separate article, the potential U.S. response could include military retaliation–“digital or otherwise.” That is a considerably heavy cost for the country to bear over allegations which, as of this writing, still cannot be backed up with substantive evidence.

“If you care about the country enough to be angry at the prospect of election-meddling,” writes Biddle, “you should be terrified of the prospect of military tensions with Russia based on hidden evidence.”

Rather than desperately flailing around looking for scapegoats to pin their stunning electoral loss on, the Democratic Party would do well to engage in some serious critical reflection on its utter detachment from working-class voters.

Alas, the party seems more interested in spreading the very fake news it smugly derides than in taking tangible steps to prevent its relegation to the dustbin of history.

 

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