Wage Slavery & The Fundamental Problem with The Workplace
On democratic rather than dictatorial hierarchical workplaces
Chomsky cites the dominant view of 19th Century workers; to be owned, to rent oneself to others for pay and do their bidding is an intolerable infringement on their human rights and freedoms. Why I think this is relevant to the conversation is that in workplace psychology today, we use the examination of workers’ individual differences to manipulate the work environment and achieve greater output and income for the business. Happier workers are a convenient by-product such that the organisation can market itself and boast about how good a company for whom they are to work.
Taking Chomsky's perhaps extreme but relevant example of slavery, a slave owner may be a kind and caring master offering his workers a nice place to live and so on, but he's still a slave owner. Today, we rent ourselves out to corporations and work to their agenda and under their command. There is very little real autonomy in work and less still intrinsic motivation. Carrots on sticks of various kinds are the motivator of choice. So we can analyse individual differences in an effort to make the workplace better all we like, but it doesn't solve the fundamental issue - i.e. most of us work under the direction and command of an ambiguous and fictitious entity doing things that if we had the conscious choice, we would rather not do.
It is, IMO, the core of the problem that psychologists are trying to solve; how can we be happy at work? That is to say, how can we manipulate people to believe that their employers care about their welfare and want them to be happy? How can we change our relationship with this fake plastic environment? The answer is that they don’t care and never will, and this place will always make us sick. The contemporary workplace is a pseudo-reality where people subjugate themselves to the aims of the corporation, and those aims are paramount.
Ever been in a difficult position where you needed a fellow worker on your side, but they sat on the fence or even sided with the company instead? They could have lost favour with management or even lost their job if they stuck with you, so they created distance between you both. People care for people, corporations don’t, and often the will of the corporation corrupts the ethics of the person. I have seen it many times. We forego ourselves and our personal integrity to survive. Do you think the company will spend their profits to keep you employed when the market dips, profits that it procured off the back of people like you? It won’t, of course. Some organisations might, but the majority do not.
What’s the alternative?
#CommandYourOwnWork means that we realise the importance of our own humanity and invest in ourselves rather than the aims of a dictatorial corporation that serves the interests of the few. To the boardroom and shareholders, you and I can’t ever be anything more than a number, an input, and so to command one’s own work is to put the needs of workers first, it is to create a democratic workplace. Seems a million miles away from reality, but I don’t see an alternative, and it starts with you.
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