Are We All “Wee” Workers?

The history and future of concentrated economic power versus functioning democracy and an aspirational future of work with no workers left behind shows the intrinsic value of equating shareholders and stakeholders. This is accomplished in two concurrent steps: first, by relentlessly pursuing anti-trust policies on macro national and global levels to break down platform monopolists so that competition and transparency flourish; and second, building local community wealth through profit-seeking social enterprises deploying proven hybrid model, shared ownership principles and practices.

A third step includes repurposing the roles of humans versus waves of technology adoption by designing generational sustainability into the DNA of this socioeconomic equation. We can accelerate this process both in public commons institutions and private sector stakeholder-owned and managed businesses through inspired, intentional and reciprocated participation in inter-cooperating ecosystems operating through shared values, risks and rewards formulas.

Unfortunately, the pervasive trend towards widespread digital economy labor commodification puts these goals at risk. Growing examples include on-call and at-whim Amazon Mechanical Turk workers and survival wage ecommerce fulfillment center assembly line precariat representing a “back to a backward future” for those without a voice and vote. Axios Future describes the “New Sharecroppers” as an evolving labor underclass underpinning the artificial intelligence revolution: “thousands of low-wage workers in the U.S. and across the globe who painstakingly inventory millions of pieces of data and images, giving power to AI programs.”

In an increasingly “reality show America” where economic and political life imitates “low art,” prophetic cinematic masterpieces such as The Matrix and its film sequels (The Matrix Reloaded & The Matrix Revolutions) forecast an imagined horrifying digital enslavement past as fast encroaching prologue. Toil glamour, performative workaholism and unrestrained willingness to surrender intimate personal identities to mega social media branding platforms symbolize the first steps towards self-induced captivity where boundaries are broken, identities submerged, and the digitized whole harvests its disappearing human, battery-node parts.

The New York Times (Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?) chronicles this emerging work-life imbalance diaspora masquerading as the new social “Cool Kids Corner” made manifest through the vision of WeWork self-defined as, “an American company that provides shared workspaces for technology startup subculture communities, and services for entrepreneurs, freelancers, startups, small businesses and large enterprises.” According to the Times, “In the new WeWork culture, enduring or even merely liking one’s job is not enough. Workers should love what they do, and then promote that love on social media, thus fusing their identities to that of their employers.” Subculture comes with a “Mean Kids” price tag. UPDATE: WeWork files for IPO…generating lots of questions/concerns.

From art to life to myth and whether voluntary or involuntary, digital era labor commodification has become a direct contributor to discriminating lifestyle and economic opportunity choice inequalities. While IPO-flush Silicon Valley parents strive to limit screen time for their offspring to achieve legacy “gifted and talented” status, economic oxygen-deprived communities in Appalachia and Midwest rust belt dystopias tout software coding bootcamps as opportunity equalizers. This is running to catch a bus that’s already been rerouted with reduced margins, a possible exception being the cybersecurity sector.

America’s social media-enabled Big Data economy is picking winners and losers by producing persistent stagnant wages for those holding on to bottomed-out, economic rung job classifications, with basic human decency and survival benefits tagged by privileged political opportunists as socialist malware. America is scarred by a cumulative toxic reality of inherited-merit nepotism usurping earned meritocracy, decreasing equal opportunities marked by actuarial tables and career expectancy rigged by zip codes, intentional border policy cruelty towards immigrants who historically provide inspirational lift to America’s economic cycles and achieve generational civic assimilation, and workplace reinforced-glass ceilings locking gender racism in place. These self-inflicted wounds call out “Toil Glamour” for its deadly sophomoric bait and switch consequences manipulated by a cynical corporatist culture “digital-matrixing” and data-mining for shareholder-favoring, profit-seeking ends targeting extreme labor commodification means.

The Times also points out that “WeWork keeps losing money ahead of its I.P.O. — $264 million in the first three months of 2019, to be precise.” Normally this would matter to the viability of a stock exchange-headed business model but in a “free market” environment where size and scale for shareholders only allow profitability to postpone its reckoning, ensuing widespread social collateral damage is wrought before values such as sustainability and “humanity at work” come to grips with practice.

Workplace deskilling and casualization for the urban precariat together with warehoused digital manual labor for the rural precariat combine to create America’s new permanent economic underclass suffering in plain sight. It’s not only a case of “Workism is Making Americans Miserable” akin to “a religious identity – promising transcendence and community but failing to deliver.” It’s that this failed religion is delivering an even more unjust, unequal, polarizing and aspiration-free society for those at the bottom of its digital pyramid who are made to clap on cue.

All the King’s trade tariff horses and all the King’s “U.S. manufacturers and “blue-collar Trump people,” can’t put a “MAGA-Humpty-Dumpty” together again without a bottom-up restructuring of American Capitalism that incentivizes stakeholders to become shareholders. This can be done through experience-based, hybrid model, shared ownership cooperative start-ups operating within purposeful local ecosystems (i.e. Mondragon in Spain’s Basque region, Cincinnati/Ohio & Preston/UK). Such a transformation includes “silver tsunami” conversions of boomer generation owned and managed industries into new social enterprises owned and managed locally by the workers involved.

We should make the case that America’s potential and current worker-owners and their hosting community stakeholders are best served through exercising the freedom to choose ownership structures most relevant to sustain local culture and growth. This choice requires tax parity among competing U.S. ownership model options that currently favor investors, boardrooms, passive-income, and usually ex-territorial shareholders over workers. None of this will happen without massive economic power paradigm shifts which is why rigorous and persistent anti-trust policies to neuter coercive platform monopolists and embrace the sovereignty of labor over capital within a truly “free” marketplace is sine qua non.