This is a short story I wrote some time ago. It’s unpublished, though I had submitted it to a contest for very short stories. It deals with the idea of a post-labour world.
The tension in the room was thick. The odor of sweat mixed with the stale aromas of dust and mouse feces in the abandoned warehouse. The tall steel shelving was pushed to either side of the massive open structure.
Real-time 3D printing rendered much of the world’s warehousing space unnecessary. Many items are now fabricated on-site by manufacturers to incorporate into complex products; or made in store for sale by retailers. I lost my job six years ago and had never been able to find another like it.
I’d been a foreman at a factory that cranked out car parts. Dashboards, shift knobs, gauges, and cup holders. Most of our customers began printing their own once the technology matched the speed and quality of a production line. There were very few jobs for average folks like me anymore – the world didn’t even need burger flippers.
Amazingly, humanity wasn’t united by some global catastrophe like the movies always claimed; climate change made us more suspicious of science. Humanity by-and-large wouldn’t accept the looming catastrophe. It got so bad even wealthy folk were losing their homes to rising sea levels. That didn’t unite us; it fueled mistrust as climate refugees migrated to other nations or states.
Humanity united around our shared need to do work. We need to get our heads riled up and our hands dirty. Too many have been idle too long. Technological advancement has rendered us obsolete. The concept of ‘work’ still centered on economic demand.
Now, 5000 men and women with stories similar to mine are standing shoulder to shoulder in this room and others like it, some climbing into high shelving between large display screens, others perched atop the safety cages of fork trucks scattered throughout the building.
“This is a health and safety nightmare,” I chuckled to myself.
Daylight poured through the windows, illuminating dust motes. It gave the vacant stage an ethereal look, as if it was a gateway to a different world.
A man strode through the crowd. As if compelled by his presence, the mass of people parted slightly so he could pass through. A camera drone, no larger than a hummingbird, followed his every move. Video of him appeared in real time on dozens of screens lining the shelving. His name was Gerry Lowry. Now he went by Gerry Workman. He’d been the last president of Local 83 of the Global Manufacturers Union, a husk of a coalition that was formed 10 years ago from the husks of past unions. Now he’s a different kind of local organizer. He coordinates with leaders around the world to gather folks at synchronized rallies like this one. We’re lucky today. The rally is at 3:00 p.m. in our time zone. Trust me; 4:00 a.m. is a hard time to excite a swarm of people whom society has sidelined for so long.
These rallies were incredible. Each organized with a day’s notice, in locations all over the globe. Four billion people, united by encrypted live video feed, synchronized throughout the world. Gerry was our local master of ceremonies and planner. He identified a safe location and then dispersed the meeting time and location to all of us. Gerry, having mounted the stage, was just about to speak. The crowd hushed.
“Men and women of Pittsburgh, the world has changed. That doesn’t mean we can’t still be a part of it. The super-elite tell us we aren’t required. I show them my 1-finger salute!”
I raised my salute into the air alongside my brothers and sisters, cheering with enthusiasm. I glanced at the screens surrounding us as other locations came online. People from Bangladesh, Australia, Peru and Germany all stood side by side, saluting the elite establishment. We gave the finger to CEOs, investment bankers, software engineers-turned-entrepreneurs, angel investors, and chefs at fancy restaurants. The kind of restaurants where the wait staff and line cooks have been replaced by robots and machines designed, programmed and financially backed by the only people who could afford to eat at them.
Auto-restaurants had long been fashionable for the big chains. Nobody cares who grills their perfectly mediocre hamburger.
“Hey, pal!” said a familiar voice from my left.
“Whoah! Davey! Long time, no see.” it was one of the lads from my old line. We’d go for beers after our shift with a group of the other workers.
“How’ve you been holding up?” We exchanged the old handshake.
“Like anybody else here, with food stamps and lousy labour shelters. I mean lousy in the literal sense.” I picked at my hair for emphasis.
All we could do was laugh nowadays.
Gerry’s hype party wrapped up and the cheers died down, a huge screen descended from above the stage. The top leader in the global operation appeared on screen in front of us all. A German union man, Lars Olena, educated and charismatic, spoke to us. He explained in terms we could all handle. How the global monetary trade system failed us. He said the day a few began amassing great wealth those like us slowly joined the endangered species list.
Olena educated us about his vision for a new global system. He said scarcity comes from the need for labour. No labour, no scarcity. The true values of commodities became negligible – yet the system still artificially inflates their price.
Together, we could recreate a world where all people would live their lives to their fullest. We would be free to pursue our higher callings by enjoying friendships, bettering our minds, and developing our true passions, without need to worry about bills or how we’ll feed our families.
He hoped, however, that we would pursue artistic expression, education, and social causes. “Imagine a world,” he said, “where every person is free to be their best and not give a damn about how much money they need to earn. We could build a global nation, where our kids are free to learn as they choose, without concern for salary projections.
“Friends, we already saw environmental refugees – many of you are environmental refugees! We can’t stand by while greed and corruption take our planet from our children. We’ll see change in our lifetime!”
A cheer erupted from the crowd. The cheer that surrounded the globe!
When you heard a united voice this loud, you believed anything was possible. It was a voice so powerful it fueled the winds that would topple the pillars of global power.
“Yes, my brothers and sisters, we will rebuild the world on morals and merit.
“If you look back just 15 years, 30 per cent of the global workforce – many of us –produced food for the entire globe. At the same time, billions of us worked in manufacturing; creating tools, toys, technology and clothing to be sold. The rest of us worked in construction and housing.
“Now what do we do? Nothing! Less than 5 per cent of the global workforce is needed to do everything that we used to. Is that our fault? No.
“Should we suffer for this? No!
“We want universal education for everyone to choose, at any stage in our life. We see no reason any human being should be made to pay for necessities. Housing, food, and consumer goods are almost entirely produced by automated software and machines.
“Every single human on this planet can live a comfortable, happy life. For the first time in our history, humankind can be free from suffering and starvation. All we need to do is stand up and demand it, with our voices united as they are today.
“If we spend our lives allowing others to guide our destinies, nothing changes, because those leaders’ lives are just fine. We will ask peacefully. We will make our voices heard together. We will use art. We will invest in the minds and hearts and cultures of others until we can no longer be ignored.
“Everyone knows what the problem is. We must show them the answer and help them let go of a broken idea.”
Just then, a man in an old-style military uniform entered the frame, approaching Olena. The camera zoomed in for a close-up of Olena’s face; he clearly cursed under his breath.
He returned to the microphone. “Brothers and Sisters, a police raid is amassing outside. Coordinated raids may also be organizing outside your own locations. I recommend you don your gas masks and prepare for a riot assault. Do not fight back. Violence is not the route to our victory. Keep your cameras rolling and your voices loud. Bear witness.”
Gerry Workman was already on the local stage “Get ready folks, we’re under siege here, too.”
Gas masks were inflated and strapped to faces. A few were still scrambling to put theirs on when tear gas canisters smashed through the windows. We raised our fists in the air and sang the old worker’s songs as the riot police rushed in. We didn’t fight back. The police stopped.
They expected violent resistance. Instead they heard the voices of workers, muffled by their gas masks, yet united in song. What could they do but listen?