Friday, May 25, 2012

Dehumanization in the Capitalist Workplace

Along with the relatively recent rebirth of a movement against economic injustice has come not only questioning not only of the great wealth divide but also the structure of the capitalist workplace itself. As jobs disappear many are re-examining the hierarchy of the American labor force and formulating ways to make it more just and humane.

Marxist economist Richard Wolff points out that financial transactions don’t work within the family unit because they promote greed and discord, so why would anyone expect these same skewed priorities to function any differently in the workplace?

Capitalism requires all workplace interactions at work to have, at their foundation, the profit motive that requires the maximum accumulation of capital is the goal of any endeavor. In a service industry such as a hospital, library or school, this goal translates to servicing the greatest number of people with the lowest amount of expenditure. This is effected by a work speed up requiring more desk hours, patients and ever-increasing class sizes. In order to enforce this speed-up, the pressure is applied to middle management.

This group consists of folks who are offered extra goodies in exchange for extracting the maximum amount of monetary value from the effort of each worker, like squeezing as much juice as possible from an orange. There are always people willing to control others in return for their own personal comfort but no matter how you slice it, this process is inherently unpleasant. 

In the workplace it is commonly accomplished in one of two ways: manipulation or intimidation. Most often, it winds up being a combination of both. Manipulation includes not only the concept of worker discipline, but the more pleasant aspects of a worker/manager relationship as well. For example, praise for work is included here. While, in some cases, this may be genuine, it also serves the function of motivating the worker to continue to work hard. Intimidation is the method that is more fundamental to the manager/worker relationship. Every interaction at work harbors veiled threats to the survival of the worker because, at any moment, his position could be terminated. In the private sector, where the“employment at will” doctrine prevails, job insecurity creates perpetual stress. It is only with the advent of union protection that working people were granted a bit of relief from this sword of Damocles. 

In an inauthentic, contrived, highly-pressurized environment like the capitalist workplace, collateral damage is everywhere. In public sector work, managers are trained to distance themselves from treating and even perceiving their subordinates as human beings. Training workshops are instituted to instruct them not to engage their underlings in genuine conversations about the actual concerns in their lives. Any opening that might let friendship in must be slammed shut. This would interfere with the credo of putting production first and foremost. A philosophy where suppressing anything close to emotional intimacy is an absolute necessity.

For starters, we can begin rethinking and reworking ideas that have ceased to function properly and replace them with a more beneficial and productive vision. We all deserve something better. How can we create a cooperative workplace? Is there a way to pay people for creative contributions to society, not just wage slavery? A cooperative model would be a good starting point. Those who have a say in their lives at work will be more likely to pull together for a common goal. In a world where everyone can earn compensation for some kind of contribution, there would be no need for every exchange to be predatory or adversarial.

Alliances are stronger than hierarchies. Subordination only breeds varying degrees of resentment.. We are all tired of the tired old degrading capitalist model that is now longer functioning. Instead of begging for a piece of the pie, now is the time to throw out the moldy mess and begin to bake something entirely new.