News

Debunking the Myths of Modern Work at Tribune

Airelle Perrouin reviewed Work Won’t Love You Back alongside Amelia Horgan’s excellent Lost in Work for Tribune magazine. She writes:

People everywhere are challenging the narratives that characterise work as a route out of poverty, or to self-actualisation, because for most, neither holds true: in modern Britain, hard work simply does not guarantee a life of dignity, or safety, or fulfilment. A widely circulated meme captures a shift in attitudes, particularly among the young: ‘Darling I don’t have a dream job, I don’t dream of labour.’ In the current context, this can be read as an indictment of the myths of work as much as work itself: we might dream more of labour, for example, had that dreaming not been made into an act of labour itself – or were the current conditions of labour not so bleak. But how long will this shift last – and how far will it go?

Any solution to existing problems must be on a much larger, more radical scale than anything previously imagined. While Work Won’t Love You Back and Lost in Work provide accessible histories of capitalism and deconstruct the mythos of modern work, they ultimately remain focused on the future: Jaffe and Horgan never lose sight of who and what they’re fighting for – and despite plenty of righteous anger, both books are, ultimately, beacons of hope. As Horgan puts it, ‘We can’t get our lives back without radically changing the very foundation of society.’

Read the whole thing at Tribune
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What Does It Even Mean To Be ‘Burnt Out’ These Days? at Refinery29

I spoke with Daisy Schofield for Refinery29 for a story on the ubiquity of “burnout” and what gets missed in those discussions. She writes:

People may also be more likely to say they are experiencing burnout because the term can be worn as a badge of honour. As Sarah Jaffe, author of Work Won’t Love You Back, writes: “We’re supposed to value ‘busy’ and ‘productive’, and capital has always valued these things. Bosses want us to work as much as and as hard as we possibly can. The expectation that we’ve internalised this as employees, rather than as bosses, is a relatively new thing.”Sarah says this idea that we should prize productivity above all else marks a shift away from the industrial model – such as work in the coal mines – where employment was seen as more adversarial. In today’s hustle culture, “being super busy is somehow a sign that we have status, when usually, it’s just a sign that we don’t get paid enough.” The term ‘burnout’, Sarah argues, has become inextricably bound up with this idea that we should love our jobs. As she puts it: “Burnout becomes the space between being told that you should love your job and the reality that your job still sucks.”Do we need a new language to talk about burnout, or one that more explicitly deglorifies overwork, such as ‘toxic productivity‘? Sarah is unconvinced. “Literally, productivity is killing us, as individuals and the planet. So there’s sort of no ‘non-toxic’ productivity,” she says. While terms such as burnout have become “vacated of meaning … their origins were really powerful,” Sarah notes. “I think it’s useful to drill down into where terms [like burnout] come from, because often, it tells us a lot about what’s actuallygoing on and what we’re actually dealing with.” 

Read the whole thing at Refinery29
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Work (Even the Creative Kind) Won’t Love You Back at Hyperallergic

Eliza Levinson wrote about Work Won’t Love You Back and the art world over at Hyperallergic. Unsurprisingly I loved it. She writes:

In a chapter called, “My Studio Is The World: Art,” Jaffe investigates how art intersects with capitalism. She touches on art’s value both monetarily and spiritually, as well as unionizing efforts in the US and Mexico that have made artmaking more accessible across races and classes since the 1920s. 

Reading “My Studio Is The World: Art” laid bare some of my more internalized beliefs about art, work, and the art world. Fundamentally, I struggled with the implicit comparison of the plight of those of us in the art world to some of the other workers the book describes — domestic care workers and teachers; people who, as the pandemic revealed, were already being forced into precarity both financially and physically. Weren’t we choosing this path, not undertaking it because we had to? Who would an artist, the paragon of a bossless worker, even appeal to for recognition? 

As Jaffe describes, this tension is familiar within the discourse of art workers’ rights. The longstanding belief that artmaking comes from motives outside of capitalism — love, or even “genius” — continues to fuel a sense among artists, art institutions, art schools, and the state that what we do is not work, nor are we workers. 

Read the whole thing at Hyperallergic
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Why Are We Expected to Love Our Jobs? at Yes Magazine

Alex Gallo-Brown at Yes Magazine reviewed Work Won’t Love You Back! An excerpt:

 I don’t quite remember when the relationship between us began to change. It might have been when I showed up to work one gray morning and there were hardly any customers at all. Rather than pay me my hourly wage of $7.75 to stand behind an empty counter, he told me to “bop around for a little while” and come back when there were more customers. When I received a paycheck that paid me for several hours less than the hours I had actually worked, he explained, “You weren’t working hard enough.” Another time, he quoted me one hourly wage but paid me a lesser rate. These are classic examples of wage theft, but at the time the only thing I understood was that if I wanted to keep working in the pizza booth, I had to play by his rules. 

I worked that job for another five summers. In some strange way, I loved working in the pizza booth. But the pizza booth (to riff on the title of labor journalist Sarah Jaffe’s new book) did not love me back. My boss was not my friend, and he certainly wasn’t my family. He was merely a person who held power over me, and his primary allegiance was to his bottom line. As I moved on to other food service jobs—alongside stints as a caregiver for people with disabilities, political canvasser, adjunct community college instructor, and nonprofit administrator, among many other gigs—it was a lesson that I would learn again and again. Work was a way to make one’s living, pointedly not a place to find happiness or develop one’s sense of identity, although it could sometimes be fun or even rewarding.

Read the rest at Yes Magazine
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‘The future sucks’: why the work you love won’t love you back at OpenDemocracy

I spoke with Natalia Savalyeva at OpenDemocracy about Work Won’t Love You Back, and quoted comrade Patrick Blanchfield on “the future sucks.” She writes:

Twenty years into the 21st century, most people in the west want to have a job that they love. And, vice versa, we expect that this love – our inspiration, devotion and care – will provide us with deep fulfillment, even satisfaction with who we are as individuals and how we lead our lives.

Yet very often the opposite happens: the “love what you do” principle supports the exploitation and devaluation of labour, as well as cutting back on social protection and welfare guarantees. You can love your work, but as US labour journalist Sarah Jaffe reminds us in her new book, it won’t love you back.

In Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted and Alone, Jaffe draws on her deep experience reporting on workplace organising in the US to explore why love is not a necessary component of our jobs, how the whole idea of the “labour of love” brought us to the edge of global crises, and how we can change it for the better – by fighting for our rights as workers, and changing how our societies are organised socially, politically and economically.

Read the whole thing at OpenDemocracy
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Praxis Makes Perfect at Chompsky Blog

I spoke with the Chompsky: Power and Pop Culture blog about organizing, the media, and my career path. Read an excerpt:

Each interview will focus on praxis: action that allows you to put into practice whatever the interviewee’s work centers around – today’s is: Organising.

This week I talked to Sarah Jaffe, an American reporter and author who writes about labo(u)r issues. She is currently, alongside numerous other excellent freelance journalists, a Type Media Fellow meaning that her work is so good, that a nonprofit pays her specifically to do that and only that. And if you read enough Chompsky or know anything about the current state of jobs in journalism, you’ll know how special that is.

I’m particularly interested in her work because she tells human stories about work and organising, from history and today, with humour, illuminating in an accessible way the hidden mechanisms of exactly how the workplace works.

Read the rest at Chompsky
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A job you love at Il Tascabile

Another Italian interview! And a good moment to tell you that Work Won’t Love You Back will be translated into Italian and published in Italy by Minimum Fax. More details when I have them! But in the meantime, I spoke with Irene Doda for Il Tascabile and you can read it in Italian or click the little translate button and read in English too. An excerpt:

Precisely this “work of love” is the theme of the essay by American journalist Sarah Jaffe entitled Work Won’t Love You Back – which can be translated as “The work does not return your love”, forthcoming by minimum fax. Jaffe follows the story of the labor of love starting with those typically female tasks in the Fordist economic framework: domestic work and care work. But from the feminized nursing professions such as babysitting, to the role of teachers, to third sector and art professionals, Jaffe reconstructs the role of love and dedication in the neoliberal economy, to arrive at defining emotions as an everlasting sphere. more present and decisive in wage labor. The “work of love” makes workers potentially blackmailable, precisely by virtue of the devotion to their profession. We discussed with Sarah Jaffe about various themes that cross her essay, to reflect on how to frame the phenomenon of the labor of love in the contemporary world. 

Read the whole thing at Il Tascabile
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Work Won’t Love Us Back at The Forge

I chatted with Lena Eckert-Erdheim at The Forge to talk about what inspired her new book, the work of organizing, and the urgency of transforming the way that we think and feel about work. An excerpt:

There’s a difference between the dignity of work and the dignity of workers.

Right. Exactly. And also, there are a lot of people who can’t work. There are a lot of people who are unemployed right now because half of capitalism is shut down. There are a lot of people who have disabilities, who are ill, who are old, who are retired, who are children, who cannot, should not, do not need to work and are also still dignified human beings. This idea that you’re only worth something if you work, we’ve seen where that gets us. It gets us the lieutenant governor of Texas saying grandma would be happy to die to keep capitalism going. It gets us denying prisoners COVID vaccines because they’re not productive citizens. It leads to people justifying people dying of COVID because they already had a disability or an illness. I don’t think fetishizing work gets us anywhere good, and that’s stuff that I’ve learned from disability rights movements, elder’s rights movements, and prison abolitionists.

Read the rest at The Forge.
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Work is Unrequited Love at VD

Continuing my virtual trip around the world, I spoke to Davide Schiavon at Italian magazine VD about Work Won’t Love You Back:

“Do what you like: A mentality that is told very well by Sarah Jaffe, American journalist, in her book Work will not love you back ( The work does not reciprocate your love ), released in January for The Bold Type , American publisher of the Hachette group. The book, not yet translated into Italian, was highly appreciated in the United States. Sarah Jaffe scours the world of work going to the heart of every profession, recounting its hypocrisies through long reportages. There are ten focuses, intense interviews with workers: from the unpaid intern to the teacher on the verge of a nervous breakdown, from the employee of a non-profit to the Amazon warehouse worker, up to the professional athlete. The tyranny of work clearly emerges, leaving no space and time for anything. “How devotion to our works has made us exploited, exhausted and alone” is the emblematic subtitle of the book.

Read the whole thing at VD
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Love and Labour at Not9to5

Elinor Potts interviewed me about Work Won’t Love You Back for Not9to5. She writes:

With the boundaries of work and life increasingly muddled as we work from home through the pandemic, many of us have found ourselves increasingly committed to working as a distraction. As Autonomy reported in their ‘blueprint for the new normal’ report, which we blogged about back in January, 80% of overtime carried out from home goes unpaid, compared to 60% of office work, and during the pandemic, the average workday increased by 8.2% – nearly 50 minutes.  

Exploring the root of our compulsion to work and the realities of emotionally demanding labour, Elinor chatted with Journalist and Author Sarah Jaffe following the recent publication of her new book, Work Won’t Love You Back

Read the whole thing at Not9to5