by Lucius Cabins
"The single most powerful threat that we as WOE activists hold is our ability to publicly expose and ridicule unfair employment practices.''At most corporations will respond with mere cosmetic changes to the two minute TV spots WW gets to decry this or that company's prejudicial practices.
"Management must recognize that information is a resource...without an organization-wide information system [read human and/or electronic spies], warning signs may go unnoticed... As offices become more and more dependent on word processing equipment and upon computerized information systems, a strike by data entry and text editing personnel becomes even more serious. An organization that depends on the currency of the information in its data banks will be hamstrung if those who make the entries go out on strike. . .''
While most capitalists tend to resist unionization, some may be shrewd enough
to take advantage of the role unions could play in disciplining and controlling
the workforce. For example, the infamous productivity problem in offices has
been linked to office workers' ability to resist tight control of their workloads.
According to the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 25, 1980) "Methods
Time Measurement Association, a research group, estimates that white-collar
workers operate at only 45@5 of efficiency. A survey of 400 firms shows losses
of four hours per worker each week to "time theft,' or excessive tardiness,
absence or breaktaking.'' Office workers have developed their own informal
methods of resisting the efficiency standards established by management's productivity
experts which, if enforced, would turn clericals into automatons.
When a union gets voted in to represent workers in an office, it becomes responsible to management for enforcing work rules established at the negotiating table. By its contractual obligation to ensure a full day's work for a full day's pay, unions will be compelled to help combat time theft and to control absenteeism. In the context of explicit rules and regulations agreed to by management and the union, workers' ability to take their own initiatives in resisting productivity demands on the job would run up against the additional opposition of their union. Once in place, workers may find that the union is just another bureaucracy that demands money and obedience.
One of the great limitations of union strategy is the separation of workers into "bargaining units" or specific workplaces. Most office workers, especially lower level clerical workers, don't see their work at any particular job or company as permanent. Attempts to unionize and negotiate contracts for individual workplaces are bound to suffer under a constantly changing workforce.
A case in point is the Office and Professional Employees Union (OPEIU) Local3 organizing drive at Golden Gate University. In March 1980, OPEIU won the National Labor Relations Board representation election, but Golden Gate University refused to bargain. Now the University is planning to call for a new election which is expected to decertify the union--most of the original activists have left the school to do other things.
Although these drawbacks to organizing attempts are discouraging, remaining unorganized is certainly not a better alternative. Individuals facing the myriad of authorities and hierarchies on their own are easily picked off one by one.
Successful attempts of clerical workers to organize themselves will depend, in the first place, on spontaneous and ongoing communication between large numbers of people in many different workplaces. Coordinated actions must be conceived and achieved; self-reliance and mutual aid developed; goals, strategies and tactics will have to be vigorously discussed--rather than left up to the decisions of union or governmental leaders. New forms of allocating responsibility must be established, forms that do not depend upon representation, leaders and bureaucratic maneuvers. This massive, qualitative change will not be an overnight process (although it could happen sooner than one might think). It is towards this change that we should direct our efforts.