Marx, minimum wage, and room for improvement

“The job market is tight, the economy is down, and as bright and motivated as you may be, you probably won’t find a job after graduation. No, instead think about this – you’ve found a job, but you’re way overqualified. A lot of you will be graduating in a month and this is what you’ll be faced with – a boring, monotonous, minimum wage job. Is that what you want? Of course not! But why is that?”

To be human is to problem-solve. To deny people the opportunity to problem-solve and to be creative alienates them and removes some element of their humanity.

Although Karl Marx failed to predict the flexibility of capitalism, he was right about one thing – boredom is torturous and labor-for-profit jobs can be a terribly dehumanizing experience. In my anthropology class today, we talked about Marx and my professor intertwined our own reality into Marx’s theory.

All of the soon-to-be graduates can now walk proudly into an establishment and say “Hey, look at me! I can flip burgers, assemble your product, and be an efficient employee, all for a mere $8 an hour. I can follow your monotonous routine down to the T and be another one of your mindless drones. I would just love to be another one of your mindless drones!”

“You don’t want that…of course you don’t! So what are your options? What are you going to do? Well, you could go and get drunk, and stay drunk. You could shop ’til you drop, as many people do. You could lock yourself in a room with your video games, Red Bull, and Ho-Hos. Maybe you’ll call you mother and complain about how miserable your job makes you. But another option is to go out there and improve the situation for yourself. Inject human relations, creativity, and new procedures back into these increasingly dull and meaningless jobs. Go out and make your work meaningful!”

How do you change and improve a situation you’re in when it’s micro-managed from the top down? That’s one thing my professor failed to mention. I anticipate that I will, at least temporarily, find myself in a boring job at which I’m not allowed to express myself or my creativity. How will I deal? A positive attitude? A heart-to-heart with the manager? Leading a retaliation? To be honest, I don’t believe big businesses care about much more than their own profit and growth; they want the base of thier pyamid to be filled with people who trust that the system is being run properly and that the people at the top are concerned for the well-being of the foundation.

Change is clearly possible. Just look at all the advancements made in the past century. Who is responsible for those revolutionary new ideas? Is it the big CEO who goes out golfing in the morning and who sips whiskey in his office while he works? No, it’s the little guys at the bottom who know the system inside and out and can see those many opportunities for improvement firsthand.

Although poignant in nature, my professor’s comments today really made me think about my own situation. I’ve been anxious and upset about my job prospects, but are those feelings even warranted? I don’t know where I’ll be job-wise a month, a year, or a decade from now, but I can assure you that I won’t be here writing about how boring my work is nor complaining about how overqualified and underappreciated I am. Being just another minion, maybe no one will take me seriously, but if I’m actively contemplating ways to improve my own work and the practices of the company, I’m surely better off than the bored young man who is counting down the minutes until his shift ends.