Once upon a time, employees were able to hang their hats at a company and bank on retirement. This sense of stability and loyalty has all but vanished – as neoliberalism has ushered in an epoch of increased precarity. The modern worker is now accustomed to switching jobs many times in their careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average worker born between 1957-1964 held 11.7 jobs amid the ages of 18 and 48. These numbers are only getting worse, as the latest generation of laborers are switching jobs at a rate that nearly doubles that of their parents.
Applying and interviewing for a job are integral aspects of a capitalist economy. Advice for this shadowy process are disseminated under the header of “career development” on college campuses and throughout our communities. The typical workshop provides crucial guidelines to improve the appearance, etiquette, and marketability of prospective employees. Seldom noted among counselors, however, is the fact that the job interview process is humiliating and inhumane.
The means of production (i.e. the resources necessary for our survival – land, raw materials, factories, etc) are owned and controlled by the ruling class. In turn, the masses of people have nothing to offer but their physical and mental labor. A job is an opportunity granted to a powerless laborer by a powerful capitalist to produce wealth in exchange for a wage. Considering this fundamental arrangement, it is inadequate to state we “apply” for jobs. It is more accurate to say we beg for them. Our livelihood is contingent upon the decision of the ruling class to hire us.
The ruling class is not interested in what laborers need for a secure existence; they are only interested in what they need for profit. Desperate for survival, the masses shape themselves in accordance with the needs of employers. Our labor power is exchanged on the market as a commodity. In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, Marx argues that workers “sink to the level of a commodity, and become indeed the most wretched of commodities.” This debasement of labor is only compounded by a competitive atmosphere which requires advertisement to differentiate products. The same way corporations use catchy lyrics and colorful lighting to attract consumers – workers deploy strategies to entice employers. Resumes are formatted so as to capture the attention of employers. When an employer is interested, we are given the chance to run another advertisement: an interview. We are essentially auditioning for the right to survive. We get all suited and booted, and do our best to impress the guy (more often than not!) with the clip-on-tie on the other side of the desk.
Resumes and job interviews shed light on the reasons our economy needs to be re-organized. Under capitalism, people can only survive if they possess productive labor capacities. For this reason, we boil our entire lives down to a single sheet of paper detailing our skills and accolades. Glossed over by the well-crafted document is our need for food, water, shelter, and health care. At every interview, we are asked “why do you want to work here?” Never are we able to say because we have to feed our families and pay the rent.
Our livelihood should not be hinged upon the anarchic desires of capitalists, it should be guaranteed. We need to construct a society that centers the needs of the masses. Instead of organizing work in such a way that we labor to benefit private individuals known as bosses, production should be socialized to benefit all of society. When we move beyond capitalism toward a more humane society, we can actualize Marx’s idea of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”