By Soenke Zehle and Ned Rossiter
Logistical Media and the Second Machine Age
In a recent panel on living and dead labor at a conference in New York City, respondent Doug Henwood delivered a series of salvos on why he finds cultural theorists so deficient in their comprehension of contemporary labor struggles.1 Declaring himself a “vulgar Marxist” interested in “the world that actually exists” as distinct from “people lost in the idea of artisanal labor and mental labor,” Henwood proceeded to invoke a barrage of statistics to assert the centrality of production and manual labor to the economy and political thought: “there are something like 10-12 million manufacturing workers still in the United States, manufacturing production is up something like 25% since the depths of the recession in this country. Things are still very, very important. There are more truck drivers in the United States than there are computer programmers, there are something like 2 million people working for Walmart doing very physical things. Their bodies are ruined by the job very often.” Drawing on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Henwood then went on to note that the top ten jobs in the US over the next decade are expected to be in the service industries (cashiers, food service workers, home health aids). “For the first time in history the majority of the population consists of wage earners. The world has become entirely proletarianized even if we think we are working for Google.” By Henwood’s reckoning, only two companies are making money off “post-material” activities—Google and Facebook.