FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hopelessness in the Workplace

Founded in 1916, the Conference Board, Inc. (originally known as the National Industrial Conference Board) is a non-profit organization supported by leading business executives from all over the world.

With offices in New York, Hong Kong and Brussels, the Conference Board holds regularly scheduled meetings, convenes leadership project groups, and conducts management research, connecting more than 1300 corporations in nearly 60 nations.  Its worldwide conferences attract more than 12,000 senior executives each year.

In early May, the Board issued a sobering report.  It noted that only 45-percent of world’s workers were “satisfied” with their jobs, down from 61-percent in 1987.  These weren’t crazy people conducting the surveys.  These were international business leaders who had nothing to gain by inflating the numbers.  Indeed, the survey’s results, while demoralizing, didn’t come as any surprise.  Similar studies have shown American worker satisfaction to be at an all-time low.

The Conference Board’s study indicated that the drop-off wasn’t tied primarily to worries over job security, as critical as that concern is.  Rather, the responses were quite specific.  Among the complaints:  on-the-job pressure, longer hours, bad bosses, workplace intimidation, arbitrary decision-making and evaluations, and a sense of general hopelessness.

Even acknowledging that the human psyche is complex and that cross-cultural differences must come into play, the recent spate of worker suicides in Chinese factories has to be seen as a symptom of something deeper and more disturbing than the Chinese government’s pathetic explanation of “copy-cat” behavior (“Hey, some guy just jumped to his death from a tall building; maybe I should do that, too”).

By all accounts, the pressure on Chinese workers to increase their productivity by working faster and harder and putting in longer hours in order to keep the vaunted national economy churning away must be enormous.  And even though people in China are regularly depicted as being far more amenable to regimentation and group-think than their Westerners counterparts, they obviously have their limits.

But the steep decline in worker satisfaction is traceable to more than hard work and long hours. It derives from a lack of a sense of empowerment.  It’s no coincidence that the dramatic increase in dissatisfaction corresponds directly to a drop in union membership.  Whether or not people realize it, belonging to a labor union provides a great deal more than the higher wages and generous benefits typically associated with union affiliation.

In addition to better wages and bennies, a labor union offers a built-in and reliable means of problem-solving.  You have a bad boss?  You’re tired of being harassed or held to arbitrary standards?  You’re getting all the crappy assignments?  A union rep can help.  He can file a grievance; he can go over the boss’s head; he can go over the boss’s boss’s head; he can yell and scream with total immunity; in short, he can wage a Holy War on your behalf.

Management takes union officers seriously.  They take them seriously because they know they have the jurisdictional right to address workplace problems, which is why so many corporations resist their employees organizing.  With a union representing the workers, the boss can’t get away with being a petty tyrant.  It’s no longer simply bad form; it’s now contractually illegal.

And even in those cases when the union rep can’t “remedy” the situation—even when, in truth, it’s the employee himself who’s contributing to the problem—having the union as a Father Confessor or shoulder to cry on is a critical safety valve, a way of blowing off steam and, hence, minimizing on-the-job stress.  With a union representing you, you’re never alone.

Conversely, when you have no union, it’s every man for himself.  Being stuck with a bad boss in a non-union setting means you’re at the boss’s mercy.  Dr. Samuel Culbert, a UCLA psychology professor cited in the Conference Board’s finding, maintains that too many Americans work in “toxic” environments.  Consider:  other than quitting or internalizing the problem until he grows a tumor, what can he do?  Without a union, he has no lobby, no support group, no safety net.

And don’t say the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) can help because that’s wildly misleading.  People who say that have obviously never tried to contact the Board.  First of all, good luck in reaching them by telephone.  Just ask anyone who’s ever tried.  I’ve personally gotten a busy signal for 45 straight minutes, before giving up.

Second, as noble as their intentions may be, these people (like OSHA reps) are weary bureaucrats.  They’ve heard everything you’re going to say a hundreds times.  And once you’ve gotten their attention, they are going to automatically assume the company is right and you’re wrong, and have to be dragged kicking and screaming to your side.  In our dealings with the NLRB, we often asked ourselves:  Whose side are these guys on?

Clearly, the antidote to worker dissatisfaction, frustration, and alienation is a sense of empowerment….a sense of dignity.  While some workers are fortunate enough to have compassionate, enlightened bosses, most are not.  That’s where labor unions ride to the rescue.

DAVID MACARAY, a Los Angeles playwright, is the author of “It’s Never Been Easy:  Essays on Modern Labor” (available at Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, etc.) He can be reached at dmacaray@earthlink.net

 

WORDS THAT STICK

 

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers Strike: Black Smoke Pouring Out of LAUSD Headquarters
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail