June 3, 2001
by Tim Righteous
reprinted from a copy posted at
"No matter how much I hated it, I had to face up to
the fact that I would have to earn some money. I was like many fullbloods. I
didn’t want to work in an office or a factory. I thought myself too good
for that, not because I was stuck up, but because any human being is too
good for that kind of no-life, even white people. I trained myself to need
and want as little as could be so that I wouldn’t have to work except when
I felt like it. That way, I got along with plenty of time to think, to ask,
to learn, to listen, to count coup with the girls."
Day after day we get up early and trudge to work. We swallow our pride and
put up with being ordered around by the boss. We sweat and toil at jobs we
hate, wasting away our lives. Why do we do it? Because we have to? Because we
need the money? Or because we don't know how to live any other way?
As Americans, we work way too hard. Most of us work 40 or more hours a week
from when we are 18 years old until after we turn 60. One in four American
workers works more than 49 hours a week. One in eight works more than 60 hours
a week and one in ten holds down more than one job.
And we keep working more and more. Americans have added 20 extra work days
to our work year since 1970. American factory workers work an average of five
weeks a year in overtime alone. Americans work two months more per year than
the French and Germans. We must be crazy.
Working this hard is weird and unnatural. For hundreds and thousands of
years before the dawn of history, people lived as hunter-gatherers and simple
farmers. Hunting and gathering is a pretty
relaxed way to make a living. Modern hunter-gatherers like
Native Australians "work" less than four hours a day. Even after we
gave up the forests and built cities, we still didn't work very hard. During
medieval times in Europe, people worked as few as 120 days a year.
There is no reason for us to be working so hard. As advances in technology
help us work more productively, we should be able to work less. Today,
American workers are ten times more productive than we were 100 years ago.
That means, for every hour we work today, we produce as many goods and
services as workers produced in ten hours in 1890. That also means we should
be able to work one tenth as much, and live just as well, as people did back
then. That would be less than eight hours of work a week.
Since we don't work eight hours a week, where did all that extra
productivity go? A lot of it went as profits into the pockets of the rich. The
rich in America are richer than any other group of people EVER in the history
of the world. If we work harder or better, our bosses aren't under any
obligation to pay us more or let us work less. Sadly, that's how capitalism
works. (Capitalism REALLY sucks, but that's beyond the scope of this pamphlet.
There are books listed at the end that go into some depth about how capitalism
sucks and what we can do about it.)
The rest of that productivity went into "improving" our standard
of living. We made a decision to buy more rather than work less. Some of the
things we bought really did improve the way we live. Very few homes in 1890
had running water, electricity or flush toilets. But most of what we bought
were fluff consumer products like big cars and color TVs that are fun to own,
but that we don't really need. The question is: why did we make this choice?
Why did we choose to buy more crap instead of working less?
We didn't. American corporations made the choice for us by brain-
washing us with advertising. Advertisements are everywhere,
telling us we will be happier, better looking, admired, respected and even
loved, if we just buy this or that product. Of course, we all know that we
can't buy happiness or love, but with advertising poking into
every part of our lives, it's hard not to give in to the idea that we can buy
a better life. Eventually almost everyone does give in to the dull, exhausting
trap of work and spend, work and spend, produce and consume.
The price for this choice is high. Work saps our spirit and crushes our
sense of freedom. Kissing our boss's ass all day is humiliating. The worst is
when we actually get used to being pushed around. Human beings need to be free
to develop our independent selves. The more we work, the less we think like
free people and the more we think like dogs: dull and obedient.
Work takes time from other, better things like being with our families and
friends, traveling, making love, drinking beer, painting, writing, reading,
playing music, cooking and eating good food, etc. These are the things that
make life rich and interesting. Work makes life boring, short and gray.
Work is also killing us. Twenty five thousand American workers are killed
each year on the job. Two million more are disabled and 25 million are
injured. These numbers don't include the 50 thousand Americans who are killed
each year in car crashes, many of whom are traveling to or from work.
Finally, we can't afford to keep consuming things the way we do. Americans
make up only 5% of the world's population, but we consume more than 25% of the
world's resources and energy. Soon those resources will run out. Our
over-producing industries are filling the sky and water with smoke and sludge.
Most of the smog in the air comes from people commuting to work in cars. Our
consumption habit is ruining the earth.
To keep up the flow of resources into our country, we force the rest of the
world (and many poor Americans) to do our dirty work. Poor people in places
like Mexico and South Africa sweat all day in factories and mines so that we
can have cheap fabric and coal to make our clothes and heat our homes. The
median income world-wide is only $2,000 per person a year. The average
American makes 65 times the salary of the poorest half of the world. If we
could learn to work and consume less, these poor people could spend less time
working for us, and more time working to feed and house themselves.
If we want to be free, if we want to really live our lives, if we want to
live on a healthy planet, if we want to end suffering and exploitation in the
world, we will have to learn to work less.
But if I work less, won't I starve?
Most Americans have a terrible fear that if they stop working all the time,
they won't be able to afford food and rent. The trick is learning how to work
less by learning how to spend a lot less. Living cheap doesn't mean suffering
and starving. You can live cheap and also enjoy a comfortable, plentiful life.
But I like my job.
There are some lucky people who have better jobs or who work at jobs where
they do something they like. If you are one of these people, you have to ask
yourself; Do you really like your job, or do you just hate your job less than
most people? If you had a choice, would you choose to work at your job for 40
hours a week? Even sex would get boring after going at it for 40 hours a week,
50 weeks a year. Work can spoil anything. Many people love gardening, but
farm-work is hot and back-breaking. Cooking can be fun, but working as a cook
in a busy restaurant is hell. If you like your job now, you will like your job
even more if you work less.
If I don't work, what will I do?
Working less doesn't mean being unproductive. Take gardening again:
Gardening doesn't pay. To make gardening pay, you would have to work like a
farmer. But you can easily grow lots of vegetables, possibly
enough to live on, simply by goofing around in your garden. Why
Life is an adventure if you have the time. There are so many things to do
in the world, one person couldn't possibly do them all. It's sad: we get so
caught up in our jobs, that when we get home, we can't think of anything
better to do with ourselves than watch TV. Don't be a zombie slave - quit your
"I do not like work, even when another person does it." - Mark
"Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do." -
LIVING CHEAP - WORKING LESS
Imagine being able to live on a part-time job and work only 20, 15, or even
10 hours a week. Life would be like one long weekend, with a little work
thrown in here and there. You could sleep in, everyday. You could go on long
trips; travel the world. You could take up a serious hobby or spend some time
on a project you've been forced to put off. You can live this way - you
just have to be smart, a little crafty and learn how to live very cheap.
There are two main tactics to living cheap. The first tactic is simple: never
pay full price. It's amazing how much more expensive things are when they
are new. This all comes back to the power of advertising and the cycle of work
and spend, produce and consume. Advertising has convinced us that new is
always better. New isn't better - it's just more expensive. Now that you know,
you don't have to fall into that trap.
Learn to where find the best used stuff in your town or city. Where are the
good used clothing stores and used book stores? Where can you buy a used bike?
Many larger towns and cities have weekly magazines devoted to want-ads. These
are great: you can find almost anything, and since you are buying from the
owner, there's no sales tax. Be a miser. Be a cheap bastard. Don't part with
one extra penny if you can help it.
It's also amazing how much stuff you can get for free. Every day at the
supermarket in your neighborhood, pounds and pounds of produce are thrown out
because the produce is slightly damaged or because it is over ripe or under
ripe. Stupid American consumers won't buy fruits or vegetables unless they are
perfect, so all this good stuff gets put in a bag and thrown in a dumpster
behind the market. If you grab that bag, all that perfectly god food is yours for
It's hard to try dumpster-diving, but it really isn't as gross as you might
think. Most of what is in dumpsters isn't smelly, rotting food - it's wrapping
and packaging (another huge waste of our consumer culture). Anything cool you
find in a dumpster is yours for free. Grab these free treasures as you laugh
at the zombies trudging off to work, If you live by one rule, make it this: never
pay full price.
The second main tactic for living cheap is to live with a large group of
friends, say six to twelve people. Large groups of people spend less money per
person than single people living alone. Economists call this fact an
"economy of scale." For instance, one big apartment is usually
cheaper to rent than a bunch of little apartments. It's also less expensive to
buy food as a group. You can buy economy-size packages of food or you can
really save money and shop at cooperative supermarkets or bulk-discount
Living in groups is cheap because you can share resources. Let's say one
friend in your group finds a part-time job that pays well. She can pitch in
extra money for rent. Another friend might work at a restaurant that doesn't
pay as well, but she can bring home some food for the group. A third friend
might have a car the group can use. Not everyone will have the same resources
to share with the group, but if everyone pitches in what they can, it will all
even out in the end.
One more advantage to living in a group is security. This is probably the
most important reason to live with a tribe of friends. For most people, money
is their security. If they get sick or lose their job, they have money saved
up to help them survive. Working less means making less money and usually
saving less money. It's good to know you have friends that can support you and
take care of you if you lose your job or break your leg. That "all for
one and one for all" spirit is the best part of living in a good low-work
So pass this pamphlet around to your friends and see if anyone is
interested. If you can't find a lot of people at first, don't worry too much.
Even three or four people can live with less money than one person alone.
Sooner or later, more people will want to join you when they see how much fun
you are having.
When you have your group, sit down together with some beers and talk about
your plans and what you expect from each other. Living with other people isn't
always easy. Sharing things, particularly money, can be tough. Be sure to sit
down (with more beer) every few weeks and talk things over. Be flexible and
cool-headed and you should be able to work out any problem that comes up. If
things get really heavy, maybe the tribe wasn't meant to be. You can always
break up and start over again in new groups. There's no shame in that.
In addition to the two main tactics (never paying full price and living in
groups), here are a few more tips you will want to keep in mind as you plan
your low-work lifestyle:
a) Go vegetarian. Meat is disgusting, unhealthy and evil, but on top of all
that, meat is really expensive. Meat-eaters spend two to three times as
much money on food as vegetarians do. If you can learn to cook and eat
vegetarian, you will save cash. A cookbook is listed at the end that can help
you get started.
b) Don't get yourself, or anyone else pregnant. Children are expensive and
time-consuming. Full-time working mothers spend as average of 45 hours a week
caring for their children on top of the 40 hours they put in working to pay
the bills. If you need cheap birth control, Planned
Parenthood is a trustworthy organization that can be found in
the yellow pages in almost every town. If you really want to have kids, have
just one. You can spend 18 years pampering and spoiling one beautiful child
and still afford to work less. Every child you have after the first will make
it that much harder to live cheap.
If you do have a child, it will be even more important to live in a big
group. Living in groups cuts down on the housework. This is another good
reason to live with a group of friends, even if you don't have kids. It takes
just a little bit longer to cook for ten people than it takes to cook for one
or two. If seven friends share the cooking, each person only has to cook
dinner once a week. You can also share the house cleaning and (most
importantly) the child care. Without living in groups, it is difficult for
families to live cheaply enough to be able to work less.
c) Forget everything you learned in high school. High school sucks. The
classes are too big and the teachers are burnt-out and under-paid. With 25, 30
or 40 kids in a class there's no way your teachers could ever actually teach.
The best they could do is train you to be a good worker. Be on time. Be
quiet. Do what you're told. Don't talk back. Teachers act like bosses and you
learn to be a robot - obedient and dull. Forget it. Forget it all.
d) Think hard about going to college. Almost nobody can afford to pay for
college these days, so most people have to take out loans. It used to be that
going to college meant getting a high-paying job after graduation. Sadly,
there aren't that many high-paying jobs left anymore. Most college graduates
end up flipping burgers and waiting tables with the rest of us. But unlike
those of us who skipped college, these poor college graduated have monstrous
loans to pay off.
Think about waiting a while after high school and seeing what happens. Who
knows what you will want to do in four years. You can always go to college
later. If you really want to go to college, local community colleges are much
cheaper than state schools or private colleges. If you are motivated, you can
get just as good an education at a community college as you could get at a
fancy private school, at a fraction of the cost (remember: never pay full
price). If you already went to college and have tones of loans hanging over
your head, your best bet is to start living cheap now, but keep working
full-time so you can pay off those loans as fast as possible. It's almost
impossible to live cheap and work less with school loans weighing you down.
e) Don't ever accept a management job. Even if the management job is
supposed to be part-time, you will end up working more. Giving a part-time
worker an assistant manager's job is a sneaky way to get that worker to go
full-time. Besides, who wants to be a dick-headed assistant manager anyway?
f) Don't buy a car. Cars are so expensive and in larger towns and cities,
mostly useless. On top of the cost of the car itself, there are finance
charges, registration, gas, repairs and the big one, insurance. Get a bike,
use public transportation, but don't
buy a car. If you live in a group, you might want to keep one
car to use for road trips and shopping. In that case you can share the costs
of gas and insurance, and it won't be so expensive.
g) The Blitz. Most people who work less, work part-time, but part-time jobs
often are the worst jobs and don't pay well. Some clever low-workers get
around this problem by working short stints at full- time jobs. These "Blitzers"
work for a few months at a well-paying full-time job, all the while living
cheap and saving money. Then, when they have a good bit of cash saved up, they
quit and live for as long as possible on the money they have saved. "The
Blitz" is a good way to reap all the benefits of working full-time and
still work less.
h. Relax. This might come as a surprise, but working-less is stressful at
first. Living without a regular paycheck can mess with your head. Don't try to
make the change alone. Talk things over with your underemployed friends. Lean
on your friends. Friends rule! If you have to go back to full-time work for a
while to find your balance, it's not a failure. Just quit your job again when
you feel ready.
"A worker is a part-time slave." – Bob Black
GOING ALL THE WAY: ZERO WORK
After working less for a while, you will start to really enjoy the extra
free time. You may find yourself not wanting to work at all. (Who could blame
you?) If this is the case, you can go all the way and simply stop working.
There isn't enough space here to discuss zero-work tactics other than to say
it can be done. Zero-work tribes combine most of the living-cheap
tactics and tips with squatting
(living for free in abandoned buildings), shoplifting food, foraging for food,
and using advanced dumpster diving techniques to live on practically no money
at all. As you get more into the low-work scene in your town, you will
probably meet some zero-work experts who can show you the tricks. Working less
is great but working not at all is a blast.
There's much more to learn about working less, but this should be plenty of
information to get you started. As you go, you will pick up your own set of
tactics and tips. What couldn't be included in this short pamphlet can be
found in the books listed below. These are great books. Some of the titles may
be hard to find. Try inter-library loans at your local library or ordering
them directly from the publishers. Spread the word and have fun.
The Abolition of Work and Other Essays
by Bob Black. A classic. If there is one book on this list you must read,
this is it. Sadly it is recently out of print but you may still be able to
special order it.
The Overworked American
by Juliet Schor. Where Bob Black is snotty and radical, Juliet Schor is
measured and thorough.
The Right To Be Lazy
by Paul Lafargue. Charles H. Kerr Publishing Co., PO Box 914, Chicago,
Illinois, 60690. Also a classic. A little out of date after 100 years but
still fun to read.
Directory of Intentional Communities
Communities Directory, c/o
Alpha Farm, Deadwood, OR, 97430. This book can be a lot of help in
organizing a low-work group of friends.
The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving
by John Hoffman. Loompanics
Unlimited, PO Box 1179, Port Townsend, WA, 98368. John has
some foolish political ideas, but if you can get past that, the information
by John Zerzan. Autonomedia,
PO Box 568, Williamsburgh Station, Brooklyn, NY, 11211. Hunter-gatherers
were zero work experts. This book will make you want to smash your TV and
head for the hills.
Edible Wild Plants
by Lee Peterson.
If you live in the country, there is free food under you feet!
The New Farm Vegetarian Cookbook
edited by Louis Hagler and Dorothy R. Bates. Book Publishing Co. This is
a good book for beginners or try any vegetarian cookbook that looks good to
I stole most of the ideas and statistics from the books listed by Black,
Schor, and Lefargue. Intellectual property is theft. Anything original comes
from my experiences living in a low-work tribe of friends we called the
"Mount Hood Collective" and from research at the Boston Public
I wrote this pamphlet by combining some of Black’s and Schor’s ideas
with my own, but using language that is accessible to high-school-aged
Americans. This pamphlet is targeted at Americans who identify themselves as
middle-class (90% according to one survey), although many of the ideas I
presented are relevant to rich, middle and poor. As Schor and also Barbara
Ehrenreich have pointed out, it’s not that the poor are playing a different
game from the middle class. Rather, the poor are playing the same
produce-and-consume game, and losing.
Finally, please, please, please, working less is not (gasp) a trend. The
quickest way to kill a good radical idea is to let the vampiric corporate
media get a hold of it. I can see it now: working less, neutered and declawed,
appearing on the cover of "Newsweek" and "MTV NEWS,"
complete with a hairstyle and a soundtrack. I get shudders. So treat the media
like a bad smell. Use community-access TV. Use pirate
radio. Use truly independent publishers and record labels. But
don’t try to use the corporate media. You don’t use them – they use you.
Kissy, kiss, Tim Righteous 1994
This second edition is only slightly revised. I would like to make one
clarification though. I think that most of the people who have had problems
with WS, tripped over the word work. We use work to describe a
collection of very different things: I am working on a new painting. I work
out at the gym on Wednesdays. That apple strudel we just ate was a piece of
work! I work at McDonalds flipping burgers for $3.75/hr. When I write
"Working Sucks!" I am referring to the last meaning of the word work:
time and effort exchanged on the labor market for a wage or a salary.
As I point out in the text, working less doesn’t mean being unproductive.
Working less also doesn’t mean leaching off your community. My low-work
friends spend much of there free time volunteering and helping others; doing
"work" that is important to the community but that doesn’t have
any value on the labor market. For that matter, who can put a value on
something like being with friends? Communities are built on friendship. What
could be more important? But friendship doesn’t pay.
How will we eat if everyone refuses to work? We’ll figure something
out – we always have. Human beings are nothing if not inventive and
adaptable. With imagination and courage, we can create any future we desire.
Kissy, kiss, Tim Righteous 1997.
If the source is not deep, the stream will not be long; if the wisdom is
not great, the discernment will not be far-reaching. - Yuan-wu (1063-1135)
Woo, woo! Distributing Working Sucks over the last six years has been huge
fun. I have traveled all over, given talks, and met tons of great people. The
police detained me twice, I debated hundreds of people on street corners
across the country, and I narrowly avoided several fistfights.
Now I am done. After distributing 15,000 copies, Working Sucks is
threatening to become (ironically) a job, and you know I don't want that.
Besides, the abolition of work, as an idea and a practice, must grow beyond
the voices of a few "experts." Even if I continued distributing
Working Sucks for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t have much of an impact by
myself. While 15,000 copies are a lot, that is still only one copy for every
Working Sucks is out there. You know what I think. What do you think? Feel
free to copy and distribute all or part of my pamphlet, hopefully combined
with your own insights. If the wisdom of working less is great, the abolition
of work will grow. If it is not, it won't. It's out of my hands and that is
World wide, particularly in Europe, there are signs that the abolition of
work is slowly growing. This "movement" is outside the view of the
main steam news media, and that is also good. Genuine revolts against work
can't be co-opted by politicians or news goons. Trade unions, political
parties, capitalism, industrialism, agriculture, all depend on ever-expanding
labor. The abolition of work confronts the brutality that is that very cold,
dark heart of civilization.
The abolition of work will also look very different in different places.
The U$A is a unique society and the richest country in the world. The revolt
against work that I describe in Working Sucks would not be useful for people
in Madagascar or Sierra Leon. Hopefully there will be Chilean, Malaysian, and
Scottish versions of Working Sucks. If you are reading this in a country other
than the U$A, please feel free to translate, adapt, and rewrite Working Sucks
for your language and situations. That would be very exciting. Please send me
a copy. Woo, woo!
If you do plan to write something, allow me to beat you over the head with
my big fetish: write in simple language. Whenever possible, avoid academic
gobble-de-gook or culty radical jargon. It is possible to express subtle,
complex ideas in simple words and short sentences. Why not? People who don't
are either trying to impress someone or are bad writers or both. In the
process they shut out most of humanity from their ideas. What a waste of time!
From the start, Working Sucks was a group project. Thanks to: Danny, Amy,
Marika, Lydia, Chris, Todd, Clare, Phobrek, MRW, Aimee, Ana Maria, Shawn,
Germ, Duane, Samia, The Mt. Hood Collective, Collective A Go Go, The
Firecracker, The Legion of Supervillians, Old Glory (Dept. of World
Domination), Julie, Sarah, and Shana.
Kissy kiss, Tim Righteous, 2000
This pamphlet is in the public domain, 1994, 1997, 2000
Note: Also, feel free to mirror this web version on your own web site. The
web is growing so quickly, and is so over-crowded with commercial garbage, the
only way a small publication like this can get noticed is for it to appear in
several places at once. Thanks. TR
"Work is a social duty." – The Grand Council of Fascism, 1927
"Labor is a duty of all." - Constitution of the USSR, 1924
"When work is a duty, life is slavery." - Maxim Gorky
Thanks from Zenzibar to Strolling
Blackout for turning us on to this article. Also, visit another
article on Zenzibar, Living without Money,
on the same subject.
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