Monday, March 23, 2009

Recession, Labor and Social Control

And to think: people scoffed when I said this recession was about disciplining the labor force.

With the recession forcing businesses to cut back on workers, employees are increasingly doing all they can to hang onto their jobs and are forgoing many of the benefits that once allowed them to balance the demands of work and family life.

In good times, workers frequently seized the opportunity to use "flex time" and family leave, to telecommute and to take paid sick days. But, according to workplace consultants, human resources specialists and employees themselves, those days are slipping away. More workers are giving up those arrangements, or resisting asking about them in the first place, out of fears that doing so will make them appear less committed to their work and therefore more expendable.

Some workers' advocates say they are particularly concerned about the consequences for women. For their part, many managers are doing little to calm those concerns, human resource consultants say.

There's now a "silent fright" among workers, said Joanne Brundage, executive director of Mothers & More, a 21-year-old networking group, likening the atmosphere to what she saw 20 years ago, when working mothers were advised not to keep pictures of their children in their cubicles.

"That's what it feels like we're returning to. Work as many hours as you possibly can. Make yourself indispensable. Don't ever complain. Don't ever ask for anything," she said. "I'm just horrified we may as well just forget the last 20 years."

The last cold-bath recession aimed at disciplining the labor force and rolling back worker gains? Just over 20 years ago in the early 1980's.

History. Repeat. History. Repeat. Ad nauseum.

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