When I walked the thousand-year-old route of the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain in September and October 2014, I expected to discuss questions of health with fellow travelers. I assumed that an ancient pilgrimage would be full of walkers pondering health issues and would provide an ethnographer’s panacea for “getting in.” I was wrong. I was surrounded by walkers from all parts of Europe, but they were pondering the meaning of work, capitalism, and their lives. I found I was seeing a profound crisis of capitalism and individuals struggling with alienated labor as discussed by Karl Marx.… [W]hat I saw on the Camino de Santiago was certainly not a revolutionary movement. Envisioning satisfying work, however, helps change the shared conception of what work is. Raul Zibechi argued that as we struggle both individually or collectively, we engage in an emancipatory process that, as the Zapatista’s Subcomandante Marcos notes, “builds, includes, brings together and remembers whereas the system, separates, splits and fragments.”… Awareness of alienated labor and struggle against crisis, whether individual or collective, does seem to create imaginative space for change even if it does not necessarily reflect what has been thought of as revolutionary struggle.
In 1996 President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), to end “welfare as we know it.” PRWORA, euphemistically referred to as “welfare to work” or simply “welfare reform,” has fundamentally changed the status of women within U.S. capitalism. Historically, women’s roles in the sexual division of labor have been to reproduce the laborer (cook and keep house) and reproduce the labor force (have children). If women had to work in the formal labor force, then society demanded that they hold jobs appropriate to their gender. There has always been a gender-based social discipline of women whether they were wage earners or homemakers. It is interesting to note that still today beauty contests, sexual harassment, and compulsory use of birth control pills are all forms of discipline enforced on women in many third world factories. Of course, sexual harassment is common in the workplaces of the rich capitalist countries as well