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February 24, 2009
We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us

I've been trying to articulate something about the whole management-labor relationship in the 21st century, post-neocon-insanity (we hope) world. Because this is not my first time at this particular rodeo. I've been listening to employers mouth the same lame-assed platitudes for the last 25 years.

"Times are tough for all of us right now." (Inevitably handed out by someone making at least six figures when addressing a group of minimum wage workers.)

"We are the company." (Generally used by the only person in the room who actually has stock options.)

"We're all in this together." (A favorite of the entrepreneur-owner who spends their evening searching the job sites for someone who will do your job for less money.)

Management talks about "our company" as though we were, in fact, owners and not replaceable cogs in a temporary wheel.

I'm having Issues around this latest "economic downturn."

There are things people used to take for granted. The 40-hour work week. A certain level of job security. Raises.

Of course, raises may still be happening somewhere, but no one I know has gotten one in the last few years. Not only would you get laughed out of most of today's offices if you inquired about a "merit" raise, few people even get cost-of-living any more.

Vacation relief. (For the young'uns among you, that meant that when you were out of the office someone else did your work, so you didn't come back to a desk piled high and overflowing and, a week later, have to take a sick day to recover from the exhaustion of "catching up.")

Because we used to get medical insurance and paid sick time. If you were sick, you could take off work - go to the doctor or just stay home, avoid infecting the rest of the office, and still be able to pay your rent.

Today's trend is to give people a handful of days a year. If you get sick, then you get no vacation. So, people get sick and come to the office anyhow. (And pass around the plague, as happened in my office two or three weeks ago.)

And health insurance is no longer a given. Even for those of us whose employers offer coverage, it's more and more the thing to make us pay for at least part of it.

"By the way, while Inflation and the economy are making your dollar worth less every month, we need you to chip in on the cost of your medical insurance so we can keep paying our CEO $250,000 a year, because times are tough all over."

Since wages are going down, not up, people at or close to the poverty line (which, for a family of four with kids in or headed to college, is higher than you think) can't afford the contributions so they do without.

Complain to the HR department? Sorry, that was the first thing to go in last year's round of job cuts.

And, while we're on the subject, that guy sitting in the cubicle on your left and the gal in the cubicle on your right? They're both out of here as of noon today. You don't mind picking up the slack, right? Because you still have a job, don't you, and their work absolutely has to get done.

By making people pay for some of their traditional "benefits" and by cutting salaries and by cutting staff and then expecting the remaining staff to "take up the slack," well, it seems to me that "management" is trying to separate us from our wages.

This move is intended to dissolve the contract whereby we give them X number of hours in a week and, in return, they pay us X number of dollars.

It is their hope that we can be fooled into believing that the quantity and quality of work we do has nothing to do with the wages They pay us.

When and how did They get the power to do that?

We became complacent, didn't we? We stopped guarding our "rights."

As we moved from a manufacturing-based economy to a more white-collar economy, "labor unions" became just too blue-collar. Too tainted with the stigma of "lower-class."

We didn't need no unions. We were all upper-class, white-collar workers! We thought we'd made it.

We thought We were Them.

Guess They showed Us.


Sorry. I'm sure I was winding up to a slam-bang conclusion there, along with some bitter reflections on the abortive movement toward white-collar unions that died a quick death in the 80s, but someone brought in a baby today.

It's difficult to be aggravated when a baby laughs.

Posted by AnneZook at 01:02 PM


Soon wages will be eliminated altogether as the trend continues toward Plantation Planet: where 99% of the human population subsists on the equivalent of less than 1$ a day and the remaining 1% own everything.

Posted by: getaclue at March 3, 2009 10:39 AM

Not if we do the right thing today.

Posted by: Anne at March 4, 2009 10:04 AM