Feudalism Nouveau


Another 1st of May has come and gone – a festive celebration of outdoor barbecues. A holiday that is deeply cherished in the region as it often falls very close to either Catholic or Orthodox Easter, which in turn allows for a convenient, mini vacation to take place if the dates coincide as they did this year. There are still a few people who actually refer to the 1st of May as Labor Day, though I am pretty certain that younger generations identify the labor with the amount of work that the holiday entails in getting the right meat, oiling up the barbecue, getting the wood and charcoal and providing enough beer, wine and soft drinks as well as getting the people together for the picnic.

I can only imagine a scene where an old guy tries to explain the Labour Day to a group of youngsters  as a memory of workers fighting for the 8-8-8! Can you see the confounded face of the teenager, wondering how he never heard of the 8-8-8 thingy, thinking for himself that people fought in the past for a right to protect their phones with a three-digit pass code? I also find it unimaginable that the old guy would engage in a conversation explaining that the 8-8-8 stands for laborers fight to have “Eight hours’ labor. Eight hours’ recreation. Eight hours’ rest”. Due to an insurmountable generational gap, any further discussions would necessarily end there.

And just to be clear, I am not of the opinion that the confounded teenager is uninformed or poorly educated. The Labor Day belongs to the distant past, despite the fact that barely a hundred years have passed from the moment the cause was established and celebrations ensued – which in current turn of events makes a lot of sense. In the same way that the previous technological revolution, the industrial one, lead to a complete, systemic shift in the politics, the economy, the social pyramid and creation of the working class, the IT revolution is profoundly changing the core of today’s society. Working class and laborers are practically extinct, and working hours are just a technical piece of information when a coffee shop, a store or a public administration office is open.

Can you envision employees of Google, Facebook or Apple starting a strike, demanding 8-hour working day? The question is not even funny; it just doesn’t make any sense. For anyone working in one of these companies, they represent so much more than just a job and an office. The campuses were designed by world-renown architects and interior designers and encompass canteens and restaurants that cater the best quality free meals, premium healthcare, kindergartens, babysitting, state-of-the-art fitness centers, meditation rooms, dog walking and pet-care facilities, fully stocked shops, free hotel accommodation when an employee pulls an all-nighter, free transport to and from work and many other extraordinary feats. These campuses in terms of structure and organization are contemporary medieval fortress-cities where new-age Lords live and rule with their support staff, while the land outside the gates is reserved for “peasantry”.

This resemblance is also informed not by the might and glory of the new centers of power, but by the growing misery of the city areas in their vicinity that up until yesterday were cultural, economic and political centers of urban life. One of the biggest problems that San Francisco and Bay Area are facing today – where many of the Silicon Valley titans are located – is the problem of homeless people. The homeless numbers have not necessarily increased. The problem is that from many parts of the city where homeless people enjoyed a certain level of protection, evictions started to happen. Being forced to leave made them more vulnerable and visible at the same time. The evictions and resulting migrations were a consequence of the increase of prices in residential property development in the area, which was booming thanks to the number of individuals wanting to live close to the gates of the new centers of power where they sell their labor. The problem with the homeless people in SF Bay Area is just one of the many indicators of the booming social inequality; and it is also an issue that current political and social protection systems are incapable of tackling efficiently. This is a result of the capital-oriented subordination that happens outside the ivory towers of the new-age power holders.

The problem is a global one. Besides, just like in medieval times, new-age Lords control their mercenaries and manors around the world. In certain places those are business ventures in third-world countries where labor is cheap and profits are high. There is a special appreciation for countries offering fewer alternatives to their residents, which means that the price of labor is lower than in other comparable markets, as well as countries in which local vassals are effectively keeping the modern peasantry under control by virtue of different tactics. What is more, many of the local vassals will provide financial stimulus to global Lords for an opportunity to offer their own subjects and their labor as that in turn yields profits for themselves.

Does the fight for eight-hour workday make more sense now, when we look at things from this perspective?

Long live the 1st of May – the cherished holiday of whatever!

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