The Labor Omnimarket

I’m a writer by temperament. Left to my own devices, most of what I do is sit around, take notes in books, and write. I have a degree in journalism which I’ve never used for a job except a two week gig with a local newspaper that was transitioning to digital and was being run by a woman whose background was in online marketing. She decided after I’d done the work that I’d “broken the contract” because I turned in an article an hour late and never paid me. The article was on a Halloween “Witch Walk” event where middle aged women walked around drinking in witch hats. I forget what the exact quotes I got were. Something like “I’m drunk and I’m wearing a hat.”

It was, of course, very hard to take seriously.

Much of what was taught in the Baruch journalism program was a combination of internet marketing techniques and weird brain-dead paeans to the infallibility and wondrous prestige of the New York Times, where many of my professors had worked at varying points. They were scared people, incredibly insecure they weren’t “real” writers, whatever that means. They kept showing us Edward R. Murrow videos to show the shift in broadcast journalism. I’d read Marshall McLuhan, Chomsky, Neil Postman, and Robert W. McChesney by that point. It was a big waste of time and most of the time they would let me just skip classes to go to the library. The school did have an excellent library, with extensive inter-library loan services.

I came out of college into a non-existent job market. Journalism as a thing someone can make a living on just isn’t there anymore. The advertisers have figured out how to control the content in a manner more insidious than the classic narrative of the evil guy with a cigar telling the plucky lady in the movie to kill the story. The pay-per-click creates an environment for the writer where their primary editors are Google, Facebook, and Twitter. Bizarre nonsense stylistics dictated by computers, or the highly coveted demographic of readers who like to read endless, support group style restatements of the same story.

The professors claimed over and over again that strict stylistic guidelines yielded more “truth.” This is, of course, just Taylorization in its prose form-text must be “efficient”, “simple”, “broken down”. It saves more time later on when the consumer does his part in the assembly line of the culture. The lesson being that “truth” itself is just a shifting style guide.


Marx pointed out that chattel slavery was phased out in favor of the wage slavery of the factories because the latter was more efficient for the employer/plantation owner. The employer didn’t have to provide housing or maintenance for the thing he was buying, and could return it any time if he wasn’t satisfied.

The contemporary bourgeoisie wants one better.

Some of you might remember my soda fountain of babel that could fabricate soda flavors endlessly and was only limited by the imagination of the person ordering the soda. Soda though is something that’s mostly consumed by poor people. The bourgeoisie define themselves as consumers in their purchase of labor.

The Amazon style “everything store” of labor is a thing the logistics of which are being bitterly fought over. What’s not controversial is that it resembles/is a temp agency and feudalism in almost equal measures. The website for Triple Crown Consulting, an “HR and staffing firm” sums up the manifest destiny of the future (present?) labor market quite concisely on their home page: “We deliver the technical consultant and direct hire talent you need to aggressively compete in an ever-changing economy.” But even here, there’s a missing part-the most advanced model is the firm as temp agency for itself.

Uber, which claims their employees are “independent” so as to avoid the burdens of upkeep and legal liabilities that come with having traditional employees, is probably the most prominent example. They represent a post-industrial feudalism based around land rent paid for the “real estate” of their website and app. Amazon’s “independent sellers” work similarly. Examples are everywhere.

The cheap day laborers that stand outside Home Depot or Lowes are so ubiquitous as to pretty much be part of the stores themselves at this point. What the internet presents the consumer is the possibility of pure product unencumbered by the unreliable variable of human interaction. As media are extensions of man, some media are recursive extensions of other media. The screen is an extension of the checkout counter to make the person on the other side not a person and therefore able to be controlled and endlessly duplicated. The physical products themselves are increasingly being moved out to warehouses that no one sees except the exploited labor who pull things out of them to be shipped to buyers.

I wonder how far off we are from just having all the temp workers and day laborers themselves stored in giant warehouses waiting to be bought, or more likely, rented like Zipcars. The decentralized labor camp. The omnitemp agency. To some extent, the rudiments of this already exist in a primitive form in the Mechanical Turk. Perhaps this is the more advanced form; the company doesn’t even have to house them in bunks and the workers are invisible and only paid when, in the vague language of the Turk homepage “the employer/”requester”) is satisfied with the results”.

So we progress from the chattel slave to the wage slave to the Turk.

Most writing and journalism work out there at the moment resembles Mechanical Turk except that Mechanical Turk probably pays out sometimes. My professors were right to be nostalgic. They were looking at a dead thing.


Guest post by Daniel Levine. Check out his first book here. He also just released a comedy album which you can hear selections from for free here.

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