Unemployed on Karl-MarxStrasse. Berlin, August 2015

Your rewards taste old and rotten, like something from the last century, your promises are worthless. “Back in my school days my parents and teachers always told me I would never amount to anything! I guess they were right…

Well, what was I supposed to amount to? My marks were pretty miserable, and I wasn’t exactly a fan of the whole idea of school either. Why should I do what other people tell me? I didn’t think about my future back then. Who wants to worry about that when they’re young? I wanted to have fun with my friends. And I was nothing but trouble for my parents. Summons from the police, parent-teacher meetings, drinking, stealing, fighting, etc. Even when I did manage to pull myself together, it didn’t change anything.

Now I am signed up with a temporary work agency, I earn minimum wage, slog out 40 hours a week on the building sites and just about make ends meet.

At 05.00 this morning, my alarm goes off. Get up, get dressed, drink a quick coffee, throw together some sandwiches for work and I’m off! The train pulls away before my eyes, I arrive late, get grief from the boss, then slave away until 18.00. It’s not possible!

I get home. Totally exhausted. I think “time to chill”, I open the letter box and what do I see? A letter of dismissal! They don’t even have to give a reason. That means more stress with the job centre. It’s back to square one.

What kind of a life is that?”

And that’s just one example.

How many people are in this position?

From a young age it is drummed into us by society that we have to work, or we are worth nothing. In the family and in school we are not only prepared and trained for work, but this is also where we learn to obey. Be it through marks or wages, there is constant competition and pressure to perform. It makes no difference if you submit to the teachers or the bosses. They all serve the same purpose, as a facilitator for Capital. You must serve. The logic and violence of the capitalist machinery means you must carry out orders without questioning the leadership.

Paid work is exploitation, because you do not work for yourself or for your chosen community (home, neighbourhood, family), but for money. We sell our ability to work and so become commodities. What matters is not us as individuals, but the work we produce. This makes us all dispensable at any time. In order to live (or survive) in the present society, you need money to buy food, to pay the rent etc. And you get money through labour.

Schillerkiez. Berlin, September 2015.

The alternative is to get familiar with the unemployment administration, marginalisation and exclusion from society, one-euro-jobs, precarious independence, temporary work, the job centre. The people who suffer this fate are often branded as “freeloaders” or “parasites”. For many, their wages are hardly enough to survive and they are supposed to be happy about it. And the fragmentation of the wage workers is also a real obstacle to a coordinated struggle.

Life serves up shit for the vast majority of people. Yet still we don’t step out of line, we do what is demanded of us and make ourselves comfortable. Outside work, most people are doomed to be spectators. Looking at screens and buying nice things is supposed to be enough.

We will never escape exploitation as long as we live in a capitalist society because capitalism is based on exploitation. It cannot work otherwise. To have the chance of leading a better life, we have to look for solutions outside this system.

It is not about improving working conditions (e.g. through introducing the minimum wage), but about getting rid of wage labour altogether. That does not mean that we don’t need to work, but that it is important to share and take on knowledge and responsibility. As we stand against the very idea of wage labour, we have no need for trade unions to deal with Capital on our behalf. We want the power to determine our own lives and govern ourselves. Each one of us can decide what is best for ourselves!

We must start developing and working towards our own objectives, instead of putting our energy and creativity into capitalism. We must join forces to put our knowledge and skills, including illegal and non-conformist skills, to best use. Sabotage, stealing of daily provisions, dispossessing landlords, travelling without a ticket, forging documents, organising unauthorised strikes, etc.

People that try to get by in “non-legal” ways are branded as “criminals”. But whether by their own choice or out of necessity, they are the ones that challenge authority and exploitation.

We must agree how best to explore our needs and our ambitions together. Not to earn more money, to get better jobs and fill our lives with useless products, but to take control and manage our daily lives for ourselves. We have to unite against the hostile takeover of our lives!

What happens when we think about a life after exploitation? For many this raises more questions than answers, together with a feeling of powerlessness, loss and existential fear.

What do we have to lose? Nothing! What do we need? Bosses or friends and family? Flatscreen TVs at home or parties on the street with our neighbours? Smartphones or conversations in the pub with our friends? Money for the rent or houses that we can live in and manage ourselves? Money to buy food in the supermarket or gardens/fields so we can look after ourselves?

Translation by Samuel White. Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.