Capitalist exploitation is, without a shred of doubt, the nastiest occurrence for the proletariat. However, if you rid the proletariat of it, they (un)ironically get worse off. It is as if people are not in a rat race of getting work, but enthusiastically in a rat race of getting exploited, for exploitation is the only thing they aspire in their lives.
The discourse on unemployment has been incarcerated by statistics. It has been circumscribed by numbers and data. Huge crowds, generally termed as superfluous labour supply, who are desperate to sell their labour, are then reduced to numbers. But is our whole phase of struggle just a piece of statistics for the economist to play with and write profound op-eds and research papers and advise governments to do ex, why, zee things? First being termed superfluous, then being reduced to a piece of statistics, the spiritual violence it endures on people is often unaccounted for and overlooked.
After statistical analysis and economics, comes the turn of psychological well-being or the lack of it as far as the discourse on unemployment is concerned. Stories of personal grief, trauma, struggle, low self-esteem, alienation, social isolation, then arrest the discourse around unemployment. This second analysis on unemployment is crucial and speaks volumes as it broadens our horizons and brings structural oppression and systemic discrimination to the limelight that it actually deserves. You could read several such stories every day in the newspaper, the most recent one being the death of a tribal man by suicide after being unemployed for a decade.
This article is neither about statistical dominance on the discourse on unemployment and humans being reduced to numbers, nor is it about stories of personal grief that highlights structural oppression and systemic discrimination.
What I am trying to bring your attention to is the need to focus on how the whole production system is changing all over the world and its effect on unemployment. The change in the production system can be easily observed if we closely look at the change of the notion of ‘work’ from the invention of capitalism to the rise of the gig economy in the21st century. Gone are the days of the Fordist system of production where labourers had secure employment and goods were made keeping in mind whether they are affordable to the labourers making them or not. The 21st-century labour market is more inclined towards precarious work and the gig economy. We have moved away from long-term secure employment to low paying, less productive, casual and temporary jobs.
Since the notion of ‘work’ has drastically changed, there is every reason to believe that the notion of absence of work, that is unemployment in a very restricted sense of the term, will also change. With the constant change in the production system itself and the notion of ‘work’ it encapsulates, we are heading towards an era of rising uncertainties where the discourse on unemployment will not be around whether it has increased or decreased, but how its meaning and implications have changed. This future era can probably demand sectors that are not as productive but have the capacity to accommodate the ‘superfluous labour’.
The recent news regarding the railway recruitment drive could help us further to understand where are we collectively heading. For 35,281 vacancies, 1.25 crore Indians are fighting amongst themselves. This would result in 1,24,64,719 (which can easily be rounded off to 1.25 crore) people being unemployed.
From these statistics, one can easily make out that the demand for labour is low and the supply is quite high. With increasing privatisation and decreasing government vacancies, the next question that comes is, where would the unemployed go, or if we advance our previous train of thought, what sector can accommodate the superfluous labour.
The three options that come to my mind are – 1) call centres, 2) platform economy – working as a partner for Ola, Uber, Swiggy, Zomato, etc. and 3) becoming content creators, making Instagram reels.
There could be more sectors as well. The effect of such sectors on unemployment, I believe, would be unprecedented because of their capacity to accommodate superfluous labour. They would alter its meaning and how it manifests in socio-economic settings.
Moreover, such sectors and the notion of unemployment when attached to them can have larger implications. This is because, in the capitalist world, our lives and ‘work’ has become the same thing. Hence, new forms of work will give rise to new forms of unavailability of work which will further have implications on our personal and social well-being. While unemployment itself is currently under a gradual change, we can only anticipate how this changing notion of unemployment will impact our life and our well-being and what role would such sectors play.
My heart goes out to all those seeking employment and I would like to end this piece on a lighter note by sharing with you the lyrics of one of my favourite songs, the lyrics go as
Haal chaal theek thaak hai
Sab kuch theek thaak hai
B.A kiya hai M.A kiya
Lagta hai woh bhi ainviye kiya
Kaam nahi hai warna yahan
Aap ki dua se sab theek thaak hai
Sarthak Mehra is a post-graduate in Development Studies from Ambedkar University, Delhi.He can be found on Twitter.
Featured image source: Young India Foundation