WHAT WORK IS
NOTE: The "worker" category—those whose jobs can be replaced by shipping projects overseas, or by bringing in immigrants—now include scientists, engineers, clerks, computer programmers and specialists, and virtually any profession or activity that can be contracted outside the company. Because of conservative political actions, investors, big corporations and the established wealthy are almost totally free to do whatever they wish with workers—of whatever description.
The definition of "work" is an important part of the propaganda battle between liberals and conservatives. To align himself with some of the most potent symbols of American values, Rush Limbaugh claims that "hard work" accounts for the success of the wealthy. To align liberals with negative symbols, he describes how they want to "punish success," because they are "envious" of those who, through work, have accumulated more than they have.
A WALL STREET JOURNAL story about the pay of CEOs of small firms demonstrates Limbaugh's powerful influence as a first class demagogue. The JOURNAL quoted Andrew Filipowski who was CEO of Platinum Technology Inc., a company that did $49 million in sales in 1992, and made $9.3 million.
According to Filipowski, "I am absolutely baffled by those perverted, socialistic, moralistic issues that make (some people) so jealous and greedy they'd want somebody in the U.S. not to succeed." For his year of success, Filipowski took home $13.9 million, counting options gains.
Filipowski has to be a dittohead. He has the clichés and strategies of conservatism down pat, including the inoculation technique (OTHERS are perverted, greedy, etc.), and he mimics Limbaugh perfectly.
Limbaugh has turned the traditional views of work completely around. He has equated work with what rich people, like Filipowski, do. In effect, he is trying to justify the increasing disparity in incomes between the rich and middle and low income workers. It's a great scam. The rich are adopting it lock, stock and barrel, repeating it over and over—and too many middle income people are being conned by it.
It's obvious that liberals and modern conservatives view work quite differently, especially in terms of how it is rewarded. Conservatives have capitalized on the subjective nature of work, and have gradually changed its traditional meaning to a modern excuse for pure greed.
Any CEO, company president, or senior executive who brags that he "works" 70 hours a week is either lying or has a demented notion of work. I once had one of these guys come into my office trembling severely. "They" were about to force him out, and he didn't know what he was going to do with his remaining years.
The company had been his personal erector set. He moved people and plants around like the pieces of a child's Christmas present. He was respected in the community because of his position. People treated him with awe. Money wasn't the issue; he had more than enough to last him and his family for rest of ALL their lives.
I suggested that he do some volunteer work, possibly improve his golf game. No dice. He only played golf because he was expected to; he never really enjoyed it that much. Volunteer work? No, he wouldn't be in charge. How about seminars that teach you how to deal with retirement? He had already been to two of the best ones in the country.
Had he actually been spending 70 hours at his job during his career? Yes. Was it work? No, it was not only recreation, it was his whole life.
Marketing professionals have told me that taking a client on an all-expenses-paid ski weekend was work, because sometimes they didn't like the client or the client's wife. Good gawd, how intolerable.
I've taught week-long seminars for industry in which I had virtually no time off. People talked to me about business during breakfast, dinner, lunch, and over cocktails in the evening. Occasionally I felt trapped and wanted to be back in my own home.
Still, the creature comforts were always the best. The rooms, the meals, the way the trainees and the hotel staff treated me—I wouldn't want to do anything else, at least at that time in my life. Was it work? Of course not.
Well, then, what is work? Real work is cutting up meat in a slaughter house, while you are ruining the muscles and tendons in your hands, wrists and arms. It's spending eight hours a day, five days a week in a dead-end job that you detest. It's harvesting hay for most of the summer, when you never want to see another bale of hay.
It's sucking poisonous fumes into your lungs when you clean out a vat that contained toxic chemicals. It's typing reports for some jerk who treats you like brainless idiot. It's cleaning up a motel room where someone has vomited on the floor, and you're only making minimum wage.
For my money, a "worker" is anyone who handles a physical product or provides a genuine physical service, and who is in a job that has few formal educational requirements. The further removed you are from this, the less you are a worker, and the ou are a NONWORKER.
It's important to understand these distinctions, because your own particular category, worker or nonworker, makes a gigantic difference in how business persons, politicians, and the Limbaugh's of the world will evaluate your worth to society. It not only directly affects your wages, it affects the laws that control your ability to have a decent life.
Rationale for Greed
In my role as a management consultant, I've had many discussions with highly paid executives and professionals. Their rationale for their extremely high pay, relative to others, seem to fall into five categories. They're the same categories you see repeated in the financial press—refined, dressed up, and camouflaged, of course:
Every worker reading these five excuses will immediately recognize their absurdities. For the benefit of affluent nonworkers, and other moral defectives who are incapable of seeing them, the patently obvious realities are:
First, the highly paid executive enjoys first-class pampering, and 16 hours of it a day are barely enough. His subordinates, the company doctor, the corporate attorney, and an endless supply of stewardesses, hotel clerks, and general sycophants take care of his every need.
You can't mention an excellent restaurant in France, Spain, or wherever he's traveled, that he hasn't eaten at. And guess what,—(surprise!) he'd rather die than to change places with the lower-level people who actually work in his own company.
Second, no one expects everyone to be paid the same. It's just that we shouldn't be creating a new class of royalty while large numbers of others don't make enough money to responsibly raise their own kids. Several surveys have found that American CEOs made six times as much as their counterparts in Japan, and four times those in Germany. (The same differentials apply for all the higher levels of executives.)
Third, if people making hundreds of thousands of dollars need still more incentives to do conscientious jobs, we've become totally corrupt. These are the same hypocrites who criticize the American worker, on a pitifully low fixed income, for not having a sound work ethic, and for not wanting to compete with workers in Mexico—who make one tenth as much.
I guarantee you: Work values are strongest among those Americans who truly work the most. But they are slowly losing their work values. "Uneducated" workers see what's happening on TV and read about it in the newspapers. They think about it and talk about it. The message they're getting is that work doesn't count. It's all image and salesmanship—and what you can get away with. And the greedy jerks at the top are causing it all.
Fourth, as soon as we agree that life isn't fair, it becomes even less fair. That's the story of the eighties. Since life isn't fair, it's perfectly moral to get all you can, and don't worry about those who get left out. The practical expediencies of today become the moral standards for tomorrow.
Fifth, it's true that good workers are common in America. They're all over the place. But executives are common too. There seems to be a literal explosion of executives who are interested only in their own material welfare and little else. If you don't believe it, you need to talk to some lower-level personnel in almost any large American corporation. They've seen it personally.
And if you don't have access to anyone who actually works for a living—to give you an unbiased perspective—just read the newspapers. The destructive gyrations of egomaniacs at the upper levels of our corporations, financial investment groups, and government are splashed all over the front pages.
The Power of Informed CitizensSo what do you do now? The most important action now is to separate yourself from the emotionalism of the Limbaugh demagogues. Do some research on your own and discover what's actually going on in our economy. Just reading a good daily newspaper should be enough, especially if you focus on the news items relating to working conditions, worker pay, politics, taxes, social problems and proposed solutions.
Then, participate in the debate. Educate others about what work is, who the real workers are, and who truly creates wealth and jobs.