Concept of labor came into existence with the growth of capitalism and industrialization. Often a worker is differentiated from a labor in terms of choice as a labor doesn’t have a choice. A labor lacks choice either due to lack of work elsewhere or due to social exploitation. Labor is classified as industrial labor, rural labor, child labor, formal labor and informal labor. In modern industrial societies human labor is only one dimension of work as the other is taken over by machines. One important characteristic of industrial societies is the marketing of human labor and also its high division. Further labor in modern societies has left the atmosphere of home and has shifted to workplaces.
Labor is also a process, an activity which is 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 previously existed only in our imagination i.e it is objectification of our purpose. This labor is material according to Marx 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. Labor is a social activity. Labor 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. Hegel viewed labor in non-material terms or in term of ideas only. According to Harry Braverman in his Labor and Monopoly Capital Fordism and automation has actually led to deskilling of labor force. Labor has lost control over its skills and due to specialized production, they learn just a part of the whole production activity and they become more dependent on the capitalist system.
Durkheim saw division of labor as a process of evolutions in the society and it leads to an interdependence in the modern world which serves to integrate the society. According to Durkheim in an industrialized society where mechanical solidarity is poor, labor relations and interdependency thereof provide for new forms of integration. Feminist perspective views labor in society in terms of female participation. According to Ann Oakley industrialization led to confinement of women at home. Workforce participation was limited as women were forced to take the role of house caretakers. Handy in his The Empty Raincoat 1994 argues that organizations today require workers with multiple skills and hence labor is flexible labor today. Such workers are not specialized in one task rather they have a skill portfolio, and such workers are termed as portfolio workers. On one hand this situation offers workers choice, and they can enjoy different work on the other hand it has also given the capitalists the power to hire and fire at their will. Increasing use of technology and IT at the workplace has also enhanced control at workplace as these places are now continuously under surveillance. Face to face interactions is 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 post modern times. Labor is marked by high mobility and trans boundaries.