Why Work 1: Introduction The Nature of Work: Free Text
The Nature of Work.
Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second telling other people to do so.
The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.
Bertrand Russell from In Praise of Idleness and Other essays.
The idea of not working, by winning a state sponsored lottery for example, or winning at some form of gambling, remains more than attractive. It creates figures of envy, or admiration; and fuels more attempts to win by losers, to gain enough money so as never to need to work again.
What are the attractions of not working? One answer is, not working for other people. This can create a paradoxical situation where one is working for oneself, and often working harder than before; or at least working longer hours. Starting a new small business will typically involve long hours. Further, there can be a desire to create work for others, including the unemployed. So the search for not working for others, can produce more work for both the small business entrepreneur and possibly employees.
The initial attraction of leaving work in this case can be seen more accurately as leaving employment. What this means is not simple either. It can mean a desire to control one’s own working life, in terms of daily time keeping, decision making, or the thrill/danger of investing one’s own savings in a new venture. This is not an escape from work at all; but an escape from control by others in a firm’s hierarchy. Indeed this is one classic answer as to why one should workin the first place. It brings a freedom into one’s life that working for others does not.
Winning the lottery also brings the possibility of a life of extended leisure. This ideal can be compromised by begging letters, pressure from relatives, friends and others for loans etc. Cases of personal unhappiness, divorce, drug abuse, show some of the underside of this flight from work.
The sociological literature does not document the above cases very well. However, cases where work is seen as negative in a variety of ways is much better documented. The experiences of work as boring, as physically and emotionally exhausting, as insecure or temporary, are good grounds for avoiding this sort of work. One of the interesting things about these types of work is that they are as old as the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Attempts to reduce the negative aspects of work are at least 100 years old. There are fewer metals bashing factories to day than before; but there is a growing number of out of town telephone call centres, where these negative aspects of workare reappearing. The old complaints of boredomand repetition are resurfacing in the latest high tech employment.
The case of enforced non-work, or unemployment, is also not clear-cut. There is a widespread belief that unemployment is the fault of the individual; that they are work shy, lazy, opposed to the work culture; and depending unnecessarily on state benefits. Against this there is much evidence to show that most of the unemployed actively wish to return to work. The reasons given for this wish are not just the need for money, but also their sense of themselves as full-time workers temporarily out of work (Coyle, 1984). This appears to be as true of women as it is of men.
This produces a situation where there are strong feelings both for and against work. What does this mean? One answer is that there is no universal demand for work, or non-work. Indeed protagonists for both sides universalise their positions. Everyone should work; is opposed by everyone should be free not to work if they wish, and should be subsidised by some form of living allowance. Some theorists have conceived of the possibility of permanently increasing productivityproducing a situation where only a minority needs to work to supply the majority. This position has been most clearly advocated by the French polemicist André Gorz (Gorz, 72: 1982). He argued that less labour time is needed to reproduce society because machinery had become more productive. This produces more unemployment. However, an alternative to mass unemployment is for all those in work to workless, and have more free time. Those out of workcould then have the work no longer being done by those already in work. The free time all workers would then have could be used for developing their talents and political interests.
This could work in a variety of possible ways. Gorz gives the following examples:
Work 2 hours per day, 5 days per week;
Work 10 hours per week, possibly over one day;
Work 15 weeks per year, at 33 hours per week;
Work 10 years in a lifetime, at about 40 hours per week.
This time commitment is closer to the hours worked in pre-industrial society, which has been estimated to be about 4 to 5 hours per day. The picture painted is one of a great leap in a civilised society, albeit a leap back into the past. This frankly utopian style of thinking has a long history. The standard objection applies. One is perhaps persuaded by the ideal near future, but not told practically how to get there. Another objection, more specifically related to Gorz is that his analysis is too Eurocentric. There are many other societies not yet so industrialised as to have the productivity gains of Europe. They still require full time skilled and unskilled workers. This may well change over time. A recent indication of rising skill levels in developing countries is that over half the world production of television sets takes place outside countries who belong to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (Held et al., 265: 1999). The actual assembly part of production may be in one place, but various component parts may be sourced from producers with low wage economies. This is also true for the textiles and clothing industries; with North Africa supplying Europe, and the Caribbean and Latin America supplying North America.
What is not clear here is whether skill levels have changed very much relative to the workdone before being employed by multi-nationalEuropean or American firms. If the workers were largely employed in agriculture prior to factorywork making components for export, what skillsdid they use in their previous work and how are these skills to be compared to their present work? What period of training, and what level of training did they receive? Is it not possible that there is actually less skill involved in stitching footballs together, than in ploughing straight lines in a field?
Another problem is that in industries like pharmaceuticals, research and development work, with perhaps the most skilled work being done by highly educated scientists, is concentrated in Europe and America. So there is little chance that workers outside these two areas of the world will acquire the highest skills! If the level of skill increase has been exaggerated for workers outside Europe and America, then Gorzhas a point. Dramatic increases in productivitywill remain in societies with high technology and highly trained workers for some time yet. Easy international transfer of technology and skill may be some time off in the future. Indeed Gorz has been rightly criticised for popularising the slogan “Work less, live more” as being universally applicable, when it is currently operating largely in Europe and North America.
Perhaps a better analysis of feelings about work should look at the position in the life cycle of the individual; the existence of inherited capital, or it’s expectation; the need for a family wage; the single parent family; the approach of early retirement etc. Work is not a universal need, but a varying requirement in peoples’ varying lifetimes.
The discussion, so far, has only looked at paid work. The normally unpaid work of domestic labour may become paid. Personal servants, who are paid from income from paid work or income from lottery winnings, can do it. Alternatively if domestic labour is still done unpaid by household members, it remains under householder’s control. So there is no need to manage others. Typically those managed are women domestic labourers. Although researchers have discovered cases of women managing, and criticising, men’s domestic labour (Hochschild, 1989).
Aspects of domestic labour, such as cooking and gardening, may be seen as more creative work than many forms of paid labour. However, domestic labour is also very repetitive, and can be boring. Again one needs to look at the individual’s experience of both paid and unpaid work to date. There is no universal commitment to, or against, domestic labour.
Recent analyses of paid work have stressed its negative aspects. In particular the long hours British workers put in to paid workhave consequences for the necessary domestic labour. There is less time to do domestic work in. The growing number of single person households, and reconstituted families after divorce, point to the increasing importance of work in peoples lives. In the case of single person household there are no other people requiring your emotional energy, most of which will have been expended during the day at work. In the case of the reconstituted family, the draining emotional problems of the first family on the edge of divorce are not present. So there is more emotional energy for the workplace. This is not to assume that reconstituted families are without emotional strains. Indeed the two demands for emotional energies from both work and home can be seen as being in permanent conflict. This conflict will be examined in the chapter on emotion work.
Increasingly workers are beginning to see themselves as employees of some large organisation first, and as mothers, fathers, brothers second. This implies an answer to the question why work, because it is the most important thing in one’s life. Further, as the service sector becomes a bigger employer than manufacturing, the need for emotional workbecomes greater in paid work. This again has consequences for emotional work still required within the family.
Paid emotional work is, simply put, keeping the customer satisfied. Less simply it is working on your own emotions as a service worker. This work takes the form of following some direct instructions. Do not show the anger you may feel. Do not talk to the cashier on the supermarket till next to yours. Always smile! This work is not only very tiring, it may get in the way of the emotional work that still needs to be done in the family. At an extreme the emotional workin the family may not be done well, or not at all.
Finally these negative aspects of recent analyses of work have gone hand in hand with a call for a reduction in working hours, and paternity leave. Management has also attempted to empower workers with more responsibly at a younger age, and more satisfaction in work. The negative analyses seem to be opposed by the positive attempts to make work more satisfying. One wants more work; the other less. The provision of crèches, and arriving early and leaving the workplace late, implies a desire for more work. The provision of maternity, and increasingly paternity, leave implies less work.
These are the current and perhaps mundane advantages and disadvantages of working life. There is no shortage of grander justifications for working. In sociology Max Weber‘s linking of capitalism and puritanical Christianity is the classic example. An historical analysis of this link produced a variety of justifications of capitalist enterprise. These included using your god-given talents to the full, putting god’s will to work in the world, showing your wealth as evidence of your closeness to god, and most importantly reinvesting your profitsback into the firm as opposed to personal consumption. These were seen by Weber to have been important historically, but have less influence in the twentieth century. A lesser known example from this century comes from Japan.
The founder of Matsushita Electric, who died in 1989, argued that water is essential for life. But when it is in abundant supply nobody objects to a tramp drinking water from a roadside pump. Similarly if cars and electrical goods can be made abundant, meaning supplied at a low price through mass production, then this can help to reduce poverty. Exactly how this is to work is not spelled out. Mass employment to work in mass production is possible, but improvements in technology means fewer workers are needed to produce more. But this is not the point. The promise of the “power of religion is added to a paradise of material abundance” (Matsushita, 200: 1988) gives one a sense of another link between religion and capitalism that provides energy and justification (Matsushita, 1989).
More recent, and more secular, justifications include the idea of business process reengineering. Instead of having a set of functional departments within the organisation specialising in accounts production etc., there are a series of teams. Each team has one functional expert within it. So there is one accountant and one engineer etc. The number of teams is determined by the number of products or services the organisation offers. The advantage of this reorganisation is that when a customer wishes to enquire about an order they do not have to go from department to department. Further, as the team gets more experience of working together over time, each expert will learn more about the other’s expertise. Management consultants have led this change with an apocalyptic passion, well noted by theologians. The most aggressive enthusiasts describe the change as follows: “Fundamentally, reengineering is about reversing the Industrial Revolution. Reengineering rejects the assumptions inherent in Adam Smith’s industrial paradigm – the division of labour, economies of scale, hierarchical control, and all the other appurtenances of an early-stage developing economy. Reengineering is the search for new models of organising work. Tradition counts for nothing. Reengineering is a new beginning” (Hammer and Champy, 1993 cited in Knights and Willmott, 2000:116). Leaving aside a suspicion of exaggeration here, the point again is that this language not only describes an enthusiasm for change, but is itself producing enthusiasm in the reader.
The point of this introductory chapter has been to try to show that the nature of work is very changeable over a lifetime, and also over historical time. The view of manual work in classical Greece was that it was fit only for slaves as it was too close to the earth. The good life was to be spent in active politics and debating important questions about life, peace and war. In later periods work was related to religion and personal salvation, as in Max Weber.
Social historians have documented the way in which men moved away from the home and into an office or factory in the 18th and 19thcenturies, thus making paid work essentially masculine. By the end of the 20th century women have also entered paid work, bringing into question the maleness of work. The question of the maleness of paid work, and more broadly of male identity itself, has been analysed in a study called “Family Fortunes”. The authors write that
“Far from the blustering certainty of the late Victorian Paterfamilias, early 19th century masculinity was fragile, still in the
process of being forged, and always measured against the background of condescension from the gentry as well as the long tradition of artisan pride.”
(Davidoff & Hall, 227: 1987).
In other words these men were placed uneasily between the aristocratic gentry above them, and the craft pride of the working artisans below them. They had not the leisure, nor the education, of the gentry as the older universities were closed to them. Their belief in the new sciences, and their application to business and agriculture, made the gentry suspicious that their lands would no longer be left for traditional sports, but turned over to improved farming. Their fear of the artisans was based on the influence of the radical ideas of the French Revolution, and a variety of violent disturbances that shook early 19th century England. The emergence of male middle class workers occurred over a long period. One of the key features of this emergence was the separation of home and work. A measure of this separation was an analysis of records of the economic life of a family where home and work was not separated.
“Examination of account books shows that even when formal records were kept, items of income and expenditure were often muddled, while household and enterprise expenditures were seldom distinguished .…… From 1818 to 1833 an Essex farmer used an account book in which were entered purchases of food, school fees, rates, wages, horse medicine, and nails jumbled with incomings from sales of corn, rent from small property, as well as payment in kind.”
(Davidoff & Hall, 202: 1987).
This splendid muddle shows many things. Firstly, how integrated the home and work were in this period. Secondly, the continuing existence of feudal barter (payment in kind), showed that the money economy did not affect all of the economic life of the family. Thirdly, the lack of a more formal accounting of profit and loss showed a greater concern for family respectability as the reason for work, rather than profit maximisation. Fourthly, the fact that this book was kept by the farmer and not his wife showed that the recording of the economic life, and probably it’s control, were already a masculine affair.
Looking at the changes in the lives of the Cadbury family in Birmingham showed the changes that followed this muddle.
“The married life of John and Candia was significantly different in one respect from that of their parents generation. Living as they did in Edgbaston, Candia had no direct relation to the business, and John left home each day to go to work, coming home in the evening. Suburban living meant an evening meal rather than a mid-day dinner.”
(Davidoff & Hall, 57: 1987).
John’s parents had lived in the centre of Birmingham, next to their factory and shop. The closeness to their work mirrors the closeness of the Essex farmer to the fields around the house. The female members of the family at that time worked in the shop, just as the Essex farmer’s wife would have specific tasks in the farm. The authors argue that the underlying purpose of work for both families was to provide a proper moral and religious life for the family. The masculine concern for feminine virtue requires a move in the next generation out to the suburbs, where there was no need for women to work in the shop. The firm was doing well enough not to require this unpaid work in the shop. Further, there was a concern over the rowdiness in the streets of the city, and the need for securing the safety of female members of the family. So for John, the next generation, home and work became geographically and soci
Freedom and Constraint.
There’s many a one who would be idle if hunger didn’t pinch him;
but the stomach sets us to work.
George Eliot from Felix Holt.
The search for autonomy amongst adults can be seen partly as a response to the experience of parental control in the family as a child. It is also a powerful part of the culture of a capitalist society. The American slogans “from the log cabin to the White House’’ and “the land of the free” express these values well. It is more than an escape from the control of the other, and particularly the employer. It is a belief that the best will come out of the individual with the least constraint. Put differently, it can come from a realisation that one’s employer is making more from one’s labour than oneself. So you escape this unequal relationship of employment, and become self employed. One writer has seen the explosion of artistic expression in the 1960’s and 1970’s as a kind of romantic revolt. It was romantic because it stressed the values of authenticity, spontaneity and individuality. It rejected hierarchy, bureaucracy, and imposed identities. The entrepreneurial values of the 1980’s of choice, freedom, and initiative seem to flow easily from the previous two decades. However, the range of freedoms on offer in entrepreneurial culture is focused more on the role of consumer (Marquand, 65: 1992). One has more choice in the role of consumer, as there is an increasing variety of goods and services on offer. Of course, the unemployed cannot exercise this increased choice, so their choices are very limited. Also there is little choice as a producer, as work is increasingly standardised. The example of Mc Donald’s, where each stage in the preparation of fast food is minutely defined, is perhaps an extreme example (Gabriel, 88: 1988). However, it does make the point that in one’s working life one conforms, and the freedom to manoeuvre is severely limited. Finally, entrepreneurial culture is itself opposed to other values. Its stress on individualism is hostile to the collective values of trade unions. So one is not free to espouse any values.
Explaining the attraction of entrepreneurial values may be done by looking at the last two decades of the twentieth century; but it was also done by appealing to the earlier eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The capitalist founders of firms in this period were often heroic figures. Some were very interested in technology, and even sciences. They took great risks by starting new enterprises, and were wealth creators. Contemporary capitalists often wish to see themselves in this tradition. However, there are differences. Early capitalists usually risked their own money. Contemporary capitalists risk other peoples (Marquand, 1992). Also the early capitalists had to convert people from aristocratic values, where the land was for the leisure pursuits of hunting and fishing; as opposed to capitalistic farming; or where flowing water was needed for the earliest factories. Contemporary capitalists have to convert people from different values. These are the values of governmentinterference in the economy to regulate and to tax. Freedom from these constraints was required in order to grow, and make more profits. The existence of the governmental constraints can be traced back to the Second World War. The authority of the government rested on the management of the economy then, and through taxation, the provision of the welfare state after the war. The 1980’s were a period when capitalists attempted to regain some of their earlier authority from the government. The new values can be summed up in the slogan:
“Managers have the right to manage.”
This right implied the right to constrain others at work. A founder of sociology Emile Durkheim argued that society was partly built on constraint. This was necessary because of the variety of new occupations that society had produced by the twentieth century (Durkheim, 1984). This variety created the possibility of envy, which Durkheim believed was a part of socialist politics. This envy needed to be constrained, in the interests of social peace. Although it could be argued that this form of socialist politics was brought into existence by capitalism itself; and so envy is more the creation of capitalism.
This development of new occupations, plus increasing specialisation within occupations, meant that most people could no longer be self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency may have been a possibility for rural peasantry, but not for urban industrial workers. We necessarily depend on others for products and services, which we need in life. This has been called “a high degree of interdependence” (Lukes, 154: 1973). Further, this was a constraining principle. One is constrained because one cannot provide for oneself everything that one needs to live everyday. The food one eats is produced elsewhere, and one depends on other farmers, and distributors, and retail shops to make it available to urban dwellers.
These constraints were seen as necessary because of the growth of more legal and economic freedoms that people could exercise over their lives compared with their feudal past. Durkheim believed in the need for some balance between freedom and constraint in the interests of a healthy society. The prospect of more economic freedoms can at first sight be an appealing prospect. Even the possibility of failure and bankruptcy can add excitement to this world.
A recent study of bankruptcy in Britainfound that around 40% of new businesses fail within 3 years of start up. The values of freedom, independence, opportunity for innovation, and the expectation of high financial returns, were strongly present in this study. But the stereotype of the hardy individual was not so prevalent. Rather there was a series of negative experiences, frustration with the role of employee, inability to progress in the firm, and fear of unemployment and redundancy. Some believed that they were too old in their 50’s to get employment. The experience left bitterness to employers.
” When I was made redundant for the second time, I felt I couldn’t trust anyone”
(Whyley, 17: 1998).
This lack of trust produced a need for the self-reliance that comes with self-employment.
Younger people were more positive about self-employment. They tended to have more skillsor training or professional experience, which made it easier for them to find other employment, or to start self-employment. Some also had generous redundancy packages that eased the move into self-employment, without an interim period of unemployment. Indeed some of these younger people felt that the available jobs had little to offer them, and so became more enthusiastic about self-employment. These younger and enthusiastic people positively valued freedom and creativity, and did not just want to run a business.
“We didn’t know anything about production, finance or selling. We had learnt nothing in college about when you were supposed to deliver or how payments are made. After our first show we didn’t even think about getting the clothes made up for order until about four months later”
(Lee, 219: 1989).
One of the legal requirements for running a small business is that one’s personal moneys have to be kept separate from the money going in and out of the business. This was practised by only a minority however. There were a number of reasons for this. One was that the most frequent way to raise money from the bank was to take out a loan on one’s private home.
“More than half of the people we interviewed had raised money for their business by borrowing against the security of their family home. The amounts they raised were from £5,000.00 to £30,000.00″ (Whyley, 31:1998).
Also, the interviews at the bank were less to do with informal advice about running a small business, and more to do with the bank’s concern about the security of their investment. So the business start up loan was closely tied to the family home at the start. A minority of people in the study were able mix the two moneys, business and personal, without problems. Sometimes there was an accountant who arbitrarily allocated moneys to one place or the other, in order to satisfy legal requirements. Others mixed the two moneys more than they realised. Finally, severe financial pressure from creditors with unpaid bills, forced the mixing of the two moneys. Household moneys were used to pay off angry suppliers.
Few of those in self-employment were concerned with their personal earning capacity. Self-employment was treated like a new job, like being an employee. It just provided money to make ends meet. Few employed an accountant. Since most business was in the home, or the home was used for business, the bills for domestic fuel and services referred to both business and domestic use. Therefore, these bills were paid with one payment. This muddled the two moneys even more. All this mattered when the business started to fail. If suppliers bills were met before mortgage and bank loan repayments, then one could lose one’s home through repossession! As one man put it:
” I think that the main problem with the business has probably been myself. First of all I’m a craftsman, a tradesman, and not really a good business man”.
(Whyley, 57: 1998).
Closing down the business was rarely a purely economic affair. Trading often continued long after the business was economically viable. The emotional attachment to the business was too strong. There was also an element of the coming shame, as closing would be seen as a personal failure. There were cases of severe depression and family tension. As one man put it:
“I went through a phase where I could not open envelopes, which were obviously related to money. You can read envelopes, I can tell you without opening them… who they’re from, and what it’s about”
(Whyley, 62: 1998).
This feeling of desperation was common amongst business failures. Those who entered self-employment with no other choice, and with little skills or training or contacts got little from the experience; apart from a period of paid self-employment.
One study of small business entrepreneurs in Kent showed that at the weekend their employer could loan tools and even capital equipment to employees. They could practice as entrepreneurs themselves! This was a sort of school for capitalism. It made the move from employee to employer much easier. It was also an expression of the trust and friendship between employer and employee. However, it also reduced any calls for higher wages from the employees (Scase & Goffee, 1982).
The salience of the employer/employee relationship was reduced by these measures. The shared belief in individualism helped to reduce the class difference, which did exist between employer and employee. There was a fear amongst the employees however of slipping into a lower class position, as one grew older. One had less physical strength to exploit on the building site, so one might be given less skilled and lower paid work. Indeed this self-exploitation of one’s body can be seen as part of entrepreneurial values, and was true of both the smaller employers and the employees.
This easy transition from employer to employee was not for all workers though. Only those seen by the employer as respectable workers were taken on in the first place. This was especially important for building work in private homes. Some workers were seen as unemployable. No class movement was open to them. However, for those lacking educational certification this employment, leading to self-employment, can be an opportunity to rise in society. Work can produce opportunities that neither school, nor one’s family can.
A very different study called “Reluctant Managers” (Scase & Goffee, 1989) found that most male managers ranked family and personal relationships above career achievements, as the most important source of satisfaction in their lives. This study was published at the end of the 1980’s. It revealed, what later studies confirmed, that there was a growing scepticism about the values of entrepreneurialism amongst entrepreneurs themselves. Two thirds of those interviewed wanted to retire in their 50’s. “The Protestant Ethic is really wearing a bit thin,” (Scase & Goffee, 102: 1989) said one interviewee. This was a male general manager in his late 40’s. Two thirds of managers took account of their children’s education in thinking of a career move. This seems to be evidence of a reducing commitment to entrepreneurial values.
The reasons given for this change in values include increasing responsibility because of untrained subordinates. In interviews with senior managers in a large high street bank, I found that an increasing number were taking early retirement. This had the consequence that for middle managers there were fewer senior colleagues one could go to for advice in difficult cases, as one did in the past. All this increases the pressures on the younger managers who remain, albeit reluctantly.
Another study of entrepreneurial managers, by the same authors, focused on female entrepreneurs (Scase & Goffee, 1985). The reasons given for self-employment were summarised as more to do with income than being employed; being engaged in craft skills in the home. Also, doing this paid work in the home meant that no time was spent travelling to paid work. This saved time was seen as facilitating domestic work. The last reason given was greater autonomy and self-expression. This last reason was similar to men’s reasons for self-employment. Some of the women in their sample wanted to beat the men at their own game; being assertive, exercising will power, even being ruthless. These women had often had a frustrating experience as employees, being passed over for promotion. However, they still had the goals of success, but became self employed to achieve them.
The actual work relationships in the small firms set up were very informal and non-hierarchical. There was an expectation that all would co-operate in this small new firm. The business was based on trust and close supervision was not seen as necessary. Further, making the firm grow was not seen as desirable. This would create the need for hierarchy and supervision, and less trust. Some women were aware that they used their femininity in doing deals with men; and were less happy having to deal with other women. Yet other women did not see themselves as entrepreneurs, and did not wish others to see them in this way. One of the firms was explicitly feminist and had their origin in consciousness raising groups. This had the consequence that much time was spent at work, and occasionally after work, in discussion of the business. Matters rarely went to a vote, and sometimes personal matters were discussed, such as pregnancy, particularly where they affected the business.
The craft workers, on the other hand, were more dependent on men; husbands who gave financial support, and banks who gave start up loans.
“When I wanted some money to buy a van, the bank manager
said ‘Bring your husband down’. My husband previously banked elsewhere, and it was put very nicely that he would have to transfer his account. He did. He’s very good like that “.
(Scase & Goffee, 127: 1985).
Where there was no bank loan, and a small capital base from savings, other studies of female entrepreneurs have found that these women were less able to cope with late payments, than those with a larger capital base were. Further, there was often a lack of assertiveness in collecting payments, or non-payments. Some women practised price-cutting as an attempt to enter a market. This can be seen as quite rational, if only as a short term strategy. However, the researchers argued that this price-cutting could be a reflection of the women’s lack of confidence in their product or their skills(Whyley, 1998).
Another example of capitalism providing freedom is the case of ethnic entrepreneurs. Amongst the advantages to the employees is the fact that all, or most, of the other employees are from the same ethnic group. This means that religious customs, including religious holidays are respected. The disadvantages are that wages may be low. In addition, in order to increase sales outside the ethnic group, one study found that sales staff had to be white. Nonetheless, the increased sales helped to make the employees’ jobs more secure.
Studies of ethnic entrepreneurs have followed the 1980’s decade of entrepreneurial culture. For some analysts there was no difference between ethnic entrepreneurs and white entrepreneurs. They both responded to opportunities in the market place. For other writers there was a reaction model. This model argued that being an ethnic entrepreneur was largely a reaction to widespread racism in society. In particular the experience of blocked mobility, or even redundancy, in large white firms led these workers to set up their own firms. There were few choices when setting up these firms. They often moved into premises and jobs left by white workers who had closed down. The idea that there was some special cultural flair for business fits badly with these constraints. One respondent put it this way:
“The choice was labouring or going into business.”
This picture of an ethnic ghetto was reinforced when one of the best researchers on this area was told by a respondent;
“I’m only talking to you because I know your family. If you were white I wouldn’t talk to you.”
These firms were small, needed little capital to start up, and did not have particularly high levels of expertise. In order to grow, and ensure long term survival, these firms needed to break out of the ethnic markets they sold to. However, most employers had not strategically aimed to sell to their ethnic market, but were content to stay there. Some, about a quarter, did break out, but only by employing a white sales manager. This is a measure of the experience of racismexperienced by those who tried to break out on their own. As one manager of a clothing factoryput it, when trying to sell to a large chain store;
“You could tell that the didn’t want to buy off you because of the colour of your skin.”
On the other hand, ethnic firms did lack expertise in the areas of marketing, sales, financial control and general management. There was a resistance to introducing more “rational” methods, or the current fashion, as this would be disruptive of the existing organisation of the firm. So, when one large customer wanted the latest quality controls in place, or else threatened not renew the contract, the behaviour of the factorymanager had to change radically. A number of set procedures would have to be introduced, which among other things had the consequence that the manager could not work on the floor any more.
The organisation of these firms was typically in terms of partnerships across kin relations. This was because family labour was cheap, and managerial control was easier because of trust within the family. Typically one partner controlled the operation of production within the firm; the other partner controls all relations outside the firm. The disadvantage of this style was that it radically restricted growth. There was one example of a family with seven brothers. They managed seven shops. There was no question of opening any more shops, although the family now had considerable experience. Having to operate within one’s own ethnic group meant that a number of firms with a single ethnic group were created. One writer even claims that there is an ethnic hierarchy of firms. The hierarchy has to do with how well established the firm is, compared with how recently new immigrant owners have arrived. Jewish clothing firms were favourably compared by employees to Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi employers (Phizacklea, 76: 1990). This was partly to do with wages, which in turn reflected their position in the hierarchy of sub-contracting firms, who were increasingly forced to accept low prices for their production. This is a world of increasing competition with women working from home on their own sewing machines. they are also at the bottom of the hierarchy in terms of pay.
The point of these studies is that there is a changing relationship between freedom and constraint, just as there was between working and non-working in chapter one. Those workers with least constraint are those who are highly skilled and educated, and those successful entrepreneurs who avoid bankruptcy. Those with the most constraint are the unskilled and semi-skilled. Those who are unemployed are the most constrained of all, but by the state; and not relations at work.
To crush, to annihilate a man utterly, to inflict on him the most terrible punishment so that the most ferocious murderer would shudder at it beforehand, one need only give him work of an absolutely, completely useless and irrational character.
Fedor Dostoevsky from House of the Dead.
The Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries in Europe saw a transformation of the nature of work, from an agricultural to an industrial mode. The changes were very great. In Feudalism the seasons, the extent of daylight, the nearness of the fields to the farm, and whole families including children working together, all were normal features of daily life. All this changed with industrialisation. The majority moved to the towns, where covered factories and offices with artificial light were introduced. These new factories and offices meant that the same workcould go on in all seasons of the year. Later women and children were taken out of work in these factories with laws protecting the purity of the women, and extending the provision of education for children. Finally, work was not always within walking distance from the home as the cities grew fast in the nineteenth century. By the end of the nineteenth century home and workhad been separated geographically, and socially. Paid work in offices and factories was for men only. Typically unpaid domestic labour was for the woman remaining in the home. In the early years of the twentieth century nearly all clerks, and even typists were men.
Until about the 1880’s factory workers were organised in gangs with a foreman. This organisation of work was perhaps the last surviving element of the organisation of Feudal work on farms. In America the concern about increased productivity, and reducing the power of the foreman, led “Speedy Taylor”(Taylor, 1947) to conduct experiments to discover the one right way to do every job; and so increase productivity. This had some success, but was associated with many similar repetitive movements of the body. This created the problem of boredom at work.
Another attempt to increase productivity at work was called the “Human Relations” movement (Rose, 1975). This involved more experiments to discover informal friendly workgroups. Groups of workers who knew one another were set up. Various aspects of the working day were changed. The lighting was changed, as was the forms of payment, and rest times, and so on. All of these changes produced increased productivity. But when the researchers left, then productivity fell to the levels existing before the experiments started. It appears that the attention paid to these workers by the visiting psychologists was what increased productivity. The experiments were exciting. When the experimenters left, work became boring again.
Attempts to make boring work more acceptable have seen a variety of managerial initiatives over the last 50 years in America Britain, and Japan. Some initiatives, like more flexible working times, working from home, paternity leave, crèches in the firm’s premises, are real gains for many workers. Other initiatives involving quality circles, total quality management, re-engineering departments within firms, and performance related pay, are more questionable. Details apart these latter initiatives are essentially about managing beliefs, values, and even the personal identities of workers. Put simply, these are attempts to create loyalty to the organisation. This is partly a return to entrepreneurial values, but also a concern to focus on the continual improvement of the product or service of the firm. Annual pay is then related to the improvements, or performance, achieved by each individual. This can have the consequence of increasing competition between individuals for higher pay; which conflicts with the need for co-operative effort, when working in a team.
Other initiatives like flatter structures, which reduce the number of levels in old-fashioned bureaucracies, are also questionable. The new work teams, with most members in their 20’s or 30’s, experience severely reduced access to senior and older managers, many of whom have taken early retirement. This can produce a degree of informality, even friendly, behaviour. There is also considerable competition, and fears about job security, among these executives. So young executives may tend to choose a bank because it offers more training than other banks. So, if one loses one job, one is well placed to get another.
This presents a picture of career planning as the responsibility of the individual worker, and not the employer. The employer does provide training, which can be seen as a form of human capital, and which is the private property of the individual. This raises questions about loyalty to the firm, especially when there are possible redundancies. The ability to get another job with a level of skill training relatively higher than other similar workers puts one at an advantage. But increasingly the concern will be with the individual acquiring new skills from new employers, and not with any long term loyalty to any existing, or even future, employer.
Are these initiatives any more successful in reducing boredom? For senior, and some middle, managers there was always some commitment to the firm; and some of the excitement mentioned in earlier chapters. For the younger, lower level, recently promoted managers, some aspects of their work may be less boring. Perhaps there are fewer bureaucratic forms to fill in. More time is probably spent in meetings. Some meetings may be boring to some of those attending. On balance, the greater responsibility which flatter structures produce for younger managers may well have produced less boredom, and more excitement.
For non-managerial office and factoryworkers various studies suggest that there still is boring and repetitive work. In some cases of factory work the job is so tightly defined that each movement of the hand and eye is pre-programmed. Office workers entering routine data into computers, or answering telephones in call centres are also pre-programmed in terms of the style of conversation, and sales technique. Close managerial surveillance is achieved by listening in on conversations with clients, and regular interviews with workers. This keeps workers in the pre-programmed mode and avoids merely pleasant conversations on the telephone, which may not result in a sale (Taylor, 1998).
There is evidence of this regime being undermined by giving difficult customers the wrong in formation, or just ending the call. This can cause great excitement for a while; which is itself an indication of the prior level of boredom.
What these studies show is that boredomis more likely to occur, and be more widespread below the level of manager. Managerial work has often been described as inherently exciting, moving quickly from one problem to the next in any one working day. There is also the excitement of entrepreneurial values described earlier. But workers below the level of management are more interesting. Why, given 50 years of attempts to reduce boredom, has this failed? Is it because low level work is inherently low skilled, or even unskilled? Have the more recent quality initiatives some inherent flaw in them?
Mass production, meaning producing large numbers of a standardised product, is an achievement of the 20th century. In particular Henry Ford observed how the dead animals were brought to the butchers on a moving assembly line in a Chicago abattoir. He applied the same principle to the manufacture of motor cars. So workers did not have to walk from task to task. The task came to them. Much production time was saved. However the tasks became more standardised. Mass production was seen as creating meaninglessness in workers lives. Recent achievements of computerised technology have meant that fewer workers are needed for the same amount of production. This has indeed reduced the number of workers engaged in standardised work. But those who remain still have standardised work to do. It is still boring.
In a study of young school leavers carried out in the 1980’s it was found that not only was work experienced by many as boring, so had school; and long periods of unemployment were also boring. This rather bleak study paints a picture of no escape from boredom for young workers. However, this sensitive study attempted to distinguish different types of boredom. The boredom at work was similar to that at school in that the task was imposed by others. At work, when the foreman rather rudely ordered a young unskilled worker to
“Do that!”(Wallace, 114: 1987), it was experienced as a lack of respect. The work was done but
“that brings out the negative in me. I’ll do it , but they won’t get the best out of me. I’ll be too narked to concentrate.”
(Wallace, 114: 1987)
This creates a situation where an ordered set of practices have to be gone through to complete a task. However, as these practices are not being concentrated on, the actual experience of this active manual work is one of boredom. Similarly, being told in school to open the book and read certain pages can be seen as not only boring, but a preparation for future experiences of authoritarianism, lack of respect, and consequent boredom at work. This was called boredom imposed by others. There was also self imposed boredom. This was described as “doing nothing”(Wallace, 78: 1987), mostly at home. Doing nothing was actually a series of regular activities, listening to music, reading a book, going for a walk; but these activities were not seen as worthwhile. They were not worthwhile for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, they were not part of a series of activities that were part of paid work. This indicates a sort of preference for paid employment, even though it was seen as largely boring. There was the possibility of having a laugh at work with one’s peers. This made work not at all boring, for at least some of the time. Secondly, doing nothing did not provide any money for consumption. This was very important as these school leavers wanted the kind of leisure activities that their old friends from school, who had paid work, engaged in. Leisure had been commercialised, it had to be bought in the pub, cinema, night club etc.. The activities of walking, reading and so on were a part of doing nothing, and could not be seen as a part of leisure. Thirdly, doing nothing for over 5 years meant that one saw those in work marrying, with an expensive ceremony, and then buying a house and car. This was not an option for the unemployed. Rather one cohabited in one’s parent’s house, and a child was born. This meant that there were three generations in a house designed for two.
Doing nothing was contrasted to doing something. This involved wild adventures like,
“before when I used to get bored I just used to jump the trains and go up to London or something. Or do something. But now I’ve got a bit lazy and I’ve not being doing much. Been more sort of boring. If I get bored I just go and have an argument with someone”.
(Wallace, 79: 1987).
This doing something was a definite change from doing nothing, It was an experience of excitement initiated by oneself, as opposed to passively receiving instructions at school and work. Something could also happen spontaneously, like an invitation to got to a friend’s house. These wild adventures could easily become criminal ones, but there was little evidence of that in this study; although it seems that a train fare was not paid. This changing mixture of doing something and nothing was boring, but was seen as preferable to being bored at work. This was because one was in control of the sequencing, whether one was doing something or nothing. At work one’s activities was controlled by someone else, producing boredom imposed by others. A good example comes from Mike:
“At Abbott’s they used to give you the women’s job. Just sticking labels on bottles or just putting bottles on a conveyor belt. Just doing that all day. Just sitting there. Your mind wandered, you’re thinking of something, you fall asleep”.
(Wallace, 79: 1987).
A level of boredom that produces a sleep must be a very high level.
A second study of workers in the catering industry found high levels of boredom, with some interesting complexities. Firstly, the introduction of more sophisticated technology in food production, like freezing food and micro-wave ovens, had increased productivity enormously. This had also removed much of the traditional skills many of the workers had before they got this job. Indeed, one cook who introduced some individual flavouring to her particular dishes was very popular with the consumers and her workmates, but not so popular with local management. This was because great effort had been made to standardise production of food, in order to achieve the increases in productivity. This standardisation was threatened by individual changes to the standardised procedures. The cooks began to use the word “factory”, as opposed to the word “kitchen”, to describe their place of work. One consequence of this largely successful standardisation was boredom.
“This is not really catering, more like working in a factory. The product is irrelevant, it’s not like cooking at home – you just have to do everything by the book, the same day in day out.”
(Gabriel, 66: 1988)
This standardisation is in tune with the ideas of F. W. Taylor’s Scientific Management with it’s search for the one right way of doing any job. The assumption is that the workers cannot do the job on their own, as they are not seen as having the requisite skills. So the job is broken up into a small number of repetitive tasks, with little daily variety. This gives the boredom element to the job, but it also makes no use of the traditional cooking skills possessed by the workers. This leads to the charge of bad management from the workers, meaning here a lack of respect for the worker
“They’re dead formal and impersonal. I am older than them, and still they call me by my first name, but they insist on being called Mr and Mrs.”
(Gabriel, 83: 1987)
Most of the time production ran smoothly, and little management intervention was needed. This however, raised the suspicion that the managers were redundant, and that the kitchen ran itself. Further, management interventions tended to happen on the few occasions when things went wrong. This produced criticism and blame. On the other hand, there was no praise when things went smoothly. The very design of the production process gave one greater productivity, but also less face to face management intervention, and increased boredom together with a belief that management was poor, and without respect for their workers.
However, not all of the workers were bored in the same way. In the most standardised part of the work the food was frozen, and the fact that management was not often present in this space meant that the workers had some opportunity to vary the pace of the work. They could finish the day a bit earlier, or rotate jobs amongst themselves, or divide the work up evenly amongst themselves. This introduced some little self management, which made the boredom more bearable. But the most important gain for these workers was the ability to have a laugh at work.
“It’s a good job that we get on together because the job itself is not much good … The girls here must have a sense of humour in order to cope.”
(Gabriel, 90: 1987)
Making jokes about a situation which is boring, and with uncaring disrespectful management, can release much tension. It is also a celebration of the group, and helps to make the experience of work more than bearable, even occasionally pleasant. But this occasional pleasantness is got at a high price. The workers accept the very standardisation which is largely the cause of their personal troubles.
Other workers in catering in fast food retail outlets have yet another variant of boredom. Here, standardisation of the food processing and delivery to the customer is at a much higher level. There is a period of training apart from the job, in one case called a University, where an elaborate rule book is learned. One training instruction goes as follows:
“WHAT IS IMPORTANT is that you shouldunderstand WHY YOUR work has to be done in a certain way and that you do it properly, to the best of your ability. NOT BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO, but because YOU WANT TO. In the end this is the BEST WAY.”
(Gabriel, 95: 1987)
One worker’s response to this went as follows:
“There are no short cuts in this job; they have perfected the best way of doing things and you have to stick to it. You just follow the rules.”
(Gabriel, 96: 1987)
This paints a very different picture from the kitchen. The opportunity to self manage appears to be non existent! The aim is to satisfy each customer within four and a half minutes. So although each task is defined in minute detail, the exact amount of tomato sauce etc., there is also some flexibility about who does each task. In busy times even the local managers serve customers. Most of the day is busy, but at midday there is real pressure. There seems to be no time to be bored!
“Although the job is not interesting, once you’ve got into the routine, you are so busy all the time, you don’t feel bored. Only after the end of your shift, you keep asking yourself what you have achieved. … There is pressure in this job, but no intellectual stimulus.” (Gabriel, 102: 1987)
What is interesting here is that the pressure, the speed of work, the physical exertion which requires only young workers, is so great that no boredom is experienced. At least, boredom is not experienced whilst at work. After work, at the end of the shift, or after leaving the job very negative feelings surface.
” I’ve never been back since I stopped working there, to tell you the truth I even avoid walking past it,. I just try to avoid everything to do with it.”
(Gabriel, 124: 1987)
Even in this strict regime, and despite what one worker said earlier, there were some short cuts in the work. Once the rules have been mastered, including the 25 rules regulating the frying of chips, and how to smile, then all that matters is speed. Some workers are faster than others. But there are two ways of being faster. One is to follow all the rules, the other is to short circuit them. By following the rules, and getting your queue of customers shorter, and in less time than your colleagues, you may enjoy a certain prestige. By breaking the rules you see what you can get away with. You may cut out some of the steps in a process, and do less work. You may also produce less edible food!
“The book says that you should make hamburgers in sixes; you try and make 18 all at once. You should only fry 4 pieces of fish in thebasket; when your manager is not looking, you put 5, or 6 or 7. You constantly try to build up stock by cutting corners. Sometimes, the managers themselves turn a blind eye, because they know that if you didn’t cut corners you couldn’t keep up with the customers.”
(Gabriel, 106: 1987)
What this shows is firstly that the rule book is not only not always followed, but that on occasion it cannot be followed. Secondly, the managers themselves recognise this, and collude in this. Thirdly, there are some potential health risks here from the style of production, quite apart from concern about raw materials. Fourthly, and most important, the managers who collude in this style can often be seen as good managers who make for a happier working relationship, as we are all breaking the rules.
In order to remove even these few possibilities for rule breaking some firms, like Mc Donald’s pre-cut, pre-slice and pre-prepare the food by technology, before it arrives at the restaurant. All that needs to be done is heat and serve. The drinks are pre-measured in quantity, and a sensor stops the glass overfilling. A bell or buzzer rings when the food is cooked. So technology can be used to remove deviant acts at work, which might relieve the boredom. The only space where the details of the job are not so clearly defined are the cleaning of the floor in the area where customers eat their food.
The concern expressed above that much of food preparation is becoming like factory work is well founded. Recent studies of factory work
influenced by Japanese methods seem to show even more clearly defined and repetitive tasks than in Mc Donald’s. In the Matsushita plant in Cardiff workers fit 80 components per minute! There is bell to bell working. This means that no informal breaks are permitted between the ringing bells. Typically there is one half hour lunch break, and two ten minutes tea breaks. The start and finish of these breaks are all announced by bells ringing. In the case of the ten minute breaks however there is a warning bell after seven minutes. This is intended to give the workers three minutes to walk to their workstation, and pick up their tools. Then they are ready to start work promptly on the ten minute bell. What tended to happen was that the workers would have another drink or cigarette in the last three minutes, Then there would be a thirty second sprint to the work station (Danford, 50: 1998). Talking on the line was a disciplinary issue. This removed the possibility for sociability, which is always seen as one of the positive aspects of paid labour. If the line broke down, then workers would be moved to an alternative line. The possibility of creating some time buffers where one could rest seems to have been sharply reduced.
Perhaps the most extreme example of the reduction in time created by the workers was at the Nissan plant in Sunderland (Garrahan & Stewart, 1992). This resembled Mc Donald’s in that there was such stress at work that the workers were too tired to be bored. Nonetheless it was clear that the work was mostly repetitive and boring. The process of production of motor cars is called Just in Time. This means that there are no large stocks of parts held in the factory, they arrive from local suppliers Just in Time. This obviously creates the possibility of much disruption. To deal with this problem all tasks are made as simple as possible. This makes them easy to learn. Each worker is trained in a number of tasks. This is called multi-skilling. So if there is some delay in necessary parts, because of heavy traffic on local roads, or some accident; then workers can easily be moved to other tasks, where there is no delay. However all these tasks are very simple and so boredom is still a real possibility, although one has to recognise that being moved from one’s ‘normal’ task to another one may relieve that boredom somewhat.
If one were to work a bit faster to have a rest period from all this stress, then one would seen as having nothing to do. This was called idle time, and was seen as a waste. This waste would be dealt with by finding another task. This was called the management by stress process. If one could find time to do nothing then one had too many resources of time, or too few resources of materials. The solution was to take time resources away from you, and give it to other workers who not only could not manage increased speed to get a breather, but who often could not keep up with the standard times. These slower workers might find stress reduced, but more was now expected of them. Taking a breather to reduce the boredom, even if the increased resources made this possible, was not encouraged. It would be waste again!
What the studies in this chapter tend to show is that there is a great deal of boring workabout; much of it recently created. The need to increase productivity, and reduce costs in a very competitive environment has meant that many workers not only experience more stress from intensive work practices, they also experience more boredom because the tasks are so simple. Rising levels of academic success in terms of school exams taken and passed, may also mean that what previous generations found acceptable at work, to-day’s school leavers find boring. Attempting to deal with this by team working, being multi-skilled, and taking a pride in high levels of efficiency and product quality, did have some success at Nissan. However, in the first three months of employment there was a very high labour turnover. Many simply left, despite this being an area of high unemployment, and some rigorous assessment procedures before one was employed. A recent study in Wales found that there was little or no pride in the work, and no identification with the company (Delbridge, 2000).
Arguably what is going on here is some recognition by many employers that the work is largely boring, and a variety of ways are attempted to deal with this. For those who leave these attempts are probably a failure. For the majority who stay there may be a sense of respect for the enormous productivity gains. But also there is a recognition of increased physical tiredness at the end of the day. Further, if the only alternative locally is unemployment, then an acceptance of this form of paid work provides more income than state benefits. However, the acceptance of boredom at work is not proven.
An optimistic future scenario is one where technology takes even more of the work tasks from humans. This creates a situation of either mass unemployment; or more tasks where one is operating this new technology; rather than being controlled by it. In the first case some increase in state benefits would be necessary for the ex-workers to live. There is some political support for this Social Wage, as it gives some dignity to the recipients. In the second case there is a massive need for education to provide the necessary skillsto operate these new machines. Even here there is an assumption that sitting in front of a computer screen all day is not in itself very boring.
More pessimistic scenarios see ever increasing productivity gains, with work tasks being made more simple, and so more boring. This creates a situation where avoiding this kind of work is only possible with more and more educational certificates. So more boys and girls are staying on at school after 16 years of age, more are taking exams and more are passing , and at higher levels. Finally, more are going to higher education where qualifications are provided, and increasingly seen by employers as a first step in entering work. For the students this certification may be a way of avoiding boring work.
Voluntary and Involuntary Unemployment.
People mutht be amuthed.
They can’t be alwayth a learning, nor yet they can’t be alwayth a working,
they an’t made for it.
Charles Dickens from Hard Times.
At the end of the twentieth century, there were 27.5 million people employed in Britain. This figure represented a growth of nearly 3 million over the previous 15 years. There were 1.7 million unemployed in 1999. This represented a growth of 0.7 million over the same period. This paints an overall picture of success. There were four times as many people getting employment as losing it! However, there was another very large group of 17.5 million, called the economically inactive; and they had grown by nearly 1 million. These definitions are from the International Labour Office, a part of the United Nations. They have been used since 1984 in Britain; and are now widely used in Europe. Who are the economically inactive; and should some of them be included in the unemployed figure?
The above categories are defined as follows:
A person over 16 years of age is in employment if they have done at least one hour’s paid work during the week before they were interviewed; if they are on a government sponsored training scheme; and if they were doing unpaid work for their family business.
A person is unemployed if they are without a job, but want a job; and have actively sought work in the last 4 weeks, or are available to start work in the next 2 weeks.
A person is economically inactive if they are without a job, and have not looked for one in the last 4 weeks, prior to being interviewed.
(Office for National Statistics, 1999 Labour Market Statistics, Reference Shelf, How exactly is Unemployment Measured).
There are problems with each of these three categories. To be counted as in employment a person has only to do one hour’s paid work in the week prior to interview. One hour seems to be a very low figure; and we do not know if there were any hours in the previous weeks. Also, government training schemes last for varying lengths of time, and do not guarantee full time employment on graduation. Finally, discovering in interview the existence of unpaid work in a family business is difficult. The interviewer may not speak the language of the small business owner. The extent of the unpaid work may be extremely variable. It may vary from no hours to more or less than one hour.
To be counted as unemployed, the claim of wanting a job is a very subjective matter. This will be difficult to measure consistently over a sample of some 120,000 people. Further, the requirement of actively seeking a job is even more a subjective matter. However, there is the objective check of a limit of the previous 4 weeks, when the person was to have been seeking a job. Even this requires a good memory, although this claim could be checked with those potential employers, who have kept details of those applying for jobs.
To be counted as economically inactive one has to be not looking for a job. This is again very unclear, although there is a limit of the previous 4 weeks. What does one have to do, or not do, to be counted as not looking for a job? Does it mean not reading only the local paper; or a regional, national, or even international paper? Is it not attending the local job centre? In this last case, maybe one ought to be (but will not be) counted in another statistic called the claimant count. This is not a sample, but a 100% measure of all those claiming state benefits for unemployment. It produces a figure of 1.2 million. This figure changes as every government changes the rules whereby one can receive state benefits. The many changes make it an unreliable guide, and create much work for statisticians.
To return to the earlier question of the relationship between the unemployed and economically inactive, we are now in a better position to look at this. The downward trend in unemployment over the last 15 years of the twentieth century is probably correct; even if the reduction of 1.5 million to a figure of 1.7 million is less reliable. The sample of about 60,000 households, with approximately 120,000 people is by far the largest sample in Britain. This means that short of a census, with a 100% count, this is the most reliable data we have.
Total male and female economic inactivity rose slightly over this period. However, when looking at the movement over these 15 years of economic inactivity for men and women separately, some striking differences appear. Firstly, whilst the movement for women was downwards, for men it was upwards. The following table gives the details.
Note: The above figures are in millions, and are adapted from the Labour Force Survey. 1999.
The difference in the direction of the trend for economic inactivity, with men’s inactivity rising and women’s falling needs explanation. Put differently, why are an increasing number of women than men either looking for a job, or getting one in the last 4 weeks? The basic difference between being unemployed and economically inactive is a subjective one. In both cases they are without a job; but the unemployed person wants a job, and by implication the inactive person does not, as they have not looked in the last 4 weeks. The illustrative example from the Labour Force Survey makes this clear
“Harry Thompson is out of work, but stopped looking for new jobs a year ago as he does not believe that any jobs are available.”
(Office of National Statistics, Reference Shelf, Page 3)
This quotation raises other problems. Significantly, the example is male. Why does Harry have the belief that there are no jobs? Could it be that he is not willing to take a part time job? Certainly there are more part time jobs in existence for women, at 5.4 million, than for men, at 1.4 million. Harry’s belief about the number of jobs may be more or less accurate, but his belief may also be that part time jobs are not appropriate for men. This may be because that Harry believes in the breadwinner role, that is to have a full time job, which pays enough wages to support a family. This raises the thorny political problem about Harry’s willingness to take up work, albeit part time. Should Harry and those like him, be added to the unemployed category? Perhaps not if he not looking for part time as well as full time jobs. However, there may be many other men who are looking for part time jobs, but for a variety of reasons do not wish to admit this in interview. The part time job may not be entirely legal; it may be cash in hand. A strong belief in the bread winner role may inhibit one from admitting to a search for part time jobs. Arguably, these men should be counted as unemployed. This would significantly increase the size of the unemployed, but not the trend. Provided there has been consistency in distinguishing wanting from not wanting in interview, the trend is unaffected. This consistency requires some subtlety in the interview in order to distinguish the different types of searching for work.
Further, people may become confused about dates. They may believe the interview they did attend was five or more weeks ago, when in fact it was within the 4 weeks. The long term inactive and older interviewees may well forget their act of looking in the last 4 weeks. In addition, they will wish to hide their failure at a job interview from an interviewer. There may well be guidelines for interviewers to deal with these obvious problems. However, one is now in a grey area, where individual interviewers have to decide which category to place an individual into. There will not be total consistency between interviewers in any one year, and less so over 15 years. All this is not to question the reliability of the figures so much, but to raise the problem of the categories. It is arguable that as both the unemployed and the economically inactive are without a job, they should be added together. However, this also has its problems. Harry could have a serious and chronic illness. Harry could be over 55 years old, approaching retirement. He might be interested in part time work, though not all employers are willing to have men. He might reject part time and be holding out for another full time job, as this has been his life times experience of work for men. Harry does not have the same chance of getting a job as a man half his age; or a woman for that matter. These are good reasons for not having Harry in the unemployed category. However, there are the residual doubts about the enormous difference in the figures of 17.5 million economically inactive, and 1.7 million unemployed.
The political desire to have a low unemployment count is understandable. Any one unemployed person is both a loss to society, and a cost. They are a loss in the sense that their contribution to the production of goods and services is lost. They are a cost because their subsistence has to be paid for in state benefits, which helps to keep the tax level high. There is also the cost to the National Health Service, not least because of the mental pain of unemployment after a lifetime of uninterrupted work. Finally, there is no guarantee that the trend may not change in an upward direction in an uncertain economic future. Therefore, the desire for low unemployment figures may well not be a realistic desire over a large number of years.
Despite the popular view that the unemployed do not wish to work, as with the problem raised by Harry above, most of the evidence points the other way. British Social Attitudes is a good source for the popular view. For some years there has been a large majority expressing a willingness to pay taxes for health and education; but many fewer for social security (Lipsey:3, 1994). This can be seen as the fear of scroungers. That is, some people are seen as scrounging off state benefits, and are not willing to take up paid work. One study, which went against this popular view, was of women workers in North Yorkshire, who had just been made redundant. This showed that all but two of the 300 workers were actively seeking work. In fact, they saw unemployment as a temporary interruption in working women’s lives. Further, unemployment was not seen by these women workers as an opportunity to retreat back into the home, which has been seen traditionally as the “natural” place for women (Coyle, 1984). Another reason given by these women for the temporary nature of unemployment was that one waited until the children were old enough to go to school. Then one would look for work again. As there were not many alternative employers in the area, this could be seen as a naive hope. Nevertheless, these women saw themselves as active workers, temporarily unemployed.
Another study of a Bristol tobacco factory did show that for younger unmarried women work was seen as a “brief stay”(Pollert, 1981). The prospect of marriage was seen as a sort of escape from paid work. However, the older women had also had this view when they were younger and unmarried. Their experience was that, despite marriage, they stayed working in the factory. However, their commitment was not as strong as in the previous study. In this case the commitment to work was weak compared with other studies. For the younger women, their experience of school and the wider culture prepared them for a femininity that looks to a career as a mother and wife. Employment, by contrast, is seen as being only a job, with a brief stay. However even in this bleak study these young women made friends with other young women. Also there were discussions about fashion, boy friends, marriage and abortion. The older women discussed family life and the problems of young children. These were serious discussions, and it is not clear if the younger women took part.
In the case of the older women, work was necessary because a second wage was necessary. Yet, here as well there were positive aspects to the job. Because they had more experience, and had longer memories of the workplace, they were more effective than the younger women were in fighting back against management control. They had an eagle eye for any infringement of the factory rules by managers. Their friendships were longer standing, and they were supportive of one another in any conflict. There was real commitment to one another in the workplace. In this sense, they were committed to work. Their commitment to the daily boring dirty task was another matter. Then there was the return to the second shift of domestic work, discussed in the next chapter.
A more recent survey of studies (Roberts, 95: 1995) discovered that the group aged 16 to 19, and with the least qualifications, was most at risk from unemployment. However, this group was most eager to work. They were willing to do any job, anything to escape unemployment. However, what does anything mean for this age group? Have they abandoned hope for any job at all or just for a decent job? Alternatively, were they temporarily accepting the offer of a low wage in order to escape unemployment? What this research discovered was that these young people would accept any wage above their state benefit entitlement. Commitment to workchanges with changes in the life cycle, it is not an absolute commitment throughout one’s life, and appears to be strong amongst school leavers.
“To get the whole world out of bed
And washed, and dressed, and warmed, and fed,
To work, and back to bed again,
Believe me, Saul, costs worlds of pain”.
John Masefield, from The Everlasting Mercy.
In what is now seen as the classic study of housework done in 1974, Ann Oakley found that three quarters of her sample of housewives did 70, or more, hours of housework per week (Oakley, 1974). The explanation for this figure was in terms of standards and routines. Standards varied as between perfectionist and casual. Perfectionists aimed at cleanliness in all unnoticed parts of the room, and kept to a strict routine per day/week. Casual workers tolerated untidiness much more, and their routine was much more flexible. These standards and routines supplied a structure to the work that might otherwise be seen as unstructured when compared with paid work outside the home.
This structure gives a reality to housework; but a reality only by contrast with paid work. Domestic labour was not it’s own reality. A further problem is that as technology changes, the job becomes enlarged. More powerful technology makes for the possibility of higher standards. Almost all of the sample was full time housewives. So there was perhaps a felt need to make housework real by comparison with their working husbands.
Despite the existence of this structure to the daily housework, 70% of the housewives were dissatisfied with their work. The work was described as monotonous, not unlike factorywork. However, unlike most factory workers they were lonely. There were no significant differences as between working class and middle class housewives in respect of these findings. The reasons given for the monotony were the repetition of the same daily tasks, which did not require the full attention of the worker. There was much day-dreaming.
” Daydreaming? That’s what keeps me doing it”.
(Oakley, 85: 1974).
A more recent study by Stephen Edgell found continuing similarities (Edgell, 1980) . The housewives disliked their domestic labour, and compared it to unskilled factory work. But childcare was preferred by both husband and wife to house cleaning. There were also a number of discoveries, in particular a focus on decision making about domestic life. A shared belief in joint decision making as between husband and wife indicated a desire for a more egalitarian, and less patriarchal, family life.
When the actual decisions were looked at in detail what Edgell discovered was that only about half of the family decisions were taken jointly. As the sample was entirely of middle class households, it might have been expected that this figure might have been higher. There were no comparable figures for working class households, as this a middle class sample. Further, on looking more closely at the details of what the decisions were about, a rather non-egalitarian picture of family life emerged. The husband dominated the less frequent and more important decisions. Typically these ‘important’ decisions were about moving house, family finances, and buying a car. The more frequent and less ‘important’ decisions were left to the wife. Typically these decisions were about interior decorating, food management, and children’s clothes.
Further, most husbands and wives agreed about what was important, and unimportant. This had two consequences. Firstly the work of the housewife was trivialised. Secondly the housewife colluded in this trivialisation of her own work.
This richer picture of decision making does question how widespread equality is in domestic work. This is particularly the case if more equality was expected in the middle class sample. The authors go further and argue that the husband’s paid work outside the home gave him legitimacy in avoiding domestic labour. How far this argument was accepted by the housewives was unclear, some appeared to accept it, but remained dissatisfied. This argument works by giving priority to paid work in industry over unpaid work in the home. Reversing this priority would require extended paternity and maternity leave. The provision of crèches at work, and free nursery education for all three-year-old children may even reinforce the priority of people’s working lives. Certainly a more extended period of paid work would be facilitated by crèches and nurseries.
Without the provision of paternity leave, housewives and children ‘accommodate’ to the needs of the husband/father, typically the need to move job and house, to be less present in the home than the housewife. The provision of leisure and paid holidays by the husband’s income may be seen as a form of compensation for this ‘accommodation’. However, the response of one wife to one family holiday was,
” Sometimes I just think that I take my ordinary housework somewhere else.”
(Edgell, 78: 1980)
This shows that the accommodation was not without it’s tensions.
One attempt to discover the source of these divisions in domestic labour looked at the experiences of young girls in secondary schools. It was found that about 8% of fathers did house work. This compared with about 45% of the school girls. 75% of mothers did housework, as did 19% of sisters. Their brothers did no house work. Whenever there was an unusual problem in the family one of the daughters would take time off school. This was perhaps the first step in creating the expectation that domestic work was for women only. The next step was observing that neither brothers, nor many fathers did housework. The final step was to leave school and get a job. Then their domestic responsibilities fell to their younger sisters, who then went through the same process as their older sister. The following dialogue between the interviewer and a fifth form school girl makes some of these points more graphically:
Interviewer: So who helps out with the house work?
Doreen: There is sort of half between me and me mum. I do all the cleaning up and she does the cooking, or some of it.
Interviewer: And do your dad and brother do …?
Doreen: Well me dad’s not there.
Interviewer: So your brother doesn’t?
Doreen: No (laugh). He just lies around doing nothing, watching the tele all day.
(Griffin, 37: 1985).
There was some opposition on the part of some of the girls to performing the housework. Nonetheless the culture of expectations passed on to these schoolgirls is clear. At about the same time as this study a government survey of women in paid work found that a quarter of the women and a higher proportion of the men agreed that ‘a woman’s place is in the home’. Secondly over half agreed that ‘a husband’s job is to earn the money; a wife’s job is to look after the family’. Finally over half the women felt that their partners were pleased that they, the women, worked outside as well as inside the home (Martin & Roberts, 1984).
The first finding looks rather low given the experiences described at school. The actual adult experience of paid work may well have had a strong, and positive effect on many of these women. There is the sociability at work; the existence of an independent income; and finally the need for women to be in paid work to support the family. The second finding returns to a gendered division of housework, and for about half of all women. But even this figure still seems a bit low, given the earlier school experiences above. The third finding goes some way explaining these figures. The majority of women do paid work and unpaid housework. The positive evaluation of paid work co-existed with the continuing existence of housework, and this pleased the partners. So here there are two jobs being done. The housework has been called the second shift. It is the impact of the first shift, or paid work, which goes to explain the low numbers of women agreeing to a traditional gendered division of domestic labour. However, pleasing the partners with the first and second shifts can be seen as evidence of a more traditional role for women. There is considerable ambiguity here with respect to paid work outside the home. If this paid work is done, at least in part, to please the partner, then how far can it be seen as giving the woman an independence?
An American study called “The Second Shift” (Hochschild, 1989) focused on marriages where both partners were in paid employment, often full time in both cases. Here there was a particular focus on young wives who had been influenced by feminist ideas of the previous 20 years. These wives defined their relation to domestic work as being based on fairness. Fairness was defined as husband and wife sharing domestic tasks, including child care, equally with each partner taking half of the total burden. Maintaining a belief that this fairness was actually happening was important to the concept that these women had of themselves. The legitimacy of this fairness in the first place was based on the fact that the wives had jobs just as valuable as their husbands, returned home from work just as tired, and so felt that both should share the domestic work.
One obvious solution, much discussed, was the possibility of the wife working part time, or not at all. In some cases of factory workers this was not an option, as a dual waged income was needed for the household to survive. In other cases of more professional or managerial workers, this was not so necessary. However, the life commitment to a profession such as the law or social work was so great that it defined a large part of who the person was. One party giving up, and the other not, seemed unfair. Where both jobs were kept, continual requests from wife to husband to help with specific domestic tasks were felt by one wife to be a form of begging; and was demeaning. There were a variety of ‘solutions’ to these conflicts.
One solution was geographical. The domestic space was dived into two unequal amounts. The basement, and the dog, was the complete responsibility of the husband; the remainder of the three storey house was the responsibility of the wife. This reduced the anger over inequality in the house generally. Anger over the dog and basement reduced significantly the total amount of anger; but also made legitimate to both parties the anger that did continue to relate to the dog. This was an agreement that maintained the marriage. It was far short of the earlier demand for half shares, but there were shares. This made it possible for this wife to see herself as a non-traditional domestic worker, whose paid work was respected.
Another solution was to redefine time. As the domestic work done after both parents arrived home in the evening was the second shift, and conflictual; then if the domestic work could be done in the late afternoon, this was the time of the first shift. In order to move the second shift back in clock time, the wife had to work part time, or some variant of flexi-time. The children could then be collected from school, given a meal, and played with. One wife called this her shift. One consequence of this was that she did not feel the need to cook another evening meal every night, in the second shift. What happened to the evening meal was not clear. The wife also lost some of her independent income from her paid work, which may have had consequences over her control of the domestic budget, and financial decision making. Equal sharing of domestic workwas made less likely, as the wife did all the work in the late afternoon, where before she might have had some help in the later evening. However, the wife referred to the morning/mid-day in paid work, and the late afternoon in domestic work as the first shift, or my shift! Her work in the second shift of the late evening was dramatically reduced. This was a taking of some control over her life.
A third ‘solution’ was called need reduction. Husbands argued that they did not need so many clothes cleaned or ironed; more meals could be bought in from take-away restaurants. House cleaning could be cut back on. Traditional wives, dealing with this change, would apologise for the slip in standards. Egalitarian wives would boast about how little was done, especially after the birth of children. Emotional care of one partner by the other was frequently cut back on. Some partners grew apart and developed different interests. Childcare was also cut back on. This produces a picture of emotionally arid families, with little prospect for survival. The only gain for this solution was fewer arguments.
This study saw husbands and wives as being one of three types. There the traditional type, the transitional, and the egalitarian. Traditional partners were trying to conform to their memory of their parents, who they saw as giving them a good childhood. Egalitarian partners saw their childhood as either unhappy, or not as a model for them as new parents. The transitional parents had elements of both views. The traditional wife was keen not to work, or not full time. They wanted to be with their new children partly to see they grow, but also to give the children a sense of the culture they had from their parents. This was particularly strong amongst ethnic minority parents. Paying for child care might not achieve this objective. Passing on a language other than English was particularly important. The traditional parent could even be seen as preserving an earlier peasant style of life, where cooking could take a whole day. Whereas the egalitarian wife was more keen on preparing the child for a future industrialised life. Here learning the basics of reading and writing, and how to get on with others could not come soon enough. So children were in play groups long before schooling started. If one of the partners differed from the other over these issues, there could be conflict. This conflict could produce some compromises, and also produced the third group, the transitionals.
A more recent study by the same author found more evidence of cutting back on time spent in the home (Hochschild, 1997). A progressive local firm offered flexi-time to it’s employees. About one quarter of employees signed up for this option. But none of them cut back on their total hours in the firm. Further, working parents with young children put in more hours than single workers. The question was asked, was working life winning out over life at home? One wife said:
“So, I take a lot of overtime. The more I get out of the house the better I am. It’s a terrible thing to say, but that’s the way I feel!”
(Hochschild, 38: 1997)
Workers argued that they felt more appreciated at work, and got more emotional support there than at home. About one third of these working parents put their children in nurseries for 40 hours a week, or more. The argument here is that work life is becoming more like home life in terms of emotional support; and home life is becoming more like work life in terms of rigid time routines that have to be met. This was particularly true of the more middle class workers. The factoryworkers still attempted to make home different from work, more of a haven.
This latest study paints a picture of workas an escape from the pressures of domestic labour for a majority of workers. This is nothing new. In the nineteenth century the rooms in poor housing were so small that the fathers used the home for bed and board, and nothing else. Most of the leisure was spent in the pub, or at sport. What is new, as the above quote shows, is that wives are now escaping the drudgery of domestic labour. This creates the need for nurseries and paid domestic labour. In the case of California, this was often supplied by illegal immigrant labour from Mexico!
An influential study in Britain took a more optimistic view of domestic labour. Whilst some of the findings produced above were present, there was less perceived unfairness. Specifically only 24% of female partners felt that they were doing more than their fair share, and only 21% of male partners felt that they were doing less than their fair share. These two figures were from interviews done separately, so they tend to confirm one another. Assuming the accuracy of these figures, the level of resentment between the genders appears less in this study than in any of the others. Yet the division of household tasks was very conventional with the female doing more than half of the washing up, tidying and hoovering/brushing. Further, when the male partner was unemployed there was a greater likelihood that the tasks would be done by the female. In the case of washing up, where there was the highest level of claimed sharing of the task, during male unemployment even this task was more likely to be done by the female. To emphasise the more positive aspects of this clearly unequal division of labour a number of points are made.
Firstly, there is the suggestion that these extreme levels of inequality are “transitional and relatively short-lived” (Pahl, 275: 1984). This is because of the life cycle. When there are young children in the house and the male has a full time job and the female is not in paid work, then this is the period of extreme inequality. Secondly, outside this period there is greater likelihood of greater sharing. This sharing may reach half each in the case of washing up; but only about a quarter of the tasks of tidying, and hoovering/brushing will be shared. Thirdly, where both male and female partners are in full time paid employment the amount of domestic improvements such as putting in a new bathroom or painting, plastering or vegetable growing, was almost twice as great than when one partner was full time in the home. The double income made these home improvements possible financially. But the positive point being made is that more energy and commitment comes into the home when there is a dual income. Employment has a greater impact on domestic labour than anything else, including male dominance. Unemploymentdid not seem to produce more home improvement as an alternative to paid employment (Pahl, 268/9: 1984).
This research paints a positive picture of domestic work where it co-exists with both partners in full time paid work. Where the male is in shift work then even more home improvements take place. 18% of the sample put in a reinforced steel joist into their homes! Where one partner, or neither, is in full time paid work a much more negative picture is painted. Here there is very little home improvements. Also there was little evidence of informal work being done for a neighbour. Whereas, those in paid work, and with tools, were doing high levels of informal work for neighbours.
Another kind of evidence assessing the attitude of people to domestic work looks at changes over space and time. The British Social Attitudes looked at five European countries, Western Germany, Britain, Irish Republic, Netherlands, and Sweden; and over an eight year period to 1994. When asked if they agreed or disagreed with a battery of questions about domestic labour produced a response that appeared non-traditional for the majority. Two of these questions, with responses from those who disagreed are listed below.
Western Great Irish Netherlands Sweden
Germany Britain Republic
A man’s job
is to earn
woman’s job is
to look after the
home and family. 46(+12) 58(+5) 52(+7) 63(+10) 69.
Being a housewife
is just as fulfilling
for pay. 35(+4) 33(-1) 24(+3) 31(+1) 31.
Adapted from Scott et al.:30, 1998. Figures in brackets represent the change over 8 years.
Disagreeing with the first question produces a majority of the international respondents as being non-traditional. The exception is Western Germany, but it’s 46% disagreeing had grown by 12 % over the previous eight years. West Germany was not very different from the Irish Republic; but was very different from Sweden, which was the least traditional country in Europe.
Disagreeing with the second question produced a minority across Europe, and a minority that had changed little over eight years. There was no data for Sweden in 1988. Those who disagreed with this statement, around one third of the samples, were indicating a positive preference for paid work over unpaid domestic work. On this basis the majority, about two thirds, were traditional, indicating a preference for domestic work. Alternatively this could be read as claiming an equality of value, or satisfaction with domestic work as compared with paid work. This is a weaker interpretation, which might fit with non-traditional views. However a majority claiming that being a housewife is fulfilling sits uneasily with a majority disagreeing that a woman’s job is to look after the home and family.
One possible explanation of this seeming contradiction is to see the above two questions as being of different kinds. The second question asks those house wives who disagree to denigrate the house work that they almost certainly do. Hence a majority do not wish to denigrate this work, and by implication themselves, in this way. The first question is less about work that is done , and more about sharing. It is about the value of equality. As posed the question implies a rigid separation of roles for men and women. This goes against the facts that a majority of women do paid work, at least part time. This alone would produce a majority disagreeing. However, the idea, or ideal, of sharing both paid work outside the home, and unpaid work in the home is being denied by the above two statements. So the majority disagreeing are expressing their commitment to this ideal. This is less a statement of what actually happens in the home or outside it. The lack of sharing in the home is well documented by the studies already discussed. So what the contradictory figures show is the majority desire for domestic work to be fulfilling and shared; which does fit with earlier evidence.
Opinion is ultimately determined by the feelings,
and not by the intellect.
Herbert Spencer from Social Statics.
The study of emotions at work began with the Human Relations Movement in the 1920’s and 1930’s in America. The importance of the informal workgroup was that it was friendly, and that it had a coherence. This was seen as a resource by management, who wanted to increase productivity. This movement was also a reaction to the idea that workers responded entirely, or largely, to wage increases; and that this was the way to achieve increased productivity.
This stress on the informal work group became unfashionable after the Second World War. The charge was that the worker was seen as too easily manipulable, almost as if they animals. The upsurge in worker militancy in the 1960’s and 1970’s in Britain France and elsewhere, showed a more political side to industrial workers. They became agents of social change, and not easily led animals.
However, the oil crisis of 1973 brought a period of de-industrialisation. This really meant a sharp decline in the number of workers in manufacturing industries. Coal mining and shipbuilding were key examples. Service industries were affected too, but more and more workers were entering this sector of the economy. By the 1990’s the service sector was larger than manufacturing, in terms of numbers employed. Sociologists have responded to this with a range of studies of service workers.
An early focus of these studies was on the issue of gender. There were many more women workers than men, in service industries. The issues of promotion, or the ‘glass ceiling’, sexual harassment, and the commitment of women to trade unionism, were the early concerns. Then, in 1983, a study of American flight attendants, which were mostly women, focused on the issue of emotional work (Hochschild, 1983).
Service to a client or customer does not always involve a physical object. Where this is the case, examples include handing coins and bank notes over a counter, receiving cheques, sending insurance policies etc. Examples of service without a physical object include advice and counselling work. Typical workers would include lawyers, priests, and psychiatrists. What is common to all of these service workers is emotional work. This involves understanding the needs of others, and smiling.
Hochschild estimated that about one third of all jobs in America involved some emotional work. However, there was a major genderdifference. Only a quarter of men’s jobs, compared with over a half of women’s involved emotional work. Her study focused mainly on flight attendants on Delta Airlines. These attendants were subjected to rigorous Initial Training, and subsequent Recurrent Training. Initial training focused on the flight attendant. Recurrent training focused on the passenger.
Initial training distinguished surface acting from deep acting. In surface acting, we deceive others about how we feel, but not ourselves. In deep acting pretending is made easy, as the trainer puts it, “by making it unnecessary” (Hochschild, 33: 1983). This means that the training in deep acting is so successful that the self is changed. The specific issue here was the need to suppress the anger of the attendant about the behaviour of an irate customer. Where deep acting works, there is no need to pretend that we do not feel anger. There really is no anger there. The self that experienced anger, with exposure to this common occurrence of an irate passenger has been changed.
So a passenger who uses a rude name in addressing an attendant is called an ‘irate’ in initial training. The point of the training is to focus the attention of the attendant away from her anger, and on to the passenger. What are their reasons for being irate? These reasons, missing a connection, losing luggage, etc. require empathetic listening, but do not require attendant anger. The suggestion is that there is very little in passenger behaviour that is worth getting angry about. The point of this training is to reduce the anger of the attendant, which can be a cause of stress. The irate passenger might produce an angry response because of an untrained attendant, which may lose the company future sales.
The main technique for reducing passenger anger is smiling. The training aims to get the attendant to produce a sincere smile through deep acting. Trainers give the following advice;
“Relax and smile’, and
“Your smile is your biggest asset, use it!”
(Hochschild, 105: 1983).
In the training sessions attended by Hochschild, there was some student resistance to this aspect of the training. The trainer, an experienced attendant herself dealt this with, by stepping back and smiling herself at the audience of students. This seemed to imply some sort of complicity with the students. An agreement that all this may well be ridiculous but the trainer was now doing her deep self, and the audience would soon be doing it themselves too. A possible message to the students, not explicitly spoken might have been, this is hard work, and what we are paid for!
Apart from smiling, deep acting initial training required the attendant to see the aircraft cabin as her home, and the passengers as her personal guests. The cabin may hold 36 passengers to each attendant, but the same domestic feelings are required. As the trainer said,
“You see your sister’s eyes in someone sitting in that seat” (Hochschild, 105: 1983).
Perhaps because this is so implausible as a sincere belief, a final aspect of deep acting is taught. The attendant must think of the passenger as the sale of this ticket, and possible future tickets. She must also see herself as on sale. The trainer says,
“You are selling yourself …..You are on your own commission” (Hochschild, 109: 1983).
This harsh commercialisation may have become necessary because of increasing competition, and the larger number of passengers in the aircraft cabin. It does however sharply contrast with the smiling domesticity of the previous part of the training. It is a frank recognition by the company that work has got harder: that deep acting may, on occasion, fail: that smiles may become empty and insincere: that passengers may feel that they have a right to be abusive as they have bought the ticket.
Recurrent training focuses on passenger anger, and how to handle it. This training happens regularly for experienced attendants. Avoiding attendant anger following passenger anger is crucial here. The training gives explanations of passenger anger as based on the fear of flying itself. This can be reduced by mild flirtation. The company prides itself on avoiding the more overt sexuality of it’s competitor’s advertising. Practically, mild flirtation is to be achieved by keeping eye to eye contact, but not for too long, and sincere smiling. One attendant described herself as liberated, partly because she was not married with children as her peers from school were; partly because she had chosen this glamorous career. This biography, known to the employer through a rigorous selection procedure, made this requirement to flirt acceptable to the trainee; at least in training. The claim that it would deal with passenger anger was persuasive.
More simply passengers were portrayed as children. They needed constant attention. Here the attendant role is not flirting, but mothering.
Lastly, attendants are told not to take passenger abuse too seriously. This is because the abuse is directed at the company, at the uniform worn, and not at the attendant personally. There are two problems here. A real personal guest in a home might not behave in this way. Buying the ticket may well produce a feeling that one has a right to abuse. This points up the commercialisation of the relationship between attendant and passenger. This commercialisation was previously hidden in the flirt/mother relationship. Now it is exposed. The uniform taints the person of the attendant. The trainer’s redefinition of passenger anger as being to the uniform and not the person does not work.
The second related problem is that the attendant is trained to sell themselves as the company in direct contact with the passenger. Passenger anger may not make the distinction between uniform and person, especially if the training has been successful. This points to a real problem in the training. If the attendant is trained to be the company in order to sell the company, then the irate passenger is quite rational in not distinguishing uniform and person. The training almost invites passenger anger when something goes wrong!
The training is into a type of domesticityrequiring empathy with passengers’ problems, and a dismissive attitude to passengers as children, or adults who do not need to be taken seriously. This may reflect a change in the history of the industry in the early 1970’s. Experienced attendants talk of a golden age of flying, which ended with the oil crisis of 1973. Before that a more genteel, richer clientele, made smiling easier. There were shorter in-flight hours and fewer passengers, and smaller planes. With the profit crisis of the 1970’s came longer hours, larger planes, and less genteel passengers. The new type of passenger, which particularly annoyed the attendants, included those who were called the
(Hochschild, 107: 1983).
Typically they behaved disrespectfully to the attendants. This raised the level of passenger abuse, which then became a major part of training. There was also less time to adjust to changes in time zones on long flights. This increased jet lag. One attendant called this a speed up. This recalls an earlier analysis of workby F.W. Taylor. He tried to speed up the production line by finding the one right way to do any job.
To find this right way the job had to be analysed into its smallest component parts. Each part had to be timed. This process had also happened on the airlines. Although attendants were told that they had responsibility for dealing with irates, they had detailed specifications as to how to do their jobs. They were trained how to deal with a passenger who was too fat for one seat, who was not served a meal, who was not given a free magazine, or not with a sincere smile. There are detailed time specifications for handing out meals, for drinks, and for second servings of tea, coffee, or alcohol.
One irate who needs a lot of attention, throws all these times out. Attendants get behind time. Colleagues become essential here in meeting the overall time schedules for the whole flight. This speed up makes sincere smiling more difficult, and creates the need for more intensive training in smiling. Passengers become more demanding. Unsmiling attendants were seen as emotional loafers. Attendants began to fight back. Stories of the smile war included the following, now well known, one.
When asked by a young businessman why she was not smiling, the attendant replied:
“I’ll tell you what. You smile first, then I’ll smile.”
He smiled and she replied;
“Good. Now hold that for 15 hours.”
(Hochschild, 127: 1983).
Other unofficial stories were about losing the smile war. Free playing cards were given to passengers on a long flight. One passenger complained when told that no packs of cards were left. One was found under a seat, and when given to the passenger, who had complained, she opened her handbag and there were 15 packs of cards inside. The attendant snapped!
Another example was a passenger throwing a cup of hot tea over an attendant’s arm. These losers in the smile war react by going into ‘robot’. This means that they retreat into surface acting, and withhold deep acting. They do not attempt to hide the fact that they are acting from the passengers. This creates an emotional detachment from the passengers.
This raises the problem for the attendant as to whether they are a phoney person, or are alienated. The attendants see this as an undesirable state. Other attendants do not approve it of. This creates a residual need for the attendant to return to deep acting. In deep acting the service felt personal, and this was satisfying to the attendant. In surface acting mode one had become alienated from the deep acting mode.
Another problem here, not addressed in the study, is that deep acting itself could be seen as phoney, and as alienated. Although the attendants had been successfully trained in deep acting, that training was necessary because the untrained self might not have been capable of deep acting. The untrained might have acted otherwise; and was in any case different from the trained deep self.
The issue is, was the attendant alienated by the success, or by the failure of deep acting? The concept of alienation is a classic idea in sociology, originating in the writings of Karl Marx. Marx saw alienation as an inevitable feature of the capitalist ordering of the economy and society. For Hochschild, alienation seems to be a consequence of the breakdown of the deep acting. This breakdown is in turn related by Hochschild to the economy, specifically the oil crisis of 1973. This leaves open the possibility, in other economic circumstances, of deep acting returning in non alienated forms. Therefore, it is possible to have non-alienated workers in a capitalist economy. This was not Marx’s view.
Hochschild seems to prefer the word estrangement to alienation. She argues that surface acting may be an estrangement from a real or deep acting self. But surface acting is presented as a successful form of defence against irates. The existence of a tension between the real/deep acting self, and the phoney/surface acting self is itself a problem in this analysis. There is no whole self. After initial training there is a permanent tension between the two selves. This tension may itself become normal. This is the closest Hochschild comes to criticising the whole capitalist order.
The second study, in 1989, focused on emotional work in the family (Hochschild, 1989). This was described as the second shift; the first being in paid work. The most tiring aspect of domestic emotional work was agreeing the division of labour between the adults. Who does which tasks? These agreements often did not work. This was because one or both adults often saw the division of tasks as unequal. This caused resentment between partners, and between husbands and wives. However, these agreements and re-negotiated agreements keep relationships going.
Part of the agreement was an often unconscious gift from one partner to another. The gift of long hours at paid work, and overtime pay, was seen by one partner as excusing them from large parts of domestic labour. One problem here was that the other partner refused this gift. This in itself caused resentment. More seriously, the other partner did not recognise this unconscious behaviour as a gift. This was partly because it was not explicitly articulated as a gift anyway. More resentment followed.
Ways of managing this resentment included reducing one’s needs. One could care for oneself and not need the partner’s care. Another way was for both partners to work longer hours of paid work. Indeed some partners competed with one another for these longer hours. Paid workwas seen as a superior gift, when compared with the gift of unpaid domestic labour. As in a previous study there is denigration of one’s own domestic labour.
One consequence of this was long hours when the children were without both parents. This creates a need for paid domestic labour, child minders, cleaners etc. So emotional work in the home changes from unpaid to paid work. This in turn requires the need for paid work outside the home to pay for the domestic labour. The reduction in the amount of time of unpaid domestic labour given to the child means that what time there is, becomes more important to both parent and child. It was called quality time. This became the topic of the third study called “The Time Bind”, in 1997.
This was a study of a progressive local employer, who had years of experience in trainingand promoting women workers, but was also seeing many of them leaving the company. This was a considerable cost to the company. So the Human Resources department created a new work/life balance programme, in order to retain these women workers.
Part of the progressiveness of the company was its acceptance of the quality message. In particular the slogan, ‘Delight the customer’ was seen as important. One consequence of this was working longer hours. Senior managers worked 50 to 70 hours a week. This included some weekend working too! The company had taken 8 years to ‘engineer’ this new quality culture.
One problem was that the quality culture increased the hours at work. Questions were raised as to whether the long hours were really necessary, especially if some workers did the job in fewer hours. Yet other workers liked the longer hours. Time at work was seen as less emotionally draining than domestic labour. This was because family life, with both adults at paid work, was becoming so routinised in the search for efficiencythat there had been a speed up of domestic unpaid labour. This speed up was as, or more, emotionally draining than paid work. Getting the children to the childminder in time, so that one was not late for the childminder’s schedule, was part of getting to paid work on time. Collecting the child from school, or a visit to the doctor, or school sport, all had to be fitted around worktimes. There was a system of flexible work times. However, tasks still had to be completed by deadlines. This often meant that after the doctor or sport was over, the parent had to return home, and then go back to work in the early evening.
Dealing with this time shortage meant that the home became a place where unpaid work was even more speeded up, or Taylorised, than paid work. The emotional strains of dealing with young children who did not always fit this strict timetabling was quite severe on the adults involved. Children needed to be coaxed into the complex time schedules of family life. Parents became time and motion experts at home, as well as at work.
The Work of Managers
“I love this job. But sometimes it nearly drives me mad.
I think I am a good manager. There is satisfaction in that, real satisfaction.
But at times I think I’m totally wasting my time. I reckon I work with some of the best people around. We’ve got all the brains, all the skills you could want.
But where is it getting us?”
T.J. Watson from In Search of Management.
In the last 10 or more years the work of managers has changed significantly from what went before. There have been more incentives to perform productively, and more controls. This raises a question as to whether managers are not losing some of the prestige they had for most of the twentieth century. At an extreme, one can ask are they being proletarianised; becoming like the clerks and manual workers they once managed?
In order to address this question it is necessary to ask firstly what is it that managers actually do? There has always been a populist scepticism that management is a residual activity, less important than actual production. Further that the clerks, or other producers, could potentially manage themselves. The need for management has rarely been doubted, the issue is who does it; one or many? The examples of workers self management, of trade unionsthemselves managing their members, of workers co-operatives, all show the existence of alternatives to managers as a separate group.
British, and some American, research has shown a scepticism about what managerial theorists have said that managers do. One study showed that managers were more like reactive socialisers, than rational long-term decision-makers. They solved problems, or fought fires, with words through networks of colleagues and subordinates. Managers were seen as living in a whirl of activity. They flitted from topic to topic. They respond to the initiatives of others, rather than initiate themselves. This research has been criticised as misleading because of the research methods used. Various styles of participant observation, including time budgets, may make the manager seem to be without a rational strategy for the firm’s future. On the other hand, research using diaries and structured questionnaires, may produce a picture of the manager as the rational decision maker, and strategist. As Hales argues,
“Diary studies inevitably focused upon contacts and time allocation, structured questionnaires generated work elements, whilst participant observation studies made much of ‘informal’ behaviour.”
(Hales, 105: 1986).
Given that the diary entry is a recollection of the event , at varying times after the event, this raises some problems. The most obvious one is that the later writing up from memory is likely to be different from the earlier experience of decision making or whatever. Indeed, the written diary entry may very well produce a more rational account of the event than it warrants. In research conducted in 4 banks I provided a diary with hourly entries over one largely typical week (Caffrey, 1995). This may have been too frequent, and did not allow time for lengthy entries. However, out of a possible maximum of 1,750 entries only 3, or possibly four, entries could be described as rational. This goes against the view of managers as long term strategists, and rational decision makers.
I list the four ‘rational’ below.
1 Meeting risk manager… 10 minutes… re. Credit limits per client.
2 Meeting with colleagues to discuss problems facing a particular area. Held in response to communication from one of the afflicted users. Result: users understand course of action required; next steps identified.
3 Staff meeting to persuade (satisfactorily) a member of staff to take paid leave from next month prior to retirement, to avoid inter-personal conflict with her successor.
4 Formal disciplinary interview with member of staff.
The first action appeared rational in the sense that it was clearly focused on one issue, and one client; also action resulted. The second action related to the software being introduced into the bank, and this manager was a technical expert who solved the problem for many users. The issue was unclear to the users, but clear to the expert; and there was an outcome. The third action was clearly focused on two people, with a successful outcome. The fourth action is not so clear cut. The manager was clearly of the opinion that this was a successful meeting, and the outcome was a disciplinary warning about time keeping. The person receiving this discipline would probably have seen this meeting in another light.
If only the first three actions are accepted as examples of rational management, then the very brief entries of the majority of the respondents do seem to support the view of the manager in a whirlwind of activity. Typical entries are as follows:
1 Began writing up report.
2 Back to report.
3 Client correspondence/telephone queries.
4 Demonstration meeting … 6 attendees… side tracking/ poor presentation/ no agenda.
5 Working lunch to discuss progress on report.
6 Teaching session … working of new download system … muddled understanding.
7 Chat re yesterday’s review.
8 Management by walking around.
9 Urgent detailed read through of faxed management plan, requiring comments to-day! 30 pages.
10 Ad hoc items.
Not all these items clearly indicate a whirlwind, but 4,5, 6 and 9 do seem to. Rather all items show the respondent reacting to outside pressures. Number 7 can be seen as a later reconstruction of events, and perhaps more rational than yesterday’s meeting. It can also be seen as an informal complaining session with no further outcomes. Indeed, my argument in a feedback session at one bank was that being rational implied having an outcome. This was hotly disputed. Instead mutual understanding was seen as more rational!.
So what the manager does is unresolved. I also distributed a questionnaire, to be completed at home, at the weekend, after the diary had been completed. This was intended to allow for exactly the rational reconsideration of the weeks events, that might not have been possible in a whirlwind of activity. In particular, respondents were asked to assess on a five point scale the efficiency of any meetings they had attended in the week. The total scores for all banks were as follows; where 1 is the highest score, and 5 is the lowest.
1 2 3 4 5
52 96 49 29 20.
If the two top scores of 1 and 2 are taken together, then nearly half of all
meetings attended were seen as positively efficient. This result does fit earlier research, and presents managers as rational. Asking managers if meetings attended were helpful, or unhelpful to them. produced a figure of 103 helpful, and 48 unhelpful. This is an even stronger positive response than the efficiency question. Here nearly two thirds were positive about the experience of the meeting. But being helpful was interpreted differently by the respondents. For some it was like efficiency, it involved an outcome. For others it was merely sharing information; or helping colleagues with a problem, or chatting about mutual concerns. Where a meeting was informal, this often meant a short discussion with a friend in person or on the phone, or by electronic mail. Where a meeting was more formal, and all those due to attend were present, then many of these got a low score. Distinguishing formal from informal meetings was not easy. One attendee described walking down a corridor and being dragged into a meeting unexpectedly! This was explained as being a consequence of there being fewer middle managers than before, so anyone could be called in to help. This almost playful atmosphere may go some way to explain the positive responses to both efficiency and helpfulness. It also raises the question of how rational these managers were based on the questionnaire evidence.
Another way of attempting to discover how rational these managers were involved allowing nearly a full page at the end of the questionnaire to enter a response to how helpful the diary was in helping to “creatively imagine other ways of organising the working day?” Although the content of what was written was very interesting, the main purpose was to see how many of the 35 managers would consider reflectively the experience of hourly entries at work, and answering 15 questions at the weekend at home. The number who wrote 5 or more lines was 18, just over half the total number. This fits the half or more who found the meetings at work efficient or helpful. However, when the actual content of these informal comments are looked at a different picture emerges. I list below some typical comments.
1 I find many meetings wasteful, an excuse for arguing, or time-wasting.
2 Too many meetings mean that you are not getting enough information to do your job.
3 Actually thinking about what I was doing hour by hour was a useful exercise. It made me split my work into manageable chunks.
4 The level of success obviously varies. I have benefited from seeing first hand, what the lack of planning can cause.
5 Analysing the effectiveness of meetings should improve planning, and objective setting, for future meetings, particularly when you have control through the chair.
6 What is lacking is not so much creative ideas as self discipline.
7 Due to typical pressure of the week the additional burden of
completing this has not at this time proved welcome.
8 Meetings scheduled for 4 p.m. onwards seem to be unpopular as people are rushing to finish tasks by the end of the day.
9 The nature of the job is very reactive to situations, and a substantial amount of time each week can be spent fire- fighting.
10 Meetings are a serious businessevent, and should be treated as such by all participants!
11 Too many interruptions to the working day, i.e. by having informal meetings at inconvenient times!
Comments 3 and 5 above stand out from the rest. Comment 3 came from a manager who had clear objectives for the day, but had not allocated specific times to different tasks. This change in working practice based on the experience of completing the diary would seem to be more rational, in the sense that an appropriate amount of time was allocated to each task. In another bank, a merchant bank, one young manager was so impressed with the improvement in their time management through using the diary that she altered the company’s diary layout for future use.
Comment 5 is different. This could be described as hyper-rational, almost neurotic. There is a clear idea of what a rationally run meeting would look like, allied to the need for strong control from the chair. This can be read as evidence of a series of successful and rational meetings in this bank. Or it can be read as a response to many irrational meetings, which produces a need for a more authoritarian style of chairing, and indeed managing generally.
These two comments were atypical, and are the only evidence of rationality amongst the lengthy responses on the final page of the questionnaire. Comment 6 came from an older manager, who took early retirement as the research came to an end. I had defined young managers as being under the age of 35. This manager was involved in my initial approaches to the bank and gave me permission to conduct the research. She insisted on being involved, and completed the questionnaire and diary. This comment can be seen as expressing exasperation on her part about the behaviour of the younger managers in formal meetings. She was rather out of tune with the then new ideas of flatter structures. This involved taking out the middle layers of management, described as bureaucratic fat; and replacing them with younger managers. These younger managers were given more responsibility, and given it earlier than in the past. But there were fewer senior and more experienced managers around to get advice from. The young managers had to help one another. This probably accounts for the “creativity” that she objected to. Further, the word creativity suggests some form of play, like being dragged into a meeting room from the corridor. This play would contrast sharply with the more formal, and more old fashioned, style of conducting meetings to which she had been accustomed. The amount of play amongst younger managers, mostly recently graduated from university, can easily be exaggerated. However, we are some distance from comments 3 and 5.
Attempting to understand some of the dissatisfaction with attendance at businessmeetings all respondents were asked to give their own reasons for what were experienced by them as inefficient meetings. Comment 1 is perhaps the most pronounced expression of dissatisfaction. These reasons are listed below:
Reason Number of times mentioned:
Poor Preparation 18
Poor Communication 17
Unclear Agenda 16
Unclear Objectives 12
No Decisions Taken 8
Poor Timekeeping 5.
Putting the first three together, a picture of considerable informality emerges. The relatively low objection to non-decision taking was addressed in a later feedback session with the managers. Their argument was that this was not a problem as decisions could be taken easily elsewhere. This reinforces the idea that the meeting was informal, even playful. The low level of poor timekeeping emerged in discussion as a radical underestimate, as there was no agreement on what good time keeping was across these banks. I was not able to quantify how late one had to be to be counted as a poor timekeeper. The impression was given that this was relatively unimportant, that people could come at a variety of times. Those who objected to this did so strongly. But they were a minority. They did not succeed in stopping the majority being informal and playful.
Had I used participant observation in this research there would probably have been clearer evidence of the fire-fighting mentioned in earlier research, and in comment 9 above. The deliberate choice of diary and subsequent questionnaire was an attempt to see if the rationality that this was expected to produce, was actually fairly superficial. Returning to present my findings to the same respondents 6 months later produced much doubt in the rationality by the respondents themselves. The most revealing discussion revolved around decision making. It transpired that any outcome, including some few decisions had to be passed to a senior manager for ratification. Further this manager had to forward their decision to yet another manager. There were, in total, nine levels of decision making. Coincidentally, this figure of nine was the same across two of the banks. One was a high street retail bank; the other a merchant bank. Given that these young managers knew of these nine levels, this goes some way to explain the lack of concern over decision making. It also reinforces the view of the meeting as informal and playful, as others would take the final decision. By returning to discuss the findings I discovered the extent of informality that I had first missed. Rationality may well exist amongst older more senior managers in the hierarchy, there is little evidence of it here amongst the younger managers. They were in a whirl of, mostly pleasurable, activity.
Other research has focused on attempts to analyse the effects of various initiatives to make managers more productive in the current period of economic uncertainty. There is a history to be written of a great variety of initiatives over the last twenty years. One could start with programmes of customer care. This involved personalising telephone responses to potential customers. The operator identified themselves by their first name. This was called getting closer to the customer. However, the next person one talked to may not have undergone this new training, and a more traditional response may be given. Another initiative was called quality circles. Workers were asked to provide solutions to their work problems. Those successfully implemented by senior management were rewarded. However, not everyone was in a quality circle, and when one returned to the traditional workplace, the traditional non-quality practices continued. This undermined commitment to the quality circle. Both these cases pointed to the need for the whole firm or organisation to change. This produced total quality management.
If the two previous examples were bottom up, the new total quality initiative was top down. This more thorough change had many parts. Firstly there was the idea of the internal customer. This introduced the market place into the firm, whereas before it had been seen as existing outside the firm. Everyone was a potential or actual internal customer. So workers and managers had to own their service or product. This meant that you checked your workfor errors before you sent it on to the next worker/manager, or internal customer. One consequence of this was that there was no need for a separate, or final, quality check or specific quality department. Quality was built in at all levels.
Secondly, there was the ideal of right first time, every time. This implied constant attention to detail, and continuous improvement. This produced constant small changes to products and services. This in turn required small print advising the customer that what they expect may be different from what they get.
Thirdly the ideal of more than meeting the customer’s expectations, of delighting the customer, was seen as reducing the number of items returned for repair under warranty. This not only reduced costs, but also retained the good name of the firm.
Fourthly, the ideal of just in time production involved the reduction of inventories of raw materials, and storage costs. This meant that costs of storage were passed back to original suppliers. The smooth running of the manufacture, or service, meant there was no provision for mistakes. When this happened everyone pitched in to keep everything on schedule. This created the need for all workers to be multi-skilled. This in turn created considerable stress.
Two recent studies, one close grained and empirical, the other more theoretical, looked at the consequences of these initiatives for the workof managers. In his book “In Search of Management” Tony Watson argues that ideally management should be about directing an organisation to long term viability through strategic action (Watson, 1994). This appears to mean that all managers should be clear about what current strategy is, what contribution they themselves have made to it, and what their local responsibility is to carry out the strategy. What the study found was that the strategy was created by directors of a holding company. The local directors appeared to make little contribution to this strategy, and the local managers made no contribution.
In this situation there was a clear hierarchy. Senior managers made strategy, and local managers and workers carried it out. Indeed local managers were more overtly critical of senior management, than they were of their own workers. Local managers felt themselves constrained, and not empowered through owning the quality message. Local managers were not strategists. They complained that they had to do things because management consultants said so; they were not sure themselves, and so could not persuade those below them. These managers become to resemble men in the middle, as old style foremen were once called. Indeed in so far as the managers were men in the middle, they were closer to the proletariat than senior managers. They were also like the proletariat in that they feared losing their jobs, what they called
“getting the brown envelope”!
(Watson, 185: 1994)
These were managers who repeatedly said that they loved their jobs; who were initially enthused by the quality message. They introduced radical changes in factoryorganisation. No one owned a job anymore. Instead there were various skill levels. One was allocated to one such level, and within that level one could do any work. This has also been called flexibility, and multi-tasking. Making these changes was enabling for these managers, because they accepted the quality values behind these changes. The workers were also supposed to have been exposed to these values in attempts to change cultures. However, as the workers were even further from senior management than the local managers, they may not have experienced this as empowering; rather it was more stress. This makes the point that the culture has to be accepted in the first place for these changes to be accepted, never mind work.
Another aspect of the quality message was a belief in flatter structures. This was the need to remove bureaucratic fat, especially amongst managers. The belief was that with fewer levels of decision making there was more of a possibility that managers could have a say in what strategy was, and how to implement it. Indeed some researchers claim to have found instances where this has worked, albeit in smaller organisations (Dopson & Stewart, 1990). Here the managers felt that they had control over their working lives. Watson found that his managers felt that they too wanted this control, and were very much less concerned with control over their subordinates.
Although Watson’s study is one of the abject failure of the quality message in making management more effective for the long-term viability of the firm, there is a belief that in other, perhaps smaller, organisations this might work. Despite this there is the problem that with flatter structures there is little chance of promotion up a long hierarchy. This requires a belief in quality, with little prospect of individual promotion. One works hard to improve the service/product, to delight the customer, etc. without the reward of promotion. Performance related pay is a recent solution to this problem.
Performance related pay is meant to motivate young managers, who are no longer motivated by regular promotion through upward mobility within the organisation’s hierarchy. There are two obvious problems with this. One is how does one measure performance? Are there pre-set criteria? Are these agreed in advance or merely imposed by senior management? Even with agreed, and accepted criteria, there is the second problem of the application of criteria to individuals. This is seen most acutely where managers are engaged in similar, or broadly similar work, and in teams that meet regularly. The local and often detailed knowledge that one can have of one’s colleagues work over the year can be a basis for scepticism, when one performance is measured and rewarded differently from another. If this scepticism is then mixed with envy, the easy functioning of the workgroup will be adversely affected. The mechanisms by which this functioning was affected included passing on the performance indicators which managers themselves had received to the workgroup they managed. One member of the workgroup called this ‘Pyramid Selling’.
“The progress of human society consists …in…
the better and better apportioning of wages to work”.
Thomas Carlyle from Past and Present.
For many commentators in recent years trade unions have been seen as an old fashioned social institution. Large scale confrontations with employers, and even with the government as in the General Strike of 1926, were seen as forms of political action leading to socialism. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the subsequent fall of the Soviet style of socialism, made this search for socialism through trade unionism seem utopian at best.
Another way of putting this point is to argue that because workers do not make a collective profit for themselves, so they cannot have a collective economic interest. Capitalists, however, do make a collective profit, and do have collective interests; at least within the firm. It is true that capitalists do compete with one another to sell their service or product. They also co-operate within bodies such as the Confederation of British Industries, and a variety of government bodies. This means that workers have to work continually to construct collective interests amongst all workers, including non-members of the trade union. The sense of a worker collective interest has to be maintained when they are in conflict with the employer over wages or health and safety. It also has to be maintained when the workers have to co-operate with the employer to ensure the viability of the firm in tough competitive times. Arguably, it is easier to have a lively sense of collectivism in conflict than in co-operation. Since periods of overt conflict are very short, relative to periods of co-operation, the job of keeping a sense of collective interest alive is a very hard one.
The earliest trade unions saw themselves as a ‘sword of justice’. This meant that there was a moral basis to trade union collectivism. It was the injustice of low pay, arbitrary sacking, and management lock-outs that originally created collectivism. Actual poverty of workers was seen as a less effective form of mobilisation. The high point of collective action was the 1960’s and 1970’s, when workers were relatively well paid.
Since the 1970’s, collective action, including strikes, has dramatically declined. This supports the view that trade unions are irrelevant to to-day’s society. The hard evidence for this view of trade unions is the fall in membership. In 1979, the membership had reached an historic high level of over 13 million members. This had fallen by about a half by the 1990’s. The first point to be made about this fall is that it was from the highest historical point. The current figure of around 7 million is higher than it was in the nineteenth century. In 1896 the figure was only 1.3 million (Bain, 7: 1983). Secondly, the institutions themselves are still in existence, doing what they always did, negotiating with employers, managing members pensions etc.. It is also true that there have been mergers of trade unions in the last 20 years. This can be seen as a weakening of the old traditions: or as becoming a larger player to negotiate with employers who have also merged. A third point concerns union density. This expresses the number of union members, as a percentage of the total number of employees in a firm. Therefore, if every employee were a union member the density would be 100%. In 1896 density was about 10% (Bain, 7: 1983). In the period of the 1920’s in Britain when unemployment was at it’s historic high, union density fell by about one third. In the 1980’s, density fell by only a fifth (Gallie, 3: 1996). Then in 1997 union density was down to 30%, from the historic high of 55% in 1979. The figure of 30% does, however, hide an enormous variation across different types of employment. For example, in the private sector there is only 20% density. This contrasts with a figure for the public sector of 60%. It also varies across different industries; ranging from 7% in hotels and restaurants to 63% in gas, electricity and water supplies.
Most of this paints a less pessimistic picture of the power of trade unions, even taking into account the fall in membership in the last 30 years of the 20th century. In a study of six very different areas of Britain, it was found that only 5% of managers actively discouraged trade unionism in their organisation (Gallie, 14: 1996). Further, 28% of managers have actively encouraged unionism. Looking only at finance industries this figure rose to 32%. The industries, which showed the greatest decline in trade union influence, were engineering, transport, and chemicals. These were industries that were in decline themselves. It is this industrial decline rather that a management initiative against unions, which explains union decline.
The management encouragement of trade unions reiterates an oft-quoted analysis of unions as being more of a lubricant than an irritant. Unions are still valued by managers as a means of communication with workers. It is easier to communicate with one or two representatives, than hundreds of employees. Opinion surveys over nearly 20 years support this view of unions. The perhaps surprising belief that trade unions have too little power has been growing (Kelly, 45: 1998) . If this is widely true, it may inhibit industrial action, including strikes, as unions may not see themselves as being strong enough for the conflict. However, the belief in the relative weakness of unions does show a growing belief in Britain that there is an asymmetry of power as between employers and employees. This raises broader questions of justice in society. Interestingly, there has been no decline in workers raising grievances against employers. Perhaps the old sword of justice still lives!
The last point has to be understood in the context of government sponsored employer initiatives against trade unions since 1979. Factories setting up on green-field sites, with various local and national financial incentives to go to areas of high unemployment, either have a no trade union policy, or provide little encouragement. It has been estimated that of all the Japanese firms entering Britain, about half have union representation. Where these unions do exist, it is often with no strike agreements. Further, there have been various changes in the law. The outlawing of secondary picketing, where one cannot picket an employer other than your own, is one of the more dramatic changes.
There have also been more subtle, and less draconian, changes introduced by management over the last 20 years or more. Employees are being encouraged to work partly, or entirely, from home. It is estimated that there are over 2 million tele-workers, or remote workers, in Britain to-day (Ackers, 12: 1996). Computers have facilitated this change. Working from home may facilitate childcare and domestic labour. However, the evidence for this is mixed. Easier childcare may go with very low pay. It also matters whether the work is low skilled data entering, or highly skilled professional work(Crompton, 38: 1997). In any case, this makes contact with, or membership of, a trade union more difficult. There is not the daily collective discussion of management initiatives, and mutual support for a union response.
Other management initiatives include customer care and quality circles. Customer care involves more training of staff to respond to the customer with a greeting, smile and friendly telephone manner. This is an increase in the emotional work now required. Training is often in working hours, which often means that the office is closed to customers for half an hour one day per week. Quality circles quickly followed customer care. Longer periods were taken out of normal work. Workers were encouraged to identify problems with their work, and to brainstorm solutions. These solutions were written down, and if approved by management would be implemented. One unresolved issue here was what payment should be made for successfully implemented solutions? Token gifts by managers were often seen as inadequate. One Building Society gave a bunch of flowers. Another problem was that normal work/service was disrupted during the meeting of the quality circle. One building society senior manager, on visiting a local branch, noticed that the branch had their quality meetings in their lunch hour. This was the peak period for customer attendance at the branch. There were long queues. The quality circle was stopped. More generally, when workers returned from the circle to normal work, there was some cynicism about the slowness of introducing approved changes. Consequently, quality circles had a high rate of decay. A recent survey found them in only 22% of all work places (Ackers, 159: 1996).
A more successful management initiative, found in over half of all workplaces in the same survey, was team working. Workers were organised into teams with team leaders. The team’s performance was measured over time, with scoreboards placed around the factory. This encouraged inter-team competition. This competition could, and did, result in one team giving another team poor scores for poor quality work. Then the other team would engage in retaliatory scoring on the first team. This resulted in some difficulties for the team leaders.
Team leaders were previously called foremen or supervisors. Their new role involved financial responsibility. They were trained in some accountancy, and notional budgets were devolved to them. This was a part of reducing levels of management in the firm. Layers of bureaucratic fat were being reduced. However, the new team leaders were concerned with the intensification of their labour. They supervised the team as before. But they also had to operate within their budget constraints. Further, they felt that they had not been given enough training in accountancy. It had been too short. They were a sort of mini-manager without management holidays, management pay, fringe benefits, or promotionprospects. Further, they faced the real prospect of redundancy. Being a mini-manager did not produce job security. They now wanted a return of trade unions. Ironically, they only got their new role as team leaders on condition that they supported the de-recognition of trade unions.
Yet, another management initiative was called Human Resource Management. This effectively replaced what is now seen as old-fashioned personnel management. Whereas personnel managers took some responsibility for the health and welfare of employees; human resource management saw the employee as a resource to the firm in it’s efforts to maximise profits. There are two variants of this new approach to employees, a hard variant and a soft one (Legge, 66: 1995). The hard variant was concerned with identifying the firm’s needs for different types of workers in different places. The soft variant was concerned to discover what skillsand abilities employees had to offer, and what new training could be offered to them. The hard variant would be concerned with managing redundancy. Both variants stressed the individual’s relationship with the employer. It was the individual that was managed. This encouraged the belief that all employees were individuals whose relation to the employer was an individualistic one. There was little place for trade unions here.
When asked what they wanted from employment most employees answered good pay and job security. If Japanese firms, or firms with a tradition of secure employment could offer this, there was again little place for trade unions. Unions have responded to this by also treating their members as individuals. They offer individual credit cards, reductions on the cost of holidays, insurance etc.. Some unions can ask for even more training than is on offer, as this is seen as the positive side of managementinitiatives. Unions also represent sacked employees. So unions are also trying to get a more secure employment for workers, partly through increasing skills, which should make them more attractive to existing, or future employers. A survey of six different parts of Britain found that the stock of skilled jobs had increased in the 1980’s to 70% of all jobs (Kelly, 119: 1998). Further, more than half those interviewed claimed that they had experienced an increase in their skill levels. Raised entry qualifications and extensive training by the firm are seen as measures of these higher skill levels. This suggests that the unions were right to be concerned about up-skilling. However, the survey also found evidence of de-skilling in part-time and unskilled jobs. This indicates a polarisation of workers in terms of skill levels.
Further, unions did not halt the massive redundancies in manufacturing industries in the 1980’s. There was no trade union for the unemployed, as there was in the 1930’s. There was some involvement in unemployed centres, but to little effect. In America, one study in Chicago showed that when unskilled manufacturing jobs moved out of the city to the suburbs and abroad, the growth of inner city service jobs was largely for women only (Wilson, 1996). This was because employers were explicit in preferring women to men. Further, they preferred black women to black men. Women were seen as being more reliable than men are, because they had a sense of responsibility to their family. Women were seen as having better skillsthan men in spelling, grammar, and adopting the business dress code. So unemployment was greater for men than women.
This unemployment meant that trade unionsat the national level are reduced to being a provider of information and individual services as shown above. Yet, this focus on the national hides the real basis of union power, which is local. The organisation of the union at the local factory or office is normally done by shop stewards. These stewards dealt with immediate daily issues. They attempted to protect union members from managerial whims. They also met other shop stewards within the firm and managed a variety of demands from different groups of workers. Sectional interests, as between different unions, always exist; and always threaten the unity of the union. There are ‘cowboys’ attempting to advance claims opportunistically, which could disrupt unity. For those workers still in jobs in the 1990’s, this style of shop steward organisation still existed. It was not, of course, available to the unemployed; nor to those small scale private companies in the service sector set up in the 1990’s. These small firms are always hard to organise and recruit members in.
So for many of those still in work the shop steward still existed, managing the necessary ballots for any strike action, and still operating as before. The legal requirement to have a written ballot members before a strike was seen as an inhibitor of industrial conflict. This inhibition, however, did not materialise. The vast majority of ballots called by the national trade union were well supported by the members. This not only reflected the trust members had in the head office, but also the local shop stewards. So the ballot tended to create greater cohesion within the union generally.
Also the view that the trade unions, and their members, were always bent on conflict with employers was an exaggerated one. A 1980’s study of workers attitudes to their employers showed a very different story. 50% believed that workers and managers had the same interests; 49% disagreed. Further, 64% believed that any changes in production ought to be subject to joint decision making between workers and managers. Although only 15% thought that changes actually were jointly managed (Martin, 65: 1992). These are hardly workers bent on irresponsible industrial conflict for it’s own sake; quite apart from the fact that most forms of industrial conflict do affect the worker financially. Strike pay from the union is usually well below normal pay.
Having considered trade union responses to recent conditions, a more fundamental question is why there is any conflict at all between trade unions and employers? One classic answer was that there is always an effort bargain between worker and manager (Edwards, 32: 1986). This bargain is variable, and so negotiable. The effort bargain exists in the first place because the details of any labour contract can never be fully specified in advance. This is because the law governing employment changes over time, as does the introduction of new technologies, and changes in competition from other firms. However, the most fundamental reason as to why there must be a lack of specificity in the bargain has to do with changing expectations on the part of both managers and workers as to what effort is required. In the case of the workers if there is a perceived disparity between the effort made and the wages received, this can easily produce a variety of forms of conflict, up to the most dramatic, the withdrawal of labour in a strike. In the case of managers, if they also perceive a similar disparity then they may require greater effort for the same wages. The factory line may be speeded up; or the number of successful sales of mobile phones achieved per minute of a sales pitch by a tele-sales person, may be increased.
One response to an increase in effort is an increased wage demand. Another response is to find easier ways of doing the work, than the way laid down by management. In Britain this is often called “fiddles”; in America it is called “angles” (Edwards, 42: 1986). This is a very double-edged strategy. It helps the workers keep to a traditional sense of what effort should be; it also helps management get things done without any overt conflict. This complex strategy can be seen as exercising the creative powers of workers, not normally exercised. One study found that workers used more creative thought getting to work in the morning, than at work. The strategy can even be seen as subverting detailed management control of work. It can even be seen as workers controlling production themselves, making management redundant. However, the most subtle analysis of this strategy suggests that a kind of worker consent is created. This consent is to being a worker in the first place; to the existence of management; to a fatalistic view of the possibility of any radical change; and to a broad acquiescence of the status quo in society. Essentially, what is being argued here is that worker consent is created inside the office/factory by the workers themselves, rather than any political initiatives outside the workplace (Edwards, 46: 1986).
As more workers now work in offices rather than factories, are better educated than before, the need for consent is all the greater. Old fashioned authoritarian management may produce more conflict than in the past. In the last 20 years of the 20th century the growth of quality circles, team working, and flatter structures with fewer layers of managers, all aimed to increase worker consent and commitment to the organisation. These moves increased the flexibility of workers in the sense that there were no more clearly defined boundaries between one job and another. This reduced delays as previously one had to wait for the relevant expert trained worker to do a specific task. This flexibility also reduced the ability of trade unions to negotiate disagreements over job boundaries. Tapping into worker creativity in these changing initiatives is also a double-edged strategy.
On the one hand there are fewer, and less experienced younger, managers to exert managerial control. The decline of autocratic management may improve the working environment; it may even become more playful. More may actually be produced with creative workers, and less time lost through conflict. On the other hand, there are much less prospects for promotion as there are fewer layers of management. The workers may or may not get increased wages following increased production. Even if wages do increase, the returns to the owners and senior managers are likely to be much greater. Office working conditions may be cleaner and less noisy than older factories, but the risks of industrial injury are real. Repetitive strain injury from working too long on computer keyboards, restrictive and very short breaks in telephone answering call centres, are more contemporary examples of health problems at work.
The changes of the last 20 years of the 20th century need to be understood in relation to the previous 20 years, the 1960’s and 1970’s. This was the period of the highest level of strikesin Britain‘s history. There were nearly 5,000 strikes per million workers in the 1970’s. This figure compares with 352 strikes per million in the period 1881 to 1905 (Edwards, 194: 1986). The explanation for this period of high industrial conflict is many sided and still in dispute. There was increasing competition from Japan in the 1960’s and onwards. This required British, and American, companies to increase productivity, or output per head; to reduce the wage bill; and to take more control over the factory floor. Before this shock of competition from lower priced and more reliable products, there had been relatively low investment in many car factories, and low levels of profit per car. In the 1950’s, the organisation of trade unions through local leaders, the shop stewards, was developing slowly. Payment was by piece rate, the more you produced the more you were paid. Managers at the time believed that this system of pay was the most powerful incentive to get workers to work harder, and increase their effort for more money. The power of the shop stewards grew through negotiating the rate for any one piece of work. This worked well enough until the 60’s and 70’s. New investment from management went with demands for more flexibility from workers. This tended to undermine the power of the shop stewards. This established what was called a “frontier of control” (Edwards, 241: 1986). This frontier in one factory was over management’s ability to move a worker from one machine to another, without the control of the shop stewards. Another example, from the same factory, was that if management wanted any overtime at all, it had to be offered to all workers, and for a 12 week period! Yet another example was where the piece work system of wages was replaced by measured day work, where management set a daily rate. Shop stewards got an earnings policy for the whole factory. This had a number of consequences. Firstly, it took away individual work effort bargaining. Secondly, it produced a union, or shop steward, discipline across the whole factory. Thirdly, it moved the frontier of control from local or individual issues to the whole factory. This example is by no means typical of union power at the time, but gives a sense of the conflict that did exist; and the consequent need for new management initiatives.
One initiative was to de-recognise the trade union, which was popular in new start companies, and management buy-outs of parts of ailing corporations. One study of this was in three high tech firms in the south of England . One firm, which had de-recognised a trade union, made speakers for hi-fi systems. They had a mainly female unskilled and untrained work force, which did largely repetitive work, which did not require
“cleverness or a lot of thinking”
(McLoughlin, 84: 1994) .
These workers had lines of T.V. monitors, which flashed green if they were ahead of their targets, and red if they were not. Two fifths of these workers had been in the old trade union, and would have rejoined if a new trade union was in place. Most of the other workers in the other two firms did not want to join a trade union. This had less to do with the success of new Human Resource Management policies, and more to do with negative attitudes about unions ability to achieve anything for them, including more pay. These were mostly highly skilled technical workers, who could easily get more pay by leaving and getting another job. However, even these workers had problems. The nature of the workflow was dependent on varying customer orders. When contract deadlines were not met, then sub-contracted workers were called in. They were often paid much more than the full time technical staffs. This produced the need for 6 month, as opposed to 12 month, salary reviews; and a costly period of intensive training for the full time staff. As these small start-up firms matured and employed more people, there was a need for managing people that had not existed before. Many staff became confused and angry. There were rumours of heavy drinking on Friday afternoons. In this situation, not having a union to express grievances could be as costly and time consuming as having one!
For some writers the 1970’s were a period of co-operation between trade unions, employers, and government, sometimes called corporatism. This co-operation may be seen as a response to the continuing industrial conflict. The 1980’s have now been called the period of de-incorporation; that is firms felt the need to free themselves from the need for lengthy union negotiations and bureaucracy. The old system of collective bargaining for large numbers of workers across a firm, or even an industry, was seen as part of a solution to business problems for the previous 20 years or more. Management had been to be incorporated into these relationships, as well as unions. De-incorporation meant de-recognising unions and introducing Human Resource Management. This was a risky new strategy, as shown above, and could be costly and unpopular.
In this environment unions could survive as service providers for members, and become “empty shells” (Mc Loughlin, 160: 1994), with little relationship with their members, who would fade away. The issue here is the survival of trade unions into the future. Survival requires a strategy. The two strategies of providing new consumer services, and older industrial services around wages and working conditions , seem set to continue. Having one strategy without the other appears a risky strategy. However, the two strategies create tensions within the union. The first encourages the values of individualism; the second the values of collectivism. These two values cannot easily coexist. More of one value may reduce the other value. Too much individualism may weaken the power of trade unions in the longer term. If unions are seen as merely reactive, or defensive organisations, then one could argue that they are merely reacting to a more individualised society. This is necessary to survive. Surviving makes possible the continuing and more traditional role of unions in defending worker’s interests.
Black Workers. (Part One)
You can’t get a good job – the sort of job you are capable of doing –
You have to take what you can get – what other people don’t want.
Being coloured you cannot get a job unless the boss thinks that he cannot get a white man to do it.
W.W. Daniel from Racial Discrimination in England, 1968.
For black workers many of their problems at work are similar to those of their other co-workers. However, research over the last 30 years has shown that there are also problems that are specific to black workers. These specific issues include, getting a job and keeping it, getting promoted, becoming unemployed, becoming self-employed, joining trade unions, and experiencing racism at work in a variety of ways. This is not to suggest that white workers do not have these problems, but that black workers are treated differently when they face these issues.
There have been black workers in Britain since at least the 18th century. The relatively large numbers came after the Second World War. Since then, there have been inflows from other parts of the world, often as political refugees. As black soldiers had fought for the Allies in the Second World War, there was a belief that Britain was a mother country, where jobs were plentiful. Active recruitment in the West Indies, after the war, reinforced this view. Since then the definition of citizen with the right to settle in Britain has been progressively narrowed. Simply put, the current position is that those born in this country have full citizenship rights, irrespective of skin colour, or the place of birth of their parents. These formal rights, together with the older beliefs of an earlier generation in the mother country, paint a positive picture of life, including work. Further, there has been a series of race relations laws passed to ensure equal treatment in many areas of life, including work.
What, then, does the research reveal? Early research, from the 1960’s and 1970’s, sent similarly qualified applicants for the same job, but one was black and the other white (Modood, 1997). This style of research has continued, and is needed as current government estimates show that the rate of unemployment for ethnic minorities is constantly half as high again as for white workers. Indeed one recent researcher has argued that unemployment for ethnic minorities is hyper cyclical. This means that in periods of economic recession unemployment for ethnic minorities rises faster than for whites. Further, in periods of economic recovery, unemployment falls faster for ethnic minorities. One consequence of this is that having got a job in the first place, it is even more important for black people than white to keep the job in an economic recession.
An example of research in getting jobs was where job application forms were matched exactly, except for ethnic origin. On receipt of these forms employers gave white applicants a 90% positive response; but black applicants got only a 63% positive response (Mason, 59: 1995). Other recent research involved sending two fictitious applications from Evans and Patel to the top 100 British companies. These were mythical MBA students about to graduate, with similar work experience. About half of these companies favoured the white candidate, in terms of an encouraging response and helpful advice. Those with equal opportunities statements in their annual reports were more likely to treat the candidates the same. However, nearly half of these companies discriminated against Patel by not giving helpful advice. This was evidence of widespread discrimination in Britain’s top 100 companies, even amongst some companies with equal opportunities policies in their annual reports (Noon & Blyton, 171: 1997).
So getting a job, though far from impossible, appears relatively more difficult for black people than for white. Once one has a job, a key way to keep it is to be promoted. Where a promotion applied for does not happen, an employer can be accused of discrimination. This is a complicated area. Some forms of discrimination are legitimate. A job may well require an ability to speak another language, from Europe or Japan. Other forms of discrimination are not so legitimate. The requirement for a specific dress code may not be essential for the task, and may well conflict with individual’s religious convictions. Well known examples include Sikh and Muslim head-dress. Less well known examples include short hair for men, and a formal suit, at least when meeting customers. Some of these requirements have recently been relaxed. Some employers now only require ‘smart casual’ clothes on a Friday. All this raises the question are these forms of discrimination fair? Are they intended to focus more on black people?
Other less visible forms of discrimination occur in various forms of training schemes, both in work, and as a preparation for work. Time spent with each trainee differed as between a white or black worker. Some black workers experienced stereotyping of their abilities, and verbal abuse. Finding placements/training for workers also showed differences. Black workers were more likely to be placed in small companies and voluntary organisations than large companies (Noon & Blyton, 171: 1997).
Attempts to deal with unfair discrimination have produced legislation where intention is not the issue, but rather the effect the discrimination has on grounds of race, gender and disability. So if an employer requires certain educational requirements, or wishes to look at the employment history of an individual, this appears to be legitimate; provided it is applied to all workers. If employment/promotion is refused on the grounds of breaks in employment history, or failures in educational history, then this will discriminate against those with this history. As many black people, but excluding Chinese and African Asians, have had in the past fewer educational qualifications than white people, and are more likely to have experienced unemployment, this refusal affected them more than it did white people. This has been called indirect discrimination. Those appealing against a promotion decision have to show that the discrimination was directly related to their race or gender or disability, and not to education or previous unemployment. This is not easy to do!
To complicate the picture further, positive discrimination is illegal, whilst positive action is legal. Positive discrimination is setting a quota of places for employment or promotion. This discriminates against those who are not in the quota; typically white able bodied males. Positive action such as placing advertisements in the ethnic minority press, or providing a company crèche, is encouraged. How effective this is in dealing with unfair discrimination is not clear. This is partly because monitoring these actions with data collection and analysis is voluntary in mainland Britain. It is compulsory in Northern Ireland, where religious affiliation is monitored. The Commission for Racial Equality wanted this extended to all of Britain. So far, this has not happened.
Arguments against collecting such data include the belief that it is an unnecessary invasion of an individual’s privacy; that the collection and use of the data is open to abuse; and that it would be too expensive. Responding to these arguments are counter arguments to make positive discrimination legal; to have quotas. This can produce a reaction from those not in the quota, especially if quota places are not filled. Also, some employers may object. They still need workers, but must wait until a suitable black candidate is recruited. Meanwhile suitably qualified white workers remain unemployed.
A more telling objection to positive discrimination is that those promoted/employed because they are in the quota may well feel that their achievement was less to do with their ability or suitability for the job, and more to do with meeting the number of black employees as specified in the quota. Evidence for the existence of this concern, with respect to gender, comes from a recent study in the North East of England (Bradley, 99: 1999). Here 42% of women were opposed to a quota of seats on trade union committees reserved for women. One opposing woman argued that it should be the best person for the job. She also argued for some assertiveness training for women, which comes close to positive discrimination. This mix of attitudes illustrates well a widespread ambivalence about dealing with unfair discrimination by quota.
The research of the 1960’s and 1970’s was influenced by the American experience with civil rights. The practical issues here were access for black Americans to public transport, education and restaurants. In Britain, the practical issues were access to housing and jobs; and discrimination was quite overt. Having got a job, there was the issue of promotion for black people. Research done in 1984 found that 11% of West Indians, and 8% of Asians, were refused promotion on racial grounds (Modood, 1997). Further it was found that West Indians do more shift work than white workers; and so have less opportunity for supervising others. This partly explains why there is little promotion. Two main areas of employment were transport and manufacturing. In the case of transport, a service industry, basic fluency in spoken English is required. In manufacturing, there was low fluency in spoken English. The low fluency in manufacturing might explain the lack of promotion there, but the basic fluency in transport does not explain poor promotion prospects there. Indeed the researchers argued that West Indian workers in manufacturing were trapped in these low skill, low paid, jobs. Further, there was evidence of upward job mobility for white workers in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The black workers took up the low skill, low paying jobs, left behind by the white workers (Modood, 1997).
Evidence form the 1980’s began to show the obvious response to this trap, which was more education. More black children began staying on at school beyond the minimum legal requirement of 16 years of age. However, marked differences between different ethnic minorities began to appear. The latest evidence, from research done in 1994, showed that for all ethnic minorities, qualifications gained at school were similar to white candidates. However, African Asian and Chinese candidates did significantly better than white candidates; Bangladeshi and Pakistani did worse; and Caribbean and Indian performed similarly to white candidates (Modood, 1997). It is too early to say that these changes in level of qualification will result in jobs with higher skill and pay levels for those with more qualifications. For those not getting these improvements in qualifications, the Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups, there is little prospect of better paid jobs.
Which produces more despair in the individual, not getting a job in the first place; or the experience of unemployment having already got a job? Arguably, it is the experience of employment followed by unemployment, as one knows what one has lost. It is obviously the loss of earnings, and the consequent demeaning dependency on state benefits. However, more is involved than this. The conviviality of the workgroup, joking relationships in the office and factory, possible trade union membership, pension rights, holiday pay, and even the possibility of promotion are all lost.
Probably the most reliable study of unemployment, and the most recent, is the fourth Policy Study Institute survey of ethnic minorities in Britain (Modood, 1997). The results are summarised in the following table:
Looking at unemployment for men, real differences emerge.
Percentage of unemployed males.
Adapted from Modood (1997).
Although ethnic minorities, men and women, as a whole experienced unemployment more than whites, the thrust of this study was to claim that within ethnic minorities the were significant differences. In particular, Chinese and African Asian men had much less experience of unemployment than other ethnic minorities. Indeed they argue that in these two cases their experience is returning to the levels that existed prior to their entry into Britain. The experience indeed was quite similar to white workers, who were at 15%.
However there was a sharp contrast with Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi men. Their experience of unemployment was three to four times greater than that of the Chinese and African Asian men. This difference is partly explained by the largely professional occupations of the African Asian men, and the largely self-employed Chinese men. Another important difference, especially amongst younger men, was the relative successin the British educational system. Looking firstly at degree holders amongst men aged 16 to 64, the differences stand out from the next table.
Percentage of males holding first degrees.
Adapted from Modood (1997).
Chinese, African/Asian, and Indian men are better qualified than other ethnic groups and white people. In the case of older African Asian and Indian men some of these qualifications were achieved pre-migration to Britain. Looking at ‘A’ level passes for younger men, yet more differences emerge.
Percentage of young males with ‘A’ Level Passes.
|white||chinese||african asian||indian||carrib-ean||pakist-ani||bangla-deshi||all ethnic|
Adapted from Modood (1997).
Here, Chinese and African Asian young students are doing significantly better than Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups, and slightly better than Indian, Caribbean and white students. The first point to make is that many of the Chinese and African Asian students are very likely to proceed to degree level. Indeed they may well have the encouragement of their parents, about a quarter of whom already have degrees. So the current Chinese and African Asian students will not only be as well qualified as white graduates in future, their qualifications will be British, unlike many of their parents.
The second point is one of the most striking in the whole study. It is the number of Caribbean students taking ‘A’ levels, viz. 45%. This goes against earlier evidence of underachievement in this group. This should translate into a higher proportion of Caribbeans getting degrees in the future, certainly higher than the current 6%.
Looking at unemployment rates for women, the figures are much lower than for men, reflecting the increased participation of women in the workforce.
Percentage of unemployed women.
|white||chinese||african asian||indian||caribb-ean||pakist- ani||bangla-deshi|
Adapted from Modood (1997).
The differences between the groups are similar to the differences seen for men. The relatively high figures for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women reflect their poor fluency in English relative to African Asian and Indian women. However, there is little reliable evidence in this study of home working. So the relatively high figures for Bangladeshi unemployment may hide this paid work.
Another response to unemployment is to start one’s own business. Chinese, African Asians, and Indian men have higher self-employmentrates than white men. Pakistanis have the same rate as whites; and Caribbeans and Bangladeshis have half the rate of whites. Further, all ethnics, except Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, earn more from self-employment than white workers do. Other earlier researchers have claimed that self-employment for ethnic workers are a form of survival, a last resort strategy. They have been seen to be earning less in self-employment than when they were employees in large firms. They have been described as a “lumpen bourgeoisie” (Phizacklea, 5: 1990). They are formally capitalists but earning less than some workers.
The success of ethnic groups other than Pakistani and Bangladeshi in self-employmentwas seen as being due to thrift and enterprise. This view contrasts with the earlier studies, which argued that being an ethnic entrepreneur was merely surviving. It may be that the passage of time has allowed profits to be reinvested as capital; and this explains the higher earnings relative to white self-employed. If this is the case, then self-employment has been a success for most ethnic groups. This is not the case for Pakistani and Bangladeshis who were counted at 640,000 in the 1991 census. They are a significant minority of all ethnic groups, at nearly 27% of the total ethnic population. The question then arises are they less thrifty and enterprising than all the other ethnic groups? Or are there other explanations for the relative failure of these two groups? One possible explanation was the difficulty in getting employment in large companies, referred to earlier.
An important aspect of being an employeeis having the right to belong to a trade union, which will fight for wages, safety at work, and fighting unemployment. Currently, the Policy Studies Institute research shows that membership has fallen for all groups, including whites, since 1982. About 40% of all ethnic minorities are still members, and this is a higher figure than that for white workers. Only Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers had a lower membership than white workers did. This shows a continuing commitment to trade unions, although this is skewed to older workers. Other evidence of commitment is being elected to a role within the union. About 8% of ethnic minorities had such roles, roughly similar to the number of white workers also in these roles.
This figure of 8% is the same figure as was found in a study done in 1979 (Miles & Phizacklea, 1979). There it was argued that many black workers had little or no experience of trade unions prior to their current job. Therefore similar levels of membership and active taking of roles is surprising. This suggests that for those smaller numbers still in trade unions their positive commitment has not changed over about 20 years.
“All professions are conspiracies against the laity”.
George Bernard Shaw from The Doctor’s Dilemma.
The workers who are seen as having the most freedom and least constraint are the professions. There is typically a long period of training, which is partly technical, and partly into the values and traditions of the profession. So one’s working life is spent applying the knowledge gained as a student. Constraint does occur when the professional is employed by a large organisation. Here one is salaried, as opposed to receiving fees from individual clients. There may well be a hierarchy, where one’s superior may be another professional, or increasingly may not. Doctors in hospitals, and architects in large building firms, are good examples of both possibilities. However, as the knowledge of the professional becomes more specialised and technical, it becomes more difficult for non-professional to control their work. This may mean that mechanisms of control have to be bureaucratic. These mechanisms will include the length of time allocated to the professional’s work, the spaces in which it occurs, and the filling in of much paperwork to describe details of the work.
The value of service to the client is seen as basic for professionals, and the celebration of this value in one recent study was used to claim that professionals would always have a degree of freedom. Even when there is some bureaucratic control over a doctor’s diagnosis, the professional body set the standards, and even the forms to be filled in. How much control is exercised over the professional is then not clear. It is however, probably more than was exercised in the recent past.
Nonetheless the attraction of the professions, as a form of work, remains high. There has been a large increase of female students on university degrees leading to a professional job. Female students now account for more than half of all students of medicine and a number of other professions (Crompton, 117: 1997). The professional can give some of the most persuasive answers to the question why work. In traditional terms there are the attractions of serving only one client at a time; as opposed to a large number of customers. Service to the client has a humanistic air of care and concern for the well-being of the client. There is the attraction of having specific knowledge defined by the professional body, yet based on hard sciences and the arts. The architect is the classic example here. There is the membership of one’s professional body, which has a code of ethics, and sets professional fees. The code of ethics allows for the discipline of unprofessional conduct, and removal from the profession. The set fees creates a confidence in the client that they are not being overcharged for the professional services. There are also the more trivial aspects to the professional role, the brass plate outside the office door; the letters after one’s name. Perhaps the most attractive aspect of this work is the ability to control one’s own work; where there is no non-professional superior above one.
All of the above can be seen as part of the glamour, even mystique of the professions, and may go some way to explaining the increasing attractiveness of the profession to new entrants. The reality of professional work is more complex. Looking firstly at the claim that professionals control their own work, there are now many studies that show that professionals increasingly work in large organisations where there are senior managers controlling these professionals. Indeed the history of engineers in America is one where , from the 19th century these professionals never knew anything but working for managers in large firms (Larson, 30: 1977). Further, these engineers were salaried workers, as opposed to charging professionally fees to an individual client, which had been set by the professional body. Looking at the caring professions in Britain Richard Titmuss observed that professionals were pre-eminently people with status problems. This was because the work that they did, caring for people, was low status. For example caring for the very old or the very young was work anyone could do; but not everyone wanted to! Worse, it could be done by unpaid volunteers, some of whom might even be untrained. The British welfare state created a huge demand for professionals, even new professions like social workers, and educational welfare officers. Here there was little involvement by the client, who was provided by the state, as opposed to individually requesting the service of the professional. In this scenario the professional was seen as having power over the client. One study found that these professionals were unaware that they were exercising power, and even rejected the idea that they were powerful agents (Hugman, 33: 1991). However, the majority of their clients were from the working class, and much of the professional work involved ensuring their clients obeyed a variety of laws.
The social work professionals working in a large bureaucracy are themselves constrained by the law, even though their work was to constrain others. Also, the existence of a large bureaucracy itself constrained these professionals. This was a problem as the professional had to present themselves as competent to their client in a typically face to face situation. However, many important decisions could only be made in consultation with colleagues. This meant that face saving excuses would have to be made to clients to explain the delays. This could produce scepticism in the client about the professional, and undermine the whole professional client relationship.
These clients had often not entered the role of client willingly, partly because it was a legal requirement, or because they had become ill. In these cases the client cannot exit the role of client without professional intervention. Further, in the case of illness they will typically wish to exit the role as quickly as possible! This creates obvious difficulties for the professional client relationship. In cases of extreme illness, where long term care is needed, the role is difficult, even impossible, to exit. Here the client is in permanent need of professional care, and is in the weakest position of all clients. This may well strengthen the power of the professional, but we have now moved some way from the more idealistic, and humanistic, vision of the relationship. Further, in these extreme cases, the professional may be seen less frequently, and a variety of auxiliaries and assistants will be the daily contact for the client. So nurses, solicitor’s clerks, technical draughtsmen, radiographers, victim support volunteers, and receptionists may be seen much more frequently.
Some writers have responded to these changes from the 19th century image of the self employed free professional, to the employees of some large organisation, by claiming that the professional has now become proletarianised; that is that they no longer have the prestige of the past, and have been pushed down into the working class (Johnson, 1977). The evidence for this thesis is that the large organisation has a variety of managers, and accountants (also professionals of course), who control much of what the professional does. The professional is paid a wage by the organisation, and not by the client. There is often a hierarchy of ranks, through which the professional may be promoted. Many professionals belong to a trade union as well as to their professional body. Professionals, such as architects in large organisations producing large scale housing projects for poor clients, rarely meet their clients. Rather the real client is a government department. Finally, the authority of the professional based on their command of a body of knowledge, may be reduced by a increasing knowledge on the part of the client. This can come partly from more state education; but also the growth in consumer awareness, and a range of do-it-yourself publications. This makes it possible for the client to question the professional’s opinion. A related problem is that the knowledge base is constantly changing. This may be due to changes in the basic science, changes in government regulations, changes in technology, and changes in professional practices. For those, perhaps older, members of the profession who have not kept up to date with these changes their practice may become out of date, redundant, even dangerous.
The proletarianisation thesis can be seen as having two forms; a weak form and a strong one (Murphy, 1990). The weak form argues that all the professionals have lost to various managers is the control over policy decisions about how their work is to be organised, and perhaps control over who is the client. They have retained effective control over the technical detail of their work practices. Whereas, manual workers have lost this technical control over their work practices. So there is a major difference between manual workers and professionals. This brings into question even the weak claim to proletarianisation. The strong thesis argues that professionals have lost control over organisation, that is over how their services are to be sold on which markets; but also over the technical aspect of how their work is to be done. At this point the debate turns on exactly how much of the daily work of how many professionals is controlled by others in a management hierarchy. For one influential writer on the professions this ability to control one’s own work is what defines a profession, as no other occupation can do this (Larson, xii: 1977)!
Freidson uses this argument, not only to reject proletarianisation in it’s strong form, but to present a robust defence of the continuing relevance of the professional. He argues that
“Ideal typically, professional autonomy is the antithesis of proletarianisation: the workers themselves determine what work they do, and how they do it.”
(Freidson, 164: 1994).
Further, professionals have discretion, judgement, and responsibility for their work. The very complexity and uncertainty of the work requires discretion etc.. The mechanism for achieving and practising these values is the peer review, by other professionals. He does admit that computerised records of the past practices of professionals may be easily stored in computer files. But argues that it is the professionals themselves who determine what is stored and how; and even interpret the results when published. Also,
“the first line of hierarchical supervision is always filled by a professional”.
(Freidson, 139: 1994).
This is often required by law. However, this leaves open the real possibility that higher levels of supervision may well not be by professionals, as argued earlier. Even where higher levels are filled by professionals, there are two possible outcomes. One is that there increasing contact with senior managers may influence their view of current events and problems, which may weaken their professional values. The second possibility is that the professional at the top of an organisation may cease to be a professional in terms of their practice. They may not see patients , or clients, at all any more. Their full time work can be largely, or entirely, managerial.
Freidson gives the example of the management of health care in America. Here hospital managers produce quantitative data for patient type, length of stay in hospital, doctor’s diagnosis and much more. This data can be manipulated to provide analysis of historical practices, and compare this past to an ideal set of norms for doctor’s practices. This creates the possibility for the managers to set norms for doctors which affect clinical judgement and diagnosis. Some diagnoses cost more than others. There may be a longer stay in hospital with some diagnoses, this stay provides more income for the hospital. This can create a sort of “creep” (Freidson, 186: 1994) towards longer stays. So the person who enters these records of decisions and manipulates them may well affect the clinical judgement of the doctor. Freidson insists that this person is the doctor, and not the hospital manager. Further, that the contents, format, and standards used are created, reviewed, and validated by professionals, and not managers. However, this insistence is not accompanied by any evidence.
Another basic mechanism by which the profession can keep control of their work is through credentialism. This means that one can only become a professional through passing certain exams, and thus becoming credentialised. This is a way of excluding others, such as managers, civil servants or politicians, from professional knowledge. This makes it difficult for non-professionals, including clients, to question professional judgements. For Freidson the other side of this exclusion is the inclusion of professionals, and students of the profession in a “shelter”(Friedson, 161: 1994), which assures both of a life long career in return for a long period of training. Also there is the issue of earnings foregone during training. There has to be some recompense for this in the form of professionally set fees. This makes the professional life attractive to the young. Further, the profession’s control over the knowledge base during training implies that only other professionals will control this work. This shelter should make the practice of the professional into a central life interest, producing considerable commitment to the work. All this, for Freidson, adds up to the very antithesis of alienation and proletarianisation.
Another aspect of credentialism is monopoly. As only those who are credentialised can practice, this creates a monopoly over professional work. This monopoly can be seen as benign, where those excluded in the past were poorly trained in the law, or even corrupt. The nineteenth century history of the Chicago Bar Association showed that there was a concern for the public, and some beneficial changes in the law (Mac Donald, 32: 1995). But this monopoly was not entirely disinterested. It also created a sort of scarcity, which helped to raise the status of the profession. There was also more control over the knowledge base. The academics could make the knowledge base more abstract. The monopolised professionals could relate this abstract knowledge to the mundane everyday practice. The knowledge could not be too abstract, else it became too formal and distant from the client; nor should it become too concrete, as this was too close to the clients everyday knowledge. A middle position was both ideal, and probably difficult to maintain over time. This is because both the academic/scientific knowledge changes over time, as does the client’s knowledge through do-it-yourself etc.. Managing this difficult balancing act is very much the job of the professional body.
Changing the focus of those who are excluded, from poorly paid lawyer to the client, another picture emerges. Firstly, there is the inequality of reward as between professional and client, and even between one professional and another. Freidson even quotes the example of some American Lawyers who have been described as the “hired guns”(Freidson, 169: 1994) of the rich and powerful, and can become rich themselves. Secondly, there is inequality of knowledge as between professional and others. So some are excluded from professional knowledge. This can give more control and power to the professional. Freidson’s defence of the professional is that inequality, properly understood, is functional difference. What this means is that with a complex division of labour in an industrialised society, some occupations will be more complex than others, and may well be more valuable to society. So society should preserve this value with higher rewards. Further, this valuable work will be done in a form of co-operative control, which also encourages reflection on professional practice; and may even produce new knowledge through research within the profession, often in collaboration with universities. If professional work is not restricted to the needs of managers or clients, then a milieu of intellectual innovation is possible. Here scholars and scientists become a model for professionals, or are even seen as professionals themselves. This focus is away from the more mundane everyday practice of the professional, which may be more routinised, in the sense of the application of prior trainingto a variety of client needs. Including scientists and scholars also blurs the boundaries of who is, and is not, a professional. At an extreme it raises the possibility of the professionalisation of everyone; which would result in the category of profession ceasing to have any meaning.
It is, of course, utopian to pretend that with a complex division of labour a client can learn enough about a number of professions in one lifetime, in order to reduce the inequalities of knowledge. However, the spread of alternative medicines, the boom in do-it-yourself magazines, the increasing use of insurance by professionals to protect themselves from angry clients, all point to a growing willingness of clients to learn. Indeed the increasing participation in post-compulsory state education may give greater confidence to clients, and even more knowledge.
Perhaps those affected most by the strategy of exclusion are those ancillary workers like nurses who work closely with doctors, but are not themselves professionals. These ancillary workers have been called “a class of ineligibles”, (Witz, 46: 1992) who cannot gain professional status. They are frequently women. More complexly, this been called demarcationary closure. This is where there are boundary controls within a large profession of, say, medicine: such that nurses are within the occupation, but their presence is bounded. This means that they cannot normally cross this boundary between nurse and doctor. There is a set of defined competencies for the nurse, beyond which s/he must not go! Recently, some detailed changes have been made to enlarge the role of nurses. Whether the boundary becomes more blurred in the future remains to be seen.
Some occupations have attempted to usurp these boundaries of competence. Arguments of equality of opportunity have been used. So when certain qualifications in radiography, or physiotherapy, have been acquired then those individuals may be seen as professionals. However, those individuals who do not acquire these qualifications remain where they were. This is an individualist strategy, which does little, apart from adding more rungs to the ladder, to change the structure of the occupations. Another strategy is to change the very structure itself, rather than to ask for inclusion within it. The example of alternative medicine can be seen as a radical challenge to the traditional structure of medicine. Indeed homeopathy has recently been given some recognition in Britain.
The efforts of radiographers and midwives for more recognition, and inclusion within the medical profession has traditionally been met with top down exclusionary strategies. This is a conflict with a long history. Within radiography the men argued that they should have control over the technical aspects; whilst the women should be more involved in patient care. So here is an example of a strategy with only limited success for the women involved. They were again within a set of defined competencies. The earliest attempts of women to gain an education in medicine in the University of Edinburgh were met by a series of petty restrictions. These included refusing to teach only one woman, eventually accepting five women, but charging three times the fees that men paid. One woman gained the top mark in chemistry, but the prize went to the man immediately below her on the class list. Women were prevented from entering an examination hall by drunken students; when inside the hall a sheep was pushed into the hall. When the exam was over the women had to be escorted from the hall by a body guard to protect them from rioters. This was exclusion that was gender specific. It was not just ineligibles to be excluded, but women.
More recently women have entered the professions in larger numbers, and account for more than half of students of many of the professions. Yet even here there are significant gender differences after graduation. Women accountants do personal taxation as this allows work from home. Men travel to firms to do the legally required annual audit of the books. Women pharmacists tend to work for high street chemists, sometimes part time. Male pharmacists tend to work for large hospitals, or in research. Even after becoming a fully qualified professional there seem to be boundaries of specific competencies, within which women are enclosed. This makes the more general point that professions are exclusionary bodies to managers, clients, ancillary workers, and even some members of their own profession.
“Which of us … is to do the hard and dirty workfor the rest –
and for what pay?
Who is to do the pleasant and clean work,
And for what pay”?
John Ruskin from Sesame and Lilies.
There are a variety of answers to the question why work. The answers vary with one’s place in the life cycle; with one’s need for an income; with an existing commitment to an occupation; with one’s desire to become wealthy, and so on. In a sense, avoiding work is not an option if unpaid domestic work is included. Even if one employs servants, there is the need to expend some energy in getting out of bed and managing the servants. This raises deeper questions as to how work should be defined. Is it simply the expenditure of some effort, or must there be some pay as well? Unpaid domestic labour can be lonely and boring; although some recent research has questioned this. It was found that 61% of the sample of 6 British towns found being at home very satisfying (Bonney & Reinach:621, 1993). It has even been suggested that it can almost be seen as a form of play, or that
“house work expands to fill the time available”.
(Hakim, 22:1996) .
However, I have argued that some paid work has an element of play in it as well. Perhaps paid work also has more conviviality than domestic labour; although in domestic work there may be some collective or shared shopping. All this seems to suggest that being paid, or not, does not settle the issue of defining work.
There is a general expectation that most men and women will be in some form of paid work. The shame of unemployment, with local gossip about men spending the whole day in the house, was something to be escaped from. Seeking paid work in this situation is more than a search for pay, it is seeking to conform to the expectations of others, and so avoid the gossip. The evidence that most men and women, and very much including young people, want paid work is clear. But the actual experience of work is another matter. There are still large numbers of boring and dirty jobs. Some of these jobs have been recently created. This creates a contradictory situation where most people conform to a general cultural expectation that they should enter paid work, but may wish to leave it after some experience. The jobs most prized remain managerial and professional.
Here the problems are the unclarity about what management is; and a variety of pressures on the professional. Managers are increasingly being made redundant and seen as bureaucratic fat, particularly in service industries like banking and insurance. Self-employed professionals will experience the uncertainty of an irregular supply of clients. State employed professionals will have the clients provided for them. However, they may suffer stress as they cannot control this supply, and may have too many clients, especially in education. Despite all this, these jobs are probably less dirty and less boring than other jobs. In addition, they remain more attractive than manual and unskilled work.
There has always been a tension between home and work, since the geographical separation of the two in the early 19th century. Currently the varieties of flexibility at work may have helped to produce longer hours at work. These hours are not just longer, but anti-social. They can be outside the traditional morning and afternoon times. The example of the tension created over hours worked in California, makes this point well. Quite apart from the tension over the allocation of domestic labour, the need to take young children to and from school, to visit the doctor/dentist etc., creates the need for time off work where both parents are in paid work. This management of time schedules not only affects the children, but may also affect the parent’s promotion prospects at work. Indeed the whole question of their commitment at work is brought up as a problem.
To understand better these issues surrounding work, there is a need to step back from the narrow focus so far taken on the experience of these issues. Focusing on the position in the life cycle does go some way to showing the changing needs for paid work. But there also needs to be a focus on the whole society, and even the global changes affecting a number of societies. Britain is a classic example of a society where dirty, boring, and even dangerous jobs have dramatically declined in number. Shipbuilding and coal mining are the obvious examples. On the other hand, service sector or white collar and white blouse jobs have increased. So there is an expectation that when paid work is found in the service sector it will be neither dirty nor boring. Where these expectations are not met, there is some disaffection. The existence of this disaffection is implicitly recognised by the variety of managerial initiatives described earlier. These initiatives appear to have a limited success. So although the dirty boring jobs of the manufacturing sector are in decline; the boring, but relatively clean, jobs in the service sector continue to exist.
Drawing up some balance sheet of historic gains and losses here is not easy. Losing jobs where there was a real danger to health and even life itself may be a gain. However, the effect of this job loss on local communities has been great. Relocating jobs like telephone call centres to these areas of high unemployment has meant more service sector jobs in the area; albeit boring jobs. On some notional balance sheet this may be seen as a gain, but a small one.
At the international or even global level, Britain’s place in the world economy has changed dramatically in the last half of the 20th century. A secure form of trading with other countries that were part of an empire has ceased to exist. Imports and exports to other countries, including continental Europe, increased. Competition with these countries, who could export coal to Britain, meant that a number of British industries were no longer viable. This is a large part of the explanation of the changing nature of employment in Britain. However, coal and ships are still needed, but are produced in other countries with much lower wage rates. One could argue that there has been a kind of export of these dirty and boring jobs from Britain to other countries. So even if there has been a small gain to Britain, it has meant a kind of loss to other countries. Not that it will necessarily be seen as a loss. It may well be seen as creating necessary employment, where before there was much unemployment.
As a final attempt to illustrate the importance of work, but perhaps still not define it, a good tactic is to look at those writers who have attempted to argue for the abolition of work. For some writers, including Andre Gorz, there is a belief that continuing increases in the productivityof new technology will eventually create a society where there is very little paid work. This can produce a pessimistic scenario and an optimistic one. The pessimistic one is where there are not enough workers in paid work to create enough tax revenues to the government to pay for health, education, and pensions. In Britain there are already more people of pensionable age, than there are paid workers. Further a growing number who are not in full time paid work will rely on the minority who are, for some social wage, or unemployment benefit. This growing number may even need more policing, than at present.
The optimistic scenario is where all the paid work that needs to be done is spread across all adults. The estimates from Gorz in chapter one were that this could that work could be spread over 2 hours a day for five days; or concentrated over ten hours in one day; or fifteen weeks in a year; or ten years in a lifetime. This produces a situation where the time spent at work would revert to pre-industrial levels; and there would be much more time for self-development and leisure. It is this optimistic scenario that comes closest to the desire for the abolition of work!
In his latest book Gorz sees the growth of unemployment in continental Europe at the end of the 20th century as sharpening up the conflict between the optimistic and pessimistic scenarios. He quotes a manager from Volkswagen who wants transferable entrepreneurial skills put on the factory floor; which has the consequences of needing fewer managers, and no unskilled workers. This transfer of skills will
“eliminate the antagonism between capitaland labour … if work teams have great independence to plan, carry out, and monitor processes, material flows, staffing and skills … then you have a large enterprise made up of independent small entrepreneurs, and that constitutes a cultural revolution.”
To achieve this cultural revolution Volkswagen picked only those highly trained young workers with appropriate entrepreneurial values. Those not picked become a major problem, to which Volkswagen had no solution. The problem that Volkswagen did have to deal with was that even these carefully picked skilled entrepreneurial workers were too many. The first solution was to cut the hours in the working week from 36 to 28.8. This avoided laying off some 30,000 workers. As time passed though there were temporary closures of the factory, and some workers were laid off. Even this was not enough, and through the 1990’s 150 different ways of changing the hours spent at work were created. This produced discontinuous working, some paid, some not; and considerable productivity gains for management. This discontinuous working did, however, create another problem. As fewer hours were spent at work, by fewer workers, the spread of entrepreneurial values was seen as weakening.
It is at this point that Gorz returns to his more optimistic scenario. The increases in productivity described have the effect of both undermining entrepreneurial values, and creating short time working and unemployment. This has created a situation where a variety of responses from governments, and citizens, have come together. Firstly where there was discontinuous work, with no pay when not working, this produced a call for a social wage. This social wage ensured a continuous wage with discontinuous paid work. One consequence of this was that one did not have to search for other part time, probably low paid work, in those periods when one was not with one’s original employer. Indeed, because of the social wage, one could gain control over this time for one’s personal development in other fields, such as art, science, politics, gaining new skills etc.. Further, one could have some control over how much time one spent in paid work, and how much in personal development. Secondly, this social wage was not seen as an unemployment benefit, at least in the case of Denmark. Rather there is legal provision for the right to work discontinuously, with a continuous income. Further, these voluntarily unemployedcitizens were paid an allowance of 63% of their normal wage. Gorz claims that this avoids a wage subsidy to employers, which might encourage them to offer lower wages; substantially in the Danish case. By relating the calculation of the social wage to the normal wage, instead the state minimum wage, the social wage becomes relatively generous. In this case the attraction to employers to lower normal wages would seem to be greater, despite Gorz’s claim to the contrary.
But none of this detracts from the opportunities created by less time in paid work, and a variety of forms of social wage. One proposal, a variant on the Danish experience, is that a “citizenship income” (Gorz, 99:1999) is given at the end of adolescence to all who sign up for voluntary civilian service. This income should provide for a normal standard of living. The workers have some say in defining the task, and the hours spent on it. This service would be for two or three years, and would provide them with a right to a social income for four or five years after that! This the closest Gorz gets to the optimistic scenario of the end of work; at least for up to eight years post adolescence.
A major problem with the whole idea of the social wage is that subsidises the scroungers and the work shy. As seen earlier there is little evidence for the existence large numbers of people like this. However, there is the widespread belief that these people do exist, and a consequent reluctance to see public money given to them. In order to deal with this issue Gorz now argues for a universal social wage. It is no longer to be given to just the unemployed or discontinuous workers. This should encourage all to opt for periods without full time paid work, including those already in full time paid employment. Then discontinuous work would become part of the culture of society.
Against these arguments one might reply that the decline in the number of people in full time paid work is a phenomenon of already heavily industrialised societies like Britain and America. Other countries have not yet caught up with Western industrialised societies. Here there is still an unsatisfied demand for skilled manual work. This work, although poorly paid by Western standards, is seen as preferable to agricultural work. Secondly, even in the West, paid work remains an important part of one’s sense of identity. Removing this identity can produce consequences for self identity that are as yet unknown, and may not be benevolent. Thirdly, the experience of work is an important part of political education. One can learn a sense of one’s worth to society through the size of the pay one receives. Further, one can compare one’s pay with others in the firm, and learn about the extent of economic inequality in society. It may even give one a sense of class divisions, which are otherwise opaque outside paid work!
Finally, a contemporary and influential writer, Ulrich Beck has argued that as work became more flexible, casual and part time, class divisions became even more opaque. Further, these new forms of work are only new to the industrialised west. They are not new to countries like Brazil. Indeed more non-formal kinds of work may be the future for the west, which can learn from Brazil’s experience. In America rising rates of employment are in the service sector, but there is much job insecurity, and much flexibility. Beck also quotes estimates to show that only 12% of the full time American working population will be working in factories in ten years from now; and only 2% by the year 2020. (Beck, 43:2000) These new style, or very old Brazilian style, workers may see their work in very individualistic terms. He gives examples from Brazil of full time factory workers resigning to start small businesses. They want to be their own boss! Beck’s argument is that the 19th century may have standardised work, and produced class divisions and loyalties; the late 20th century individualised work, and this tended to reduce class loyalties. (Beck, 55:2000). In these individualised workers there is also little loyalty to the firm. Even where full time workers have their weekly hours reduced, sales of holiday books increase in Germany.
Beck’s response to these changes is to argue that increase in unemployment in continental Europe, and the flexible work also seen in Britain and America, have created a new/old situation, which needs radical and new/old ideas. The current situation at it’s most pessimistic is where state institutions are rapidly losing their legitimacy. Fewer people vote or belong to churches or trade unions. Added to this, the globalisation of production where jobs are being relocated in countries with lower wage rates, has created a rich mix of individualism, fatalism, fear of an insecure economic and political future. At it’s most extreme this view sees the political and military violence of Yugoslavia Albania and other African countries as showing a
“Hidden vacuum of state power.”
A possible way of regaining legitimacy for the state is to introduce forms of work that he calls Civil Labour. He defines this as follows:
“Civil labour is not paid work, but is rewarded with civic money, and thereby socially recognised and valued.”
Examples of this civil labour include domestic labour, working in schools, retirement homes, with groups involved with ecological issues, AIDS sufferers, basic education for adults (including IT), etc.. Civil labour must be voluntary and self organised; and must address issues and needs not well addressed, or not addressed at all, by the political state. How this civil labour is to be rewarded is the first problem! Although this labour is not aimed exclusively at those currently unemployed, it could reduce this number so freeing up state moneys to pay a sum somewhat above the minimum unemployment benefit. Secondly, successful forms of civil labour including co-operatives could generate their own income. Thirdly, what he calls rewards including free crèche places, qualifications, and pension entitlements, should provide an economic basic security which give confidence to face the this risky form of work.
A major advantage to the state from civil labour is that it takes away the state’s responsibility for delivering full employment. Beck argues that it is anyway now beyond the state’s powers to deliver on this implicit promise. Further, with the success of a variety of forms of civil labour, the legitimacy of the state may slowly be increased, if it has been seen as encouraging and even funding civil labour. Indeed, Beck argues that the success of the neo-liberal policies in reducing the power of the state vis a vis large multi-national corporations needs to be reversed. This reversion is political work for both the state and local and global pressure groups. This is an argument for the revival of politics, against the dominant values of individualism, which will also help to re-legitimate the state. At a more practical level, Beck advocates a new role for unemployment offices. As well as finding full time paid work they should be advocating and finding civil labour.
There is clearly an uneasy relationship between the need for civil labour to be voluntary, self organised; and then funded, managed, and even rewarded by the state. One could argue that the state should only be involved in the early stages. When a civil labour project became self financing, then state funding could stop. The initial investment could even be repaid. Where civil labour projects failed, state funding for new projects could still be a possibility. Civil labour could also lead some, or many, individuals into full time work as their successful projects could be attractive to a local employer. The fundamental argument in favour of civil labour is that it retains the dignity of those individuals without traditional full time paid work.
Beck is aware of the difficult relationship between the state managing and rewarding, and the need for self organisation. There are, however, other difficulties. Where there is already state provision for, say retirement homes or adult learning, local civil labour may be very welcome where local need is still not met. It will be difficult to avoid some relationship with the local state providers. This relationship can potentially be very positive, with both sides learning from their differences. It can also be very negative with qualified and professionalised state employees seeing similar work being done for much less money by relatively under qualified and under trained civil labourers. Managing these potential conflicts goes against the requirement that civil labour is self managing. The worst possible outcome would be that the state service undermines the civil labour service by criticising it, and undermining local confidence. This could lead to a failure of the project. Alternatively, the civil labourers could themselves see the need for more qualifications to improve the service. This fits with Beck’s requirement for rewards to include qualifications; but these would have to be generously funded by the state.
These practical difficulties of implementation aside, Beck makes large claims for civil labour as a way of dealing with large scale unemployment, which is particularly present in the re-unified German state. The sharp reductions in unemployment in Britain analysed earlier, and similar movements in America, may make this idea seem less important outside Germany. However, the narrow definition of unemployment used since 1984 in Britain, leaves many millions who could still potentially benefit from this idea. More generally, the insecurity in full time jobs in the growing service sector, and the individualisation of employment, may make this civil labour attractive. The attraction would be that the values of individualism would be replaced by the values of altruism; or service to others. There may also be a growth in the values of collectivism. Work that one has freely chosen, whatever the difficulties of the relationship with the state and local professionals, could reduce the negative aspects that have been such a feature of working lives.
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