The thing I’m most mystified about currently in terms of the way people talk and think about the internet is the almost total disdain for traditional labor issues. Everything is about economic efficiency and service to the consumer. If something can save you, as a customer, some measure of time or annoyance, it’s worth employees being fired, or working without health insurance, or losing any perks the profession might have provided. This has been most noticeable in the case of the music industry: scratch a comment box about piracy and you’re likely to find some argument that just because you work as a musician doesn’t mean you deserve to get paid for it. since that would inconvenience listeners. But you can see it in the cases of the postal service, the media, and now the educational system, too. In all cases, the hard-fought protections for workers that have been built up are opposed for resulting in a sub-optimal user experience, and so therefore they must be abolished.

This argument is morally untenable from self-identifying leftists, and so the language it’s couched in is one of historical inevitability. You see it clearly in Clay Shirkey’s recent writings about MOOCs and higher education: it’s not so much that online education would be universally better as it is that it’s coming whether we like it or not, and the only possible response is to get out of the way. If you’re limiting your historical scope to the last couple decades, when laissez-faire economics have been the norm and we’re all suspicious of regulations, then maybe that makes sense. But to broaden the scope to the history of the labor movement in general (and all of these things are at least partially labor issues: see, for instance, Amanda Palmer trying to screw over unionized musicians), the idea that workers should have looked at the massive and unavoidable changes wrought by industrialization and said “well, nothing we can do about that, let’s just succumb to its logic” is inconceivable.

The system is changing, as the system is always changing, and we’re negotiating that as best we can. The issue here is that some of those changes are being driven by economic interests hostile to the labor rights of the workers in the current system, and that is the precise point at which we’d want the government to step in - or, at the very least, for an organized movement of those workers to actively resist those changes, rather than simply rolling over and accepting a lower quality of life because the government couldn’t get its shit together to fix the looming problems in higher education, music, or whatever industry we’re disrupting today. It’s a blinkered view. All consumers are also laborers, after all. But despite our deep concern for our rights when we’re occupying one of those roles, we’re utterly dismissive of the rights we might have when occupying the other.

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  8. minimoonstar said: Everything is identity politics and Internet-loving white collars have a mistaken belief they’re not proles (though being in the lower rungs of IT/digital is the same as being a factory worker back when only with less protection)
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