As some may or not may not already know, the 1st of May is International Workers’ Day and is celebrated as a public holiday in South Africa. The history of May Day is significant in commemorating past efforts to eradicate workers’ rights violations and poor working conditions. Yet, as we reflect on the importance of worker solidarity, it almost feels disingenuous to attempt to consider the state of ‘work’ as a concept without contextualising within the broader pop culture media discourse taking place online about work and where it fits into our everyday life. And so, we begin with the (alleged) generational divide.
The Inter-Generational Dilemma…or Opportunity?
Every other week, there seems to be a bombardment of articles about how Gen Z (those born between 1997 to 2013) is one of the worst things to have happened to the modern workplace. Established publications write lengthy explanations about how ‘quiet quitting’ and anti-work attitudes wreak havoc on job permanence. On TikTok, countless creators produce viral videos depicting the difference between Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z in the workplace. Gen Z’s nonchalant attitudes are often the punchline due to the contrast in behaviour and mannerisms compared to their older colleagues. There seems to be some quietly agreed upon torrential dog-piling on Gen Z. This is not because they are young and naïve (although some would argue otherwise), but because they are choosing a path that many did not think was possible for them. But instead of anger being directed towards the systems that govern and dictate our access to fundamental rights to access a clean environment, housing, and food, the repeated cycle of anger is diverted to younger generations who hold little power compared to the 1% making decisions. Capitalism’s obsession with vilifying aspects of human nature that vigilantly centre on our well-being sets a precedent for how we are valued within the systems, institutions and organisations that we are tied to. Misplaced accountability sets a dangerous narrative on who deserves basic human rights based on “hard work”. But hard work is not determined by how much of ourselves we give to entities, nor is it predicated on tolerating substandard conditions to meet certain targets and objectives. This may sound like a fairy tale, but we all deserve to have jobs that value our time and efforts. We all deserve the right to prioritise our physical and mental well-being above unethical work expectations. We all deserve the right to choose how we show up for work, in whatever capacity that means for each of us. Kahlil Gibran puts it aptly in his book The Prophet by saying the following:
“…to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.”
For many marginalised bodies and identities on the outskirts of what would be considered a “good worker”, now more than ever is it important to advocate for worker’s rights everywhere. In January this year, a few of the leading global tech companies laid off about 12,000-18,000 workers with no prior notice. Shareholder wealth since COVID-19 has increased tenfold, along with the salaries of top management executives across the board in various industries. According to an article written by Walter Matli (2020) on the insights of remote workers’ life situations in South Africa, the mixed reactions signalled the vastness in the experiences of workers for those in well or under-serviced communities. If we compare and contrast how we see ourselves and others within different work environments, then we need to consider how much more we have in common with each other than we think. The issues we think will never affect us may very well be the issues that affect us eventually (ditto to load-shedding being the new normal in South Africa).
International Workers’ Day is a crucial occasion to remind us of the significance of inter-generational solidarity and a humanistic perspective towards labour. It provides an opportunity to reflect on the persistent socioeconomic inequalities that afflict workers worldwide. If we are not aware of this crucial aspect of worker solidarity, it becomes a fictitious and non-committal fantasy through which we fail to understand the very essence of our being.