The gap between the rich and the poor is no new divide. But the Occupy movements popping up in cities across the globe have encouraged us to examine this in greater detail. On the back of an economic storm chiefly attributed to sticky-fingered oligarchs, is it time to ask what exactly is the value of our work? A lynchpin of the western economic dream has always been the idea that hard work equals financial success. But is the reality of our uncertain economic times blasting copper-shaped holes in this ideal?
Recently, we’ve seen a truck-load of brands cueing the codes of good hard work – from Dr Marten’s Art of Industrial Manufacture to the Volkswagen Crafter campaign. The win for brands is clear: the lore of the labourer is rife with notions of honesty, determination and craftsmanship. While it may be nice to think of these values as virtues in their own right, what happens to the myths of hard work when hard work no longer pays dividends?
Increasingly, in the West, we’re tipping from manufacture to immaterial production, putting a new face on labour. Whilst manual hard work is often romanticised as character building, hard work in the office is treated as a bit of a nuisance, and the best paid work lies in the purely abstracted worlds of financial markets governed by algorithms. Hasn’t the time come for us to take off our industrial gloves forever, and admit that the rugged man who makes his way by the skin of his knuckles and the sweat of his brow has become the stuff of legend?