Nothing To Lose But Your Connectivity

The gulf between the Marlboro Man Fable and reality is one of the most combustible ingredients in today’s uprising. People’s economic experiences–stagnant wages, rising healthcare costs, decreasing retirement benefits–indict the fable in a far deeper way than even the best uprising leader could. However, as Doug says, the awakening has been slow in a white-collar world that matured during the go-go 1990s. The Marlboro Man Fable poses the toughest challenge to WashTech because it drills directly into white-collar workers’ psychology–specifically, their belief “that interests of employers and employees are the same,” as sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset found in his groundbreaking research on the subject.

Antiunionism is being sustained not solely by the Marlboro Man Fable but also by the Legend of Job Security–the second of the Fantastic Four. Shrewd corporate PR and workers’ career ambitions predispose white-collar employees to view the boss and the company as inherently benevolent. Many workers believe they don’t need a union because they think such benevolence will protect them from the outsourcing buzz saw. WashTech’s 2005 poll showed that about half of all tech workers do not believe outsourcing will affect their jobs–even though simultaneous polls of high-tech executives show that most are planning to radically accelerate outsourcing.

An interesting article in The Nation on the prospects for tech workers’ unions in the US. A reasonable alternative term for ‘shrewd corporate PR’ is brainwashing, by the way.

A comment on the image used to illustrate the article. It presents ‘white-collar’ workers in a classical clenched-fist revolutionary pose, clutching mice and monitors instead of, say, hammers and sickles. What strikes me about this is its sheer inappropriateness -which I suspect is deliberate on the part of the illustrator- to the idea of such workers organising. A lot of the impact of the old posters to which this image refers derives from the fact that you had a proletariat engaged primarily in tough physical labour. The muscularity of those images signified the physical power of the proletariat: an expression of a potential, through collective force and unity, to wrest ownership of the means of production. It isn’t just a question of pointing toward physical power, however – those images also present a definite space where this struggle is enacted. In the case of workers in industry where physical power is not required, and where your location is fundamentally irrelevant to completing the task at hand, it’s hard to foresee the production of compelling unifying images -representing workers in terms of their physical presence- which in turn would spur people into action.


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June 2008
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