The Death of the Worker

Organized labour has been shrinking as a percentage of the workforce in America and Canada for decades, which should come as a surprise to no one: authors have been predicting the death of work since at least 1967. However, we’re not actually seeing the death of work: we’re seeing the death of the concept of the “worker.”

In 2018 the gig economy continues to pick up steam. Stable, permanent, well-paying full-time jobs are few and far between. Entrepreneurship – including everything from Uber Eats to IT – is the new normal. Underlying all this is the death of a unit the world has come to depend on for over 200 years: the worker. There is no longer a ubiquitous, interchangeable human machine that can be plugged into a job for 40 years, accumulate wealth and cash out. The idea that some homogeneous sea of undifferentiated human potential exists died with the decline in factory employment.

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The world isn’t looking for workers anymore. Graduating from high school to take your place on an assembly line is a distant memory, and the idea of the worker is evaporating along with it. It’s hard to think of labourers, when labour is largely automated. It’s hard to think of “workers,” when society has shifted from the idea of having a job to the idea of having a career spent changing jobs every three years. Finding employment is no longer about showing up at the factory floor: it’s about the value you can bring to a workplace.

This change has largely killed the idea of the worker. When our concept of what a job is, what a career is and what work is has changed so fundamentally, it’s no longer relevant to think of “workers” as the focus of the economy. Organized labour continues to struggle with this reality, and has largely retrenched to trades and government. The term still enjoys currency in government (a group not well known for embracing change) and in academia, but that’s about it.

We’ll continue to work (for a few more decades). Just not as workers.

 

1 response

  1. Alb Vasq says:

    I totally agree with your article’s content. Not simply because as a history bluff, that I have been reading about it, but then becoming a workforce participant in a professional capacity, then seeing the employment opportunities turn from jobs to contracts to gigs. What’s truly shocking has been the speed at which it happened. It went from a job to gig in less than 20 years.

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