Access to work or liberation from work? Disabled people, autonomy, and post-work politics

  • Steven Graby Ph.D. student, Centre for Disability Studies University of Leeds
Keywords: Anti-work, Autonomy, Basic Income, Capitalism, Disablement, Disabled People’s Movement, Gift economy, Post-Work, Wage labour


Waged work has been a central issue for the Disabled People’s Movement since its inception. For example, the influential analysis of the pioneering Union of the Physically Impaired Against Segregation in the United Kingdom placed the exclusion of people with impairments from work as the origin of disablement, which is therefore inherent in modern capitalism. Thus it has been traditional in the Disabled People’s Movement in the United Kingdom to regard the removal of barriers to participation in the wage labour economy as a key strategy for overcoming disabled people’s social exclusion and oppression.

However, some authors in the Disabled People’s Movement (e.g., Abberley, 1996; 2002; Taylor, 2004; Withers, 2012) have argued that waged work cannot be the route to liberation for all disabled people, pointing out the paradox of disabled people desiring to be included in the same economic system which is responsible for their exclusion in the first place, and whose values fundamentally privilege the ‘more able’. This issue is especially urgent in the present historical moment, when the ‘work ethic’ has been mobilised by neoliberals and neoconservatives in government and the mass media to justify the cutting of vital support systems for disabled people, who are being demonized as ‘workshy’, ‘scroungers’, etc.

This paper will examine critiques of work and workerism from anarchist, autonomist, and feminist writers and identify theoretical currents that conceptualize disabled people’s liberation as requiring a much more fundamental rejection of the values of capitalism.

Author Biography

Steven Graby, Ph.D. student, Centre for Disability Studies University of Leeds

Ph.D. student, Centre for Disability Studies

University of Leeds