The concept of labor came into force with the growth of capitalism and industrialization. A labor is differentiated from a worker, as the labor does not have choice either due to lack of work else where or due to social exploitation. Labor also has various classifications like industrial labor, rural labor, child labor and informal labor etc. In modern industrial societies human labor is only one dimension of work as the other is taken over by the machines. One important characteristic of industrial societies is the marketing of human labor. Labor in the modern societies has left the atmosphere of home and has shifted to workplace. Labor is sold in market and not used solely for domestic production.
Labor is also a process, an activity explained by Karl Marx as labor is, in the first place a process in which both man and nature participate and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates and controls the material reactions between himself and nature. According to Marx, labor is peculiar of human beings only and animals are not capable of producing it and our labor creates something in reality that is material. As it works with the more material aspects of nature. Marx’s use of the term labor is not restricted to economic activities; it encompasses all productive actions that transform the material aspects of nature in accordance with our purpose. Labor for Marx is the development of our truly human powers and potentials. It satisfies our needs as well as creates new ones. Further more labor is a social activity. It does not transform only the individual; it also transforms society. According to Marx, labor in capitalism is not owned by workers. To survive workers are forced to sell their labor time to capitalists. Contrary to Marx, Hegel viewed labor in non-material terms or in terms of ideas only. Marxist writer Harry Braverman in his Labor and Monopoly Capital writes that labor is always in a disadvantaged position. He rejects Marx’s explanation that workers work hard due to coercion. The advent of labor unions and other changes eliminated the arbitrary power of management. Durkheim saw division of labor as a process of evolution in the society and it leads to interdependency in the modern world that serves to integrate the society. According to Durkheim, ‘ In an industrialized society where mechanical solidarity is poor, labor relations and interdependency thereof, provide for the new form of integration. Feminist perspective views labor in society in terms of female participation. According to Anna Oakley, industrialization led to confinement of women at home. Workforce participation was limited as women were forced to take the role of a housewife. Recent studies have however shown that workforce participation of women is increasing but there is also an occupational segregation.
Increasing use of technology and IT at the work place has also enhanced control at work place as these places are now continuously under surveillance. Face to face interactions are cut and life is restricted to a cubicle. As a result work has become more mechanical. Globalization of labor is another aspect of labor in postmodern times. Labor today is marked by high mobility, trans boundary movement etc. World has become increasingly competitive as industries also shift in search of cheaper production. It also leads to degradation of labor.