Sunday, December 07, 2008

The silver-lining of the economic crisis: the death of the management class

The Tomb of Frederick Taylor--You can't feel sorry for them. They've worn the brown-lipstick, they've kissed-up, and they've done their best to ensure that American workers have no say in hows and the whys of production or what a business delivers as a product or a service. Why ask the people on the ground?

No, they won't listen to anyone but ownership, and often, they won't even do that, amazing as it sounds. This is why they're all going to be kicked out soon. Apparently, corporations aren't "immortal entities" after all. "Management" is just another word for "overseer" when it comes down to it.

Watching this particular species of social animal croak is a delight, the height of schadenfreude. Any American who's worked under a tyrannical boss knows these bastards for what they are: pea-brained roadblocks to fairness and innovation in the workplace. The most any of them have accomplished is dividing the social bonds between people and running the institutions so badly that they crash. Their time has finally push the mops that have always been beckoning to them to come back home to their true vocations, namely shoveling shit.

These shovels, the sponges, dishcloths, irons, and garbage cans are calling out to them like the Sirens did to Odysseus, longingly. Finally, these little men are going to have to shut-up and have their share of crow as so many former apparatchiki did when the Soviet system collapsed. The public is already beginning to demand accountability, making probes and trials a real possibility.

Will Congress save the day and deflect the forces of law and order from apprehending the Bush II administration? The same with Wall Street's corporate crime wave? Who's going to be the scapegoat, the sacrificial lamb? To be sure, it's going to be someone.

But what's going to be the best is watching the many of these types who were stupid enough to break the law under the duties of their self-appointed jobs being arrested. Certainly, they're going to cling-to their kingdoms in hell for a short time, but then the subpoenas and the criminal and civil suits will come. Most of them will simply be discarded along with the rest of the American working-class, that group they stupidly convinced themselves that they were never a part of.

The only thing management has ever cared about is the perpetuation of management.

That's not a solid platform for any system as we have ample-proof of today. Even bad ideas die hard. Taylor posited the theory that human beings are naturally lazy--indolent--and had to be driven to work if they were going to work at all. This meant the imposition of an authoritarian culture in the workplace, something that wasn't exactly new 100 years ago! Taylor's writings--at best--read like a tract by Ebeneezer Scrooge and Lenin, with a dose of your senile old uncle who drools in the corner at family-gatherings.

Taylor was a High Priest of business Bolshevism; contemporary business/tech/financial elites hold values that aren't especially different from Taylor's and his robber baron "acolytes." Like the phenomena of Social Darwinism, Taylor was just giving a more pointed voice and direction to what was already the overriding spirit of his time. That Americans must work so hard merely to survive is a testament to the anti-humanist and authoritarian nature of forced production in the United States. Why it would behave any differently having its roots in the days of the robber barons, a time when there was virtually no regulation of the economy whatsoever.

Taylorism was adored by the Soviet system's architects, admirers of American authoritarian methods of production.
Lenin and other leaders of the Soviet Union displayed even greater enthusiams for Fordism [standard-parts put together on an assembly line] and Taylorism than the Americans had. When the Soviet Union embarked on a Five-Year Plan that specified mammoth regions of technology based on hydroelectric power and prodigiously rich stores of Siberian natural resources, it turned to American consulting engineers and industrial corporations for advice and equipment. The Soviets constructed entire industrial systems modeled on the steel works in Gary, Indiana, and hydroelectric projects on the Mississippi. (Hughes, Thomas P. American Genesis, University of Chicago Press. 2004. P.8)
Work, work, work, and more work, because there's work to be done and nations to be built. Except that that's not the case any more, at least not in the "developed world." Things need repairing and maintenance, but nation building is over in North America.

What happens when the justifications for work are only in-place to perpetuate a hierarchy? That system eventually falls over its own internal paradoxes, just as the Soviet system belatedly did in the early 1990s. But no, the candidates tell us, "Work, work, work--you're gonna have to work harder than ever!" Why? Just to be able to live, to have shelter and be able to eat? That's a violation of a human being's basic human rights.

With a genuinely scientific approach, Americans wouldn't be working the hours they do because there would be an efficient division of the work, making it more manageable with greater rewards for every contributor. Most major industrial production should be nationalized, or more accurately, owned and directed by the American public. A logical distribution of wealth would also make for a more stable economy, a dynamic one instead of the historical pattern of boom-bust cycles.

This isn't how ownership and employers want you to think, but if this economic crisis should teach us anything, it's that they're the parasites, the exploiters of our labor, and that we don't need them. We never needed them, and their claims of ownership are shoddy. Management has been their flesh column to block the progress of everyone else. If anything, management has been an obstacle of efficiency in production in meeting the essential needs of American workers. This class has been a general drain and an authoritarian roadblock to natural change in the workplace, a buffer between ownership and workers.

Now, these individuals have taken their system over the cliff. This was the natural result of dissolution, when ideas and practices that no longer work and rarely ever did, stop working. With the practically inevitable nationalization of Ford and General Motors, we're seeing the end of "Fordism" and "Taylorism" as core principles in production and the structure of private business and financial organizations.

Are we a "body politic" again? It remains to be seen. Society isn't a machine, but an organism, and organisms require that we're flexible to change.

Future social institutions will have to embody a reasonable degree of this flexibility through an expansion of workplace democracy through the support (allowing it to happen) of the federal government, but not necessarily under its direction. Innovation has been repressed for far too long and the road ahead is a high-tech one with a green-lining. The "Socialists are taking over"? Authoritarian ones did long ago in the United States, and the Cold War was just a matter of competing power structures, a game of semantics and straw men. Similar games are being played (badly) today.

Why do so many of us fear freedom and liberty? Because that means more responsibility and accountability for all, and equality under the law. We have only ourselves to blame for not fighting corporatism in America as we should have. That's reason enough to make up for lost time.

Step 1: Attention management! Clear-out your desks, you bums, and get out. You're fired. Have a nice day, m'kay?

Those folks in Chicago are going to win their strike. The world will take notice of this and workers in other nations are going to emulate it, even in China. You have to make a new day in America happen, and the world can change. Make it happen.