Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Working People

the scribe is especially tired tonight and would like to slap a poem down and crawl into the sack, but highwayscribery awaits.

Because writing is a job that can be done, and in this case, is done from home it’s sometimes tough to leave the office at five.

Tonight the scribe slips on his blue collar (Club Monaco button-down) in the name of working people and shines a mighty light on those who labor at the office and still can’t leave at 5(pm).

Our point of departure for Wednesday is an article written by Rachel Konrad of the “Associated Press” entitled “Flat world fatigue: globalization breeds interminable work day”.

What a heavy price we pay for economic dynamism and the discount crap factory coming to devour your neighborhood soon.

Konrad opens her piece as profile on a few “managers” at a company in Santa Clara, California called “PortalPlayer.”

the scribe suspects the title of “manager” is probably more bane the boon to these guys. Remember (unless you weren’t aware), that the Bush administration’s new rules on overtime pay most definitely exclude most "managers" from extra compensation for their extra hours.

Bush said businesses needed “flexibility” to compete in the new global configuration.

None of which is to suggest that the eight-hour work place exists anywhere other than in union shops at dying dinosaur companies. the scribe remembers an employer telling him some five years ago that he (the scribe) would have to tell his bosses “when he would be leaving at night.”

the scribe wasn’t going to be grist for any mill where they didn’t know eight-hours was limit under the law and that, if he came in at nine a.m. as prescribed, it was just a matter of some simple addition to arrive at when he was heading out.

But back to the article. The three managers were staying late at work. Konrad’s lede paragraph shows how journalism can be visual and literary: “The traffic jam ended hours ago, the parking lot is nearly empty and fluorescent lights are dimmed at PortalPlayer Inc., where the nightly brainstorming session is about to begin.”

That’s called putting you there.

The brainstorming session will be with PortalPlayer employees in Hyaderabad, India which is, according to Konrad, “12 ½ time zones ahead." They’ll work on some program together and much later, when the Indians kick-off, they’ll dump their work on the just-awakening crew in Santa Clara ad infinitum.

There’s your “flexibility.”

This charming feature of globalization is called off-shoring and it allows companies to move work to a country where wages and workplace safety standards are less than they are here. They save money and get to do business globally – some kind of neo-capitalist virtue unto itself.

That allows a company like PortalPlayer to compete globally with bigger global companies; and if it sounds to you like an arrangement they’ll never get quite on top of, you’re right.

Workers here will naturally be asked to make sacrifices to compete globally, but you will never compete globally when you have to pay $20 an hour and the guy in Myanmar pays 20 cents, until you move to Myanmar.

Which is more or less the story of American capitalism over the past 30 years or so.

But the article was not so much about wages: “Even the most unapologetic globalization proponents nevertheless acknowledge that off-shoring has resulted in longer, stranger hours for white-collar workers in the United States. Some business experts worry that the trend could result in massive burnout if off-shoring isn’t properly managed.”

the scribe would say they appear to have “managed” things quite well (for themselves).

The piece includes an interview with Christopher Lockhead, chief marketing officer of Mercury Interactive Inc., which may or may not be another of those California digital dungeons: “You can’t even get a rest on the weekend. The reality is that when you do business globally, somebody is working for you is always on the clock,” he told Konrad from his, what else, cell phone in the Dallas airport after coming back from a sales meeting in Mexico.


Richard Spitz, a headhunter told her, “If you want to play in the A league, you have to take on some additional challenges.”

There’s a B league and it’s easier?

Anyway, it’s all about precariousness in employment and once Bush is done working over Social Security it will about precariousness in everything else, because nobody owes you anything and it’s all out there for you.

Really, it is.

“Worker advocates,” Konrad writes, “compare the trend to the automobile industry phenomenon of ‘speedup’ in the 1920s, when Henry Ford increased assembly line speed without paying workers more. Turnover mushroomed to 400 percent per year in some Detroit-area plants, and the frenzied pace helped the 1930s union movement.”

Those who frequent this blog know the scribe would be the first to yell “roll the union over” the whole, giant and greedy cabal, but his heart’s not in it. These are different times involving different people and very concentrated forces of mobile power.

A few days ago, Miguel Contreras, de-facto leader of the Los Angeles labor movement, died of a heart attack at the age of 52. He was instrumental in making the unions under his guidance some of the most dynamic and, as opposed to militant, intelligent in the country.

These guys don’t last and his death brings to mind that of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington back in the 1980s. Heart attack.

The endless struggle is so taxing and only the most elastic of spirits can bounce back from the nasty cynicism these guys see from those who purport to be members in the same human community. But the bodies are less elastic than their spirits.

When they leave us, they cannot replaced; at least not immediately. Each new born generation must forge its own special genius and that takes time.

The word “visionary” has been oft-used in the media surrounding this untimely passing. the scribe interviewed Contreras before and after he made it big, as well as his wife Maria Elena Durazo, another union leader who rode the Latino immigration wave to power and replenished the movement's energy.

If there were ever a simpler more unassuming man than Contreras in a position of like importance, the scribe never met him. He spoke the most common sense and seem to set the most obvious goals that "visionary" was the last word that might come to mind.

He gave an average speech and was kind of chunky, with glasses, but the plan was always clear and, the scribe suspects, the messenger never suspect.

A lot of working people who stood to gain from his actions, now stand to lose a lot more by his absence.

Signing off in solidarity.

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