Another workplace shooting took place in Fresno on November 5th at a chicken processing plant. Three workers were killed and two were injured by a fellow employee with a handgun. According to filmmaker Emil Chiaberi, this pattern of workplace violence has roots in the way employees are treated in this country.
Chiaberi's 2010 film, “Murder by Proxy: How America
went Postal,” sheds both light and heat on the phenomena of workplace murders.
Beginning with the Royal Oak Post Office massacre of 1991, which caused the
expression “going postal” to become a part of American slang, through other
workplace attacks, Chiaberi chronicles a history of employee abuse that drives
some beyond the limits of sanity to commit appalling and desperate acts.
There is no excuse for these crimes and Chiaberi does not
try to present one. But there are reasons and, through interviews, he explains
the history of cruelty to workers that is characteristic of the US Postal
Service as well as many other working-class jobs.
Since the mid-eighties no workplace protections have been
instituted for workers. The climate we now inhabit is overtly hostile to those
that make the machine of service or manufacturing run. The post office is a
hotbed of extreme stress and discontent for many reasons. Workers are required
to keep up with sorting machines, the pace of which are inhuman. Those who
deliver mail have speed and safety issues combined. The job requires little
skill or training but has good benefits and pays well. In other words, there’s
more where you came from is a prevailing mantra.
Workplace scapegoating seems to be a particularly prevalent problem
in the postal service and other low-skill level jobs. This is not explained in
the film, I assume, because it is not completely understood. But scapegoating,
when it works, tends to do two things. One, frighten other workers because the
same thing could happen to them. And two, unify folks against a common enemy,
the workplace scapegoat.
But many of the workers interviewed see through this ruse
and understand the common enemy is their systematic and continual
dehumanization. One shooter skipped shooting a boss who simply asked him how
his recent eye surgery went.
The fact that workers are people has escaped those who
advocate for the business owners and managers. With anti-union
politicians like Wisconsin’s
governor Scott Walker leading the charge, worker protection is rapidly becoming
a thing of the past. Films like “Murder by Proxy,” may not change that but at
least they can serve as a warning of what may be in store for our increasingly
income-skewed society where production and service workers are belittled and their fundamental humanity ignored.