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Visions of LabourLawrence Joseph
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Vol. 37 No. 12 · 18 June 2015
Poem

Visions of Labour

Lawrence Joseph

395 words

I will have writings written all over it
   in human words: wrote Blake. A running
form, Pound’s Blake: shouting, whirling
   his arms, his eyes rolling, whirling like flaming
cartwheels. Put it this way, in this language:
   a blow in the small of the back from a rifle butt,
the crack of a blackjack on a skull, face
   beaten to a pulp, punched in the nose
with a fist, glasses flying off, ‘fuckin’ Wobblie
   wop, hit him again for me,’ rifle barrel slammed
against the knees, so much blood in the eyes,
   rain, and the night, and the shooting pain
all up and down the spine, can’t see. Put it
   this way: in the sense of smell is an acrid
odour of scorched metal, in the sense of sound,
   the roaring of blow torches. Put it in this
language: labour’s value is abstract value,
   abstracted into space in which a milling machine
cutter cuts through the hand, the end of her thumb
   nearly cut off, metal shavings driven in, rapidly
infected. Put it at this point, the point at which
   capital is most inhumane, unsentimental,
out of control: the quantity of human labour in
   the digital manufacture of a product is progressing
toward the economic value of zero, the maintenance
   and monitoring of new cybernetic processes
occupied by fungible, commodified labour
   in a form of indentured servitude. Static model,
dynamic model, alternate contract environments,
   enterprise size and labour market functions,
equilibrium characterisation, elasticity of response
   to productivity shocks: the question in this Third
Industrial Revolution is who owns and controls
   the data. That’s what we’re looking at, labour cheap,
replaceable, self-replicating, marginal, contracted out
   into smaller and smaller units. Them? Hordes
of them, of depleted economic, social value,
   who don’t count, in any situation, in anyone’s eyes,
and won’t count, ever, no matter what happens,
   the truth that, sooner than later, they will simply be
eliminated. In Hanover Square, a freezing dawn,
   from inside bronze doors the watchman sips
bourbon and black coffee in a paper cup, sees
   a drunk or drugged hedge fund boy step over
a passed-out body. A logic of exploitation.
   A logic of submission. The word alienation. Eyes
being fixed on mediated screens, in semiotic
   labour flow: how many generations between
these States’ age of slavery and ours? Makers,
   we, of perfectly contemplated machines.

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