I really do think that what we think of as a good academic job is a desirable and flexible model for all labor. I’m not thinking of the paradise of teaching one advanced seminar every three years while giving sold-out lecture tours, etc., etc. — but a job with a reasonable teaching load, some support for research, and a non-toxic administrative environment where faculty actually has some say in things.
If we viewed the good academic job as a model, what we’d have is first of all a non-totalitarian work environment. The times when you are absolutely obligated to be on-site are relatively limited, and the way you do the work necessary to perform during those times is up to you. The built-in breaks, including summer vacation, are something that every worker should get in a world where it takes less and less actual labor to keep things going.
Second, there would be support for genuinely open-ended inquiry. Workers need time and space to think in order to fully realize themselves as human beings. While people on the tenure clock may not view their research in that way, that just testifies to the way that “running universities like a business” has corrupted things by arbitrarily ramping up productivity requirements. Some workers would naturally tend to want to inquire into explicitly job-related questions (how to redesign systems and processes), but everyone should have a chance to work on a self-directed project with the potential to be of benefit, or at least interest, to everyone.
Third, the model of faculty self-governance, while eviscerated in most institutions, is one of only a handful of concrete instances of a democratic, collaborative workplace.
While tying it specifically to academic labor (in its best form — i.e., in the form that attracted most of us to this career path) may be less common, these types of reflections have an established place in leftist political and economic theory, as in Gorz’s Critique of Economic Reason. And I really don’t think that, on a strictly material level, it’s too much to ask that work should be redistributed in this way.
Obviously the political and practical obstacles to reaching this goal are almost overwhelming, and I don’t pretend to know “what we should do” immediately to make progress toward it. Yet it does seem that given the central importance of the university in the labor system in the US makes it a potentially promising nodal point for change (again, in the US — some countries could likely use similar strategies, but not all). And making the demand from day one into a demand for all people to be treated similarly might help get around the problems of traditional labor organizing, which have tended to create a self-enclosed “liberated zone” without providing much help to other contemporary workers or even setting up a good situation for younger generations of workers.
Again, I don’t pretend that I’m saying something radically new or that I have an effective strategy ready-to-hand. I just want to make it clear that my sarcastic list of accomplishments from the previous post should also be read in part as an agenda — i.e., that I’m not “just criticizing.”