Wage Slaves

Voice Card  -  Volume 28  -  John Card Number 7  -  Thu, Jun 3, 1993 2:29 AM

This is a response to VC 27 Holly 5 ("Bastards, et al.")...


I didn't have time to respond to your excellent voice card last issue, but it has stayed with me and I'd like to pursue some of the issues you raised. Your card was a response to the "Do bastards prosper?" question, which is in turn part of our larger discussion on jobs (both dream jobs and nightmare jobs). I'd like to answer one of your remarks in particular:

"I believe you actually described your dream life. A job is when someone pays you for doing what *they* want done not what you want done."

This is a valid point and is the counterbalance to all my dreams of a better workplace. Drury made a similar argument in one of her voice cards; essentially: "the workplace - love it or leave it!" It's a viewpoint that many people adhere to and can't seem to get past. After all, what's the point in even discussing worker rights if a worker has no rights?

Let me cimb on to my soapbox and see whether or not I can get you to moderate your position.

I assume you would agree that a worker should not do EVERYTHING her boss asks her to do. If your boss says "I'm feeling tense; could you please undress and give me a massage?" I presume that you would refuse. Of course, if your boss insists you can always quit. But suppose that quitting means that you and your children will be out on the street dumpster-diving the next day. Does your boss really have the right to put you in this position? Why? Because he has money and you don't?

When a worker agrees to work for an employer, both parties are entering into a relationship. There are risks for both sides. It seems to me that the trust and respect necessary to get any job done should and must flow BOTH ways. This is in the best long-term interests of all concerned.

I think there is a parallel between the evolution of our attitudes toward work and the evolution of our attitudes toward marriage. It used to be that a wife literally and legally belonged to her husband. She was his property. He had the legal right to beat her (and in some societies even to kill her). Divorce was not a feasible option because she was not allowed to support herself outside of marriage. Her choices were marriage, prostitution, or unspeakable poverty.

To the extent that we have moved away from this view we are all better off. A society which allows or encourages the suffering of its weaker members cannot stand. In a capitalistic society, workers are in an inherently weak position. If the society does not protect and insist upon the rights of its workers it will crumble. Ultimately, even the employers will lose.

The principle, then, is that workers are human beings first and workers second. The employer does not own the worker, nor does he have unlimited power to direct that worker. And there is more to getting a job done than simply following orders. So, as a human being, the worker has the right to consider her working conditions, and if she and her boss can work together to improve them, the job will get done better and both of the human beings involved will benefit.

This nation was founded on the principle that individuals have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Since that founding, many people have fought and died for the worker rights which we now take for granted. I believe that this evolution away from slavery and injust imbalances of power is not yet complete. Child labor laws, collective bargaining, safety requirements, minimum wage, and protection against discrimination all seemed impertinent even to many workers when they were first proposed and these ideas were often violently suppressed. In retrospect, however, I think these innovations were not only beneficial, but vital, and even inevitable. And there's still room for improvement.

Therefore, I defend my right to daydream about a better workplace with less stress, more freedom, and greater opportunities for personal advancement. I agree that these dreams should be weighed against the need for business to get the job done and that there will always be unpleasant jobs to do. But if the voice of the worker is ever stilled, or deemed irrelevant, humanity itself will suffer!

Incidentally, Holly, I agreed with and enjoyed some of the other points you made, especially your theory about organizations. Your comments about Archipelago were also food for thought. A truly interesting card!