Saturday, April 11, 2009

Job rant[insert Marx-related pun here]

[cross-posted at]

My friend Geoffrey and I are going to start reading (in his case, re-reading) Marx's Capital together. I feel like there's a whole layer of theory and analysis that he's privy to that is beyond me, thus far, and it's beyond me because of a lack of reading.
I know I can grok this stuff, no problem; I just gotta educate meself!
It's going to be interesting going, to be sure; in terms of what their end-goals would actually look like, I'm firmly convinced that left-anarchists and anti-Stalinist socialists have far too much in common to be alienated on the "practical" level - i.e. both groups are probably going to be interested in workers' and residential cooperatives, in localized economies, rejection of the corporate/hierarchical business model, etc.

I don't want to be "counter-productive", but I get the feeling that it could be tricky to really incorporate right-anarchists/anarcho-capitalists into this model.Mainly, it reminds me of the character Mollie from Animal Farm - someone who is so keen on her current lifestyle and the particular comforts that go with it that she would abandon the cause altogether for the sake of them. I think it's the Mollies of the world that put a certain burden on the cooperative/local-economy movement to demonstrate that one can be reasonably just as comfortable in this kind of system as one can be under the national system, if not more so.

For an example of this, consider the extreme value placed on anything hand-made, made with traditonal methods, etc., in the market economy, especially in the United States. Since mechanization has taken over so much of production (nearly all of it, in the commerical sphere), the chance to buy an item that was hand-made or traditionally made is fairly rare, unless you dedicate yourself to finding it; the price for these items tends to be somewhat higher than their mass-produced equivalent.

In a cooperative/local economy, there can be an emphasis on, and certainly there is much more room for, the development of personal craft skills, trade skills, and survival skills; this means that you can make your own hand-made down-stuffed cotton pillow for quite cheap, rather than paying hand over fist to get one commercially. That, of course, is a big element (for me) of the cooperative/local movement - if you do things yourself and/or pool your efforts with a few friends, your buying power out among the capitalists increases dramatically! Division of labor is a very basic ingredient of a market economy; without it, the marketplace is winnowed down to divisions based on geographic availability of certain resources, and perhaps historical access to the skills needed to harvest them.
When there is no market exchange whatsoever, at least within a certain community, there is no longer an incentive to "stick with" a particular task or trade, as one may freely change tasks or duties without threatening one's "livelihood" - all members of a cooperative are permitted to take part in all tasks without "losing out" in any way; contrast this with the outright necessity of maintaining one's specialization in the market work-force, which demands that one choose a specialty and perpetuate it, so that future employers have proof that one's abilities are sufficiently profitable to merit hiring.
I look at my own job history in this regard, and it's amusing that it's taken me this long to find my way into a leadership position, but even more amusing that the commensurate benefits associated with leadership are so small. Given that I earn less than a dollar an hour more than the people I "manage", the only real benefit of my position is that I am assigned to clean the concession area less frequently than entry-level workers. Depending on what I'm assigned to on a given day, I still have to help clean this area (not fun, but not hard either), and when I'm not, I perform fairly easy tasks of inventory control.
It's strange - given how little name-recognition our theatre enjoys in Davis, it would be feasible to drop the name altogether, sever our ties with Corporate, and remain more or less equally profitable. Given that a large proportion of our income derives from hosting advertisements, rather than the labor we perform, it would be quite possible to cut costs and continue to find sufficient maintenance and support for our property without our corporate masters. We aren't particularly reliant upon them, except, perhaps, for the specific contracts with specific service-providers that we currently employ; local businesses still have access to armored cars, and internet service, and the like, don't they?
It's arguable that the money saved thanks to the size and pull of our corporation is substantial; to that, I say, where is this extra money going? A hierarchy demands more and more wealth to propogate itself, as it grows; basically, I don't disagree that the greater one's responsibilities, the greater compensation one could reasonably enjoy, to a point. If we were a single theatre, the responsibility would, at no point, be greater than that afforded our general manager; as such, on the single-store level, wage disparity is not so terribly huge, and could be shrunk somewhat for the sake of guaranteeing consistency in the workforce.
As for the easily-replaceable nature of our entry-level workers, I say that it really does waste several hours of wages *per worker* per week to use inexperienced workers instead of seasoned ones, even at fairly simple tasks. If a single-store theatre were to focus on creating the most experienced staff possible, the loss in replaceability and management impunity (that of hiring and firing) would be offset by the increase in the level of service provided to customers, and the much greater efficiency of work. The jobs we have there are temporary because we cannot live on the wages we earn; if we earned better wages, had some access to healthcare, etc., it would be very possible that people would be more content there, and stay. There's "no future" at this job for me because it will never pay me a living wage; I'm endlessly looking for other jobsand currently working two at once, which means I waste a lot of my time and energy outside of this job because this job pays so little.
It would do us all a lot of good to to become independent. The problem of doing this lawfully and contractually rests on the very facts that drive me to seek independence - i.e. the puny wages we command mean that purchasing the property from REG would take bloody forever, and that's exactly how they would want to keep things. Damn you, private property!

One last thought - if we do a cost-benefit analysis of seasoned vs. inexperienced retail workers, then account for the commensurately higher wages the seasoned would command (both due to pitifully small Corporate "raises" and to a wage-increase from the cooperative reorganization of the business), it might seem that there is no greater profit to be made from holding onto experienced workers, as things "balance out". With that in mind, these workers are inarguably more efficient, which means that, given that entry-level workers are always supervised here, it would save everyone several hours of their time per week to use as they wish, if we put the kibbutz on keeping the experience level so low. Given that the more senior managers are salaried, not waged, it would do them no harm to spend fewer hours at work; if anything, this would probably draw down their time commitment to something more reasonable.