Since first entering our homes, and arguably hearts, in 1989, Homer J. Simpson has become a symbol for an entire generation of workers. Part of this appeal has been the trials and tribulations of a naive, lazy, and apathetic man avoiding his responsibilities as the safety regulator for Springfield’s Nuclear Power Plant. Who could forget the ingenuity behind that time when he tried cutting corners by replacing himself with a drinking bird to repeatedly hit the ‘yes’ button on his keyboard? For twenty-seven years we have watched Homer Simpson enter his nine-to-five job with the ‘half-assed’ attitude that resonates all too well with an audience of middle-class workers. For my money, Homer’s workplace ethic is an excellent illustration of contemporary experiences of insecurity, precarity, and arguably resistance. This beautiful illustration of middle-class workplace rebellion is emblematic of the discourse (both empirical and in the literature) on resistance in the Global North. But if this is a modern act of resistance, what is the future of work for the Global North?
Homer’s attitude to work comes at a time where, globally, trade union membership is at its lowest. It also comes at a time where much of the production in the Global North is focused around the service sector (health, education, tourism, IT, finance, etc.). While this indicates that more work is focusing on knowledge and information skillsets, meaning the work is less-likely to be boring and monotonous, it also indicates that work is becoming more flexible because information can be conveyed across time and space more rapidly (ie. the internet). Flexible forms of work, or NSFE (non-standard forms of employment), refers to employment practices such as non-permanent contracts, outsourcing labour, and of-course, flextime. The rise of flexible work has been welcomed by many. Recently, entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have gone on the record boasting that 80+ hour weeks are the secret to his success. However, it is more likely that most of us will experience the ‘other’ side of flexibility: balancing the responsibilities of work without the security of a permanent contract, sick leave, superannuation, and so on.
Contrary to Musk’s mentality, we need to avoid the trap of thinking about ‘work’ as a purely economic practice. This is precisely the problem with work in the Global North; while ‘flexible’ work threatens workers’ economic security, it also has cataclysmic effects on social security, wellbeing, and identity. Organisational psychologists are well versed in the nasty consequences of unemployment on worker psychology, but this needs to be recognised in a social and political context. Recently, Guy Standing argued that the globalisation of work has led to the emergence of a to-be class of precarious workers (what he calls the precariat) who are precariously balanced between work and poverty. This precarity can be seen in Australia in light of our recent real estate boom that has left 48 percent of people with little chance to own their own home. Curiously, while this creates a distinct segment of society excluded from social avenues of security, this group of workers appear to have no unified political voice. Instead of social revolution, we appear to have political disengagement, apathy, and cynicism. We have become Homerfied.
What is lacking is a political vision for work as a socially valuable and constructive experience. Indeed, Karl Marx had his finger on this pulse back in 1844 when he spoke of work as having a social – rather than economic – role in human experience. More recently, Slavoj Zizek reiterated Marx’s social analysis of work when he argued that ‘cynicism’ is a type of ‘false consciousnesses’, referring to it as a naïve misrecognition of one’s own social reality. The problem of resistance at work is not simply the precarity of work, but its ubiquitousness. It requires an anti-political discourse because the current political discourse of precarity offers no alternative. Anti-political politics is essential to workplace resistance because, as Saul Newman suggests, it dislodges it from its hierarchical manifestations by decentralizing power and giving autonomy back to the individual workers. The future of work lies not in its eradication, but in making it more relevant, meaningful, and valuable to society.
 Newman, S (2010). ‘The Politics of Postanarchism’. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.