HuffPo has been running a bunch of those self-help features on how you can get stress out of your life, some under the rubric of The Third Metric. Here’s one written by Susan Sobbott, a manager at American Express:
People everywhere struggle to find work-life balance. A better approach, in my mind, is to pursue work-life integration. Rather than a work life and a personal life, two separate entities, the goal should be to have one very full life and work consciously to integrate all of the things that make it meaningful.
Let me help with the translation: if you are miserable at work, it’s your fault. Change yourself. And count yourself lucky to have a job, suck it up, and quit whining. We have no problem finding self-hating people to take your job and whistle while they throw away their lives for a few dollars and a pat on the back. We want Biff Loman from Death of a Salesman:
BIFF: Well, I spent six or seven years after high school trying to work myself up. Shipping clerk, salesman, business of one kind or another. And it’s a measly manner of existence. To get on that subway on the hot mornings in summer. To devote your whole life to keeping stock, or making phone calls, or selling or buying. To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still—that’s how you build a future.
In her next post, perhaps Sobbott will offer tips to defuse the stress of not having a job for years on end, a stress felt by millions of people. Or maybe she can offer stress reduction tips to those millions of people who have two or three jobs that together don’t amount to a real job. Or the 60 year old people coming to grips with the fact that their best hope is making it to 62 and early Social Security, and then to 65 and Medicare.
In fact, maybe Sobbott could be persuaded to look at the rumbling underground of all this stress: the fact that there is no job security, no financial security, for anyone anymore. No one wants to talk about that.
Almost everyone accepts one or the other of these versions of the road to success: HuffPo’s modern day version of American Can-Do Optimism or Arthur Miller’s deadened version, and if you don’t make it, it’s your fault. How do I know this? Well, I don’t see any sign that people are demanding a change in their work lives. It’s as if people think they cannot demand change, that they can no longer expect anything from society except a happy face on the door to their workhouses, when all they really want is to be outdoors in the sun.
Occasionally there are stirrings of a demand for a change, Walmart workers striking, organizing among fast-food restaurant workers, and activist unions like the Chicago Teachers Union or the California Nurses Association and the National Association of Health Care Workers. Mostly, though, it’s just a wonderful time for corporate America, with the share of national income going to labor at historic lows.
Rich Yeselton describes the decline of labor unions as the result of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 in this post, which combines a detailed history and a possible way forward. Taft-Hartley was the culmination of years of effort by the rich and their corporations. It passed with the support of southern Democrats, determined to forestall any possibility of a alliance between poor whites and African-Americans. One important event was the combination of southern politicians and businesses that crushed a 1946 organizing drive by the CIO, in a campaign that combined race-baiting and red-baiting. This potent combination is still working for the rich.
Yeselton says that despite their best efforts, unions have shown that they can’t organize workers from the top down. He counsels a strategy he calls “Fortress Unionism”, of which a central feature is planning for a future of growth.
And then…wait. Wait for the workers to say they’ve had enough. When they demand in vast numbers collective solutions to their problems, seize upon that energy and institutionalize it.
That is how massive union growth occurs—workers take matters into their own hands and then unions capture that energy like lightning in a bottle. The workers risk their jobs, and sometimes even their lives, to form a union. It has happened this way all over the world. The workers will signal—loudly—when they want to organize.
We are a nation of workers. Practically no one is exempt from downward pressure on wages and salaries, no one whose job cannot be handled by a global worker for less money, no one whose professional training or skill cannot be matched by a citizen of some other country, no one who cannot be fired and the work shared out among the remaining workers. No one can feel a sense of financial and job security.
Someday people will refuse to accept that reality, overcome the race-baiting and red-baiting, and demand change. Then we will have change.