A PROJECTQUESTION COLUMN
FOR THE NASHVILLE FREE PRESS
Installment 7 of 13
Anyone familiar with failed attempts at socialism knows that classism does not go away just because you eliminate private ownership of productive property. Sure, it may no longer be a Capitalist apple pie. But what about the crust and the filling? What about this coordinator class, this 20 percent of wage workers who run the show for those at the top? Because, whether it’s the state government at the top or the owners of capital at the top, the class itself is still the same. Those who get paid more for doing work that is more empowering and/or more desirable.
Luckily, our next two main ingredients address this middle coordinator class by answering the two basic food group questions that deal directly with work: “Who does what?” and “How are wages set?”
First take the question of “Who does what?” A lot of people associate class with money and power. But often class can be just as much a matter of who does what.
Capitalism tells us that line workers do the labor that supervisors are too important to do, secretaries do the administrative tasks that bosses are too important to do, and janitors do the cleaning the rest of the workers are too important to do. In other words, those higher in the food chain monopolize the more empowering and rewarding work, leaving the shit work to those below them. And usually as it goes down the chain, the tasks get more boring, repetitive, and physically taxing, as well do the working conditions become less comfortable and more dangerous.
And it’s not just about physical conditions. The monopoly of information is what allows this class of coordinators to call the shots and demand higher wages. In other words, the fewer people who understand the big picture, the more valuable those few people become.
So Participatory Economics answers the question “who does what” by asking, “Why not have a workplace that requires everyone to do a balanced mix of tasks, one that does not reproduce the corporate division of labor that is so crucial to class hierarchy?”
Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel describe this new main ingredient to our recipe as a Balanced Job Complex, meaning a balanced mix of tasks. I personally like to think of it as a “fairshare workload,” where you do your fair share of the empowering and rewarding work and your fair share of the mindless and less desirable work. The point, of course, is that at the end of the day everyone’s mix of tasks comes out to about the same balance or average.
Now many who currently hold more privileged positions in the workforce are disgusted with such an idea. But certainly those who clean our toilets and dig our ditches are not too low to use their minds more often. Likewise, doctors are not too good to empty bedpans, nor are lawyers too good to dirty their hands.
Of course, we’re not saying that those currently working as hospital janitors are going to start performing surgeries. We’re saying that, with proper education and training, there are enough tasks to be ranked and divided up among workers that there doesn’t have to be a huge disparity in the quality of our work lives.
Not only does this Balanced Job Complex, or this balanced mix of tasks, promise a higher degree of diversity in our daily lives, everyone doing their fair share moves us closer to equity and greater solidarity. More to come…