Factory work was easier

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Tue Oct 1 08:11:34 MDT 1996

As a teenager growing up in a blue-collar family and working in the=20
cabinet factories and shoe mills of New England, Richard Thibeault=20
thought of managers as people "up there on the ladder." They sat=20
behind desks, worked 9 to 5, were pillars of the community.

What he never imagined them doing is his work these predawn hours:=20
wheeling a rack of croissants across a nearly deserted street, past the=20
delivery trucks and the occasional derelict. His tie flaps against his=20
white shirt. He has been working since 3 a.m., baking muffins,=20
preparing soups,  worrying about falling sales at the Au Bon Pain=20
bakery caf=E9 he manages.

Inside his store, the 46-year-old Mr. Thibeault sags against his desk --=20
a converted counter in a tiny room crammed with croissant warmers=20
and drink dispensers. Rock music from a boombox brought in by his=20
workers pours in from the adjacent kitchen. Mr. Thibeault's black=20
briefcase sits on the lone chair. He used to bring paperwork like=20
performance reviews home. But after seven months of 70-hour weeks=20
he began crumpling over his desk at home and falling asleep.

Mr. Thibeault earned $34,000 last year. "When I tell people what I do,=20
they don't believe I am a manager," he says. "Some days I think maybe=20
I should go back to factory work. It was easier."

During the past decade, the percentage of workers classified as=20
"managers" has increased to 14.5% from 11%; the growth has been=20
even greater in the service sector.

But most of these jobs are far from the white-collar status positions=20
normally associated with the term "manager." They are high-pressure,=20
dead-end jobs with little status and low pay: the harried store manager=20
at a fast-food restaurant; the assistant manager at a discount drug=20
store; the manager at a travel agency; the bank-branch head.

These people carry the title manager, but they lead a blue-collar life --=
working long hours, often doing the same tasks as those they employ=20
and carrying out orders from above. Their autonomy is tightly=20
circumscribed by corporate headquarters. They are given productivity=20
quotas, told which products to push and which to shed, who and how=20
many to hire. With the shrinking of middle management they have=20
more responsibilities -- dealing with personnel, meeting cost and labor=20
targets -- but less chance of moving up.

"In the 1970s and 1980s, many people who grew up in blue-collar=20
families were delighted to get these management jobs because they=20
offered psychological elbow room. You could dress nicely and you=20
weren't locked into an oppressive routine," says Ralph Whitehead, a=20
sociologist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. "But as the=20
percentage of the work force in the service sector increased, the cross=20
hairs have fallen on them. They've lost power and autonomy. They=20
wake up one morning and realize they are in a factory by another=20

(Wall St. Journal, Oct 1, 1996)

Louis P.

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