The Workplace Under Capitalism Is Garbage
Sorry for the silence around these parts. I was taking a much-needed internet break.
In the past few weeks, I’ve read a lot of articles by parents, on the brink of physical and mental collapse, who are calling for our school districts and our government at all levels to start taking real leadership in figuring out how schools can safely reopen in ways that prioritize health and education. At the very least, exhausted parents are reporting that they can no longer handle the pressure of having to both work full-time and homeschool full-time.
Agreed. Parents are ridiculously overburdened. Homeschooling plus their paid work are both full-time jobs, plus most parents are not in fact trained educators. It’s physically impossible to do both jobs effectively at the same time with only 24 hours in a day.
Back in 2018 I had bad morning sickness and needed a way to refocus my brain so we camped out for two days and then worked in tiny cafés in rural Southern CA for three days. And I felt so, so much better afterward.
But I’ve been a bit troubled by some of these articles. Rather than considering how the American employment system should accommodate the needs of families, some of these articles assume that children and educators should accommodate the needs of the American employment system. The burden of responsibility is on children and educators. Instead of calling for better child management, we need to be calling for the American workplace to accommodate our real, caregiving lives.
Yes, I will always, always fight for the right for all people to pursue their professional dreams, and I sure as hell don’t believe that parents, especially moms, should have to set aside their professional goals in deference to their caregiving responsibilities.
What I will never, ever believe, however, is that our non-professional lives should be twisted to accommodate the insane, exhausting, life-denying demands of the American workplace. If we want to blow up capitalism, then let’s call for the workplace to accommodate real lives, rather than ask our lives to accommodate capitalism.
Instead of agitating for all schools to reopen, what about calling for a radical reimagining of what work could be in the United States?
To begin with, we need mandated paid parental leave, universal healthcare (not tied to employment), and universal childcare. In other words, we need policies that support all human life, regardless of one’s employment status.
But beyond these policies, there are so many ways we could radically restructure work in this country.
For example, evidence shows that a four-day work week tends to encourage employees to use their work-time more effectively, while also improving home life and promoting happiness. Why not pay employees for four, highly effective days of work?
What if we agreed to stop paying people based on the number of hours they work? Just pay your employees a decent, living wage if they get their job done. Project-based work rather than hourly work often promotes better quality of life, and payment based on project completion could be easily implemented in both blue and while collar workplaces. (And, ahem, Marx made this point about hourly work in relation to capitalism almost two centuries ago!)
If top executives and investors took a little less, they could pay their employees high wages for less work. And if we think about it, why do we assume that work itself is inherently valuable? Why should we value a human being for the amount of work they do? I mean, really why? And if people are paid living wages for less work, then they can spend more time supervising their children, which is what we need if schools are unable to reopen. For families with two or more caregivers around (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends!) the work of childcare would become much easier if all caregivers worked a bit less and were then able to strategically organize their time to share caregiving responsibilities. Plus, this could have the major benefit of seeing to it that fathers share parenting duties more evenly with mothers.
In my own situation, while both my husband and I work typical workdays with the usual amount of work hours, the mere fact that we are both doing so from home makes childcare possible. Instead of spending time commuting to an office, we can trade off kid duty in a matter of seconds and split other responsibilities like cooking and cleaning much more equitably.
Even more useful: just imagine what this could look like if people living in the United States were guaranteed a basic income and universal healthcare. Less work, more time for childcare (and even self care), more time for preparing and eating healthy food, taking in sunshine and moving our bodies, for thinking and breathing.
And, if you’re still concerned about the workplace, research shows that rest, sleep, and adequate time to look after individual and community needs actually promotes productivity and effectiveness in the workplace–there is so much evidence for this that I don’t even know what to link. If you’re worried about it, think about it this way: aren’t you a more productive person after 8 hours of sleep rather than 5?
I absolutely empathize with overworked, exhausted parents at the end of their rope. Let’s call for the American workplace to accommodate our lives, rather than the other way around. It’s time for capitalism to be dismantled in the interest of our health and safety.