We Should Be Free to Say Fuck You to the Boss

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~(((( T h e B u l l e t ))))~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1973 ... January 10, 2020

We Should Be Free to Say ‘Fuck You’ to the Boss

Ingar Solty

A tweet by someone calling themselves "Tony Sopranime" recently went viral, going like this:

"Me when Bernie is president: Sorry can’t come into work too busy gaming.
My boss: That’s okay you may take a gaming sabbatical as the law allows.
Me: Fuck you.
My boss: I’m sorry sir."

Those of us who’ve had our fair share of shitty jobs (which is most jobs) know this feeling of wanting to say: Fuck you, boss. The tweet was funny because we have the same words on the tip of our tongue but don’t dare say them. But why not? After all, in modern societies, we all are equals, right? We have the same right to vote or be elected, the same right to speak, the same right to choose whichever job we want. This is capitalism, after all, not feudalism -- or the dark ages.

Of course, Marxists will say: well, your freedom actually ends at the shop, office, or... factory door. Once you’re at work, what you produce with your brain or your strength doesn’t belong to you -- your boss pays you a wage and takes the rest of the value you produce as his profit. Because he can. Because he owns the enterprise you work for. And as long as he can get a profit off of you for this, you have a job and, sometimes, when the labour market is tight, they’ll even call you a fancy title like a ‘partner’. When there’s no profit to be made, the ‘partnership’ is over -- and you’re out of a job. Of course, there’s always the alternative of collectively seizing the means of production and having a socialist worker-owned factory.

This much is true. But there’s more to this tweet -- and our (in)ability to say ‘fuck you’ to our corporate overlords whenever we feel the need. The Marxist political scientist Leo Panitch once made a brilliant observation about this freedom to say ‘fuck you’. He didn’t call it that -- at least not in writing. But in exploring our freedom to say what we mean, Panitch made particular reference to the cultural revolution of the 1960s -- or, as Fox News calls it, the collapse of civilization and common decency.

What Panitch did was introduce political economy to the tremendous cultural changes of the 1960s, which he experienced in his youth. Introducing materiality to the seemingly immaterial -- culture -- allowed him to identify the connection between the cultural revolution of those times and Keynesian full-employment policies during the era of Fordist capitalism. Panitch pointed out what new freedoms came with these policies for the working class. If your boss told you to work harder, let alone longer hours or unpaid overtime, you could simply say, ‘Fuck you, I ain’t gonna do that’ and ‘Sure, fire me, I don’t care, because I’ll find another equally paid, just as good (or bad) job down the street’.

It might seem like a trite point -- perhaps of only historical use-value. But the implications of this observation for our lives under contemporary capitalism are actually quite something. Essentially, Leo Panitch pointed out that full employment enabled workers to say, ‘Fuck you, boss’, without having to fear the consequences. In other words, only full employment made workers free enough to feel and act as equals.

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