Overwork is something that does not exist in nature. When wage labour is described as a form of slavery people sometimes object by pointing out that working is simply an unavoidable fact of life. Even if nobody had a boss telling them what to do, nature herself would demand that we labour to secure the necessities of life. A glance at all the activity going on with wildlife- herbivores foraging, carnivores hunting, birds building nests, bees making honey and so on and so forth- lends weight to the argument that a living has to be earned. 
But nature differs from something like capitalism or socialism in that it demands only that you do the bare minimum required to sustain your lifestyle. To illustrate what I mean, imagine that there are these bears that need to catch five salmon per day. Now, depending on how bountiful salmon are in their habitat, the bears may have to work hard to obtain their daily quota. Let’s face it, some environments are harsh and it is a challenge to make a living in such places. But let’s imagine that these lucky bears live by a river teeming with salmon, and that it takes ten or so minutes for each bear to catch its daily quota. Just ten or so minutes of work a day (perhaps less if they are really proficient at catching fish) and the bears are done. No need to ‘look busy’, nature is not concerned about about you maintaining an illusion of working once your actual work is done. The bears are free to spend the rest of their time on other pursuits.
In case this all sounds like a fairytale, I would point out a remark made by Hans Moravec:
“In a good climate and location, the hunter-gatherers’ lot can be pleasant indeed. An afternoon’s outing picking berries or catching fish- what we civilized types would recognize as a recreational weekend- provides life’s needs for several days. The rest of the time can be spent with children, socialising, or simply resting”.
Again, I am not saying that life in a state of nature is always this easy, but the point is that whether securing the bare necessities of life is easy or hard, nature requires only that you do the bare minimum needed to sustain your lifestyle. No more.
Now let’s return to those bears. Imagine that a couple of more bears arrive, announcing that the river and everything in it is no longer the common heritage of all bears but is instead the private property of just these two. Furthermore, no other bear will receive so much as a mouthful of food unless they each bring those- let’s call them ‘boss bears’- a thousand fish per day. Remember, that each bear previously needed to catch only five fish each per day in order to maintain their lifestyle. Now, thanks to the demands of these boss bears, they all have to do a hell of a lot more labouring just to survive and the vast bulk of the profit earned from this work goes not to them, but to the boss bears.
What I have just described is what can happen under hierarchical class-based systems, of which ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ are prime examples. Under such systems, people are generally divided up into two classes: Owners on one hand and workers on the other. The owner-classes (private owners under capitalism, State bureaucrats under socialism) are so called because they own the means of mass-production: The factories, banks, shopping malls and so on. They own the means of production, get most of the rewards of production, but are under no obligation to contribute to the production itself. 
This is where the working classes come in. Traditionally, they were so-named because they owned next to nothing except their own labour power. Today, thanks to the incredible advances in productivity I mentioned earlier, people who are considered poor have achieved a level of material prosperity that would count them among the well-off of previous generations. This might lead some to conclude that the working classes are much freer now than they once were, but as we shall see ‘consumerism’ can be used to entrap people, leaving them with little choice but to keep labouring, mostly for the benefit of the owner classes.
It is also commonly assumed that the working classes are free precisely because they own their labour power. But we need to understand precisely what that means under a capitalist system. It does not mean that the working classes have a right to a job; it means that they have the right to remove their labour from a job. There is no obligation on the part of any particular employer to hire any particular member of the working classes, or to keep them on the books once hired. 
‘The right to remove their labour’ is what is supposed to make the world of difference between employment and slavery. Under slavery, a person can be the private property of another person, who has the power to make them work any amount of hours, and may even kill them if they feel like it. The right to own your own labour power, and to terminate your employment, surely means the working classes are now free, right?
Well, no. Not if you factor in economic coercion, which was illustrated in a comedy routine by Steve Hughes.
Hughes (roleplaying two former slave owners): “I mean, look, we’ve got to look after these fuckers. We’ve got to clothe them, we’ve got to feed them, they get sick we’ve got to fix them, got to give them somewhere to live. I’ve worked it out: We can just give them two-fifty an hour and tell them to fuck off.
“That’s brilliant. Right! You lot are free to go. We’ll see you back here at 7:30 tomorrow morning!”.
What Hughes is getting at is that if most of the world’s resources are the private property of a relative few, they can deny others from accessing those resources unless they ‘agree’ to whatever terms and conditions they make up. The working classes are in a situation where they must perpetually hire their labour, and under certain conditions the competitive nature of the jobs market can result in a race to the bottom as the working classes outbid one another with longer hours and fewer rewards. That is not to say that such an outcome is inevitable but it is a very probable outcome in a world that sees the purpose of business as being concerned only with making profit for the owners, with the workers reduced to commodities from whom maximum productivity must be squeezed. Furthermore, in America we increasingly see businesses refusing to employ the unemployed, a tactic which coerces workers into submitting to employment even if they have saved sufficient funds to pay for an extended vacation. After all, if, when the money begins to run out you are cut off from any means to replenish your funds, you are screwed. Better keep punching in that clock card!
Coming up in part four: Paternalism and Lean-and-mean models of employment.

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