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“It’s my work he’d say and I do it for pay”—Bob Dylan
“There is power in a factory, power in the land / Power in the hands of a worker / But it all amounts to nothing if together we don’t stand / There is power in a union”—Billy Bragg
“Is it worth it, let me work it / I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it”—Missy Elliot
Overworked and underpaid. Overworked and underpaid. Overworked and underpaid. Overworked and underpaid. Overworked and underpaid. Overworked and underpaid.
How many people does this sentiment resonate with?
We are tired AF because we work two jobs and don’t get paid nearly enough to do this job. At VUWSA people are incredibly underpaid and overworked because they are underfunded by the university. Most students need to work part-time while they study to make ends meet, while also accruing mountains of debt, usually in shitty retail and hospitality jobs that pay so little. It’s not very good for our mental health, to say the least.
Then there are the cleaners, who make sure that we study and work in an environment that is clean and safe. Most of them aren’t earning a living wage, even though their jobs are literally indispensable and their work is exhausting and often unpleasant. Some people argue that they should get a higher earning job, but all that means is that someone is going to replace them and continue to be paid the same rate.
Jobs can be both positive and negative for your identity. They can limit you, define you through stereotypes, and serve to simplify you as a person. That cringe moment when someone asks: so what do you do? It’s both a question about you as a person and the occupation (which is in its purest form just something you do to occupy your day) you partake in. Sometimes there is no correlation between the two. You might work in a job that you hate, for an institution whose values completely clash with your own, but we (mostly) all have to work to survive at this stage in history.
The personal development movement is promoting this “love what you do” mantra, embedded within privilege, assuming you have ultimate power over your employment situation. While you have power to apply for jobs, there’s little to be done if your experience and qualifications (or lack thereof) don’t meet the expectations of the employers. What if all you keep getting hired for are jobs you hate? At a certain point selective job applications is a luxury not all of us can afford. And it’s not like cover letters and CVs are an accurate or robust representation of you as a person. But what should your job give you in terms of self-worth? What can a job give you in terms of self-worth?
There is so much pressure for your jobs to have a ‘purpose’ or for people to find a ‘purpose’ for living through their job. Why should your job signify anything about your person? Not to mention that this ignores the fact that someone needs to build roads, someone needs to clean, someone needs to provide food, someone needs to build shelters—the do what you love movement is kind of bullshit and is often chiefly accessible to the most privileged, or lucky.
When you’re overworked and underpaid you quickly lose motivation, you start to feel like a tiny cog in a massive machine, and feelings of irrelevance sets in. Ethically focused employment works to treat employees with respect as humans, rather than as parts of a larger machine. Good employers empower the people who work for them and they ensure their quality of life is enhanced by the job they’re paid to do.
When the amount of work you output is disparate to the amount of money you earn, you begin to question your worth. You begin to resent your employer. No employer should work on the assumption that you are willing to work more than you’re paid—no employer should assume you will happily put your life, mental health, study, whatever else lies in the way, on hold in order to do your job.
Emma & Jayne xoxo