Self-indulgence or how capitalism shapes us at work | What's Left

Currently, many suggest that younger workers should just capitualte and take the first employment opportunity that comes along instead of looking for meaningful, self-fulfilling careers. This push stems from a context of continued aggressive expansion of precarious work and the elimination of long-term careers with benefits and pensions.

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Liberals (and many in management) are quick to criticize the desire to avoid or quit precarious jobs as a juvenile indulgence, but in most cases it is a natural response terrible working conditions. That “indulgent” struggle to find self-worth is – in its fundamental form – a struggle against the constraints of capitalist conceptions of work (see the writing of Lukacs).

Take the extreme example of quitting. While quitting should not be recommended as the primary solution (as it can be individualist and self-defeating), it should not be rejected as a rational response to a bad employer or to an untenable work environment. Some might argue this is inherently individualistic, but staying in a workplace because you think you have no other options becomes an example of drinking the capitalist KoolAid.

Similar philosophies should be applied to non-precarious jobs in progressive organizations. Quitting one organization to work for another should not be viewed as abandoning the movement, but as a reasonable response to specific working conditions negatively impacting ones ability to contribute to the larger movement. The movement does not benefit from individuals wasting energy in a bureaucratic malaise that could be better utilized elsewhere. For many of those who see themselves as true public servants, staying in one place too long can lead to a cycle of depression, affecting mental and physical health.

In both these contexts, those who quit to expose injustice or corruption are often celebrated. It is inherently understood that sometimes the rejection of conformity and reformism are not just legitimate but important. See the resignations from Health Canada around hormones in milk (Dr. Chopra) or the actions of Edward Snowden. And resignations do not need be dramatic to be justified.

It is not easy for workers to quit, especially if the job market is tight. But, there is value in making these actions felt more deeply in management structures so that changes can be made to benefit those who remain. Sometimes, a dramatic exit is just what is needed.

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