Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pluggin' away in Corporate America

It's a grand ol' flag...

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."

"You're only as good as your last envelope, Paulie. You know that."

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.


Shus li said...

I've read that slave "owners" in the US figured out that it would be cheaper to hire people instead; then there wouldn't be such an investment in them (like housing, food, and clothing - such at it was). Doesn't that make us feel good, to know that we're really just wage-slaves?

Now is the first time I've ever been in a union. Although this provides some protection in terms of my wages and benefits, there are still plenty of games that can be played by management to keep the workers in line - things like not granting time off as requested (even though there is a lot due a worker), or making people stay on night shifts.

When is the revolution scheduled?

Anonymous said...

Hell Dade:

The irony of the time we live in is that we want to believe democracy rules while we live most of the time in the contexts created unfairly inside of capitalism.

I have never really held a real job in corporate America but PSU sure as hell started to feel that way.

It made me worry a lot when the admin started talking about students being clients.

And it worried me even more when the admin required 20 students per class or it would be cancelled.

If a professor lost more and more classes it could mean that they owed their salary back.

It did not get there for the salaried folk but it did for the contract and term to term lecturers.

No wonder that more and more universities are using grad students and term to term folk to teach.

They save on benefits, don't have to pay professor pay scales, and can fire anyone who is not turning a profit.

So it should come as no surprise that education is being compromised in this 'corporate' set-up.

And they say this is progress.

It is not.

I wish you well brother. Keep your head up and have a plan B and C too.

We all should. It is becoming less and less predictable and more unfair even by the standards you describe.