Theater of Cruelty

Modernity and exclusion

The new Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, like the previous Minister, is keen to get more people into the working life. The question is whether he encounters certain basic features of our kind of economy – and modern, global capitalism.


During the 1990s has work line has been established as a target for the authorities and the large organizations in the labor market in their employment and labor market policies. In short, this implies that one must try to secure a place in the working life for all who want it and who are able to make a reasonable effort. The line of work seems, even internationally, to have more or less displaced the view that we must accept and live with a high level of unemployment and that many fall outside the ordinary working life. Some felt it was better to give these people an opportunity for a dignified life through good welfare schemes, such as a general citizen's salary at some level. Ten or fifteen years ago, this view was probably stronger, perhaps especially among groups of researchers and other experts in the world of work. That was before the discussions about the coming wave of old age really hit the political agenda, and many believed that new technology and rationalizations in working life would create labor surpluses in Western countries, not deficits that most people now fear.

This fear of lack of labor, perhaps especially in an expanding care sector, is one of the workforce's deeper driving forces. Another such impetus is the burden that the so-called elderly surge will put on public budgets, health and care expenses, and not least for pensions and social security. In this sense, there are also ideological aspects of the government's line of work. One may well believe that the best thing for people is to be at work, be included, while at the same time it is of vital importance to emphasize that unnecessary and expensive early retirement and other forms of early retirement must be avoided.

It is against this backdrop that the authorities and organizations in the working world came together on the IA project, the struggle for a more inclusive working life in 2001. This is a very comprehensive and commendable project that has little to no parallel in other western countries. One has succeeded in getting the workplaces of over 60 per cent of Norwegian workers to become so-called IA companies, with special measures linked to reducing sick leave, including people with reduced working capacity and retaining older workers. One has also succeeded in reducing sickness absence significantly, but not in reducing disability insurance, which is still increasing (new access). At the same time, many more have now been transferred to professional attorneys, as the requirements for disability insurance have been tightened. In a slightly broader perspective, we can still be struck by the fact that roughly every quarter of Norwegians of working age (about 600000-700000) are in the margins of working life, that is, one of the welfare schemes; unemployment benefit, sickness benefit, attending, medical rehabilitation, disability benefit or unwanted part-time work.

This should indicate that the exclusion processes and the exclusion from the working life are very comprehensive. A broad and diverse collection of individuals is on the outskirts of working life, with the problems this can cause in the form of reduced / low income, lack of work / professional identity and reduced self-esteem for many. Although in Norway we do not have exclusion and poverty problems in the same way as in some other Western countries, with the US and the UK at the forefront, we also see here the contours of a new subclass of excluded, that is, people with a marginal relationship to work and also consumption at a standard level.

Is it so that you work in vain "against the flow", against the strong exclusionary forces of globalized capitalism? The Bondevik II government endorsed many neoliberal principles in labor and labor policy and had a desire for a more flexible labor market where the labor force is more mobile. In principle, this does not harmonize well with the IA work. But, at the same time, one focused on the IA work, at least the previous government's Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Dagfinn Høybråten took this seriously, though the enthusiasm was not as great with Finance Minister Per Kristian Foss.

I myself believe that the IA work is important and one can point to many individual companies where one has succeeded in the inclusive work. There is room for maneuver in many places, despite the exclusion mechanisms of the economy and working life.

Yet, one is left with the question whether such mechanisms are a more or less inherent feature of global capitalism. Several key social thinkers have come up with such notions that exclusion is one of the basic mechanisms of capitalism. Already Karl Marx pointed to the industrial reserve army, the labor reserves of early liberal capitalism that could be deployed and withdrawn according to the needs of the system and in line with its cyclical fluctuations. We also find interesting thoughts at Rosa Luxemburg. She believed that capitalism as an economic system was entirely dependent on an outer space where it could expand and trigger internal tensions. Thus, nineteenth-century capitalism had an inner drive towards imperialism, which became a necessity for securing production at home and for the system not to collapse.

Zygmunt Bauman, one of the most widely read sociologists of our time, has dwelt in the "postulate" of Luxembourg. Already in "Postmodern Ethics" from 1993, he analyzed the downfall drive of modernity based on a notion that modernity depends on expanding, finding new space outside its core areas, to succeed in maintaining order at home. This is elaborated on in the book "Wasted Lives" (2004) where he states that there is no longer a new space that can be conquered by modernity. Global capitalism penetrates into every peripheral corner of the globe. The redundancy of people that capitalism generally creates is thus also taking place globally, threatening to turn against ourselves, in the form of mass unemployment in developing countries and an endless number of immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants to the western countries. Also a thinker like French idea historian Michel Foucault has in a slightly different way pointed out basic exclusionary features of modernity, although this is about special groups that were defined as deviants and about their discipline. Through their studies of i.a. he has shown how deviant groups earned the legitimation of emerging modernity and became objects of cultural discourses of power. At the same time, they became the subject of social exclusion through their own socio-material devices and institutions.

In recent Marxist political-economy we also find the idea of ​​capitalism's inherent spatial expansionist desire. David Harvey, in his book "The New Imperial Man" (2005), attempts to show how so-called over-accumulation crises, that is, where capital is unable to find profitable investment objects for available capital, leads to attempts to solve this situation through spatial movement. In practice, this means that a multinational group, for example, searches for other regions that are more suitable for new investments in factories and production equipment. It may be that the labor force is cheaper, the tax level is lower, the level of education is higher, electricity in the new region. Thereby, the inclusion and especially exclusion of such capital movements. Financial capital can also cause social exclusion, as we saw in the context of the Asian crisis in the late 1990s, when massive amounts of capital are suddenly injected or withdrawn from a region.

The exclusion processes we are striving for in Norway are ultimately related to a web of economic and social interaction and money and capital transactions on a global scale. A good example is the dispute over Union in Skien. Therefore, in order to understand the exclusion processes in Norway, it is important to gain a better grasp of how the neoliberal global market economy works. Of particular interest are the movement of capital, and investment and localization decisions in the multinational corporations, but also how the national states facilitate, or possibly provide specific guidance for, global capital. Neither should one underestimate neoliberalism as an ideology. In some contexts, decisions about restructuring, staffing, outsourcing, demergers and mergers boil down to American-imported notions if this is something that must be accomplished.

The global planet it is otherwise difficult for Norwegian players to relate to. One can only work here long-term so that new social and economic institutions in the future can manage the world economy in a more humane and sensible way. Here, the more constructive parts of the so-called anti-globalization movement play an important role as pressure groups for a new global economic policy, although significant changes must probably emerge from various forums or gatherings of nations and supranational bodies such as the UN and the EU. In the meantime, we can make the most of the room for maneuver we are able to create through things like IA work. We can also set expectations that the new red-green government can also create such room for maneuver, so that it tries to intervene in the exclusion processes. The red-greens have already changed some decisions the Bondevik II government has been behind. This primarily applies to the new working environment law, which allows for more temporary work, poorer protection against dismissal and more overtime work, things that are not exactly in line with IA work. Conditions for the unemployed can also be improved. Based on its neoliberal incentive thinking, the Bondevik II government has reduced the unemployment period from three to two years, and worsened the economic situation for the unemployed. The unemployed will then be put under greater pressure to actively seek work, it was thought. In poverty policy, one has not succeeded in his "tailoring" -orientering, with emphasis on more needs testing of measures for the most needy, in the classical liberalist spirit. In these and other fields, the red-greens have a potential for action.

Still, one should be able to take it one step further. Why not have a basic debate about what the work really is, should and can be, and launch a new donor for the entire working life, where one again tries to highlight the non-instrumental aspects of the work? With Marx, work should involve formation, be a business in which one realizes himself as a human being. The importance of the work as an identity creation and as an arena for social communities and a place where those with certain flaws can participate, can again come into focus. For many years, on many sides and far into the left, it has been accepted that the work has been absorbed as one of the alienating spheres of modern society, as an arena for the exchange of technical knowledge and benefits against wages. Even a leading social thinker like Jürgen Habermas has not attempted to evade the working life of the dominance of instrumental system rationality in his theory of modernity. Here it opens up an opportunity for the red-green to take an exciting ideological initiative.

Øystein Nilsen is a Doctor of Sociology.

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