Exemplary political writing is not always filled with never before heard ideas, but rather ones that feel as familiar as your own flesh, as if they have resided within you all along. Pluto Press’ Outspoken series, created to platform the underrepresented, has already published many works of outstanding calibre, such as Lolu Olufemi’s Feminism Interrupted: Disrupting Power and Leah Cowan’s Border Nation: A Story of Migration. Amelia Horgan’s Lost in Work: Surviving Capitalism is the latest release in these inspiring works.
Horgan begins in a place I remember well. She nostalgically describes the now outdated way of applying for work, the old jaunt down the high street ‘with your print warm CVs’ in hand. Us millennials were the last to routinely use this tactic, with today’s CVs being preferred via email, which only applies to the jobs that don’t make an epic out of their application processes.
Today, everything from retail to office work, requires a cover letter, your CV and a mass of specific questions which demand to know why you want to apply for this role. When the answer is often simply ‘I need money so I can rent a roof over my head and feed myself’. Before you even get a job, a large amount of unpaid labour is expected, either in the day it takes you to apply for the position or the unpaid trial shift you are expected to fulfil.
“Everything from retail to office work, requires a cover letter, your CV and a mass of specific questions which demand to know why you want to apply for this role.”
The entire job hunt process is utterly disheartening. And that’s before you even consider the rise of unemployment since the start of the pandemic, which has affected the younger generations the most with 60% of those who lost their job between June and August 2020, in the Covid-19 pandemic, were between 18-24 years old. Getting the job doesn’t mean the nightmare is over though; Horgan expertly details the tricks and traps employers play to convince their workers into higher rates of productivity and further exploitation, often without any rise in wage. Employers trick us all into overtime and extra shifts by acting as if we’re all one big happy family, and not contracted labourers for their profit.
Lost in Work is a succinct outline of how work has become our entire existence. A year of worldwide trauma, brought on by Covid-19, has made us horrifyingly aware of our cage. Those of us who worked from home were forced to continue a 9 to 5 job, whilst bosses found ways to track productivity through computer software. Many of us were supposed to be grateful for the furlough we were given, dismissing the fact that many people were barely scraping by on their full wage pre-pandemic.
“Employers trick us all into overtime and extra shifts by acting as if we’re all one big happy family, and not contracted labourers for their profit.”
During the pandemic, those who were unemployed were placed under more pressure to find a job by media platforms that churned out articles and infographics framing lockdown as an opportunity of a life time for increased productivity. ‘Start that side hustle, polish off your CV, organise your inbox!’, many of them read. The number of people unemployed has risen, but still the pressure continues. This is because, as Horgan points out, under the watchful gaze of capitalist society, “to be unemployed is to have failed”.
From our experience at university, to applying to the work itself, “Capitalism’s defining feature, work… is a curtailment of the possibilities of our lives”. When I applied for a place at university, much like many of the children of boomers, I was told it would be the best years of my life. The reality did not meet up with the fantasy.
Instead of life changing moments, I found myself tangled in a web of strikes, overworked lecturers and extortionately high rent rates for morbid containment advertised as sociable student accommodation. Universities are now modelling themselves after businesses rather than centres for education, working harder on maximising profit and minimising jobs than providing what students are paying for. Horgan accurately details the immense bureaucracy that goes into keeping the neoliberal universities’ afloat and profiting, demonstrating the detriment this has to both staff and students.
“We no longer dream of adventure, love and passion, but about steady salaries that allow for freedom from the shackles of ever rising rent.”
For many of us, the degrees that were supposed to jumpstart our career and our lives as well-adjusted successful members of society, left us anxious messes reeling from years of neglect and exploitation. From a young age it has been drilled into many of us that a career was vital for our fulfilment. So, we worked hard at GCSEs and A-Levels, went to universities that treated us like check books and worked diligently for what we were promised.
We no longer dream of adventure, love and passion, but about steady salaries that allow for freedom from the shackles of ever rising rent. What should be mundane waking realities have become the stuff of distant and unrealistic fantasies.
To phrase it in the immortal words of icon and pop star Olivia Rodriguez:
‘And I’m so tired that I might
Quit my job, start a new life
And they’d all be so disappointed
‘Cause who am I, if not exploited?’
“Horgan uses these awful working realities to argue for unions and the importance of solidarity over individuality. It is not about finding your own way out of the broken system, but dismantling it entirely for the benefit of us all.”
This book could be a bottomless pit of moaning – and I’d still read it and nod along, because which non-millionaire is happy with these circumstances? – but Horgan uses these awful working realities to argue for unions and the importance of solidarity over individuality. It is not about finding your own way out of the broken system, but dismantling it entirely for the benefit of us all.
While we can make small rebellions to steal back precious time, Horgan states that this is not the answer. She gives the example that if we refuse to do our own housework, for the sake of our feminist revolution, many will then pay struggling women to do the jobs they have deemed too demeaning for themselves – forcing others into the shackles of labour in order to free ourselves.
Horgan’s debut is a lament for the workers of the world, which does not discriminate against the unpaid domestic, freelance or factory worker. Alongside facts and statistics that horrify, Horgan routinely drops in a pop, literary or film reference which further demonstrates how work consumes the mind including our creative outlets.
Regardless of what tactics capitalism uses to devalue and disrespect you, this book is for all oppressed and defined by the yolk. It speaks of the all-consuming trap of work that we all find ourselves stuck in. Lost in Work’s rally against the working world resonates to our very cores, because it’s filled with nightmare truths that affect almost every living body. The mere mention of work, overtime, and wages makes the body tense and the mind flinch. No outside force should be necessary to tell us what we already feel, and Lost in Work inspires the call for change that is coming from inside the house.
You can get your copy of Lost in Work from Pluto Press now.
Billie Walker is a London based writer and host of the horror film podcast No Humans Involved on Repeater Radio. She is often found chasing the sun round her garden with a Campari based drink, a bucket of olives and a bad book. @billierwalker
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