davidkusnet-love-the-work-hate-the-job.jpg [Welcome Hosts – Mick Arran and Robin Stelly. bevw]

Microsoft is one of the best places in America to work.

Isn’t it?

There’s a "campus" atmosphere, laid back dress code, free soda and espresso in the cafeteria, after-project parties, the works. A lot of autonomy, a lot of responsibility, a lot of fun, great people. So how come a bunch of workers became so angry with their working conditions that they tried to form a union? Are American workers so spoiled rotten that the best isn’t good enough?

Hardly. As David Kusnet explains in his new book, Love the Work, Hate the Job, what happened at Microsoft is a microcosm of what was happening in the rest of the economy. Microsoft saw a way to keep the expenses of permanent employees at a minimum: hire a core of "geniuses" as permanent employees and a swarm of temporary drones to do the "grunt work". For the permanent employees, the one Kusnet calls "the superstars", it was work-heaven on earth, but for the temps it was, if not hell, then purgatory – "an ordeal that was bearable only because they held onto the hope of ascending into the heaven of gaining permanent positions."

These were talented, highly-trained men and women being treated as if they were interchangeable swabs in the corporate ooze. At the same time MS expected highly technical work from them, exhausting work, skilled work, it saw no reason it should pay them commensurate wages. They had no job security (they had what you might call lots of job insecurity, no matter how long they worked there or how many times they were rehired for another "temporary" project), no health insurance, no vacation or sick time. They had the right to work their asses off 80 hrs a week and scoot out the door quietly. This was the new economy, the economy of a few stars and a lot of grunts. The economy of Wal-Martian bone-paring and corporate caste systems. If you weren’t a "superstar", you were ipso facto a nobody.

For some of us, the treatment is an old story. What was new was that it was being applied to the people we thought were safe, people we envied because of their education and middle-class upbringing. They went to college. Of course they’ll get safe jobs and great working conditions.

Only they didn’t.

But it isn’t just a matter of safe jobs. The two other stories that make up the core of the book concern the nurses of Northwest Hospital, who formed a union because they saw the quality of patient care diminish under the demands of profit-making, and the engineers of Boeing, who struck, they said, on behalf of the company as much as themselves, a company they insisted they loved enough to fight for when the decisions of a CEO in mid-life crisis and "bean-counters" in far-away financial centers threatened to send it careening over a cliff with draconian cost-cutting.

The old stereotype of the American worker who puts in his 40 sleeping in the broom closet if possible and wants $100/hr just to unsnap the hammer from his tool belt, an American worker who cares about nothing but his paycheck, is exploded in these pages, hopefully forever. There’s a lot more to it than that. A lot more to us than that.

But how are we to fulfill it when our bosses – and their bosses – are caught in an corporate/investment system that demands cost-cutting, especially of payrolls, to boost stock prices and increase dividends past the 30% mark? That’s the $64,000 question.

Michael Parenti noted in the early 90’s that a "querulous tone" had entered the business press. "Why", they wanted to know, "should American workers expect better treatment? They have to own homes, send their kids to college, have late-model cars and big tv’s? What for? The global economy is a cut-throat deal, and the US worker had better learn to be satisfied with less."

We may have to take less but you can’t force us to be satisfied with it.

Mick Arran

Mick Arran