A Glorious Future of More Work To Do! Research Time, 25/01/2016

I find one inspirational political concept throughout what I've read of Antonio Negri's work: the struggle for democracy and freedom can never finish.

Now, that's not the same as saying it's futile. The principle is more like this.

There is a propensity to greater freedom and justice in humanity’s potential. But our species also has authoritarian and oligarchic tendencies – we want power over others, authority, fiefdoms, empires, we want the ability to command and be followed.

Fighting injustice and fighting for democracy is a battle in yourself and in your society to fight that impulse to command. And fight that impulse to follow at merely the word of command. That's what democratic activism is.

Because we're imperfect creatures, we'll always fight this battle of our impulse to liberty and our impulse to command. But we can make sure liberty always wins.
• • •
A centrepiece of the New Deal was a
stronger union movement. People
mostly worked in centralized locations
where organizing was easy. And people
easily built solidarity because they
already worked together.
Here’s how it plays out in a few passages of Empire. Negri integrates his philosophical analysis with a discussion of the broad strokes of the history of the global economy. The message is that whenever there’s a sweeping systematic change in the nature of the world economy, the same social force drives it.

We often think it's the business leaders, always looking to innovate. The leaders of business are society's leading edge, and yeah, they take the credit. They have the most marketing money after all.

But when you actually look at business culture, it's very conservative from an innovation point of view. A lot of what's called innovation is just adapting ideas that have recently brought someone else success to your own business. 

As well, it's very easy for a company's and an industry’s leadership to settle into a groove, to presume that what's always worked in the past will keep working long into the future. 

Complacency is a natural human habit. I mean, it’s just the name we use to describe a case of inductive reasoning that turned out wrong. Oil never stayed at $80/barrel and US housing prices could go down after all. The people who got accustomed to the old world of expensive oil and skyrocketing real estate got egg on their faces and lost a lot of money.* It’s a mistake we can all make.

* Unless they got a bailout from the government, but that’s a rant for another time.

Why mess with success? It's the people who are less successful in a given arrangement who will mess with success, because it's not their own success they're messing with. Here’s Negri's walkthrough.

The demands of working people force new developments and transformation in the world economy: because they're the ones for whom the system doesn't produce the amazing results that make the wealthy so complacent in their success.

Something inevitably dissatisfies them, so they push for change. The New Deal – heavy government investing in restarting manufacturing to achieve full employment at high wages and a strong social safety net – was a response to labour activism during the Great Depression. 

But think of how tough it'd be to unionize a business like
Uber. Not only are the workers completely disconnected
from each other, the company's business model actually
makes workers each other's competition. You have to
race against your fellow drivers to collect enough
fares to make a fair day's wages. We'll have to get
really creative to work this shit out.
But people who want riches, power, and authority are always going to find a way to subvert that progress. The ways that work best take advantage of other dissatisfactions among working people. 

In the 1970s and 80s, working people were dissatisfied for different reasons than during the Depression. Many working people in the West were sick of the prospect of being company men. High wages and material security weren’t a good enough compensation for adopting a conformist personality and a boring, dead-end, middle management job.

"Fuck your gold watch and chain,” the intellectual youth said, “I want to be creative! Be my own boss! Control my own working life!” This was the era that came to despise conformity and bureaucracy – it was the generation whose epochal masterpiece film was Brazil.

And the career of the flexible-labour contract worker was born. 

Now we’re in an era where most job opportunities are of this type. And employers are shedding their obligations to workers for benefits and security in the name of this apparent freedom. You take on contractors and let them go. In many cases, that’s okay, but in many others, it leaves people adrift.

It leaves a sharing economy workforce stuck in a cycle of poverty, for instance, working mind-breaking hours at jobs like Tasker and Uber where they take on all the risk of investment and operation to make less than minimum wage. A movement for worker autonomy and freedom became a form of suppression, control, and poverty.

The engine of change and progress toward justice rests where it always has: the creativity of working people.

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