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Workplace Democracy: The Time is Right

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creekside
Post Posted: Sun Nov 08, 2009 9:16 pm

Joined: 30 Oct 2009
Posts: 23
It appears from docuimentation that I have, our Union President is getting paid by the employer.

I will check this out on Monday.

What do you mean by 'is this about reform or getting our money's worth'?
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SharynS
Post Posted: Sun Nov 08, 2009 9:50 pm

Joined: 28 Jan 2006
Posts: 3618
Location: the 'puter
Quote:
What do you mean by 'is this about reform or getting our money's worth'?
Let's start from the top;
creekside wrote:
Who actually pays the wages for a union president?
Which sounded a lot like an expectation of getting your money's worth.

It is a damn good question but I'll have to ask what it has to do with Workplace Democracy. To the question, I think it safe to say that time spent doing union business comes out of the dues kitty. It's not unusual in some cases for those hours to be logged through employer payroll (to preserve benefit entitlement) and then reimbursed by a union.

How it's possible in the case of a union president I suppose would depend entirely on whether or not said pres is still on the employers payroll ie full-time v part time. I do know of smaller (municipal) locals where executives wear both hats. They draw small part-time salaries from the local while employed and on the employer payroll.

The obvious conflict of interest that a kept local president would present aside, I'm not so sure I would object to an employer picking up the president's salary tab. In a perfect world eh.

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creekside
Post Posted: Sun Nov 08, 2009 11:07 pm

Joined: 30 Oct 2009
Posts: 23
My question was not likely in the "workplace democracy" category but I am new to Uncharted and am feeling my way around - thanks for responding.
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wm pasz
Post Posted: Sun Nov 08, 2009 11:48 pm

Joined: 29 Jan 2006
Posts: 1219
Location: Toronto
Prototype as much as I appreciate your contributions to our forum and your efforts to stand up against obdurate bureaucracy in your union and your workplace, you do strike me as something of a controlling personality.

I'm somewhat troubled by your decision to "move" the conversation in the CUPE thread (where I suggest that you may want to look at alternatives to reforming existing union locals) to this thread, where it totally doesn't belong. You're free to suggest whatever you want in response to my post but moving the conversation to this thread, which has nothing to do with either CUPE or union reform, seems to me to be an attempt to either steer the discussion that's evolving in the other thread over to a place where it really doesn't belong or to subvert the conversation in this thread into something that has nothing to do with workplace democracy.

Your comments (yeah, yeah, alternatives...I get it...you're always talking about that...") really dismissive. This is after all a site that encourages people to go where no one has gone before - we called it uncharted for a reason. So you have to expect that yeah, some of us are going to talk about that innovative alternative stuff and it's high time more people did the same.

That said, I'm going to suggest that if you all want to continue talking about reforming CUPE or CUPE locals or whether you're getting value for your CUPE dues dollar, you take the conversation back to the original thread.

If you have some thoughts, however, on the subject of workplace democracy, and alternative non-hierarchical models of organization, by all means please feel free to post them in this thread.

To prompt some conversation in this thread (now that you've made me thing about it), I'm going to ask prototype a question:

Many people, as much as they feel oppressed by the layers of management over them at work, have a great discomfort with the notion of non-hierarchical structures in the workplace. Hence, they tend to be dismissive of such ideas. There are two main reasons for this, I believe:

1. They want to be told what to do, they just want someone who's a bit nicer (or nicer to them) to do it.

2. They themselves aspire to moving up the hierarchy. They want to be a boss or the person "in charge" of other people. So if you get rid of the hierarchy, there goes that career plan.

I'm not suggesting this is what's in your head prototype. I'm putting this out for general discussion.

What do you all think? Is there something about a non-hierarchical workplace structure that scares people or puts them off? What is it?

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Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. You don't need anything else. - Malcolm X
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prototype
Post Posted: Mon Nov 09, 2009 1:47 pm

Joined: 19 Jan 2008
Posts: 128
Location: Canada
pasz -

In Creekside's CUPE thread I didn't force anyone to change threads. You can plainly see that. My linked reply was to your post (I did write "To Pasz"), and I moved my own reply to what I thought was the appropriate thread for such a reply. I just didn't want to clog up Creekside's thread with my reply as I thought my rather lengthy reply was irrelevant to the real problems, and topics, which Creekside had brought up in her thread.

Creekside started the CUPE thread with her postings about the problems in her workplace.

From what creekside posted on her CUPE thread I gathered that creekside wanted realistic solutions to the problems she was experiencing in her workplace and I could see that deviating from the topics she brought up could derail her.

When people are trying to post their story, and are still feeling their way around on this site, they might get put off if their thread is suddenly derailed by people posting long articles about general theories on workplace democracy, hierarchies, etc.

Hell, it nearly put me off when I started posting on uncharted (To members of CUPE 561 who work at SD43).

I wanted to tell my story, and was encouraged to do so.

As I proceeded to present the facts of my case you, pasz, eventually began to post your opinions on topics I wasn't posting about, on the same thread I was posting on about my case.

On Feb. 17/09 you started posting about hierarchies (here), leading off by quoting something I had written on another website.

On Feb. 18 I posted a polite reply, and I ended my post by writing, "I have tons of examples but will save those for later".

Later you posted, on the same thread, more about hierarchies in general, and you tried to engage me in a discussion about it.

A day or so later I posted a reply again, which related to my situation, and hoped that what I wrote would let everyone know what my opinion on the subject was, and I ended my post by writing, "More on that later." Then, in the same post, I continued on with what my thread was about.

On Feb. 21, you just wouldn't let go. You wrote your longest post yet about your opinion on hierarchies.

I let the thread rest for couple of days, wondering how I was going to deal with the gradual derailing of my thread.

I really felt you were bogging down the thread I started, with your opinions on hierarchies.

Then, an idea.

On Feb. 23 I posted this -

"Hierarchies -
Discussions about hierarchies continued here"

and I provided a link.

I obviously didn't want to engage in that line of discussion on that particular thread, the thread I started about my workplace and the litigation I've been going through.

I felt that there's a place for those types of general discussions in many other threads on this website.

That's how I dealt with that situation, and it worked, and nobody seemed troubled by it, as the subject of hierarchies can be discussed on its very own thread by whomever wishes to discuss it.

Unfortunately, the last time I checked, the Hierarchies thread is as dead as a salmon after spawning season.

And that's probably what would have happened to my thread too, if I would have let that particular line of 'discussion' continue there unabated.

Cool
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SharynS
Post Posted: Mon Nov 09, 2009 3:50 pm

Joined: 28 Jan 2006
Posts: 3618
Location: the 'puter
PT not to detract from yours or anyone's real life situation but if we talk about changing the hierarchy system and talk about things that aren't, new ideas surface. If we continually talk in terms of the current reality - the what is - that is where we will remain. New solutions come with new ideas. If I'm not mistaken it's solutions for people which are most sorely lacking. Korten said it best; Change the Story Change the Furture. We can't all simply jump to it but we do need to get started IMO.

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wm pasz
Post Posted: Mon Nov 09, 2009 8:21 pm

Joined: 29 Jan 2006
Posts: 1219
Location: Toronto
So here are some more thoughts on hierarchies and how they are really the root of all (or most) evil in the workplace.

Human rights committees, training and stepped up disciplinary practices will never eradicate unfair treatment (whether it's harassment or inequitable treatment) in the workplace. This is because you can't achieve egalitarian goals in a system that gives humans power over other humans. At best, you'll get egalitarian-looking processes that quickly become corrupted in the service of the hierarchy. This can explain why, after 4 decades of legislative intervention in the area of human rights, the same old inequities persist. Introduce a power structure into a place and "imposed power" makes everyone behave badly. This happens in offensive and defensive ways as people scramble (individually and in groups) to get power, wield power over others, hold onto power or defend themselves from people with power.

I'm not sure that women behave any better than men in the power hierarchy. I've met as many bad bosses who are female as male. They do the same shit and play the same games. I don't think this is because they feel they need to follow the lead of the boys - power does stuff to people. It's also the reason why, despite the large number of women in some organizations and their growing representation in management positions, the workplace hasn't become any kinder or more egalitarian.

Over the weekend I read a really fascinating book called The Theory and Practice of Hell by Eugene Kogon. Kogon is a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp where he spent several years before being liberated in 1945. His book, written shortly after he was released, offers a detailed perspective on the organization of the Nazis system of extermination and forced labour camps, including some information about hierarchies in these places that came as news to me. Kogon's book relates primarily to the camps that served as bases for large contingents of slave laborers (Buchenwald, Dachau, Sachsenhausen) as opposed to those that served primarily as extermination camps such as Auchwitz, Treblinka, and others. (Both types of camps killed a hell of a lot of people, but the slave laborers tended to get worked to death as opposed to obeing gassed or shot.)

In running the slave labor camps it seems that the SS made extensive use of hierarchical arrangements among the prisoners themselves. A hierarchy of "block leaders" and "detail leaders" and Kapos were appointed from among the ranks of the inmates to keep order within the barracks and on the labor details. These guys were as brutal as their SS superiors. Although initially they tended to be Germans who had landed in the camps for criminal behaviour, the SS eventually began appointing these inmate overseers from among the different ethnic groups - as a means of dividing and conquering and creating conflict among the prison population based on ethnic prejudices.

Prisoners also ran the labour allocation offices with the camps. These was considered very important jobs which essentially gave those lucky enough to be "hired" the power of life and death over other prisoners. Being assigned to an in-camp work detail was considered desirable because the conditions - although harsh - weren't as bad as going to the quarry (which meant certain death).

According to Kogon, prisoners who got the plum labor allocation office jobs tended to make their life/death decisions based on the nationalities or political views of other prisioners (and on the basis of personal vendettas, likes and dislikes and so forth). They also tended to appoint their friends, countrymen and allies to the in-camp details which were nominally less arduous and which allowed them to cultivate relationships with the SS men.

Collusive relationships developed between the higher status prisoners and their SS overseers and it appears that the two groups actively corrupted each other by engaging in pilfering and other verboten activities such as stealing food, medicine and other supplies which they either kept for themselves or sold at a profit inside and outside of the camp (by a certain point in the war, times were getting tough in the Reich and low and mid-level SS men were feeling the pinch).

By the last year of the war, the SS had lost a good deal of control over the camps. There were simply too many prisoners to control directly and so they became even more dependent on the prisoners to run things for them. Those who did even secured some privileges and perks for their efforts. Kogon writes -

One result of "power gained through corruption" was the enrichment of one or several men at the expense of the others. Sometimes this reached shameful proportions in the camps, even in those where the politicals were in power. More than one who took advantage of his position lived the life of a prince, while his comrades died by the hundreds. When the cartons of food for the camp, containing fats, sausages, jams, flour, and sugar, were smuggled outside the camp by S.S. accomplices, to be sent to the families of the prisoners in question, one can hardly say it was justified. But most exasperating was when, at a time when the local S.S. were no longer wearing high boots but only regular army shoes, the members of the small clique of "caids" walked proudly around in stylish clothes, custom tailored, like dandies, some of them even with a little dog on a leash!

According to Kogon, the prisoner group that became the most prominent and powerful within the camp were...ready for this?...the communists who were not only extremely adept at making alliances with the SS men but also fanatical about helping their pals and excluding anyone who didn't share their ideological views. (The communists are the "politicals" Kogon refers to in the above quote.)

Now it does not surprise me at all that people who found themselves in such awful conditions would try to help themselves by fenagling less arduous or dangerous work or by putting their friends into the better assignments or by trying not to piss off the Nazis around them. But what struck me as rather strange are these relationships that developed and the way in which the prisoners who became involved in them began to benefit themselves at the expense of their beleaugered colleagues. I'm thinking that this is an example of what happens wherever you set up a hierarchy. Those above develop collusive relationships with their underlings that are mutually beneficial at the expense of others further down the ladder.

It's also remarkable that, while they had a considerable amount of control in the camps towards the end of the war, the prisoners did not use that control to rebel. Granted there was an active underground resistance that mostly flowed information in and out of the camps but the people involved in that weren't the ones running the labor details or deciding who was going on the rock pile. I have to wonder what might have been possible if the prisoners had been able to act collectively with a view fighting their oppressors and the extent to which the hierarchical order they had fallen into acted as a disincentive to that. Interestingly uprisings and rebellions did take place in the extermination camps - where this kind of work-related hierarchical order did not exist.

While the circumstances of these prisoners are extreme and don't approximate at all the conditions of workers in 21st century North American enterprises, there's a very chilling parallel in the Nazi's use of slaves to control slaves (who far outnumbered the masters and so could not be directly controlled) and the extent to which those who gained power over their imprisoned colleagues used that power not for good but for evil.

Hierarchy is bad. It makes people do bad things. Whether they're men or women, it doesn't matter. Power corrupts.

_________________
Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. You don't need anything else. - Malcolm X
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creekside
Post Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 1:15 am

Joined: 30 Oct 2009
Posts: 23
Markus

Laughing Every so often, we need to take a deep breath and go to our happy place.
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wm pasz
Post Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 10:06 pm

Joined: 29 Jan 2006
Posts: 1219
Location: Toronto
Do you want to elaborate on that creekside?

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Time is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. Truth is on the side of the oppressed today, it's against the oppressor. You don't need anything else. - Malcolm X
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creekside
Post Posted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 10:15 pm

Joined: 30 Oct 2009
Posts: 23
Actually no elaboration is necessary - I agree with your comments - now it's time to walk the talk but in a very determined and positive way.

They can only bully you if you let them...........
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