The Next Step

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The Next Step
European Trade Unions and International "Indirect Control" within Globalized Companies
von Stephan Siemens

(Trade Union Renewal / Organizing Strategies for Youth Gdansk, 21 – 24. February 2012)

As in many countries trade-unions in Germany have difficulties organizing the workers the way, they usually did. One reason for these difficulties may be a dramatical change in working conditions. As working conditions change the conditions of organizing workers in trade unions change as well. To understand the conditions of organizing workers in the trade unions, it is necessary to understand the change in the conditions of working.

In the big international companies the workers are not only doing their work, but they develop their workforce as well; they work on how to work and increase the labour force by their cooperation. Within their work they undertake the functions of enterprising which in former times would have been undertaken by the employer. But because of the growing labour power of the cooperating employees, more and more functions of enterprising are becoming part of the work of the employees. For example: If one of the workers ist not able to work, it would have been the job of the employer to look for another of his employees to step in. Nowadays that is the job of the team. The team will then have to find another colleague to enable the team to perform.

In general: The workers realize more and more the functions of enterprising within their work. They are able to organize – within certain bounderies – their work themselves, and employers tend to use this ability, because this saves „enterprising costs“, raises productivity and leads to higher profits. Employers adapt to that increasing labour power.

But they do it in a certain way that affects the organization of work in the most companies. In former times the employer used to watch the market and decided, how to answer the threats and possibilities of the market situation. He than told the supervisors what had to be done in the company. The supervisors turned to the workers telling them that the boss has changed his mind and that the workers have to do, what the supervisors told them now to do. And the workers did, what they were told to do. (Obviously they recognized the difference between the things, they were told to do and the things that were to be done. To do only what one is told to do, is a form of striking. But in essence one would have been told what to do when working.)

This has changed. Smart employers listen to their consultants, telling them, that they should change their way of leading their company. If the employer sees the company as an organization, he would have thought in former times: When people come together, they are wasting time: playing cards, eating and drinking, having parties - but they are certainly not working. I have to tell them what they to do. It is my command, which they have to obey and only then they are really working. It is not right, when the workers do, what they want to do.They have to do, what I want them to do.

But the consultant says: Think about what you are doing.Your employees have not the job, to do what you want them to do, but they have the job to produce things in a way that is most profitable for you. They will not act like this, unless you confront them with this fact in a way, that leads to the profits, you want to gain. It is not that the workers have to understand, that they have to realize certain functions as part of their job. In the contrary: They shouldn’t understand it, but they should do it. The employees should change their behavior. And it is the job of the employer to organize this process. The employer can make a certain move: Instead of looking at the market, thinking and telling his workers what to do, he might step aside and see what happens. Now he is no longer between the market and forces of the cooperating workers. But the cooperating workers are confronted with the market forces, either the organized and controlled marketforces within the company or the market forces of the so called “free market” outside the company. Now the workers are confronted with the productibvity of wage labour of their work, expressed in profit. In societies with capitalistic forms of production the üproductivity of wage labour is expressed by it’s profitability.

But it is not the duty of all the scattered workers in the company, to meet the requirements of the market. The employer has to organize teams, profitcenters, partly autonomous units to work together and face the requirements of the market. And it is not the market as a whole, the teams have to deal with, but certain, specialized sections of the market, that the team has to face. The employer might say: That’s your market. Do what you want, perform as you want to, but be as profitable as possible.

The workers can do, what they want to do themselves, as long as they are as profitable as possible. But how is this possible, that the teams, the profitcenters, the partly autonomous units deliberately and more effectively do what is profitable for the employer? The employer organizes the work in a certain framework, that assures by its conditions that the workers have to operate most effectively and profitably, as long as they don’t understand how this framework functions. In the forms of cooperation of the workers, the teams, the profitcenters, the partly autonomous units is given the function of enterprizing, and that assures that they realize this function of enterprizing aganst each other and against themselves. But they don’t understand it. It might be easy to understand this difficult process, if you imagine the following szene:

A management consultant comes in and organizes a meeting of the partly autonomous unit of – let’s say – a bank. He tells the colleagues: Well the future will not be easy. There will be a lot of risks, but there will be some chances as well. We want to avoid the risks and we want to utilize the opportunities which we recognize in the market situation. Therefore we need your competencies. Please build groups, where you develop new ideas to meet the requirements of the market. And there will start a lot of movement around. Groups are built, brainstorming happens, visions of the future are painted on wallpapers. The sun is shining, the beach is calm, there is lovely yellow sand around, little waves brake on the sand, palm trees are growing, all people feel relaxed and satisfied. Sometimes there is a person swimming around, spending some million €uro and disappears for ever. This picture of the future of the company in the location “xyz” is pinned on the walls. The management consultant will be astonished by the competencies and the power of the crew and will say: That is the future of our company. The future is sitting right here. We have the power to answer the requirements of the market, we are confronted with. The gold in your minds is our main ressource. We should do exactly, what you – the team – say. Together we want to reach our goal. And therefore I ask you: What do you want to do, Peter, to reach our goals? And you, Yvone, and you, Paul, and so on including every one participating in the meeting. The consultant would ask the scattered individuals, but he would not ask us, the team. We – the team - have the vision of the enterprise, but we as the scattered individuals have the responsibility to realize the goals that we as team, as profitcenter, as partly autonomous unit have defined.

We have a vision of our team, and the members as scattered individuals have to do, what has to be done in realizing these visions of enterprising. And we together force everyone of us to do what he or she has to do, and to work even more than necessary. Because there is always someone, who underperforms sometimes. We have to be prepared in this case. If the team does not meet the goals, reductions of salary will be the answer. In the worst case, the team is going to be dissoluted.

By organizing work in this manner, colleagues get a double function, while working: They realize their work, and they realize the enterprising function; they are working on the way, they are working. They develop their capacities by dealing with the social nature of the work, they are doing, expressed in the profitability of their work. The condition for this form of exploitation is, that the personal relations of the workers are part of the company we work in. It belongs to the employer. We do not come together, because we like each other, but because we work in the same company or – to put it in another way – because our workforce is bought by the same employer. He brings us together and he controls the conditions for us to come and work together. Therefore our personal relations in work belong to the employer. Our personal work relations show the label of the company we work in. Our conditions to work together have in this way a certain independence from the employees, although they are the personal relations of these employees. They are independent from the employees, and so the employer can realize the control over these relations wich includes the indirect control over the employees themselves.

The way the employers try to gain this control is to organize cooperation within the company in a form that reminds of a “market”, but it is an organized and controlled market. It is not a “free” market wich would be a form of anarchy in the distributrion of products in the society as a whole, but a rational form of organizing the production within a company. The cooperation of the employees seems to be a competition between the employees in a market within the company. So in Germany there are two great electronic sales stores – “Mediamarkt” and “Saturn” – that seem to fight each other in the market – and at least in the view of the employees they really do – but in fact they are owned by the same company – Metro – that earns the profit, the employees generate by fighting each other in competition. So this “market” is a form of organizing work within a big company using the forms of cooperating and organizing it in a form of competition. It is not difficult to see, that this system depends on the condition, that employees don’t really understand what is happening with them. Otherwise they would think of how to take over control over there personall relationships.

Trade unions went with this developement and tried to frame it in a way that should be compatible with the social rights and interests of the working people. And they were right to do so, because it was a substancial progress in the development of labour power. Especially here in Gdansk we will remember the movement for freedom, which brought to sight the new labour power in this development. Many workers in the so called “real socialism” countries have fighted for this freedom. But we have to recognize, that this sort of freedom is restricted. We – the trade unionists – have to do the next step. This is important

1.because it is in the interest of the workers,  
  as they are becoming ill within this form of organization of work,
  as they loose parts of the rewards they get for working, as many workers 
  loose their jobs, while companies “downsize” to raise their profits and 
  as precarious working conditions spread with these forms of organization 
  of work in the companies.
2. because solidarity is reduced to a form of benefit for the employer of 
  the company.
3. because trade unions loose influence, though becoming even more necessary. 
   They have difficultiers organizing people, because organization seems to be 
   an instrument of the employer to get more profit out of his employees. 

We trade unionists, have to do the next step, not only developing the work force. We have done this quite successfully in Europe and especially in Germany. This was right because of the progress of labour power in these forms of organizing work in the companies. But if the trade unions and the workers will not learn to gain control over their labour force, these forces will turn against the workers and the human species as a whole.

The next step the trade unions need to do, is to analyse how the employers exploit their control of our personal relations in the company – not only by reading general explanations like this one, but by analysing the own work situation as one, in wich the employer seeks possibilities to gain control over what I am doing and what we are doing – in the team, in the profitcenter, in the partial autonomous unit and so on. In Germany we call this form of organizing work in companies the “indirect control”. (“indirekte Steuerung”) We trade unionists have to understand this form of “indirect control”. We have to understand that there are two opposing thoughts in our minds, one to do our work, to show solidarity, to be a good colleague. And another one, wanting to work profitabel and forcing colleagues to work profitabel as well and to meet the goals our team has to perform. These to thoughts in one and the same colleague and even within myself is a new difficulty for organizing employees in trade unions. If we don’t understand this difficulty we don’t understand the employees and we will not be able to organize them. Often trade unionists condemn colleagues, who have opposing feelings and thoughts, making it difficult to act in a way that we would accept as solidarity. But instead of condemning our colleagues we have to understand the mechnisms of organizing work in the companies, that lead to these opposing feelings and thoughts. As we understand these mechanisms we have to discuss these mechanisms with our colleagues. If they will understand these forms of exploitation, they will understand that we will not be able to answer these forms of organizing the work in companies as scattered individuals. We need the autonomous organization of the employees themselves, we need the trade unions to fight back the dangers growing with the development we have to face. The answer of the colleagues eventually is to organize themselves in the unions or to leave the companies which apply this system to them. If we are able to understand this new situation, we are able to show this alternative. So we will be able to demonstrate the necessity of organizing in the trade unions.

In the unions we have to work on a critique of the form of autonomy of enterprising. This form of autononmy is very agreeable on the first sight. You get it by chance – having money in the bank or having a position in a modern company – and you need no change in any way to get this sort of autonomy. In philosophy this is called autonomy by “nature” or presupposed autonomy. It seems that you can do, what you want to do having this sort of autonomy. This autonomy is not the result of an individual development, but taken for granted without any special individual properties. This seems to be the great advantage of this sort of autonomy. But this advantage seems to turn out just the opposite: Because you get this sort of autonomy just by presupposition, you have to prove, wheather you are worthy having that autonomy by demonstrating that you are doing right. This you have to prove afterwords – in a crises. If you manage to survive the crises, you have to face the next one, which will show wether you are right having this autonomy. So you will have one crises after another, proving wether you can survive within this sort of autonomy or whether you loose everything. So the presupposed autonomy seems to be linked with the opposite of it: To demonstrate in crises you are able to survive. You are set under pressure one time after the other.

But isn´t that a condition of beeing autonomous? No, it is not. If I am learning to read and wright, I am able to do it, and will not loose this ability. It is part of my individual development. It needs a great catastrophy to loose this capability. But I did not get it without a crisis. I had the crisis, when I Iearned reading and wrighting. This is the plot of a nice story of the old Germanic people: Their god Odin went on horseback through a forrest, was caught and hanged. He died. When he fell down he recovered because being god and was able to read. He stopped thinking what he thought and began thinking what things called “Runes” told him to think. He developed the ability to read by a certain crises, indicated by death of the god. So we learn our essential individual steps to autonomy by personal crises. We have to criticise presupposed autonomy by its connection with the crisis to be able to learn individual autonomy by getting over the crisis to come. That is the next step to do, if we want to face the problems we have with our new labour power. We will be able to succed gaining control over our own labour power, if we gain control over our relations in work, not leaving them to the employer to make use of them to control our behaviour indirectly. If we are able to conquer influence on our relations at work we will succeed in fighting for our individual autonomy at work. Therefore we have to work on our relations at work to snatch the governance of our relations away from the employers to the control of the colleagues in their soldarity.

To do this, we have to analyse the strategies of big international companies in the terms of “indirect control”. They reproduce the market within themselves to bring the colleagues in situation of international competition where there is a profit oriented form of cooperation in fact. We trade unionists have to analyze these strategies of the international companies to be able to answer them. To analyze these strategies we need the European Trade Unions as a basis to cooperate. European Unions could make an internet presence for european unionists of different countries to discuss and explore the strategies of the international companies. If we would get these informations quickly and have a framework to analyze them, we would be able to inform, to organize the colleagues and to respond in time. This is the power we need to answer the requirements of the fight for our rights in Europe.