Links and News Round-Up: 15 January 2014

“There’s little doubt that “do what you love” (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate— and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers.

Superficially, DWYL is an uplifting piece of advice, urging us to ponder what it is we most enjoy doing and then turn that activity into a wage-generating enterprise. But why should our pleasure be for profit? Who is the audience for this dictum? Who is not?

By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.”

and

“If DWYL denigrates or makes dangerously invisible vast swaths of labor that allow many of us to live in comfort and to do what we love, it has also caused great damage to the professions it portends to celebrate, especially those jobs existing within institutional structures. Nowhere has the DWYL mantra been more devastating to its adherents than in academia. The average PhD student of the mid 2000s forwent the easy money of finance and law (now slightly less easy) to live on a meager stipend in order to pursue their passion for Norse mythology or the history of Afro-Cuban music.

The reward for answering this higher calling is an academic employment marketplace in which around 41 percent of American faculty are adjunct professors — contract instructors who usually receive low pay, no benefits, no office, no job security, and no long-term stake in the schools where they work.

There are many factors that keep PhDs providing such high-skilled labor for such extremely low wages, including path dependency and the sunk costs of earning a PhD, but one of the strongest is how pervasively the DWYL doctrine is embedded in academia. Few other professions fuse the personal identity of their workers so intimately with the work output. This intense identification partly explains why so many proudly left-leaning faculty remain oddly silent about the working conditions of their peers. Because academic research should be done out of pure love, the actual conditions of and compensation for this labor become afterthoughts, if they are considered at all.

In “Academic Labor, the Aesthetics of Management, and the Promise of Autonomous Work,” Sarah Brouillette writes of academic faculty,

“… our faith that our work offers non-material rewards, and is more integral to our identity than a “regular” job would be, makes us ideal employees when the goal of management is to extract our labor’s maximum value at minimum cost.”

Many academics like to think they have avoided a corporate work environment and its attendant values, but Marc Bousquet notes in his essay “We Work” that academia may actually provide a model for corporate management:

How to emulate the academic workplace and get people to work at a high level of intellectual and emotional intensity for fifty or sixty hours a week for bartenders’ wages or less? Is there any way we can get our employees to swoon over their desks, murmuring “I love what I do” in response to greater workloads and smaller paychecks? How can we get our workers to be like faculty and deny that they work at all? How can we adjust our corporate culture to resemble campus culture, so that our workforce will fall in love with their work too?

“[Teach for America] undermines the American public education system from the very foundation by urging the replacement of experienced career teachers with a neoliberal model of interchangeable educators and standardized testing…Cersonsky and blogger EduSchyster have meticulously documented TFA’s connections to dozens of charter schools as well as education reform advocacy organizations that focus on standardized testing and privatization instead of grassroots community involvement and student voices. In doing so, TFA is working directly against the interests of teachers, students, and communities alike. Neoliberal school reform is the true “educational injustice” here.”

I noticed a number of people on social media remarking that Cece was “free.” I thought of my friend Marcus who several years ago reprimanded me for applying this term to him. We were eating lunch about a month after he was released from serving five years in prison. I said, “So, how does it feel to be free?” He looked at me in his soul-searching way and replied: “I wasn’t free when I went in and I sure as shit ain’t free now.” I felt as though I had been punched in the gut because I of course knew this to be true. Since that conversation, I have tried to avoid using the term “free” when I talk about formerly incarcerated people.

Cece will suffer the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction and incarceration for years to come. This is what I call the ‘invisible shackles of the carceral state.’ Across the country, almost 6 million people are ineligible to vote in elections as a result of a criminal conviction. Cece who lives in Minnesota will bebarred from voting until her “felony conviction record [is] discharged, expired, or completed.” This means that she will be disenfranchised for several years. She is one of the “lucky” ones who won’t be permanently barred from participating in a critical aspect of civic life.

Thankfully Cece has a supportive community of friends around her and has already found a place to live. However, most returning citizens find themselves scrambling to afford and rent apartments upon their release from prison. In many states, formerly incarcerated people are banned from public housing. Some find a place in halfway houses. Many more are made homeless.

The path to becoming an “employee,” that elusive goal, is far from clear. Tracy Logan, 34, worked through Yates on Nissan’s assembly line for a year before winning a promotion to a position as a robot tender, overseeing the robots that spray paint on the car parts. To his surprise, he remained a temp. “When I first arrived at Nissan, that position was considered Class A—only Nissan personnel can hold that position,” he says. “I put in for it, thinking that would be a way of getting on with Nissan. Somewhere in there, they changed the classification of the job, but didn’t let us know.”

Such experiences are increasingly common, according to Leone José Bicchieri, executive director of the Chicago Workers Collaborative (CWC), a non-profit workers center that organizes low-wage and temp workers. Not only has temporary employment expanded into sectors that used to be sources of stable full-time employment, he says, but it’s often no longer really temporary. Some temps are brought on for only days or weeks, others work for years at the same plant through the same agency.

Organizers in the field, Bicchieri says, now talk about “staffing agencies” rather than “temp agencies,” and “direct-hire” workers rather than “permanent” employees. “It’s not a ‘temp’ job,” Logan says,“but it’s temp status.”

So is permatemping the new model in manufacturing? Nissan spokesperson Justin Saia maintains that temporary jobs can provide a route to direct employment. “Having contract workers enables us to further develop the skill sets of these employees to position them for direct employment opportunities with Nissan through our Pathways program,” he writes in an email. But on the other hand, he notes, “The contract jobs in our business model are designed to be long-term, stable jobs with competitive pay and benefits.”

Or, as Logan puts it: “They want us to be permanent temps.”

Stubbornly high unemployment among millennials costs the U.S. billions in lowered tax revenue and higher safety net costs, according to one study.

Millennials — defined as those 18 to 34 years old — have suffered from double-digit jobless rates for almost six years, according to a study by youth advocacy group Young Invincibles. The youngest, aged 16 to 24, suffer from 15% unemployment, the highest rates among youth.

The long-term consequences of high unemployment in an entire generation of young people has been well researched, with echoes throughout their careers in the form of lower earnings and fewer job opportunities.

But the short-term costs stack up high as well, adding up to almost $8.9 billion a year, the report concluded.

On average, a single 18- to -24-year-old without a job will cost the government over $4,100 a year in uncollected taxes and extra safety net benefits. That amount climbs to $9,900 annually among unemployed 25- to 34-year-olds.

Notification that her son is being detained at Correctional Centre 3 in Kampong Cham came as a relief to Touch Sart yesterday, after spending nearly a week wondering whether he was even alive.

Since her son, Theng Saroeun, was arrested along with 22 others at demonstrations last Thursday and Friday, police, court and prison officials have refused to confirm the identities or whereabouts of those detained. After six days of silence, prison officials yesterday finally allowed family members, lawyers and a doctor to visit them.

“My son is badly hurt, he was beaten seriously and could not eat,” Sart said. “He received seven stitches.”

The fact that they have spent nearly a week of detention without access to their families or lawyers – a violation of defendants’ rights in Cambodia – and held in an isolated prison far from their Phnom Penh homes indicates the government’s strong desire to keep them cut off from supporters, Naly Pilorge, director of rights group Licadho, said.

The defendants – one of them a 17-year-old – were arrested on Thursday and Friday amid protests in Por Sen Chey district. Ten were arrested during a rally in front of Yakjin (Cambodia) Inc on Thursday, after, witnesses said, military officials guarding the factory initiated clashes with demonstrators.

Cambodian garment workers organized to protest for higher wages, and the police came and businesses, arrested 23 people, and killed 4 people.

These are the same garment factories that the celebrity ‘anti-trafficking’ activist Somaly Mam funnels “rescued” trafficking victims into.

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