On Broken Clocks: Class as Process
Got a shift at 10 am
Gotta dip at 10 pm
Gotta get that cash, won’t get past the lunch break
I ain’t had a smoke break in about two days, don’t break
Been about three years since I dated you
Why you still talking bout me like we’re together
SZA’s Broken Clocks artfully jumps between experience at work and in romantic relationships. The second verse is particularly helpful for illustrating the struggle of lost time in contemporary workplaces and its effects on our interactions with others. The broken clock represents the continued impeding force of odd or long working hours; just as she digs deeper into her post-breakup experiences (I moved on for the better), as well as those of her former partner (you moved on to whoever), the world of work re-asserts itself (you gon make me late to work again).
Broken Clocks serves as an important reminder of essential processes in class formation; the result of not just contingent social relations via the mode of production, but also through the per-conscious lived experiences of individual historical agents. In defense of the work of Marxist historian EP Thompson, historian Ellen Meiksins Wood reminds us how a conception of class consciousness that accounts for its preconditional experiences as essential to its proliferation and production can show us “how, and in what different modes, objective class situations matter.” (Class as a Process and Relationship)
For union organizers, the notion of class experiences as per-configurations for class consciousness is likely uncontroversial, particularly in the United States. A vast majority of conversations I have with workers during organizing campaigns follow several necessary steps through which workers realize the conflicts in their own class position, largely by integrating their experiences into a larger matrix of struggle that includes their coworkers and loved ones. These pre-figurative experiences create spaces where the inability to pay rent collide with a lack of medical care, with the lack of protections from workplace discrimination and harassment, with odd hours irreconcilable with socialization, and so on. Increasingly atomized by the social world, we are unified at work despite our differences. Divergent experiences are brought together through the bottleneck of work.
As someone who supported himself through his undergraduate education by stringing together several low-wage service jobs (fast food, coffee, retail) and supplementing it with whatever other work came along (giving guitar lessons, hanging drywall, cleaning houses, walking dogs), I’m sensitive to the ways that all time feels borrowed, which often colors social relationships, leisure, and all non-working time in the various hues of cheap fluorescent lighting and fast food warming trays. These sharp whites and piss-yellows are cast over the experiences which according to Marx, allow for the development of my individuality; an ontology of work that territorializes the idle time by which I am able to cast these experiences back onto my workplace as a more fully formed working-class agent. As SZA helpfully demonstrates, I run fast from a day job and jump quick to a paycheck while navigating my complex social relationships, only to be reminded that all time spent is time spent not working. Our clocks appear broken but are actually suspended, while the clocks we punch continue to run, without fail.