Work should not really be equated with employment. Employment is wage-labour and the ability to work is a commodity the workers are forced to sell. As such it has alienating factors associated with it; e.g. Monday to Friday, 9 -5, is “their” time, whilst the weekend is "our" time, where we can enjoy working in the garden or painting. Employment is based on the division of labour.
The upshot is workers are tied to one job for years on end, instead of being people able to do all kinds of things, which socialist society – run by conscious decisions instead of blind forces – will allow. It is a moot point as to how far the division of labour can be removed from socialism; not everyone can have the steady hand and requisite knowledge of a surgeon. People most fitted for a certain task will do it because they want to, and not through bureaucratic compulsion or unfortunate necessity.
Socialist society will not eliminate inequalities of talent: one person might be a greater pianist than another will ever be, while another will run faster than another could ever train to run. But this does not mean that socialism will establish a hierarchy of pianists or athletes or poets or brain surgeons. In a cooperative society, it will be recognised that poets cannot write their literary masterpieces unless the miner is willing to bring the coal from under the ground. Humanity lives interdependently. And who is to say that miners will not be poets when they are not down the mine and the greatest chess player in socialism will not sweep the streets so that the greatest brain surgeon can walk to the hospital without rats biting at the ankles? The rigid division of labour which is a feature of the present system will not exist in a socialist society.
The changes that the working class of the world has developed under the whip of capital, have modified conditions of living and working, and particularly the prospects for future society, in a fundamental way. They have made the production of abundance a real and obvious social possibility. There is now very little that modern science and technology can not do, given sufficient resources and effort. Except for large products, such as ships or steel girders, enormous manufacturing plants are no longer technically necessary. Such items as cookers, fridges, a vacuum cleaner, washing machines, TVs would have to be produced en masse. This doesn't mean that they need to be produced under the conditions that exist today in factories under capitalism. Far from it. Factories in a socialist society can and will be structured and run quite differently: the slower pace of work, shorter hours, non-polluting technology, democratic participation in decision-making, even be set amidst trees and gardens. They would be making goods to supply all the local communities in a given area (except, perhaps, for some factories producing very specialised equipment as for hospitals or scientific research). The potential of automation for a post-capitalist, democratic society is enormous (this society only automates to increase profits and for no other reason.) When used in conjunction with computers it is virtually limitless in its possibilities.
Whereas tools may be said to supplement human limbs, and machines - themselves using tools - can be thought of as amplifying human energy and speed, automation represents an extension, an amplification, of the human nervous system and, with computers, the brain. Automation makes decisions and gives instructions for them to be carried out. Operating machines by giving them information open up other possibilities too. Information can be sent over almost any distance, as the control of the various exploratory space vehicles demonstrates. Remote control of machines in dangerous or humanly inaccessible locations is now, therefore, becoming common practice (but only where profitable) The potentialities of remote control for the free society of the future are, in contrast, rich and liberating. A person who had taken on responsibility for a particular production process or service could monitor its progress and make adjustments from wherever he or she happened to be. With good satellite communication links, machines and equipment in isolated stations, performing a variety of environmental control or supply functions, could be supervised from almost any distance. As far as technology is concerned, there is now no reason why human beings should do any of the dull, dreary or dirty jobs that are necessary to provide the wealth and services of an advanced, affluent society. Machines can - could if they were under the control of a free democratic society - do all of these tasks for us.
One of the most strange objections to socialism is “who will do the dirty work?” Imagine such doom-sayers arguing “I don't want to live in a world without want and hunger, and where my needs are satisfied, if it means I have to do dirty work once a week.” Who will do the dirty work? Socialism will not be a Utopia where all the problems of existence have vanished. Socialism can do lots of things, but it can't make shit smell of roses - that is one little fact of life we'll just have to put up with. Unpleasant work will still have to be done.
Machinery will do it, said Oscar Wilde. “All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery”. This will release each individual to help the community in his or her own way by doing service or producing things that will satisfy each person’s need to be active, to contribute and to help. Wilde summed it up: “The community by means of the organisation of machinery will supply the useful things, and...the beautiful things will be made by the individual”.
Unappealing dirty work can probably be taken care of by utilising labour-saving machines. But where it is impossible and where dirty work will have to be done in a socialist society we can be quite sure of two things: Firstly, it will NOT be done by the same people ALL the time. All able members of society will take turns at such work.
Secondly, and not to be forgotten, is that it will be carried out by socially conscious men and women who appreciate that society belongs to them and therefore its less pleasant tasks must be performed by them. In the knowledge that we own and control the Earth and all that is in and on it, it is unlikely to think that human beings will refuse to attend to the dirty work within socialism.
The fact is that most jobs under capitalism are either completely or partially unnecessary. Many of those that are necessary are performed by people working long hard hours while others suffer a poverty of low wages and low status. At first, everybody would carry on with their usual duties for the time being, except all those whose duties being of an unnecessary nature to the new system, were rendered idle: for example, bank and insurance employees, and sales-people plus all those security personnel to protect private property, not to mention the great numbers in the police and armed forces. These people would, in time, be fitted into productive occupations for which they considered themselves suitable.
Elimination of all jobs required only within a capitalist system would reduce necessary tasks to such a trivial level that they could easily be taken care of voluntarily and cooperatively, eliminating the need for the whole apparatus of economic incentives and state enforcement. Work will be an essential part of life in socialism; it will be a part of the individual's personal development, a necessary, healthy expenditure of energy and a social bond with co-workers. The hours needed to work will be considerably reduced as unemployment will no longer exist, and from the additional extra labour being made available from no longer required capitalist occupations which will not exist in the moneyless, free access society of socialism. There will simply be many more hands to do the unpleasant but necessary stuff.
Socialism will entail new applications of technology and the abolition of unnecessary routine work. Dangerous and unpleasant work will be eliminated unless absolutely essential. It may be reasonable in some ways to compare work in socialism with people’s hobbies now: things done for their inherent enjoyment, not because of the wage packet. And just as the appeal of some hobbies and pastimes is incomprehensible to outsiders, so different people will find different kinds of work attractive.
As for the lazy greedy shirkers and free-loaders who may contribute less and take more, why should this be a problem in a society which is based on the satisfaction of needs? Socialist society will contain millions of babies and infants who will not be able to milk the cows. There will be those in socialist society who are too old or too disabled to go down the mines. There is no reason why society should not allow them to take according to their differing needs. And those people living in a socialist society who are too idle to work will not be a drain on society’s resources for very long, for if they lie in bed for long enough they will die—of boredom. If work is organized, not to meet your need but for someone else's profit, it is understandable that you will avoid it if you can. But if you are working for yourself, for others like yourself, or for the community as a whole you will be unlikely to shun work. What is it most people like about their jobs? It’s the interaction with their work colleagues.
But of course, if people didn’t work then society would obviously fall apart. If people cannot change their behaviour and take control and responsibility for their decisions, socialism will fail. And consider all those aspiring artists and novelists who endeavour to create their contribution to culture. Are we to have committees to consider if their efforts are acceptable and worthy or not?