Reasons To Work


new internationalist
issue 166 - December 1986

Reasons to work
A guide to those jobs that would meet our needs and those
that waste our resources and endanger our lives.

We have very little choice about the kind of jobs that are available. Most people count themselves lucky to get work at all. But shouldn't the work that absorbs a good part of our waking lives help to build a healthier world for us and our children? Here we look at some jobs that have a destructive effect on our world and at jobs that badly need doing if only someone would pay to have them done.


Making war and weapons

The armaments industry gives employment to some 26 to 30 million people worldwide. Over a quarter of the world's scientists are directly employed for military purposes. This is a vast amount of the world's skill and energy being drained off to strictly destructive purposes. Another 36 million people are employed in armed forces around the globe - far beyond what is needed for the limited tasks of national defence. Making this many people dependent for their livelihoods on the production and use of weapons gives them a dangerous stake in war and its preparation.

Nuclear power

The accidents at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have brought home the perils of relying on nuclear power. The danger comes not only from major accidents but from low level radiation exposure of uranium miners, nuclear workers, those living near plants and anyone in the neighbourhood of a nuclear waste disposal site. The nuclear industry is also a very expensive way to create jobs. It takes $150,000 of investment to create every permanent job. This is seven times more than is needed to create a job in the production and installation of renewable solar energy systems.

Dangerous products

The Canadian government recently announced that the herbicide 2,4D used on forests and farms causes cancer in human beings. This chemical now joins a whole host of other industrial products that have proven hazardous to human health and environmental quality. Asbestos, DOT, PCBs and various other widely used chemicals and pharmaceuticals fall into this category. Chemicals are often most dangerous for those whose job it is to manufacture them. This problem has gotten so bad that cancer causing chemicals such as dioxin are being found in the food chain - in ever increasing amounts. Some industries - the tobacco industry for example - employ hundreds of thousands and consciously promote products that they know are harmful.


In the UK alone advertising is a £3-billion business that employs thousands of people. Honest product information is necessary in order to make meaningful consumer choices. But the average person living in a city is bombarded by over 1.600 advertising images a day. Many of these are offensive to women or are 'life-style' ads that have little to do with the product. Ads promise things they can't possibly deliver - like popularity or respect - creating a consumer itch that can't be scratched. The creative energy going into advertising could enrich the artistic culture of our society.


This multi-million dollar business employs thousands in the production of magazines, videos, films and books. The work runs from modelling and 'acting' to technical production, and promotion and sales. Pornography, particularly violent pornography, can poison the relationship between men and women and creates a climate of sexual fear. The pornography industry earns a profit of four billion dollars per year in the US alone. Thousands more are employed in the production of a glut of consumer goods that are redundant or frivolous.

Consumer glut

Do we really need 14 different brands of wash detergent? Or electric toothbrushes? The speed with which consumer goods are used up is increasing dramatically. This is sometimes the result of planned obsolescence on the part of the manufacturer. But status also demands that those who can afford it buy the latest gear. So today the living-room sofa may last as long ass dress did 25 years ago. It is unlikely that environment and world resources can sustain this consumption rate.


Conserving resources

The conservation of our renewable resources - fish, food, and wood - is becoming crucial as the demand for these products grows. Much more work could be generated by programs of proper ref oresting, managing fish stocks and running hatcheries, controlling soil erosion and creating biological systems of pest control. This kind of resource management would be more labour intensive than current practices which use technology and chemicals to 'mine renewable resources - destroying them for future generations.

Community care

In the past decade a number of alternative social services have grown up to meet specialized needs of groups in the community. Rape crisis centres and shelters for battered women. Meals on wheels and social centres for senior citizens. Special services for the handicapped. Most of these are badly underfunded, limping along on the good will of volunteers. There is much potential employment here.

Restoring public services

Public transportation and health care are among the services hardest hit by government austerity programs in recent years - prices have been raised and services cut. This affects the poor more than the wealthy who can afford private transit and health care.

Peace keeping

Millions of people have been casualties in armed conflict since World War Two. Most have died in Third World conflicts that continually threaten to ignite a global war. There is substantial scope for peacekeeping forces to monitor truces and more long-term settlements. There is also much to be done in educating and organizing for an end to the arms race and peaceful solutions to international and domestic conflicts. Millions of volunteer hours have gone into the peace movement but greater resources and regular staff would increase its effectiveness.

Environmental protection

Acid rain is just one symptom of an environmental crisis that threatens to drown humanity in its own waste - toxic, radioactive and just plain garbage. In Holland and several other countries environmental protection programs involving landscape maintenance, the manufacture of pollution control technologies, water treatment and safe waste-disposal systems are being promoted as a major source of employment Such programs could also include jobs in the insulation of buildings in order to conserve energy. This could generate 410,000 one-year jobs for every million houses insulated, according to a recent Canadian study.

Third World development

There is scope for hundreds of thousands of jobs helping to meet the basic needs for foot health and shelter in the Third World rural development programs would enhance the capacity of Third World societies to feed themselves. Immunization campaigns and community clinics could establish a basic resistance to disease and a preventative approach to health care. Work to provide cheap and appropriate housing would vastly improve living conditions. Although some of this work might be done by trained person power from the industrial North, the bulk could and should be done by people of the Third World.

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