37% of people in Britain think that their jobs are meaningless. Are you one of them?

Walton Pantland Europe, UK, Precarity
A Strike! magazine campaign on the London Underground. From the Strike! Facebook page.

A Strike! magazine campaign on the London Underground. From the Strike! Facebook page.

Polling company YouGov reports that more than a third of British workers say their job is making no meaningful contribution to the world. As many as 37% of us get up in the morning and brave the commute to do something we know is ultimately pointless.

Our economy has a proliferation of jobs that are stressful, insecure – and pretty worthless. Pay is low, and more and more of us on on zero hours contracts – and it feels like we’re holding together a system which is ultimately pretty pointless.

A South African union poster from the 1990s.

A South African union poster from the 1990s.

The jobs that society needs – doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters, bus and train drivers – are all under attack. Wages are suppressed, people are being made redundant. The Government and right wing media attack people doing these jobs as “greedy”, because they want to keep the pensions they have contributed to all their lives, or get a pay rises that match inflation.

The growth sectors of the economy seem to be in PPI claim processing, writing pointless clickbait articles to attract ad revenue on websites, telesales, retail, fast food and other sectors that really don’t make much material difference to anyone’s well-being.

A lot of these jobs could be automated – or made a lot easier with machinery – but we’re terrified to suggest this, because they’re our only source of income.

Financialisation means our economy has moved away from useful, productive jobs, and more and more of what we do is servicing. Guard labour is on the increase – being paid to protect other people’s wealth – as well as all sorts of hyper-casualised, technologically enabled servicing.

And that’s if you’re getting paid at all – the massive rise in unpaid internships means thousands of people working for nothing just so they have experience to put on their CV for the next meaningless job they apply for.

And it’s not like there isn’t plenty that needs doing.

But while Government abdicates all responsibility to the private sector, and then sits back and watches a as a tiny minority get rich, we’re stuck in a neoliberal merry-go-round. Bullshit jobs 2

Anthropologist David Graeber call this “the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”:

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology would have advanced sufficiently by century’s end that countries like Great Britain or the United States would achieve a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more.

In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.


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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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