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Is a "normal" wage-labor job ethically wrong?

+2 votes
Greetings anarchists,

I have recently stumbled upon this forum and I must say it has captivatedmy attention to say the least. To briefly introduce myself, I am 19 years old and have always despised the authoritarian state form as well as the consumerism-driven society.

I currently work in a small shop filled with nothing but impulsive-bought products and I mildly said hate it. I try to make the best of it but seeing the disgusting face of consumerism repeatedly makes me sick.

My question is this: if I were to find a job that pleased me and made me happy but however was defined by the wage-labor model, would it be an ethical choice to pursue it?

Thank you in advance and again I wish to express my gratitude for the wise words and interesting debates to be found on this forum.
Good day to you all!
asked Jan 11, 2014 by FlipFl0pz (140 points)
The choices we are presented with are limited by the organization of this society into economic parameters. No job = no money; no money = no food and no shelter. It's not really an ethical question.

Perhaps rephrasing your question into something along these lines might be more appropriate:
"What if I were to find a job that didn't crush my spirit, and was tolerable in terms of safety, hours, and wages?"
I think that's probably the best any of us could hope for given the pervasiveness and continual expansion of capitalism into just about every human interaction.

I've been a full-time employee for over three decades, and it's only been in the last nine years that I've found a job where I don't hate getting up and going there; even then my bosses are shitty and the work can be physically damaging. So there's always a trade-off.

2 Answers

+3 votes
I suppose you could say, in some sense, that if we don't challenge wage labor, then we're complicit... but in reality, we're so thoroughly fucked that we gotta do what we gotta do, and struggling against every boss we ever have is a not a very good way to navigate capitalism. Though I'm not sure that's what you're saying exactly when you ask if it's an ethical choice to be working somewhere that pleased you.

If you're wondering if it's OK to feel OK about having a job you enjoy, even though it's wage labor, then I say yes. When I talk to people about work and wage labor and exploitation, I often hear them say things like, 'but I like working.', to which I suggest that it's the form that we have a problem with, not the content (necessarily). The content, for the most part, under capitalism, is shitty, too. Commas. Perhaps you do the most fulfilling work you could possibly imagine, and you do it because you love it, but you have a boss, and you are paid wages.

You can love what you do while simultaneously hating whoever lays a hand on you to govern you (be it bosses, markets, capital, cops, etc.) All we can do is try our best to not let capitalism dictate our lives, through whatever means we have.
answered Jan 11, 2014 by formyinformation (2,500 points)
Thank you both for you answers. The way both of you rephrased my question I do like and probably make more sense than the original one. I do apologise for the lazy grammar and vocabulary and most likely poor wording.
I do agree that the way capitalism work and how it intertwines in near to every social aspect, as lawrence so elegantly put it, it is hard to avoid it.
The best we can do is find something that doesn't molest our souls and hopefully brings a sparkle of happiness into our lives.
The biggest issue for me, as formyinformation describes, is the feeling of complicity that seems to haunt me. I suppose it is something that one must learn to deal with. Is this something you have found to be prevalant in your life, lawrence, in combination with your job?
Thank you again for commeting
Yes, learning to accept our own complicity in the continuation of capitalism is part of growing up and navigating in the world as it is instead of the world as it ought to be. The reason that most modern (or post-left) anarchists reject moralism has to do with accepting the distinction between ought and is. There's little point in gnashing your teeth when confronted with that divergence, and even less of a point trying to shame others (or yourself) into behaving in a particular way. We deal with it as best we can without beating ourselves (or others) up when we fall short of our best intentions.

That said, there's no reason to avoid stealing from your bosses, sabotaging or losing equipment, slacking, or resisting the smooth running of capitalism. I drive a company vehicle, and try to find the most expensive fuel. There are other things that I'd rather not admit. It's all part of coping and trying to reclaim at least a little bit of the time that's stolen from us when we're forced to work for a wage.
While it's not a solution, don't forget that you can find ways around some of the shittier aspects of wage-labor.. eg, I met someone who started a successful anarchist dog walking collective. Keeping all the fruits of your labor is good, but of course, then you can feel complicit in a whole array of other things.

It's a world that wasn't created by us, that we have to somehow survive in while keeping our sanity intact. So don't feel too bad, fight where you can, but pick your battles.
I'd be super careful (or bashful, or embarrassed, or humiliated) when talking about a successful anarchist (collective) business; if I dared to use ironic quotation marks, successful and anarchist would be in them.

What makes a business anarchist? That there are anarchists contributing their labor to it? Wage labor is a foundational cornerstone of capitalism, so it hardly makes sense to say that a business relying on wage labor is anarchist -- unless the anarchists involved are not anti-capitalists.

What makes business successful? That it generates enough cash flow to maintain the space, the equipment, and pay wages to workers. That hardly makes the business anarchist -- again, unless those anarchists are not anti-capitalists.

When I first heard of that dog-walking collective from one of its founders, all I could do was laugh. First off, their clientele is almost exclusively rich fucks who live in Georgetown, so their services are not geared toward anarchists, but the class enemy. Second, who the fuck cares if their business is run collectively with consensus decision making? Do their clients care? Do they pick up dog shit with black and red shit bags? Do they only use their left hands?

What's the point of having an anarchist business other than to find a way for you to have your friends work with you?

http://theanarchistlibrary.org/topics/anarchist-business
True. I should have said 'a business run by anarchists that makes enough money to live decently under capitalism'. Consensus doesn't make anything anarchist. ..but by successful I meant that they don't work under authority of employers, they keep the fruit of their labor, and they make enough money to live. As far as what they call themselves or do to be an 'anarchist business', I don't know. I don't even remember if they actually call themselves an anarchist business. I just know having a business with people you like with no bosses or authority might be an alternative for flipfl0pz.

The vision of red/black shit bags made me crack up, ahahaha.


Side note: I'm surprised to hear you say 'rich fucks'. It confuses me after the dialogue we had on my 'usury towards the rich' question and your anti-moralism. Help me understand?
If you know anything about the demographics of Georgetown you probably would understand my comment. Not only is it the richest suburb of DC, it's also where most of the top-level government employees reside. I should perhaps have said, "their clientele is almost exclusively members of the American ruling class" to make my disgust more pointed. They aren't powerful because they're rich; they're rich because they're powerful.
oh lordy, lawrence, you must mean the brighter day collective. Those folk are really douchey and snobby. No one can afford their prices except really rich people. I've crossed paths with them awhile back and live somewhat in the area.
–4 votes
Yes, a normal wage-labor job is ethically wrong.  It is wrong to work with anyone as anything other than an equal: it is wrong to employ wage/salary workers and wrong to accept wage/salary employment.

The wage/salary worker is a means to an end -- an input, a factor of production -- and any acceptance of the treatment of a living thing as a tool to be used is unethical.

It isn't about the worker getting to control the product of her labor or its full value -- some salaried people are clearly overpaid. Also, some employers are truly working FOR their workers, with the final goal of the company the well-being of the employees. But that paternalism still involves hierarchy: the employer and the wage-earner cannot possibly regard each other as equally free parties to a fully voluntary exchange in every mutually beneficial task or activity.

The alternative is self-employment and reliance on independent contractors, suppliers and service providers for whatever help you need. In an ideal world, these would all be self-employed single-person enterprises. As it is, we can TRY to work with individuals as much as possible, and at any rate prefer small-company partners.
answered Sep 25, 2016 by Syrphant (530 points)
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