The Result of University Cost-Cutting Measures . . .

the Plausible Deniability Blog takes up where the PostModernVillage blog left off. While you'll see many of the same names here, PDB allows its writers and editors a space away from financial strum und drang that torpedoed the PMV blog.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Opposite of What You Know

EW Wilder

The more we see of the world, the more obvious it becomes: power protects itself.

This is evident from the smallest of power differentials—those between teacher and student, doctor and patient, worker and direct supervisor—all the way up to national and international power relationships. Because of this, it becomes the role of those in positions of power to protect that power first and foremost: the actual services or activities institutions with managerial power structures ostensibly exist to support are secondary at best; often they are almost an afterthought.

Supervisory roles, with their performance reviews and managerial expectations, are designed not to serve those directly performing the work nor to help the processes of production, service provision, or exchange. Rather, they exist to hold the worker “accountable” not to the ostensible effort of the organization, but to the managerial structure itself. This shifts responsibility from becoming concentrated up the supervisory train, as remuneration and role would suggest it should do, but away from it and onto the least compensated, least powerful members of the organization.

The protestations of those at the top that they deserve extra pay because they take extra risks and have greater responsibilities simply aren't true: those at the top are more able to manage their own time, more likely to have close relationships with those who supervise them (typically a board of directors for publicly run companies and non-profits), and have the clout to negotiate huge salaries and severance packages. This helps create conditions for them to be irresponsible with impunity, which would be impossible for low-level employees who are subject to many levels of supervision, demeaning if not infantilizing policies and procedures, and performance reviews designed to blame them when anything goes wrong.

Note, also, that the supposedly “free” market backs up existing power structures as well, demanding layoffs first when a company loses money, not that the CEO be fired. This is the opposite of what would be demanded of a college sports team, for example, or even a politician.

Managerial structures that reinforce power at the top create relationships with workers based on the negative: they kick into gear when the worker does wrong; they are punitive of her errors, not supportive of her efforts. Control over her own work, much less initiative and innovation, are a threat to power and therefore must be punished, no matter how useful they may be. And so a worker's role is strictly defined by procedure and policy. Further, the supporting structures that do exist are taken out of the control of the restive worker and insourced to separate “administrative” or “operations” departments, departments subject to punitive power structures of their own.

This concentrates the power of those at the top even more, pitting departments against each other for control over the resources necessary to get the work done and making the worker constantly under threat from that competition: if a department that is also competing for the company's resources keeps those resources from a worker, she will still be blamed for not getting the job done and subsequently punished. The power structure wins by a divide and conquer strategy. Departments, also, have no other recourse than to rely on the managerial power structure to work out the inevitable (and designed-in) problems between each other, reinforcing its power yet again and preventing worker collectivization.

If we see existing managerial power structures for what they really are, ways to protect those in charge and not ways to get work done, we may begin to address problems not only of inequality but also of inefficiency. But because we believe so deeply in these structures and replicate them everywhere from schools to the executive branch of government, change is unlikely to happen. And it's unlikely that those in power would let it happen: already we see the incredible influence of those industrialists and executives who would seek to impose this structure on our representative bodies themselves by electing “free market” politicians, whose stated goals are to bring these principles to the public sphere. Again, the rhetoric is the opposite of the intention, as we have seen how these politicians act when they get into office: in Kansas, and Texas, Wisconsin and Ohio, they have acted like petty dictators, bullying and dominating wherever they can, ignoring both constitutionality and the financial stability, much less best interests of, the states they serve.

The goal of these people is to usurp what little democracy our republic allows and decimate our last, best hope at retaining the popular rule we have so willingly given up in the workplaces that, if we are lucky enough to be employed, already dominate our lives.

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