Untold labour

As I sit watching spring unfold, flowers bloom, grass grow, I can’t help but notice how much microscopic work goes into this magnificent orchestra of pollen collection and distribution (that, by the way, is killing my sinuses and making me sneeze up fits to no end).

It’s no mystery that the world of beautiful plants involves untold exponential labour by countless unseen labourers – those with whom we have a tenuous relationship since, if they do their job and make plants bloom we love them but if they come into our houses we swat them and shriek. They perform the ‘back end’ without which the front end would be slightly less lovely.

I am reminded of many stories of other invisible labours that make our world function. From the work of watching TV to produce wealth for networks by learning what, when, and how to consume, to the more pernicious ‘underground’ economies of a scale that makes them foundational if murky.

Here I am thinking of the (admittedly anecdotal) stories I’ve heard about the backlash faced by undocumented workers in the US who are ‘taking away jobs from deserving Americans’ – but who do so at a level of compensation that let’s things stay falsely cheap – ‘back end’ workers, toiling away in invisibility, inexorably linked to the fabric of the front end final details of all that we experience
But whose labour is of no obviously perceivable definition outside of its outputs.

Labour is a funny thing – we don’t really ever award labour, just the value we place on the outputs of labour – making work always of invisibility. Like the end product, who cares what goes into making it, be it a little or a lot of effort. Labour is invisibility because we have learned that we would rather not know about it in order to enjoy what it produces.

Spend hours in your garden and have it be ugly while someone else does little and theirs is beautiful – you’ll see how little the labour is valued and how much you will see your own efforts as futile not for what you’ve done but for what you (don’t) have to show for it.

This disarticulation is only possible if labour is always a ‘regime of invisibility’ divorced from that which it produces.