Refusal of work: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Refusal of work is behavior which refuses to adapt to regular employment[1].

From political positions it has been advocated at various times by many social activist groups, mostly located on the libertarian left. The concept is associated with Libertarian Marxism (Paul Lafargue), the Marxism of the Italian workerist/autonomist tradition (e.g. Toni Negri, Mario Tronti, Bifo)[2], the French ultra-left (e.g. Echanges et Mouvement) - and with anarchism (especially Bob Black and the post-left anarchy tendency)[3].

As actual behavior it has been practiced by various subcultures and individuals.


The concept of wage slavery

Wage slavery refers to a situation where a person is dependent for a livelihood on the wages earned, especially if the dependency is total and immediate.[4][5] The term is used to draw an analogy between slavery and wage labor. Some uses of the term may refer only to an "[un]equal bargaining situation between labor and capital,"[6] particularly where workers are paid unreasonably low wages (e.g. sweatshops). More controversially, others equate it with a lack of workers' self-management[7][8][9] or point to similarities between owning and employing a person, and extend the term to cover a wide range of employment relationships in a hierarchical social environment with limited job-related choices (e.g. working for a wage under threat of starvation, poverty or social stigma).[10][11][12]

Similarities between wage labor and slavery were noted at least as early as Cicero [13] and Aristotle.[14] With the advent of the industrial revolution, thinkers such as Proudhon and Marx elaborated these comparisons in the context of a critique of property not intended for active personal use.[15][16] Before the American Civil War, Southern defenders of African American slavery also invoked the concept of wage slavery to favorably compare the condition of their slaves to workers in the North.[17][18]

The introduction of wage labor in 18th century Britain was met with resistance – giving rise to the principles of syndicalism.[19 ][20 ][21 ][22] The use of the term wage slave by labor organizations may originate from the labor protests of the Lowell Mill Girls in 1836.[23] The imagery of wage slavery was widely used by labor organizations during the mid-19th century to object to the lack of workers' self-management. However, it was gradually replaced by the more pragmatic term "wage work" towards the end of the 19th century, as labor organizations shifted their focus to raising wages.[24][25]

Historically, some groups and individual social activists, have espoused workers' self-management or worker cooperatives as possible alternatives to wage labor.[8][21 ]

Political views

Libertarian marxism

Paul Lafargue author of antiwork book The Right to Be Lazy

Paul Lafargue and The Right To Be Lazy

The Right to Be Lazy is an essay by Cuban-born French revolutionary Marxist Paul Lafargue, written from his prison cell in 1883. It polemicizes heavily against contemporary liberal, conservative and even socialist ideas of work. Lafargues criticizes these ideas from a Marxist perspective as dogmatic and ultimately false by portraying the degeneration and enslavement of human existence when being subsumed under the primacy of the "right to work", and argues that laziness, combined with human creativity, is an important source of human progress.


Autonomism (autonomia), as an identifiable theoretical system, first emerged in Italy in the 1960s from workerist (operaismo) communism. Later, post-Marxist and anarchist tendencies became significant after influence from the Situationists, the failure of the Italian far-left movements in the 1970s and the emergence of a number of important theorists including Antonio Negri, who had contributed to the 1969 founding of Potere Operaio Marxist group, Mario Tronti, Paolo Virno, etc. It influenced the German and Dutch Autonomen, the worldwide Social Centre movement, and today is influential in Italy, France, and to a significantly lesser extent the English-speaking countries. Those who describe themselves as autonomists now vary from Marxists to post-structuralists and anarchists.

Autonomist philosopher Bifo defines refusal of work as not "so much the obvious fact that workers do not like to be exploited, but something more. It means that the capitalist restructuring, the technological change, and the general transformation of social institutions are produced by the daily action of withdrawal from exploitation, of rejection of the obligation to produce surplus value, and to increase the value of capital, reducing the value of life."[26] More simply he states "Refusal of work means...I don’t want to go to work because I prefer to sleep. But this laziness is the source of intelligence, of technology, of progress. Autonomy is the self-regulation of the social body in its independence and in its interaction with the disciplinary norm."[27]

As a social development Bifo remembers "that one of the strong ideas of the movement of autonomy proletarians during the 70s was the idea "precariousness is good". Job precariousness is a form of autonomy from steady regular work, lasting an entire life. In the 70s many people used to work for a few months, then to go away for a journey, then back to work for a while. This was possible in times of almost full employment and in times of egalitarian culture. This situation allowed people to work in their own interest and not in the interest of capitalists, but quite obviously this could not last forever, and the neoliberal offensive of the 80s was aimed to reverse the rapport de force."[28] As a response to this developments his view is that "the dissemination of self-organised knowledge can create a social framework containing infinite autonomous and self-reliant worlds."[29]

From this possibility of self-determination even the notion of Workers' self-management is seen as problematic since "Far from the emergence of proletarian power, ...this self-management as a moment of the self-harnessing of the workers to capitalist production in the period of real subsumption... Mistaking the individual capitalist (who, in real subsumption disappears into the collective body of share ownership on one side, and hired management on the other) rather than the enterprise as the problem, ... the workers themselves became a collective capitalist, taking on responsibility for the exploitation of their own labour. Thus, far from breaking with 'work',...the workers maintained the practice of clocking-in, continued to organize themselves and the community around the needs of the factory, paid themselves from profits arising from the sale of watches, maintained determined relations between individual work done and wage, and continued to wear their work shirts throughout the process."[30]


The Abolition of Work

The Abolition of Work, Bob Black's most widely read essay, draws upon the ideas of Charles Fourier, William Morris, Herbert Marcuse, Paul Goodman, and Marshall Sahlins. In it he argues for the abolition of the producer- and consumer-based society, where, Black contends, all of life is devoted to the production and consumption of commodities. Attacking Marxist state socialism as much as market capitalism, Black argues that the only way for humans to be free is to reclaim their time from jobs and employment, instead turning necessary subsistence tasks into free play done voluntarily - an approach referred to as "ludic". The essay argues that "no-one should ever work", because work - defined as compulsory productive activity enforced by economic or political means - is the source of most of the misery in the world. Black denounces work for its compulsion, and for the forms it takes - as subordination to a boss, as a "job" which turns a potentially enjoyable task into a meaningless chore, for the degradation imposed by systems of work-discipline, and for the large number of work-related deaths and injuries - which Black typifies as "homicide". He views the subordination enacted in workplaces as "a mockery of freedom", and denounces as hypocrites the various theorists who support freedom while supporting work. Subordination in work, Black alleges, makes people stupid and creates fear of freedom. Because of work, people become accustomed to rigidity and regularity, and do not have the time for friendship or meaningful activity. Most workers, he states, are dissatisfied with work (as evidenced by petty deviance on the job), so that what he says should be uncontroversial; however, it is controversial only because people are too close to the work-system to see its flaws.

Play, in contrast, is not necessarily rule-governed, and is performed voluntarily, in complete freedom, as a gift economy. He points out that hunter-gatherer societies are typified by play, a view he backs up with the work of Marshall Sahlins; he recounts the rise of hierarchal societies, through which work is cumulatively imposed, so that the compulsive work of today would seem incomprehensibly oppressive even to ancients and medieval peasants. He responds to the view that "work," if not simply effort or energy, is necessary to get important but unpleasant tasks done, by claiming that first of all, most important tasks can be rendered ludic, or "salvaged" by being turned into game-like and craft-like activities, and secondly that the vast majority of work does not need doing at all. The latter tasks are unnecessary because they only serve functions of commerce and social control that exist only to maintain the work-system as a whole. As for what is left, he advocates Charles Fourier's approach of arranging activities so that people will want to do them. He is also skeptical but open-minded about the possibility of eliminating work through labour-saving technologies. He feels the left cannot go far enough in its critiques because of its attachment to building its power on the category of workers, which requires a valorization of work.


Bertrand Russell, writer of In praise of idleness

The anti-work ethic states that labor tends to cause unhappiness, therefore, the quantity of labor ought to be lessened. The ethic appeared in anarchist circles and to have come to prominence with essays such as In praise of idleness by Bertrand Russell, The Right to Useful Unemployment by Ivan Illich, and The Abolition of Work by Bob Black [4], published in 1985. Paul Lafargue's The Right to Be Lazy essay is one of the most classical works on the subject (Lafargue was Karl Marx's son-in-law).

The followers of this ethic typically argue that capitalist and communist societies tend to encourage a "labor" mentality towards life either directly or indirectly through the cost of living, labor markets, the work week, applying normative values to economics, and social conventions. The critics then ask why with increasing mechanization the number of hours in the average work week have not fallen significantly; for example, Bob Black asks, "Why hasn't the average work week gone down by more than a few minutes in the past fifty years?" The devotees of the anti-work movement therefore attempt to find answers and practical solutions towards reducing the volume of work for a typical person and encouraging the activities they see as conducive to happiness.

The Idler

The Idler is a bi-yearly British magazine devoted to promoting its ethos of 'idle living' and all that entails. It was founded in 1993 by Tom Hodgkinson and Gavin Pretor-Pinney with the intention of exploring alternative ways of working and living.

Work–life balance

Work–life balance is having enough time for work and enough to have a life thus the work life balance. Related, though broader, terms include "lifestyle balance" and "life balance".

The expression was first used in the late 1970s to describe the balance between an individual's work and personal life.[31] In the United States, this phrase was first used in 1986.

Over the past twenty-five years, there has been a substantial increase in work which is felt to be due, in part, by information technology and by an intense, competitive work environment. Long-term loyalty and a "sense of corporate community" have been eroded by a performance culture that expects more and more from their employees yet offers little security in return.

Many experts predicted that technology would eliminate most household chores and provide people with much more time to enjoy leisure activities; but many ignore this option, encouraged by prevailing consumerist culture and a political agenda that has "elevated the work ethic to unprecedented heights and thereby reinforced the low value and worth attached to parenting".

In her recent book, Willing Slaves – How the Overwork Culture is Ruling our Lives, Madeleine Bunting stated that from 1977 to 1997 Americans working full time have increased their average working hours from 43.6 hours to 47.1 hours each week. (This does not include time required to travel to and from their places of business).

Many Americans are experiencing burnout due to overwork and increased stress. This condition is seen in nearly all occupations from blue collar workers to upper management. Over the past decade, a rise in workplace violence, an increase in levels of absenteeism as well as rising workers’ compensation claims are all evidence of an unhealthy work life balance.

Employee assistance professionals say there are many causes for this situation ranging from personal ambition and the pressure of family obligations to the accelerating pace of technology.[5]. According to a recent study for the Center for Work-Life Policy, 1.7 million people consider their jobs and their work hours excessive because of globalization.

These difficult and exhausting conditions are having adverse effects. According to the study, fifty percent of top corporate executives are leaving their current positions. Although sixty-four percent of workers feel that their work pressures are "self-inflicted", they state that it is taking a toll on them. The study shows that seventy percent of US respondents and eighty-one percent of global respondents say their jobs are affecting their health.

Between forty-six and fifty-nine percent of workers feel that stress is affecting their interpersonal and sexual relationships. Additionally, men feel that there is a certain stigma associated with saying "I can't do this".

Real "Slackers" and non workers


The term slacker is commonly used to refer to a person who avoids work (especially British English), or (primarily in North American English) an educated person who is viewed as an underachiever.[32][33] Slackers, understood mostly as males in their twenties and thirties, may be regarded as belonging to an antimaterialistic counterculture, though in many cases their behavior may merely be due to apathy or laziness.

While use of the term slacker dates back to about 1790 or 1898 depending on the source, it gained some recognition during the British Gezira Scheme, when Sudanese labourers protested their relative powerlessness by working lethargically, a form of protest known as 'slacking'.[34] The term achieved a boost in popularity after its use in the films Back to the Future by Robert Zemeckis, and Richard Linklater's Slacker.[32][35]

Some slackers are mentally stable, well adjusted people, and may actually be productive members of society . Others may be suffering from Major depressive disorder. The person may have suffered from psychological trauma that has resulted in their lack of motivation. For example, posttraumatic stress disorder commonly causes individuals to behave as slackers. For the depressed individual, correct identification of the reasons behind their behaviour is the first step to them seeking treatment and recovering. It sometimes refers to a person who tries to evade military service in wartime.


NEET is an acronym for the government classification for people currently "Not in Employment, Education or Training". It was first used in the United Kingdom but its use has spread to other countries, including Japan, China, and South Korea.

In the United Kingdom, the classification comprises people aged between 16 and 24 (some 16 year olds are still of compulsory school age). In Japan, the classification comprises people aged between 15 and 34 who are unemployed, unmarried, not enrolled in school or engaged in housework, and not seeking work or the technical training needed for work. The "NEET group" is not a uniform set of individuals but consists of those who will be NEET for a short time while essentially testing out a variety of opportunities and those who have major and often multiple issues and are at long term risk of remaining disengaged.

"Freeters" and parasite singles

Freeter (フリーター furītā ?) (other spellings below) is a Japanese expression for people between the age of 15 and 34 who lack full time employment or are unemployed, excluding homemakers and students. They may also be described as underemployed or freelance workers. These people do not start a career after high school or university but instead usually live as so-called parasite singles with their parents and earn some money with low skilled and low paid jobs. The low income makes it difficult for freeters to start a family, and the lack of qualifications makes it difficult to start a career at a later point in life.

The word freeter or freeta was first used around 1987 or 1988 and is thought to be an amalgamation of the English word free (or perhaps freelance) and the German word Arbeiter ("worker").[36] (The German word Arbeit is commonly used as the Japanese loanword arubaito for "part-time job".) It is said that the use was coined by the Japanese part time job magazine From A (Japanese: フロムエー Furomuē). Other possible spellings are furītā, furiita, freeta, furiitaa, or furitaa in order of frequency.

Parasite single (パラサイトシングル, parasaito shinguru) is a Japanese term for single person who live with their parents until their late twenties or early thirties in order to enjoy a carefree and comfortable life. In English, the expression "sponge" or "basement dweller" may sometimes be used.

The expression is mainly used in reference to Japanese society, but similar phenomena can also be found in other countries worldwide. In Italy, 30-something singles still relying on their mothers are joked about, being called Bamboccioni (literally: grown-up babies) and in Germany they are known as Nesthocker (German for an altricial bird), who are still living at Hotel Mama. Such behaviour is highly encouraged in Singapore. Living with parents is considered a cultural expectation, while living on one's own (sometimes even if one is married with children) is perceived as an act of insolence.


A vagrant is a person in a situation of poverty, who wanders from place to place without a home or regular employment or income. Many towns in the Developed World have shelters for vagrants. Common terminology is a tramp or a 'gentleman of the road'.

Vagrancy was a crime in some European countries, but most of these laws have been abandoned. Laws against vagrancy in the United States have partly been invalidated as violative of the due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. However, the FBI report on crime in the United States for 2005 lists 24,359 vagrancy violations[37]. In legal terminology, a person with a source of income is not a vagrant, even if he/she is homeless.


A sadhu in Haridwar, India, during Kumbha Mela.

In Hinduism, sadhu, or shadhu is a common term for a mystic, an ascetic, practitioner of yoga (yogi) and/or wandering monks. The sadhu is solely dedicated to achieving the fourth and final Hindu goal of life, moksha (liberation), through meditation and contemplation of Brahman. Sadhus often wear ochre-colored clothing, symbolizing renunciation.

'Sādhu!' is also a Sanskrit and Pali term used as an exclamation for something well done.[38]

"Hobos", "tramps" and "bums"

A hobo is a migratory worker or homeless vagabond, often penniless.[39] The term originated in the western—probably northwestern—United States during the last decade of the 19th century.[40] Unlike tramps, who worked only when they were forced to, and bums, who didn't work at all, hobos were workers who wandered.[40][41]

In British English and traditional American English usage, a tramp is a long term homeless person who travels from place to place as an itinerant vagrant, traditionally walking or hiking all year round.

Two hobos walking along railroad tracks, after being put off a train. One is carrying a bindle.

While some tramps may do odd jobs from time to time, unlike other temporarily homeless people they do not seek out regular work and support themselves by other means such as begging or scavenging. This is in contrast to:

  • bum, a stationary homeless person who does not work, and who begs or steals for a living in one place.
  • hobo, a homeless person who travels from place to place looking for work, often by "freighthopping," illegally catching rides on freight trains
  • Schnorrer, a Yiddish term for a person who travels from city to city begging.

Both terms, "tramp" and "hobo" (and the distinction between them), were in common use between the 1880s and the 1940s. Their populations and the usage of the terms increased during the Great Depression.

Like "hobo" and "bum," the word "tramp" is considered vulgar in American English usage, having been subsumed in more polite contexts by words such as "homeless person" or "vagrant." In colloquial American English, the word "tramp" can also mean a sexually promiscuous female or even prostitute.

Tramps used to be known euphemistically in England and Wales as "gentlemen of the road."

Tramp is derived from the Middle English as a verb meaning to "walk with heavy footsteps", and to go hiking.[42] Bart Kennedy, a self-described tramp of 1900 America, once said "I listen to the tramp, tramp of my feet, and wonder where I was going, and why I was going."[43]

"Gutter punks"

A Gutter punk is a homeless or transient individual, often through means of freighthopping or hitchhiking. Gutter punks are often a juvenile, who is in some way associated with the anarcho-punk subculture.[44]

The term has traditionally been used to describe homeless juveniles who display a variety of specific physical traits.These characteristics are often, but not always, associated with the punk subculture . They include unkempt dreadlocks, nose rings or mohawk hairstyles. In certain regions, gutter punks are notorious for panhandling and often display cardboard signs that make statements about their lifestyles.[44]

Gutter punks are generally characterized as being voluntarily unemployed.[44] As such, gutter punk is a term that is generally only applied to able-bodied individuals with no signs of physical or mental disabilities. The term gutter punk has also been used as in the field of social science to describe a specific demographic group, which consists of the traditional gutter punks as described here. Gutter punks often do seek work; however, they often search for or are limited to short-term employment. Other innovative methods of procuring income, such as panhandling, are generally considered "last resorts" but are often used due to the average gutter punk's difficulties in finding stable employment. Those associated with the gutter punk way of life generally do not ascribe to the crust punk ideology, however, due to its name crust punk is often confused with gutter punk. Gutter punks tend not to involve themselves with peace, autonomy, veganism or other activist ideals promoted in the crust punk or peace punk scenes.


  1. ^ "What is the Meaning of Autonomy Today?" by Bifo
  2. ^ "What is the Meaning of Autonomy Today?" by Bifo
  3. ^ The entire text of Bob Black’s 1986 collection The Abolition of Work and Other Essays at Inspiracy
  4. ^ wage slave - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  5. ^ wage slave - Definitions from
  6. ^ p.184 Democracy's Discontent By Michael J. Sandel
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ a b [2]
  9. ^
  10. ^ Full text of CANNIBALS ALL! OR, SLAVES WITHOUT MASTERS., by George Fitzhugh (1857)
  11. ^ Robert Schalkenbach Foundation
  12. ^ Conversation with Noam Chomsky, p. 2 of 5
  13. ^ "...vulgar are the means of livelihood of all hired workmen whom we pay for mere manual labor, not for artistic skill; for in their case the very wage they receive is a pledge of their slavery." - De Officiis [3]
  14. ^ ["All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind."]
  15. ^ Marx, Ch. 7 of Theories of Surplus Value, a critique of Linguet, Théorie des lois civiles, etc., Londres, 1767.
  16. ^ Proudhon, Pierre Joseph. What is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government.
  17. ^ Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men. pp. XIX.  
  18. ^ Jensen, Derrick. The Culture of Make Believe.  
  19. ^ [The Making of the English Working Class, p. 599]
  20. ^ [The Making of the English Working Class, p. 912]
  21. ^ a b [Geoffrey Ostergaard, The Tradition of Workers' Control, p. 133]
  22. ^ [Competitive Advantage on the Shop Floor, p. 37]
  23. ^ Artisans Into Workers: Labor in Nineteenth-century America By Bruce Laurie
  24. ^ Hallgrimsdottir, Helga Kristin (March 2007). "From Wage Slaves to Wage Workers: Cultural Opportunity Structures and the Evolution of the Wage Demands of Knights of Labor and the American Federation of Labor, 1880-1900". Social Forces 85 (3): 1393–1411. Retrieved 2009-01-04.  
  25. ^ From Wage Slaves to Wage Workers--Free text
  26. ^ "What is the Meaning of Autonomy Today?" by Bifo
  27. ^ "What is the Meaning of Autonomy Today?" by Bifo
  28. ^ "What is the Meaning of Autonomy Today?" by Bifo
  29. ^ "What is the Meaning of Autonomy Today?" by Bifo
  30. ^ Deleuze, Marx and Politics by Nicholas Thoburn
  31. ^ Publication in: New Ways to Work and the Working Mother's Association in the United Kingdom
  32. ^ a b "slacker". Random House, Inc.. 2006.  
  33. ^ Compact Oxford English Dictionary. "slacker".  
  34. ^ V. Bernal, ‘Colonial Moral Economy and the Discipline of Development: The Gezira Scheme and ‘Modern’ Sudan’, Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 12, 1997, pp. 447–79.
  35. ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary, slack (adj.)". Douglas Harper.  
  36. ^
  37. ^ Table 43 - Crime in the United States 2005
  38. ^ Regarding the Sanskrit term, see Monier-Williams, Monier, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (London: Oxford University Press, 1899/1964), p. 1201, entry for "Sādhu." ISBN 0-19-864308-X. Retrieved 17 Dec 2008 from "Cologne University" at As for the Pali cognate, see, e.g., Rhys Davids, T.W. & William Stede (eds.), The Pali Text Society’s Pali–English Dictionary (Chipstead: Pali Text Society, 1921-5), p. 703, entry for "Sādhu." Retrieved 17 Dec 2008 from "U. Chicago" at

    As an example of the phrase "Sādhu! Sādhu!" in the Buddhist Pali Canon, see Ud. 5.6, para. 10, in which upon hearing a monk recite the Aṭṭhakavagga, the Buddha exclaims: Sādhu! Sādhu! Bhikkhū, suggahitāni bhikkhu, soḷasa aṭṭhakavaggikāni sumanasikatāni supadhārītāni, kalyāṇiyāsi vācāya samannāgato vissaṭṭhāya aneḷagalāya atthassa viññāpaniyā.... (SLTP, retrieved 17 Dec 2008 from "Bodhgaya News" at; English trans.: "Good, good, monk. You have learned the Attakavagga [verses] well, have considered them well, have borne them well in mind. You have a fine delivery, clear & faultless, that makes the meaning intelligible...." (trans. Thanissaro Bhikkhu Sona Sutta: About Sona (2000), retrieved 17 Dec 2008 from "Access to Insight" at

  39. ^ Definition of 'hobo' from the Merriam-Webster website
  40. ^ a b "On Hobos, Hautboys, and Other Beaus". OUPblog. Oxford University Press. November 12, 2008. Retrieved 2009-08-05.  
  41. ^ Mencken, H.L. (1937). "On the road again url=". The American Language (4th ed.). 25, 2009).  
  42. ^ See Wiktionary.
  43. ^ Bart Kennedy, A Man Adrift, pg.161, Chicago, H.S. Stone, 1900.
  44. ^ a b c John M. Glionna, There's not a lot of love in the Haight, Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2007.

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