Kim Petersen

Waking Up: Freeing Ourselves from Work

By Pamela Satterwhite
Publisher: Humming Words Press (2009)
ISBN: 978-0-9649465-1-4

Every effort under compulsion demands a sacrifice of life energy.
– Nikola Tesla, quoted in Waking Up: Freeing Ourselves from Work

Tesla’s quotation captures the reality of the working world for many people. People trudge off to work, do work, return home, recuperate, and go to work the next day. Most people will do this five days a week for most of the year.

Who likes having to work five days a week, having the days and hours of their week decided by someone else, receiving a few weeks in the year as a vacation time, or having to obey orders from a boss? This is the situation for the masses of people who are workers. Capitalist society is structured such that most people are either unemployed or wage slaves.

Pamela Satterwhite has written a book, Waking Up: Freeing Ourselves from Work, that seeks, as the title states, to free people from the wage slavery, job drudgery, and submission. At its core, Satterwhite reveals that freedom from work is achieving social justice: freedom from exploitation, racism, warring, etc.

The author asks questions: “Is survival at work the highest good? The goal, the objective? …to endure …in a job?”

Satterwhite likens workers to stressed caged animals and bosses to “masturbatory puppeteers” who get off on controlling the labor of others. This is inculcated in the public education system where students submit to teachers, who submit to their principals.
She derides submission to authority. She finds this to be unnatural.

Satterwhite refers to capitalists as podrunks (a term abbreviated from author Mark Crispin Miller’s pitiful-power-drunk few) and sometimes as vampires. They control the labor.

Satterwhite harkens to Friedrich Engels that labor is capital. Therefore, if people work together and share in the work, they create the wealth. Her solution is simple: a mass movement to end wage work. Solidarity and cooperation are crucial.

Satterwhite finds that most people are complicit in the system, caving in for some infinitesimal portion of political power (which she defines as “the ability to induce others to labor”). She relates one striking example of selling out in which English parents allowed their 7- to 11-year olds to become commercials selling products to other children.

She acknowledges that solidarity is difficult to maintain, being always under assault by the system, which is designed to wear people down and make them complicit.

Podrunks are Machiavellian; they oppress and wield racism to their ends. They seek to atomize and separate the workers. This is accomplished by instilling fear among them.
She argues that work can be worse than slavery. Slave owners had vested interests to care for their slaves. Podrunks can always hire new workers.

Satterwhite criticizes the illusion/con that work is a sharing of wealth. She says workers have three sources of power: the ancestors, the earth, and each other. She laments that most people don’t pay attention to the earth in them.

She analyses progress, that lofty term that is used to justify the system — the system that separates people into classes. They order and we obey. The orders, Satterwhite argues, compel people to carry out all kinds of morally repugnant work that leads to environmental destruction, mass killing, and genocide.

Nonetheless, Satterwhite argues, “Human solidarity will easily trump the politics of ‘divide and conquer’ when we decide to look at our ancestors’ stories unvarnished …”

Satterwhite calls force the podrunk’s mantra. Culture is a tool to confuse and demoralize people. Freedom, she holds, will come when people build their own cultures.

“Podrunks are organized. So must we be.” The people must grab control.

Many people call for a retooling of capitalism. Satterwhite says capitalism has to be ditched. She finds the notion of saving capitalism from itself silly. She focuses on the needs of the masses of people and not a system that enslaves the people and renders them soulless.

What to Do?

Satterwhite first seeks to answer the question: What do we want? Step-by-step planning is required, as well as solidarizing. She sees this being achieved through mutual aid and fellowship, Earthships (living in harmony with the environment), a product and services exchange, refusal of division work, and freeing children from coercive education.

She identifies the starting points as: boycotting big corporations, organizing via the internet, building bridges, claiming the commons, and the general strike.

Parecon is another take on gaining freedom from capitalist work drudgery and submission to podrunks. Forging a solidarity with pareconists would broaden and strengthen the movement against wage slavery.

Re parecon, Satterwhite responded by email: “There are many points on which [pareconist] Michael Albert and I agree. Where we differ, I think, is probably in our analysis of the problem.” Satterwhite continued, “I think that in order to be effective advocates and activists for our future freedom without bosses we have to premise our advocacy and action on correct analysis. When I read elaborate visions of our future freedom that are offered because they’re ‘rational,’…’make sense’…etc. I’m not convinced that that analysis has been done.”

One wonders what convincing evidence of analysis is — certainly not irrational and nonsensical visions. Important to both visions, however, is solidarity.

Satterwhite writes in a relaxed, colloquial style. A few times I found myself lost, wondering about quotations. Who is speaking? Nonetheless, the book is eminently readable.

Satterwhite has drawn upon a variety of sources from personal anecdotes, dreams, literature (Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, etc.), media (especially cinema), self-disclosure, economists (Karl Polanyi, Immanuel Wallerstein, Friedrich Engels, etc.) to the psychologist Erich Fromm, the scientist-inventor Nikola Tesla, other writers on topic of work like Jeremy Rifkind and Studs Terkel, and even Martin the Warrior mouse.

Satterwhite quotes often the writings of Barack Obama, and she goes easy on him because he “may well have concluded that the people aren’t ready to roll, and who could argue…” I would argue: because a person who runs for the presidency is, usually, a person who covets leadership (among other attributes such as fame, power, money, etc.), and it is a leader’s job to lead the people and not be led by them … otherwise that leader is merely a follower. (As an aside, I eschew leadership and followership. In a system with representative “leaders” and politicians, they should serve the informed masses of people and not impose on the people. However, that is another topic.)

Can freedom from work be achieved? Satterwhite points to the workers’s victory in the tiny Caribbean country of Guadeloupe following a 44-day general strike as a start. Does this sound promising?

Waking Up: Freeing Ourselves from Work can be read online at The Nascence to End Work or you can request a free hard copy (a donation is appreciated). Pamela Satterwhite can be contacted at


Kim Petersen is co-editor of
Dissident Voice. He can be reached at



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