Forgetting the Future
Forgetting the Future
by Oisin Mac Giollamoir
Remembering things can be hard.
We forget what it was like to be a child in the nineties. We forget what it was like for our parents to be students in the seventies and eighties. We forget what it felt like being alive in the forties, in the fifties, or in the sixties. We forget what it was like for our parents and grand parents to have ‘a job for life’. We forget what it was like for our great great grandparents to have little to no rights at work, or for women, almost no rights at all. And we forget what it was like for our ancestors two hundred years ago, who, accustomed to living off the land, struggled with the idea of living off wage labour.
_- Go work for someone else, everyday, for the rest of your life. They will pay for your time, and with the money they give you, you can buy things; food, drink, shelter, clothes etc.
- But then when will I have anytime to work the land?
- You won’t, you will have no land.
- No land! But then how will I feed myself?
- With the money they’ll give you you can buy food.
- And why will they give me money?
- For your time.
- My time, and what will they do with my time?
- They will make you work.
- So when they buy my time, they control it?
- But if they control my time, my work, and I have no land, what do I control?
- You can choose to work or not to work. You can sell your time or go poor.
- But that is not a choice it’s a threat. It is awful. I am no better than a slave. A slave who gets paid. If they own my work, my time and decide if I eat well or poorly, then I am a slave to them, though they might pay me a wage!_
This was a strange world once. Wage labour – How odd? And how awful, thought these new workers. Hating their lack of liberty their enslavement to the wage these early workers attacked the machines dreaming of returning to the land.
But gradually the dream changed. They stopped dreaming of getting rid of the machines and returning to the land. Instead they dreamed of taking the machinery, the workplaces and making them their own. They dreamed that everyone could control this new machinery. It would be like the old common lands; land that could be worked by everyone and owned by no-one. These new cities would be owned by no one, worked by everyone, producing for everyone. From each according to ability, to each according to need! Production for need not profit! Abolish wage labour!
They drew these slogans on their banners and then … in Paris 1871 they had a revolution, then again in Russia 1905, in Mexico 1910, Spain 1912, Russia 1917, Germany, 1918, Seattle 1919, Limerick 1919, Italy 1920, and again and again…
In the years that followed, they won the eight hour day, universal suffrage, free education, universal pension coverage, unemployment benefits, and healthcare for all. They won higher and higher wages enabling the development of the consumer society with our cars, dishwashers, PCs, iPods. And our lives are better now. But remembering things is hard.
We forget the struggles that improved our lives. We forget the dreams that inspired them. The drudgery of work is normal. Spending your life doing something you hate, it’s just how life is. Living life forever feeling isolated, alone and powerless is the human condition. Working for a wage is the natural way of life. Isn’t it?
While our ancestors dreamed of the future we fear ours. What if there is no future? Sea levels rise as these cities we live in spew carbon in the sky. But major ecological collapse is still decades away. What of next year? What job are you choosing after you leave college? What choice do you have with the recession? But we hope things will improve and go back to normal, back to what’s natural. We will still work for a wage and hate it. But at least we will still have what our past struggles have won: universal suffrage (for citizens); the NHS (or what’s left of it); unemployment benefit (I mean Job Seekers Allowance); universal pension coverage (for public sector workers); free education (with top up fees)… Well maybe things aren’t that secure. Maybe the future isn’t what we thought it was. But there once was another future, wasn’t there? A future without poverty, classes, inequality; a future where we control the cities we live in; a future where we are not slaves to the wage, a future where we are valued by our worth as humans, not our price as workers. Remember?
But, yes, remembering, especially the future, can be hard.