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The meaning of work

In this first of May, questions are asked about the meaning that work should have in the individual and social sphere.

On May 1st of every year in many countries of the world the so-called “workers ‘day” is celebrated, to remember the struggles and claims for workers’ rights. The origin of this festival can be traced back to 1886, the year in which, on May 1, a general strike was organized throughout the United States in order to claim better working conditions. In 1889, three years later, the idea of ​​organizing a large demonstration aimed at reducing the working day to eight hours by the Second International, which organized European trade unions and workers and socialist parties, spread . The demonstration was held on May 1, 1890 and involved many people. Moreover, in the nineteenth century the conditions of exploitation and coercion of workers represented a widespread reality in different areas of the world. For years, Marx has denounced the alienation situation in which British workers lived. In the economic-philosophical manuscripts of 1844 Marx shows how the work that the worker is forced to do is “external to him” because it does not belong to him:

“Work, vital activity, productive life, appears to man only as a means of satisfying a need, the need to preserve physical existence. But productive life is generic life. […] And free conscious activity is the specific character of man. But life itself appears, in alienated work, only a means of life. »(Karl Marx, Economic-philosophical manuscripts of 1844)

In such conditions of total alienation and estrangement from oneself, productive activity becomes a means of satisfying elementary needs but, at the same time, one’s existence becomes commodified. Work, which should represent that activity that allows one to raise and uplift one’s inner Spirit, does nothing but annihilate it.

Against the background of these considerations, questions are asked, therefore, about the role that work plays in each person’s life. The term work derives from the Latin “labor”, which means “fatigue”. The work therefore represents an activity that requires the involvement of the multiplicity of human resources and faculties and which allows the realization of the person as a member of the community.

Here I would like to pay particular attention to the concept of work as a function and activity that contributes to the “material or spiritual progress of society”. In this conception there is a perception of society as a whole made up of the multiplicity of its members, who, through their work and commitment, can contribute to improving the community in which they find themselves acting. Work leads to self-realization to the extent that it contributes to the functioning of the society conceived as a whole and in its entirety. In work, the individual must put his talent and potential at the service of the community, in order to, on the one hand, as just seen, contribute to the social development of the community, on the other to recognize in work a tool for development and personal achievement.

However, in the common sense the word “work” seems to refer to a completely negative meaning; although from the end of the nineteenth century to the present day workers have acquired greater rights and better living conditions (although it should not be forgotten that there are still many forms of labor exploitation), the word “work” has taken on a negative meaning, which indicates a fatigue, understood as a significant expenditure of energy, both physical and mental. Starting from the assumption with which Marx analyzes the work, if the latter is negatively conceived it means that the expenditure of energy and resources is not directed towards personal growth and realization. As we all know, any conquest requires considerable effort and commitment: “the bigger the fight the more glorious the triumph will be,” says Mr. Mendez in the short film The Circus of the Butterfly of 2009. It is precisely this short film that in my opinion reveals the value that work should have.

The short film features Will, a boy born without arms and without hands who, devoid of any future professional perspective, finds himself having to play the mere role of a “slum phenomenon” in a circus. Thanks to the help of Mr. Mendez, he will be able to join the “Butterfly Circus” group and, finally, to express his potential.

Emblematic is the final scene in which a child with leg problems approaches Will and embraces him, because, through his circus performance, he has become a symbol and emblem for society. Here, therefore, that the short film provides a key to interpreting the value of the work: the latter must represent the means to achieve oneself but also to allow for community development.

What we hope for in this “workers’ day” is that work can represent for all the instrument of realization of one’s Spirit, but also an instrument of social progress.

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