Friday, February 17, 2012

Eric Hoffer's labor pains

Around the time Ronald Reagan broke the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization in 1981, I noticed that some service and blue-collar businesses began to call their workers “associates,” at least in public.

Much more recently, a Starbucks in Philadelphia posted a notice that it was looking for “partners.” Since I doubt that Starbucks was offering a financial stake and a voice in running the company, at the very least the company was indulging in creative redefinition of partner.

What would Eric Hoffer have thought of this verbal trickery, if he took the words seriously? Here's another bit from The Ordeal of Change:
“Any doctrine which preaches the oneness of management and labor—whether it stresses their unity in a party, class, race, nation, or even religion—can be used to turn the worker into a compliant instrument in the hands of management.”
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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32 Comments:

Blogger seana said...

Yup.

February 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I suspect that he would take me to task for even taking the words seriously enough to make a post like this. If not, though, I suspect he'd agree with me, even though he was writing about matters a good deal more serious than puffed-up titles for coffee servers.

February 17, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

No, I think he'd find it all fairly insidious. Although I've heard Starbucks does have some kind of profitsharing, or some incentive program,which is more than bookstores have.

February 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have also read that Starbucks has won awards for being a good place to work. But that does not make the verbal feel-goodism any less insidious.

February 17, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

No, you're right. And Hoffer is right that the distinction between workers and owners--I'm not totally sure about managers in today's work environment--is something that should not be blurred by the people in power.

February 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, he draws the distinction between workers and managers, not between workers and owners. I don't know if he ever writes about gradations of management.

I wonder if Hoffer was a kind of working-class counterpart to George Orwell, with his anti-Communism and his insistence, in this case, on calling things what they really are.

February 17, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Yes, in the service industries, I think the gradation of management factors in a lot more than the situation he was talking about.

February 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I was thinking of my industry, where middle managers have been much put-upon and occupy a strange half-world between management and human.

February 17, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Mine is the same. Which is why I am perfectly happy not to be elevated. Uh, except for the money.

February 17, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Same here. I once said that if anyone told me I was management material, I would regard this as a vile slander. I have high respect for good managers, but I am proud and content never to have been considered a potential one.

February 17, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

:) This too applies to the larger world. It defines the purpose of patriotism. Listen to our politicians sometimes when they harangue the "American people." I daresay, it's the same in other countries.
Mind control!

February 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm embarrassed to say I forget who said that an appeal to the people is the last resort of the scoundrel, but I've found the sentiment attractive.

February 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Why, Samuel Johnosn, of course.

February 18, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Good man, Sam Johnson.

February 18, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I once wandered into a courtyard where Boswell lived and Johnson visited.

February 18, 2012  
Anonymous Fred Zackel said...

Fashion models, lap dancers and cab drivers are all considered "independent contractors." This is a "code phrase" within those industries (and others) that the workers have no rights OR benefits. Their employees do not pay Social Security taxes, Disability taxes, or make any other payments. The workers are ALL subject to instant dismissal without ANY recourse or remedy in the eyes of the law. When slavery was outlawed, I suspect, "the slaves" became "independent contractors." It's quite simply a obscene rip-off of workers. Yes, I was an "independent contractor" for years because I simply had no choice. I'll let youse guys crack wise about which industry I was in.

February 19, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Sam Johnson has a wonderful line about why people drink. That one tells you more about the man than anything else. Boswell was a popinjay.

February 19, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Fred, I don't know the statistics, but I do get the impression that independent contracting has risen the past few years and that this is part of shift of the economic burden from capital to labor. I will say that Hoffer saw independent labor unions as essential to the dignity and independent of the American worker, something one ought to keep in mind before calling him conservative. I think his papers are housed at the Hoover Foundation. That's the reward being anti-Communist brings, I guess.

My guesses would be that you were an adjunct instructor or cab driver, with fashion model and lap dancers trailing the field as long shots.

February 19, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Actually, the freelancers are organizing now, and to use a slightly odious word, networking. One of the things that's getting very lively in Santa Cruz are affordable shared office work spots for freelancers, which not only give people a place to work, but a lot of possibilities for sharing ideas. I haven't been to either, because I'm afraid they are probably a bit young and hip for me, but I think it's a great idea.

February 19, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., Johnson had much to say about drinking, including this:

"Melancholy, indeed, should be diverted by every means but drinking."

Some readers might prefer to call Boswell a coxcomb rather than a popinjay.

February 19, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, that's a terrific idea. There's at least one big multinational real estate company whose specialty is shared office space for start-ups, branch offices, and the like.

I grimace when I use the word "networking" as well, but really, what else have I been doing when I go to Bouchercons?

February 19, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

Meeting and chatting with people.

February 19, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And who knows what those meetings might lead to?

I identified with the pain you experienced when called on to use that word. I have apologized for using it.

February 19, 2012  
Blogger May said...

Sounds like a very interesting book for the times... Peter, you even add non-mystery books to my 'to read' list!

Freelance translators are very often independent contractors. That is, when we're not told to call ourselves an LSP (that would be a language service provider, for you laymen).

February 20, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Criminy, is "LSP" to "translator" as "Starbucks partner" is to "coffee server"? I'd have thought "translator" was prestigious enough that no one would have to make up a bogus title. I guess they're trying to steal your money and replace it with cheap self-esteem in your industry, too.

February 20, 2012  
Blogger Richard L. Pangburn said...

Wendell Berry comes closest to Hoffer's conservativism. A back to basics kind of guy, aware of the basic human under the masks.

Read Wendell Berry's CITIZENSHIP PAPERS, though he is more famous for THE UNSETTLING OF AMERICA. There is no better example of a true conservative than Wendell Berry himself.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Richard, thanks for the titles. I was going to ask Seana for some recommendations.

I am ashamed to say that while I had heard Berry's name, I knew nothing about him.

February 21, 2012  
Blogger May said...

Prestigious? You think so?

Case in point, DBB doesn't always give the translator's name a mention...

February 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, intellectually prestigious, anyhow. But point taken; I often name translators, and sometimes they post here. I shall go through my archives and try to rectify any failures to mention the translator where feasible.

In the meantime, scroll the archives for my interviews with Mike Mitchell and Sian Reynolds and comments from Howard Curtis and "Reg Keeland" (Steven T. Murray).

February 22, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

May, I’ve added a paragraph about the translation to my post about Harri Nykänen's novel Nights of Awe. Take a look.

February 23, 2012  
Blogger May said...

I will definitely take a look at those posts. Thanks Peter.

March 06, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

And thanks for reminding me to give credit where it's due.

March 06, 2012  

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