Job security in the 21st century.
According to the author, the essence of the labor struggle is the control over time. For most workers, it is a matter of deciding when to work or when to spend time with family. This book is a series of essays that characterizes the slow shift of this power away from laborers. At the heart of the issue is job security, and these essays--through highly political and ideological language--discuss factors that contribute to this growing concern faced by American workers. Once a blue-collar problem, the issue has spread to white-collar work. These essays touch a wide variety of topics including problems in educational institutions, technology, globalization, and race relations.
The book starts out with a romanticized idea of work before the Industrial Revolution when people enjoyed work that "engaged" their minds as well as their bodies, such as blacksmiths and craftsmen. For the author, the last good job is a college professor. A detailed account of his routine serves to demonstrate the amount of freedom he enjoys as tenured professor. Those freedoms include the ability to choose research topics or participate in political activities without fear of reprisal from the college administration. The majority of these essays aim to describe the effects of limiting these freedoms to a minority of today's workers.
The author sees the restructuring of colleges and universities along the lines of global capitalism as a crisis in higher education. Responding to rising costs, he sees schools either increasing tuition or seeking more corporate donations in exchange for input into curricular decisions or research emphasis. Within these institutions, tension grows between the ruling class of academia (administration) and the professorial ranks--particularly for the untenured, the "academic proletariat." Often these workhorses of higher education are forced to take greater teaching loads, and are denied full title under the guise of budget cuts. In response, these groups formed teachers unions reflecting a trend among traditionally nonunion occupations including doctors, lawyers, and civil servants, where it has been traditionally accepted that one's academic credentials were sufficient to ensure job security.
For employers, a college degree signifies the stability from being able to endure a long process sometimes leading to an "indefinite conclusion." Because of this, Aronowitz believes that students feel pressured to earn "practical" degrees for the job market for higher job security. This "commodification" of higher education transforms liberal art institutions to vocational schools, and some students no longer feel they have the "luxury" of pursuing an education in the humanities.
In elementary and secondary schools, he calls for a more humanitarian approach. Educators should adopt the medical mantra of "doing no harm" both for a child's spirit and mind. Instead of being hallway cops and molding children as factory workers producing satisfactory standardized scores, teachers should engage students' imaginations.
In his essays on technology and labor, Aronowitz takes a Luddite view of science and technology as sufficient means for domination where progress subsumes individuals and people become tied to machines, revealing capitalism as "the ruthless exploiter of labor." He sees technology as a "cultural and economic weapon of capitalism's systemic reproduction." While he points to the prevalence of computers in everyday life to blame for the "tens of millions of jobs [that] have been consigned to historical memory," he doesn't account for the number of jobs created by the new technology. He exaggerates the effects of computers in reducing the role of human labor using extreme examples where doctors are no longer needed for diagnosing disease and to what he sees as the "end of painting."
In essays dealing with racial issues, he notes a link between slavery and capitalism stating that modern labor "under slave-like conditions provided the basis for American modernity" as seen with the low-paying factory jobs of Mexico, Korea, and Vietnam. In this mode, he blames progress for the further dichotomization of society into virtual slave workers and capitalists. Aronowitz argued that the "age-old project of mastery over nature, which had promised human liberation, had also made possible the wholesale destruction of human life. Rather than serving human ends, the machinery of progress signaled the end of humanity." Marginalized workers resorted to violence in response.
Aronowitz also addresses the issue of a "white flight from cities" and the resulting "persistence of black poverty" that leave an income and educational gap between the races. He notes that black intellectuals view the educational gap in terms of an "endemic anti-intellectualism" and a culture of victimization among the black community. However, he cites evidence to reveal that among the American middle class in general, those that attempt to excel in school instead of "sliding by" and getting factory jobs are seen as betraying the class.
The essays on globalization portray the phenomena as an extension of "competing national capital." Rising power wielded by organizations such as the World Bank reinforce the idea of transnationalism weakening nation-states. Because of increasing numbers of global mergers, nation-states "are increasingly held hostage to capital" and lead to more displaced qualified workers. Again, workers concede to survive.
From fear of "capital flight and the movement of jobs elsewhere," workers accept more overtime and "the weekend has all but disappeared." An unapologetic socialist and anti-capitalist, Aronowitz credits too much power to these organizations and feels that institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF continually align themselves with nations that provide military and ideological means that are "preconditions of their ability to impose regimes of austerity."
Regarding the diminished role of unions in the corporate world, Aronowitz shares the view common among union critics that political and organization problems were to blame for the decline in union power. While other commentators have focused on the decline in terms of political machines and complacent leadership, the author sees the problem from a social perspective. He believes that because union leaders abandoned their role in members' lives, they soon lost favor and influence among the rank and file. In their prime, unions served more than just places where people of the same occupation joined to better their working conditions. As "sites of working-class culture," some unions offered activities such as photography classes, and many had bars and eating halls. The role of union press has also declined to what Aronowitz considers a "mere public relations vehicle for the established leadership."
An anti-Stalinist, he favored more participation by the rank-and-file members in union decisions instead of the earlier models of union leadership that employed a military approach to leadership allowing unions to move like large corporations. This authoritarian leadership created a suitable environment for corruption with occasional mob ties. He feels the masses must unite and form their own political and democratic force, for they are file powerful consumers. Without strong union support, workers feel more pressure to perform for fear of replacement.
Throughout the book, Aronowitz presents reoccurring themes such as how capitalism eats away at the human spirit--taking the joy away from work--and how workers capitulate to labor market and employer pressure. While his topics are varied, the underlying theme--although sometimes lost amidst the tangents and his political rhetoric--lingered throughout the discourse with the central issue of job security.
Division of Labor Force Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics
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|Title Annotation:||The Last Good Job in America: Work and Education in the New Global Technoculture|
|Publication:||Monthly Labor Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2002|
|Previous Article:||Profit to nonprofit transition.|
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