eat the swanky high-heeled shoes which have already broken an ankle if any
employee of government or private sector hasn't been subjected to a boring
but deeply menacing spiel like this one from management as exquisitely
exposed in last week's Guardian Weekly by journalist Larry Elliott:
must become more flexible and dynamic. Rigidities in the economy must be
eliminated so that we can be more competitive when facing the new global
is Elliott's translation of the spiel. Here's what politicians and
managers are REALLY saying:
must become more flexible (accept lower pay) and dynamic (enjoy fewer
in-work benefits). Rigidities (trade unions and welfare states) must be
eliminated so that we can be more competitive (companies can make larger
profits and pay less tax) when facing the global challenge (if you don't
like it, buster, there are plenty of people in low-wage countries willing
to take your job).
says this is called "tough love", an "unshakeable article
of faith from corporations, lending agencies, and central bankers
worldwide that flexibility is the key to lower unemployment.”
Elliott strenuously and convincingly argues, this notion is a fallacy. The
whole "flexibility" ruse is only really applicable to youth with
low skills. In the US and the UK, who have signed up for this particular
orthodoxy, unemployment rates are worse than for their counterparts in
Europe (none of which believe in "flexibility”).
Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway and Austria, he says, have higher
employment and greater protection for workers. "Flexibility"
simply widens the gulf between the rich and poor, providing the better off
with a source of cheap and insecure labour.
Guardian Weekly writer further refers to David Howell and Friedrich
Huebler whose investigations reveal that more inequality in the labour
markets does not lead to higher employment.
academics argue that a nation's labour market institutions reflect its
values and suggest that it actually makes economic sense to protect
low-skilled workers from extremely low wages while simultaneously
providing better education and training for them. These countries exist
and thrive. "And there are those countries," Elliott concludes,
"where 'dynamism' really means a lack of decency."
excellent piece in the Guardian Weekly initially interested me not for the
economics but because of how globalisation has altered the psyches of
insecurity at all levels has destroyed an essential innocence in workers.
Who are they? Just people-mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, wives,
that today's workplace (unless their employer is smart, and really looks
out for the staff) are caverns of backbiting, fake supplication, tight
fake smiles, rings, circles where people whisper, hoping to crawl over
someone while kicking them all the way down, pools of fear and barely
contained dislike. Then there's the stress and its attendant clawing on
the body - exema, migraines, panic attacks, stomach aches, eating binges.
is no empathy here, and a real conversation, where people are honest, is
called survival, I hear you saying. It's about paying for the babysitter,
and the formula, and the mortgage. It's about travel money and doctor's
but what does it do to people? Besides creating bitter little corners in
their mouths which proclaim the unfairness of the world, there is a loss
of humanity, along with the innocence, stuff that is required to allow us
to do cartwheels to the new moon under some unruly blossoms well into
middle age and beyond. It's
an atrophy of the spirit.
of my generation were brought up with formulas for life, and in the peak
of our lives -dare say our mid lives-we find they don't work anymore in
this world which is far more frightening that the one our parents lived
were taught by our parents, teachers, grandparents, to be reticent about
taking that last piece of cake, to be modest, to be polite, always, always
to be fair. We were taught about friendship, of taking in a friend, of
helping with a loan, of being there with someone in the hospital. They
disarmed us! They left us defenseless!
along there, with harsh words and tenderness, we were injected with a
conscience. So that we owned up when we did wrong. We learned that it was
strong, not weak to say sorry, thank you.
they know the rules have changed? That we would be pilloried for following
the old way, their way?
was the time when we reached for other people by being truthful about our
own flaws as a means of saying none of us is perfect, so here we are, face
to face, human to human.
rules changed. That does not work. What can be used against you, will.
forget reticence. That's just seen as cowardly. And forget modesty. That
means that you're no good. If you're brazen, loud, forceful. That works.
I walked ahead of my mother through a door, failing to hold it open for
her. I just walked through. My father, while chastising me, told me
something I never forgot. When the small courtesies go, the big ones go.
So even though I am stuck between generations, even if people take
courtesy for weakness, I tell my children, even if people kick you in the
teeth for it you will have to do it, you will have to be honest with
yourself, and you will have to be fair, and you cannot take advantage of
the weak because otherwise you're not winning. You're denying yourself
precious innocence, of some essential humanity.
consolation is that Machiavellian stuff in the workplace doesn't work. It
doesn't even make economic sense.