White collar sweatshop

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Mar 21 07:30:06 MST 2001

Village Voice, Week of March 21 - 27, 2001

DESK SLAVES  by Tom Robbins

White Collar Sweatshop
By Jill Andresky Fraser
Norton, 278 pp., $26.95

White-collar workers, particularly those in the upper earnings echelon,
have never been high on the list of anyone's grievous causes. They hold no
protest rallies and rarely form or join unions. The only workplace cause in
which they have enlisted appears to be their own. But, as Fraser's book
illustrates, most bring the highest aspirations to their work: They want
their companies to succeed and to do their jobs as well as they can.

The measurement of both goals, however, remains money. Addressing a Seattle
Kingdome crowd of 9000 Microsoft employees, perhaps the decade's premier
example of overwork and accompanying achievement, one of Bill Gates's
surrogates is described by Fraser bellowing to screaming cheers: "Why are
we at Microsoft? For the money! Show me the money!"

Yet, as Fraser points out, the money was often far less than promised. Even
at the height of golden, NASDAQ-soaring prosperity in 1997, Fraser reports,
white-collar men were earning an average hourly wage of $19.24; adjusted
for inflation, this was all of six cents higher than they earned in 1973.
And despite the much-publicized tales of magnificent, six-figure bonuses
doled out at law firms and investments houses, fewer execs than ever are
receiving them, Fraser finds. In fact, as a result of repeated mergers and
the '90s corporate phenomenon of reengineering, executives have been forced
into a steady retreat on benefits. While health insurance was nearly
universal in the world of big business in the late 1970s, by 1995, only one
in four full-time employees of the biggest firms had medical coverage,
Fraser reports.

Those rollbacks are only precursors, however, of the future workplace
envisioned by corporate strategists. One such employment visionary at AT&T,
where some 40,000 layoffs were implemented in the '90s, sought to convince
the workers that they didn't so much have jobs as much as "projects" or
"fields of work" carried out by "self-employed vendors." A vice president
for human resources wrote, "In AT&T, we have to promote the whole concept
of the work force being contingent, though most of the contingent workers
are inside of our walls."

Full review: http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0112/bkrobbins.shtml

Louis Proyect
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