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(en) Workers Solidarity #78 - Thinking about anarchism Unequal power, unequal pay

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Wed, 12 Nov 2003 08:44:46 +0100 (CET)

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During the year a spate of reports have 'discovered' what a lot of
workers already know - that equal pay for equal work just doesn't exist.
Although legal victories and a raft of employment equality legislation
have made some dents, the fact remains that discrimination on the
grounds of gender, ethnicity and age (to name just a few) persists and
is widespread. It seems obvious to ask: why?

To attempt to answer this question, anarchists argue that we have to
look at an aspect of life that is often ignored - how the workplace and
the office are organised. Take any workplace - small or large, corporate
or local sweatshop - and what you will find, first and foremost, is a
hierarchy. At the top is the manager or boss, and beneath him (mostly
him) are layers of management; then supervisors. At the bottom of the
hierarchy are the full-time workers, then contract workers... and so on.

What distinguishes the different layers within the hierarchy? Well one
thing is the job they do, of course. But a second fundamental difference
is the power they have. At the top is the boss with most power - the
power to hire and fire, to set wages and hours and conditions. At the
bottom is the contract worker - often with the worst wages and hours,
the least benefits and the least security of income. In between are a
layer of other mangers and supervisors, with different duties but also
with different levels of power.

Anarchists call this form of organisation a power-hierarchy. In
capitalism, http://struggle.ws/wsm/capital.html
workplaces are organised like this because in reality there
is no other way to get thing done. Most people, given a choice, would
not work for an employer. Employers are people we have to work for
because if we don't we will end up poor (and in many countries, very
poor) if we don't. A good example of what's at stake is found in the
difference we often notice in ourselves when we are doing work at
home 'for ourselves' compared to when we are doing work at the job for
the boss. Working 'for your self', as we all know, is a lot more pleasant
and productive. Bosses know this too, which is why they need active
methods to force us to work harder.

Under capitalism the workplace is organised around a huge imbalance
in power. The boss and the top managers have most control; the rest of
us toe the line. There are many consequences for organising economic
life in this way. One of the most significant is the key issue mentioned
above - persistent inequality. To survive in a competitive environment a
boss must fundamentally encourage discrimination. Promoting division
and competition makes the existing hierarchy dynamic - there is a
constant threat of falling lower in the pecking order, as well a chance
of going upwards too.

For the boss the overall reward is increased productivity. A second,
crucially important consequence is that the generalised division that is
caused within the workforce which acts as a buffer for the boss's rule.

It is not surprising that the power-hierarchy that exists in presence day
workplaces makes use of human differences such as gender, ethnicity
and age to divide us. A system of economic organisation - capitalism -
that is fundamentally about greed and theft through profit must rely on
unfair and inhuman means to survive. Women, for example,
traditionally suffer lower pay and longer work hours in the workplace;
they also do less well in their efforts to climb up the power-hierarchy.
But this 'lower reward for effort' that many women suffer has nothing
to with women being women. It has everything to do with increasing
employee productivity through the promotion of division and

Although modern 'equality legislation' has outlawed overt
discrimination in a lot of countries, the general format of discrimination
continues unabated in covert form. This (and the persistence of
inequality in pay) shouldn't surprise us. In reality no matter how much
legislation is enacted, such statutes will never challenge the
fundamental right of a boss or corporation to create and actively
maintain a power-hierarchy. To challenge this right we need a

Kevin Doyle

More Thinking about Anarchism http://struggle.ws/wsm/anarchism.html
Workplace struggles and the unions http://struggle.ws/wsm/unions.html
Anarchism & Womens Liberation http://struggle.ws/wsm/women.html


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'Workers Solidarity'. http://struggle.ws/wsm/paper.html
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