Digital Labor and Karl Marx

Digital Labor and Karl Marx is a book authored by Fuchs in 2014. The book begins with the analysis of Karl max principle on labor and work. Fuchs covers the plight of the workers who toil and work hard around the clock in order to ensure that the digital media and devices are delivered to the target groups within the time stipulated. Most of the highlighted cases by the author involve workers who are subjected to deploring working conditions which put their lives in danger at the expense of the profitability of the various media and tech companies. The situation has been reported across different parts of the world. From the mining fields deep in the Central African Republic to Germany the heartlands of Europe- the first world countries. In all the cases mentioned, we are able to experience the plight of workers first hand. The workers vary in the levels and professionally right from the lowest which is the miners to the highest who are the software and hardware engineers in charge of developing world’s best smartphone the IPhone. It is a wonder though that the conditions go on unabated by the authorities who are in charge of the different regions highlighted. The mines in Congo are managed by warlords who are clearly operating with no regards to any law, theirs being only the desire to get profits. The amazon in Germany is also willing to circumvent the regulations put in place in order to avoid paying the labors their worthy dues. There is clearly a mayhem in this industry.

The author uses Karl Marx principle on work and labor to put into perspective the above highlighted activities which take place in the digital profession. According to Marx, in the case where man can work with no intention of producing goods which can satisfy his immediate need, this is termed as labor. It is essentially an alienated form of work. While work on the other hand is the ability to create products for the immediate satisfaction of human needs. Fuchs by investigating digital labor therefore is looking at how the digital companies are exploiting its workers and users as well towards the production of services and products which in no way will satisfy their needs. They toil but at the end of the day there is nothing to show for it.

The major themes highlighted are themes of betrayal and outright theft. The aspect of betrayal is brought up in the case of the workers serving the amazon in Germany. The company apparently took advantage of the fact that the workers were not German citizens to undermine their rights. As highlighted in the book most, most of the workers are immigrants from other European countries who were desperate to make ends meet and therefore signed a contract with the online marketing giant. It was, however, to turn out that that the conditions that they agreed upon before they left their countries were not taken into consideration once they arrived I Germany. It is alleged that the said workers were given a contract drafted in German for them to sign. The company had in mind the immigrant’s inability to comprehend the German language and therefore wanted to see that as a loophole and an ingenious way of sneaking in their demands without them noticing. As a result, the immigrants were paid almost 20% less the amount they had agreed upon before they left their countries. This combined with the prison-like living quarters they were made to stay in made their lives utterly unbearable. The activities of the goods too never made their living any better.

The other theme that is clearly highlighted in the book is capitalism and extortionist policies. The rebels who manage the mines in the Central African Republic as shown by the author do not have any empathy for the miners who have to risk their lives. As stated, the miners have to squeeze themselves into tiny holes where they are supposed to extract the valuable minerals used in the manufacture of computers. The rebels immediately grab the mined materials once the miners emerge from the risky ventures down a hole. This is done without any regard to the plight of the worker who has to risk the danger of suffocation or worse being collapsed on by the dingy and poorly lit mines. As indicated by the author, they literally had to squeeze themselves in order to gain access to the mining sites. Apart from the miners we are also presented with the plight of the call agents who are made to work in cramped halls under a lot of pressure. This happens in spite of the fact that the industry has been able to record huge profits in the recent past. It is rather ironical that these workers are supposed to interact with their customers in a lively manner and yet they are suffering themselves.

The author also highlights how the social media have taken advantage of the users as a marketing tool and a free resource to drive them into profits. Dallas Smythe, in his works highlighted the existence of this from labor. Among the corporate social entities propagating this vice include Facebook, Google and Twitter. The recent call by Facebook that volunteers should come up and help translate its content into different languages is a case of exploitation of the highest order. Not only are the individuals not paid for their efforts but Facebook stands to gain a lot in profits as a result. Twitter on the other hand has been sharing its content generated by the users with commercial news broadcasters. This is also unethical as the users are not only not consulted but their privacy is exposed. This being done by Twitter with a sole aim of earning from it. Google has not been left behind in this, the company has been collecting user information solely for the purpose of compiling statistics which will be sold to commercial entities. This information is collected without the users’ knowledge or approval and they do not benefit in any way from it.

From the book, it is clear that the author is trying to bring up the issue of mistreatment of the workers by the companies in the digital industry. The workers are exploited to the extent that their human nature is undermined. They are stripped of some of the basic rights which a human being is entitled to like ample time with their families. In the software engineers working for over twelve hours per day for five days in a week, it generally diminishes their time for socialization apart from marginally reducing their chances of performing maximally as a result of the body and brain being overworked. The profits which the companies accrue as a result of their efforts so far dwarfs the many they are paid in salaries.

It is quite evident from the instances highlighted in the book by the author that the workers who act as the lowest individuals in the pyramid of the digital industry have been disregarded and completely forgotten by the leaders of the industry. Rarely do the user think of what it takes for the different technological devices and services they are enjoying to be developed to the standard they see. This has been a well-orchestrated plot by the stakeholders and the authorities who are keen on ensuring that they reap as much as possible from their investments at the expense of the workers. It can be concluded from their actions that they perceive the workers as only means to an end and not strategic resources which should be treated with the respect they deserve so as to enable for the reaping of maximum benefits. As it is a well-motivated worker always strives to produce the best services for their employer, the opposite is also true; a poorly motivated employee will be slow and inattentive in their duties (Fuchs, 2014).

Therefore, in order to ensure that the workers receive their dues as they deserve, the government and the labor organizations should take the necessary steps. For instance, they should enforce the regulations which govern the minimum wages which the individual workers are entitled to. Moreover, the employers who flout this regulation should be prosecuted and made to pay for the damages caused to the workers. On the other hand, the workers should be sensitized on their rights as most of them seem not to understand what they are entitled to under the law. It is after this that they can be in a better place t demand for their rights.

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