Peter Fleming’s excellent book on the nature, function and status of work in post-industrial economies more or less confirms what we already know: work is meaningless.
Fleming provides ample statistics and survey data to show the nine to five is dead. He shows we work longer hours than ever before (‘today the average worker checks their work email at 7.42am and leaves the office at 7.19pm’). Some of us are what he terms the ‘bio-proletariat’ – people whose work has invaded their whole life (‘bios’).
Fleming offers three types of worker produced by neoliberal societies: ‘engaged workers’, who link their personal welfare to the welfare of the firm; ‘disengaged workers’, who don’t care about the firm or the work but suffer ‘presenteeism’; and the ‘actively disengaged worker’, who deliberately sabotages the firm, their colleagues or themselves.
The book follows with long, intricate sections on managerialism and the development of a culture of employee fear – ‘you should be grateful that you have a job’; the role of alcohol in the workplace; sickness and absence from work as a form of resistance; and corporate ideology.
The book is heavy on theory, regularly citing Deleuze, Foucault, Adorno, among others, but it is eminently readable. It could be read as a companion to Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism – a kind of introduction to the mechanics and effects of neoliberalism on everyday life. They share a similar writing style and a taste for referencing pop culture.
While he seems to sympathise more with the anarchist ideas of refusal to work, Fleming doesn’t just suggest we all quit our jobs. Unlike the end of Fisher’s book, the last chapter of The Mythology of Work goes on to explore a number of ways we can resist the violence of neoliberalism, from collectivising and agitating for a three-day work week, to forming post-state democratic organisations and de-fetishising work.
Fleming is an entertaining guide to a world many of us live in but have no idea how to get out of.