Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Pluggin' away in Corporate America
In a previous post, entitled Recession, war and the need for an open dialog, I mentioned that there had been lay-offs at my place of employ. Well, since that time, things at the office have become increasingly unsatisfactory. We have been informed that there will be no pay increases this year. And with gas prices going through the roof, of course, this amounts to a pay cut. There has been much grumbling and complaining. Rumors of further lay-offs and changes to corporate structure and policy abound. Morale is low.
A while back, I participated in a conversation with several coworkers regarding the state of our company. One of them complained about the behavior of our management, which was even then congregating at a relatively lavish resort for an off-site planning meeting. My coworker felt it was "unfair," in light of the stringent financial situation, that management was away "enjoying themselves."
I found my coworker's aggrieved feelings to be puzzling. I was baffled by the notion that my coworker expected the corporation for which we work to be bound by some kind of unwritten ethos about "fairness."
(I also couldn't understand why she resented management's little off-site extravaganza. Did she feel she was missing out on a good time? I couldn't think of anything lower on my "Fun Things To Do" list than to hang out with management no matter where the event took place, but that's beside the point.)
A corporation is not a democratic institution. Corporate America is the epitome of Ayn Rand's Objectivist vision for human social structure. One's value as a human being is directly proportional to one's ability to produce "profit." In spite of the claptrap that often fills pages in an employee handbook regarding "valuing employees," it all comes down to nothing more than the bottom line. There is no obligation to deal "fairly." Nor is there any real obligation even to treat employees with respect. All that matters is that the employee can facilitate the accrual of profit. As Silvio Dante told Paulie "Walnuts" in the Sopranos: "You're only as good as your last envelope."
The dishonesty comes in the insincere platitudes that so often are used to assuage worker's feelings. "We value our employees." "We have an open-door policy." "Employees should feel free to bring their concerns to management." It's all just chaff in the wind, used to evoke misguided (and unreciprocated) feelings of loyalty from the workers.
In its own way, I suppose, this system is "fair." At least, theoretically. Ostensibly, the corporation-employee relationship is a mutual contract. So, affronted employees like my coworker have the option to terminate the contract and move on if they feel they are being disrespected or treated unfairly. Certainly, the corporation would have little or no hesitation about ending one's employment if it deemed such an action beneficial to itself. In fact, the actions taken by my company (the lay-offs and the pay-freezes) demonstrate exactly that.
In practice, of course, the system is stilted in favor of the corporations, which have their resources concentrated and can therefore influence governmental policies more readily than can workers, whose resources are spread amongst the masses.
It is the height of naivete to expect "fairness" or "justice" within the confines of a system that values the accrual of material wealth above all else. In the end, it is our own responsibility to demand that we be treated fairly; each of us must make his own justice. That's life, in Corporate America.