James Bloodworth's new book is a refreshing antidote to fashionable post-work theses, and reminds us that bad work degrades us allby Jon Cruddas / March 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
James Bloodworth’s unflinching account of life and work in the towns we have come to know as being “left behind” exposes the mercilessness of the low-wage economy and modern capitalism. Working in a warehouse, a call centre, as a care worker and an Uber driver, he finds insecurity, ruthless discipline, surveillance, atomisation, underpayment and underemployment.
Workers are treated as mere units of production, squeezed for maximum efficiency. Nor does the exploitation end at work: the unscrupulousness of agencies and landlords—one of the rooms he stays in has a cardboard partition—drain any sense of control from the lives of his subjects.
While not romanticising the working class, Bloodworth is critical of some liberals who caricature them as uneducated and intolerant. He exposes how degrading working and living conditions shape how people see their relationships, bodies, diets and other people—not least immigrants and politicians.
Hired is a refreshing antidote to the fashionable post-work theses written from steel-and-ivory towers, which want us to sidestep the political imperative of improving the quality of work in favour of demanding full automation and free money. Bloodworth’s interviews reveal that meaningful work offers a sense of dignity, solidarity, support networks and community identity.
The Left must again, he insists, pay attention to “the boring stuff”: the length of toilet breaks, rules governing agency workers and so on. We fail to realise the importance of such seemingly small things because we have stopped listening.
Today the study of employment conditions is being done by enterprising journalists rather than academics. Hired suggests we need once again to put the study of modern labour relations centre stage. Not least to understand our deepening sense of national decay.
Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain by James Bloodworth is published by Atlantic, £12.99