Thursday, 26 April 2007


Following a discussion elsewhere on the internet about International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day and the relation of writing to other forms of labour under capitalism, I was thinking vaguely about the way that the concept of 'privilege' sometimes gets co-opted, as part of a capitalist strategy to divide workers and hide the real relations of production (and oppression): so if you're a creative worker at one of those funky new companies where they give you a playstation lounge and lots of free coffee, you see this as a privilege, a set of perks, rather than as the company appropriating your leisure time for its profit. Or in general, many people in well-paid jobs will routinely work twelve- or fourteen-hour days but they tend not think of this in terms of the production of surplus value for a corporation out of their labour - out of a working regime which costs them their health - because they have Italian suits and penthouse apartments, so they couldn't have anything in common with a Wal*Mart employee regularly working unpaid overtime. So the often-made - and often justified - critique of the behaviour of some (relatively) privileged people claiming identity with (relatively) less privileged people (they want to live like common people! they want to do whatever common people do!) is used to cover up the fact that capitalism works by extracting surplus value from the bodies of its workers, regardless of colour, creed, gender or class.

And then I saw this post (via John's blog), by a lecturer, on his typical working day. Which begins at 8:15am and ends at 11:30pm (with three hours 'off' in the evening for family time, in which domestic work and leisure are close to indistinguishable). And the first comment says: This is helpful and a good kick in the pants. One question: I've always written by blocking out large blocks of time for individual topics. Have you always worked in divided increments or do you discipline yourself this way for more effectiveness?

When I was a postgraduate tutor, I was asked to mark undergraduate essays for fifty p. a script (that would work out at two pounds an hour, maximum, for work that you were required to have at least an MA - that's four or five years of professional training - to do). I see friends of mine with PhDs - that's up to nine years of professional training - still teaching at hourly rates years after getting their doctoral qualification, with no benefits, no pension, no holiday pay, no pay over the summer. Why would I think - even when I'd had the luck to get a tenured position and have far more of a stake in my department's success - there was something inherently admirable about working unpaid overtime for an institution? About 'disciplining myself' to produce the maximum possible surplus value?

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