Note: The article at hand is an opinion and therefore may contain loaded words. It’s possible that entries like this one share some characteristics with, or are, polemic. Lastly, the article is translated from German to English („Arbeiter sind keine Werkzeuge!“).
The labour movement has now existed for over a century, and a lot has been achieved: health insurance, occupational accident insurance, improved working conditions, the right to found a trade union, and much more.
However, despite these accomplishments, the way how workers are viewed hasn’t changed much. The main focus is on multinational companies which have thousands of employees and a foothold in several nations. It’s not uncommon either that large corporations integrate forward or backward along the value chain (e.g. an oil refinery acquiring a supplier of petrol stations) to save costs or increase their overall market share. Their size also increases the distance between management and employees, unlike in small or middle-sized companies where exchange is from face-to-face and both are aware of the importance of the other. However, back to the original topic.
The size of these companies, as well as the goal to maximize profit, result in a cost pressure which is reflected by low-wage jobs, child labour in third world countries, a lower quality of the goods, and other measures.
During phases of an economic boom and a recession, as well as inbetween, most corporations focus on displaying a large amount of profit. Result of the fixation on profit maximization is visible in job loss, reduction of working hours or further division of labour which can result in reduced working hours as well. Major corporations get rid of their employees like tools they no longer need. National governments are limited in their actions due to the possibility of the companies leaving the nation – thus using their economic power to put pressure the government.
Of course, and I want to stress that, profit is not inherently immoral. Ideally, it is used to re-invest in the business and/or used to increase the salary of the employees (or a bonus payment once a year/month). However, it becomes exploitative as soon as it is increased at the cost of the workers, a reduction in quality of the goods and/or services, as well as an increase of environmental pollution.
The intention behind it is also important: is the profit used to preserve the jobs, and/or to reward the employees for delivering a better performance (social perspective), or does the profit serve the purpose of achieving the highest dividend payout possible (economic-neoliberal perspective)?
It doesn’t require a lot of research to come to the conclusion, that the economic-neoliberal perspective is the dominating force in the world. In the USA, it is easily to recognize due to hyper-individualism and a lack of a social safety net (which there’s not just a lack of, but it is pretty much non-existing). As a consequence, and since it is the greatest economic powerhouse in the world, the perspective mentioned spread across the world. It has led to continuous global warming, environmental pollution, and bad working conditions in other countries.
Since the economic-neoliberal perspective is unsustainable and results in damage to the environment (-> global warming), society (-> poverty), politics (-> lobbyism) and economy (-> crowding out of smaller businesses), an alternative is needed.
The alternative model I’m talking about is the human-social perspective. Employees are seen as more than merely a resource/workforce.
Without a doubt will the vast majority of humanity, and indeed already is, be part of the working class; the jobs, responsibility, as well as the salary may vary, but everyone is an employee. From the cleaner and janitor to the accountant and teacher – all are relevant to the system. However, what all of these people with jobs have in common, or going to have in common, is that they are
Individuals with interests/hobbies, a private life, worries and desires.
A worker, for instance, who works 40-hours each week, but is barely able to make a living, is very limited in pursuing his interests and shape his/her private life. In liberal-democratic countries it also robs him/her the chance of of participating actviely in politics and thus inform themselves adequately about topics and parties. Moreover, the constant fear to survive financially robs them of the opportunity to educate themselves further – in the worst case it results in job loss through the emergence of new economic branches and jobs which crowds out the elderly. Unemployment, especially if it is long-term, can lead to other problems such as an increased consumption of alcohol, or psychological consequences like depression.
A large corporation which is occupied with maximizing their profit , or in politics where the biggest concern is market growth, such things do not play a role. Consequently, the liberty is being uncounscioucly limited and great suffering is caused – not just in one’s own nation, but also in others where this mindset is dominating.
Of course, mass consumption also plays a role: goods are produced as cheap as possible which leads to outsourcing in third world countries or a unhealthy production method (e.g. meat production -> factory farming). The durability of goods is also being neglected which in turn results in a throw-away society and a lot of waste.
Another problem is the alienation of the worker from the product and the alienation of the consumer from the manufacturing process. Take milk as an example:
For the farmer it is necessary to produce as much milk as possible, in order to cover the expenses; but the end product still has to be very cheap so that the consumer buy it, despite the costly production. Overproduction is therefore required, and afterwards the turnover is all that matters.
The consumer, on the other hand, only sees the product and decides for the cheaper alternative (although that slowly changes due to increased awareness, and hopefully continues). The well-being of the farmer and the animals only play a minor role – if at all.
In the current dominating system that may be the right attitude, but that’s exactly why it is neither sustainable nor suitable for the future. Other resources, such as metals for electronics, are finite. At some point, the reserves would be exhausted.
In order to change from the economic-neoliberal mindset to the human-social perspective, awareness campaigns are required to reveal the social and ecological impacts the current system causes.
Goals like an ongoing, or „never-ending“ economic growth are also irrational, since we live on a planet with finite resources, and therefore an inherent limit exists.
Thus, instead of pursuing an illogical goal which has clearly visible negative consequences on the world and its inhabitants, the focus should be on economic stability within the current framework of wealth. After all, the widening gap between the rich and poor is also a problem.
Western countries, at least some of them, have very likely already achieved their maximum potential and have gathered enough wealth to create a stable economy with solid jobs (some western countries are still in a crisis, or several crises, which prevents them from achieving their maximum potential -> help required). Life shouldn’t revolve around work all the time, and for the democracies it is also healthy if all people are able to educate themselves further and actively engage in politics.
Other countries, like India, Mexico, and Nigeria, would then have the possibility to develope further and reach the same level.
Instead of eternal competition which exploits weaker countries for own interests, cooperation should take place to help the weaker countries.
- Workers/Employees are not tools whom one can get rid off, if they are no longer needed; all of them are people with own interests/hobbies, a private life, worries and desires
- Both the economy and politics should focus on stability and financial equality for all citizen; for one to strengthen strengthen democracy (through more training opportunities and participation) and to create long-lasting products
- The economic-neoliberal mindset is harmful to both the planet and humanity (e.g environmental pollution, unjust distribution of wealth and income, bad working conditions in third world countries) and the human-social perspective should replace it (focus on the individual and his/her well-being)
- Some western countries may already have achieved their maximal wealth potential; therefore it is now important that they help everyone within their country by coordinating the justly distribution of wealth and ensure economic stability
- Countries which are still in a crisis, or are otherwise economically underdeveloped, should receive help through cooperation (e.g. setup of an own industry or other economic improvements) in order to reach the same level