Karl Marx was a German Sociologist that saw the ascending of the Industrial Revolution and Capitalism. He observed that under this mode of production, workers suffered while capitalist gained maximum profits, therefore dividing society into two social classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Marx suggested that work was the way in which humans expressed their humanity and losing control over it is what he called Alienated labor). As a key concept in Marxism, alienation happens when what should be familiar becomes foreign or distant. The disconnection between the worker and the product and process of his labor is the origin of alienation, including separation from other workers and themselves. Now that competition and individualism are the preconditions to freedom and where we no longer work together to solve issues, alienation from work is usual among people. We work to earn a living, and not everyone is blessed enough to have a fulfilling job. Many dislike their jobs and don’t work to their full potential. The work becomes dull, but they still need to support families, get social benefits, and pay bills. My father worked for a construction company for many years, and in his own words it was “a living nightmare”. After many years of repeatedly performing the same job, estrangement from the product and process of his labor, from his own human identity, and especially from other workers is not foreign to my father.
Alienation starts the extent to which a worker has control over a product and the process of work. At 16, my father left his country to go in search of better opportunities. Paperless and with little support, the only alternative he found was to work for a construction company for a low wage. Due to this and not being affiliated to a Union, he worked six days a week. My father, along with other workers, has built countless houses and buildings in the Bay Area. However, a construction worker’s salary cannot afford the high Bay Area housing prices. Marx expresses that creating a product that doesn’t belong to the worker, that it’s someone else’s also alienates the worker from their own potential. My father not only could not afford to buy a house, but he was also devoting his whole creativity and life in a job where he received no benefits, had no control over, and received a ridiculous salary. His company actually discouraged laborers from joining a union because these didn’t “offer much” to workers. The company itself was forcing their employees to alienate from the product and the process of their own work. The employees had no say in how the company worked, they did not feel part of their own work, and this became a dull and robotic activity. Another aspect of Marx’s alienation is the separation of the worker from his own human identity. If there is something that separates us from animals, that is work. It is through work where we express our creativity and full potential and “ since alienated labor: (1) alienates nature from man; and (2) alienates man from himself, from his own active function, his life activity; so it alienates him from the species.” Species being is simply your human identity, and when your product becomes something that doesn’t belong to you, you lose your species being. When a worker doesn’t enjoy his work anymore and don’t satisfy his personal needs, but the needs of others, the alienation from himself takes place. He only works to make enough money for survival. My father was in that company for more than 16 years, he left when he became a legal immigrant and described how after a couple of years going to work was painful. He was there because it was the best, and only, source of income he had. It was not fun to see all those beautiful homes and knowing that you were never going to be able to afford one. He felt no desire to do his job, he was disconnected not only from his own product but from his nature. There was no longer happiness and realization.
A final type of alienation occurs when the worker feels alienated from others. Others can include workers, employers, and consumers. If the worker feels disconnected from work as a whole, it results not strange to feel also disconnected from others. Here is when hate and envy are born. This segregation does nothing but hurt the workers and benefit the company. With workers being against one another and in competition, they don’t create a class consciousness. That is, they don’t know they are being exploited, therefore making the company earn more profit. This alienation is probably the most evident in a construction working environment as it is a highly demanded job and not enough projects for the surplus of workers. My father had these problems in the company. It was not rare to hear everybody talking bad about one another. It was not weird to see fights and to try to sabotage others. He himself at some point was a victim but also an abuser. Also, there is little to no connection with the person you are working for. The worker feels objectified and not a person anymore.
Karl Marx’s theory of alienation was developed almost two centuries ago and while it’s true that things have changed now as workers have been given rights and companies have improved their conditions, that doesn’t mean that Marx is not relevant anymore. My father stills work in construction, for a different company, is part of a labor union, and his salary is pretty good, but I hardly see him home. He is tired most of the time, extremely worried because of all the bills he pays, and his health is not the best. He might not feel as alienated as before, but he doesn’t enjoy his job, he still cannot afford to buy a house in the Bay Area, and he doesn’t have a relationship with his coworkers. Perhaps my father’s case might not be the experience of other workers, but it is for most. Workers don’t own any mean of production. Alienated labor alienates the worker from his product, the process, his own nature, and from forming social relationships with others, and this is something my father can confirm.