want to dignify work so we seek to equalize the empowerment effects of all jobs.
work is intentionally dumbed down precisely so that workers don’t gain
confidence and knowledge facilitating demands about conditions or wages. And the
same holds for workers being systematically isolated from one another and denied
interaction and sociality. All this degradation enhances control from above.
one initial move toward dignified work is to improve the circumstances,
conditions, and options of those in the most menial, disempowering jobs. We
could demand improved conditions, a less stressful pace of work, better
ventilation or other relevant improvements, plus allowances for on-going
education to get better work, for example.
workplace and job has its own unique details, of course, but still, in a
workplace with many rote and boring positions, workers might usefully seek the
right to trade tasks for variety, to increase workplace interactivity for
sociality, and to freely use inactive moments for creative engagement and
learning rather than simply enduring boredom.
toward balanced job complexes includes not only bettering the lot of the worst
off, but also having those with a monopoly of desirable and empowering tasks
take on some onerous responsibilities. Think of a law firm. There already exists
the interesting concept of pro bono legal work. Firm members, that is, are
supposed to donate a certain amount of their energies to the indigent as a
social responsibility. Campaigns to dignify work can also benefit from having
those with elite jobs do tasks they otherwise would not have opted for. Thus, we
might demand that those who have enjoyable and empowering work must reallocate
some of their time to tasks ordinarily lower in the hierarchy in their
workplaces, thereby allowing those with less fortunate work assignments the time
to pursue better options.
would spend some time doing tasks for their secretaries or for those who clean
the building, freeing the latter to enjoy on the job training, etc. Or nurses,
orderlies, and custodians could demand time for further training, less stress,
better conditions, and more social work arrangements and the doctors and
administrators in their hospitals could have to make up at least part of
the labor difference. Just thinking about it, don’t you find yourself smiling?
A New Middle
to have secretaries and custodians, nurses and orderlies, or folks doing rote
labor on assembly lines or waiting tables in restaurants benefit from better
conditions or get a little extra time for new training, and having those
hierarchically above them in their workplaces doing some onerous tasks to make
up for losses, of course would be very good. But an even better approach would
literally change the tasks that people do. We could demand, for example, that
owners give workers in lower positions more information processing tasks, more
tasks that give confidence and develop decision-making skills, and more
decision-making tasks per se, while reducing the amount of these same tasks in
the jobs of those in higher administrative and policy-making positions.
nurses and custodians and assembly workers and cooks and waitresses and delivery
drivers assess their workplaces and demand reallocation of tasks and
responsibilities from the jobs of those hierarchically above them into their own
job definitions, with some of their onerous tasks in turn going upward. As a
result, job requirements become more humane and empowering, and move toward
demand more diverse empowering responsibilities that give them more time in
intellectual and decision-related functions. Waiters redefine waiting on tables
to be more interactive and social and less servile. They demand new conditions
and social relations involved, as well as more decision-making power in their
know all this probably sounds vague—but I think that that’s proper at this
stage of discussion. There are few if any general rules about such matters. The
issue is for those employed in each firm to use their councils to reassess their
work and raise demands to reallocate components of work more fairly than when
they are allocated to dehumanize, atomize, and disempower most employees, and
elevate only a few.
central issue in balancing jobs is ensuring that by virtue of their economic
lives all employees are comparably prepared to participate in decision making
and have comparable access to decision making involvement. Thus, the best and
most critical alterations to seek on the road to dignified work are those
impacting empowerment. Workers especially seek reforms that spread access to
knowledge and information, that enlarge day-to-day social interactions, that
enhance decision-making skills, and that win increased direct decision-making
influence, of course.
of only doctors being involved in discussions and decisions about hospital
policy, this “task” is re-allocated among doctors, nurses, and orderlies.
Instead of managers being a separate category alone in possession of relevant
decision-making information and opportunities in factories, redefinitions
distribute responsibilities and information among all workers, thereby reducing
hierarchies of power.
Our Own Work
organizations and movements to effectively advocate balanced job complexes in
society, they will have to address their own internal job complexes as well. For
one thing, who is going to seek just work assignments at GM and then passively
do only rote tasks in his or her union or other movement organization? And who
outside such a movement will be impressed if it doesn’t practice what it
preaches? “You say you are for balanced job complexes. Then why don’t you
about The Nation, Mother Jones, Greenpeace, The Institute for Policy Studies,
NOW, the NAACP, labor unions, massive peace movements, local housing campaigns,
the New Party, and whatever other progressive or left institutions or movements
you wish to bring into focus. In each case you might ask whether they have
balanced job complexes or whether they have typical corporate divisions of labor
so that some folks monopolize fulfilling and empowering tasks while others have
only rote and obedient ones. If, the latter situation pertains, do the folks
doing onerous jobs get paid more? Will the movement “owners”, “ceos,”
and “managers” welcome demands from their workforces to balance movement
circumstances for empowerment effects? Will they reallocate tasks in a steady
progression toward balanced job complexes, including reducing their own elite
prerogatives? Perhaps in some cases the answer will be yes, but not always.
However, the central issue isn’t assuaging the worries of those now
administering movement organizations. It is attaining a movement that practices
what it economically preaches, a movement that benefits its members, improves
its product, becomes congenial to working class constituencies, and makes
credible its external demands, all by attaining balanced job complexes in its
as Blacks and Latinos and women in movement projects, organizations, and
campaigns have had a responsibility to push, cajole, and struggle the movement
forward on matters of internal race and gender relations over the past few
decades, so too do those who now occupy the rote and lowly positions of our
movement organizations have a responsibility to push, cajole, and struggle the
movement forward on matters of internal class definition. The strategic focuses
and demands noted throughout this commentary for society, apply as well to our
own institutions, though we can hope that the struggle inside our institutions
will be quicker, completed soon, and able to provide a solid foundation for
larger subsequent struggles outside our institutions.