[Marxism] Why is labour unpleasant?

michael perelman michael at ecst.csuchico.edu
Sat Oct 13 13:37:28 MDT 2007

Here is a short section from my book, Transcending the Economy

========== Farm Work vs. Gardening
   In order to understand the potential for transforming the economy, 
let me use a simple example that does not require much of a stretch of 
the imagination.  Just think of the enormous contrast between farm work 
for wages and gardening as a hobby.  Farm work is considered to be so 
abhorrent in the United States that we regularly hear that only 
foreign-born workers are willing to perform it.  Supposedly, citizens of 
the United States would never be willing to subject themselves to the 
life of a farm worker.
   While farm labor may be among the hardest, most dangerous work in our 
society, many people regard gardening as a pleasant diversion.  While 
the United Farm Workers Union represents mostly downtrodden workers, a 
good number of wealthy people are proud affiliates of their blue-blood 
garden clubs.  Over and above the time that they spend in their gardens, 
many gardeners enthusiastically devote considerable leisure time to 
conversing or reading in order to become better gardeners.  In addition, 
many gardeners also willingly spend substantial sums for equipment and 
supplies to use in their gardens.
   What, then, is the underlying difference between farm work and 
gardening?  Farm work typically entails hard physical labor, but many 
gardeners also exert themselves in their gardens.  The difference lies 
in the context of gardening.  Gardeners, unlike farm workers, freely 
choose to be gardeners.  During their free time when they work in their 
gardens, they want to be gardening.  Nobody tells them what to do.  Of 
course, gardeners are not entirely free to follow their whims.  The 
rhythms of the seasons and the sudden shifts in the weather dictate some 
of what the gardeners do, but gardeners generally accept these demands 
   As the psychologist, John Neulinger says:  "Everyone knows the 
difference between doing something because one has to and doing 
something because one wants to" (Neulinger 1981, p. 15).  We should also 
keep in mind that society respects gardeners.  Our newspapers regularly 
print features of interest to gardeners.  Some even have special 
sections to appeal to their affluent gardening readers.  All the while, 
the lives of farm workers generally pass virtually unnoticed.  After 
all, in our society, farm work is not "respectable" work in the sense 
that well-to-do families would not approve of their children becoming 
   If we paid farm workers as well as those who labor on Wall Street and 
accorded farm workers the sort of dignity that college professors enjoy, 
parents might still try to steer their children away from farm work 
because of the frequent exposure to potentially lethal toxins.  But 
then, if society esteemed farm workers, farmer owners would not and 
could not spray them with impunity.
   Gardeners engage in a modest sort of passionate labor.  They tend to 
take pride in their gardens.  They work with care and joy.  They can 
take pleasures in their surroundings and feel a part of nature.
   Farm workers take orders or, if they work by the piece, they must 
concentrate all their energies on picking an enormous quantity of fruits 
and vegetables, just to make ends meet.  Recall how the short-handled 
hoe was designed to put a quick stop to any possible reveries about the 
farm workers' surroundings.
   Our goal in making society work for the betterment of all people 
would be to convert our economy from something that resembles a nation 
of a few farmers working a multitude of farm workers into a new kind of 
economy that resembled a community of gardeners, in which workers would 
have good reason to attack their jobs with a sense of care, pride, joy 
and even exhilaration.


Michael Perelman
Economics Department
California State University
michael at ecst.csuchico.edu
Chico, CA 95929
fax 530-898-5901

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