Labor and Its Discontents

In most parts of the world, today is May Day (a.k.a. International Workers’ Day), a celebration of the labor movement.

We don’t celebrate this day in America because our own Labor Day, which takes place months later, is now mostly known as the last weekend of the summer. It’s a day strictly reserved for last visits to the beach and big sales at the mall. In other words, we celebrate labor by trying not to do it or think about it.

The implications of this are part of a larger conversation I have nothing to contribute to right now.

But on the related but smaller topic of work, here’s two pieces to check out if you, like me, spend a good amount of time in an office between 9 and 5:

From “The Case for Working With Your Hands” by Matthew B. Crawford in The New York Times Magazine, May 21, 2009:

Like the mechanic, the manager faces the possibility of disaster at any time. But in his case these disasters feel arbitrary; they are typically a result of corporate restructurings, not of physics. A manager has to make many decisions for which he is accountable. Unlike an entrepreneur with his own business, however, his decisions can be reversed at any time by someone higher up the food chain (and there is always someone higher up the food chain). It’s important for your career that these reversals not look like defeats, and more generally you have to spend a lot of time managing what others think of you…
So managers learn the art of provisional thinking and feeling, expressed in corporate doublespeak, and cultivate a lack of commitment to their own actions. Nothing is set in concrete the way it is when you are, for example, pouring concrete.

From “I’m Brian Lam, and This Is How I Work” from today’s Lifehacker:

I recommend everyone either fix your job or quit it.