The role of work in modern societies has always been fraught, but never more than during a time of massive job displacement during the pandemic. As the acute public health crisis ebbs, however, we are in a position to re-evaluate and even redefine “work” and its place in our lives. How can work meet the needs of a society torn by crises in public health, wealth and racial inequality, suppressed labor organizing, and fraying democratic systems? How do we transform our society from one of capitalistic exploitation—in which work is synonymous with grind culture, hierarchy, and our individual worth—to one in which work of all sorts is valued culturally and financially, and promotes dignity and well-being? How do we transition to a society where a job is not a prerequisite to having food, shelter, or freedom?
There’s a long history stretching back to the Middle Ages that resulted in our occupations determining our socioeconomic status, and what rights and privileges accrue to it. What did work mean for pre-capitalistic (and pre-feudal) societies? How did we come to a place where a job, no matter how demeaning or poorly compensated, is intended not just to provide for our needs, but also be “fulfilling”? What would society look like if resources were allocated based upon need, instead of how much your toil increased profits for someone else?
What would people do if they had no fear of poverty, but were instead focused on seeking satisfaction and joy? And what do we need to do to get there?
The Fall 2022 issue of YES! Magazine, the “Work” issue, will examine what work really means in contemporary society, and what it could mean if our society were reordered to prioritize health, fulfillment, fairness, and joy. We’ll look at solutions that are adaptations to the current system, such as labor organizing, reduced workweeks, and prioritizing well-being and leisure. We’ll also explore boundary-pushing ideas, such as universalism as an alternative to means-tested or pay-for-privilege benefits; an end to unpaid labor in the home; alternative structures of business that value equity, fairness, and democratic decision making; and severing the connection between a job and basic human needs.
Where are there compelling stories on these topics in your communities? Send us your leads and pitches for reported stories on initiatives or groups that are transforming the nature and purpose of work.
All the stories we seek will be examples of excellent journalism and storytelling: stories that are well-researched, with compelling characters and that demonstrate struggle and resolution. Hurry and send your pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 29 to be considered for the Fall 2022 issue. (After that, you can continue to send them to email@example.com.)