Sunday, 4 September 2011

Camouflaged Dictatorships

Nowadays, it has become extremely fashionable to write and talk in favour of democracy. The Western media hardly ever stops showing interviews and pumping out articles about the importance of democracy. Dictatorships are frowned upon. And there appears to be a growing aversion towards any person or structure perceived as a symbol of authority.

Although I am in favour of societies whereby people are given the opportunity to bring about various positive changes through campaigns and other initiatives, I am quite perplexed by the general tendency to support democracy only within a strictly political framework. In other words, I cannot understand how the thousands of people who would even risk their lives to have the opportunity to say certain things seem to fail miserably at extending the notion of democracy to other settings such as the workplace.

Even though we live in the 21st century and even though many countries have adopted multi-party political systems, it is quite shocking to see how dictatorships - as a way of organising several human activities - are still extremely widespread in those countries that usually describe themselves as fully democratic. Taking the Western world as an example, if one goes beyond appearances and marketing propaganda, the typical workplace could easily be viewed as a dictatorial structure.

Before analysing the nature of the average workplace in a capitalist country, it might be a good idea to examine what usually occurs in the case of most dictatorships. In order to simplify matters and to avoid being too academic, it seems possible to say that there are usually four groups of people within a dictatorship.

The first group includes the leadership clan. The latter determines the objectives that need to be achieved by the masses and is the one that will benefit most from the current state of affairs. The leadership clan tends to shun bottom-up communication or consultation and any thought that does not fall in line with its aims is frequently perceived as a threat that must be neutralised.

The second group contains the enforcers. These are the people who will usually go to fairly extreme lengths to support as well as defend the leadership clan. These individuals will often attempt to emulate their leaders and resent any criticism. Their loyalty is not always motivated by the material rewards they receive from the leadership clan; the belief that they are important and loved by the leadership group could also forge very strong bonds even if few possessions are given to them.

The third group consists of the silent conformists. In a typical dictatorship, this would be the biggest group. It is made up of the hundreds of thousands of individuals who come to believe that any attempt to change things drastically is extremely dangerous and that it is, therefore, safer to go along with the flow and to do whatever is expected of oneself. Although many people within this group might secretly want a change or might even detest the leadership clan together with the enforcers, any criticism is normally expressed very discreetly.

The last group includes the rebels. These are the people who cannot endure various abuses and unfair pratices any longer. They are the individuals who will attempt to organise resistance movements or organisations with the hope of struggling against the dictatorship. If detected or identified, they could face terrible consequences. They are usually aware of such dangers, but they are strongly committed to their visions of a better future.

It is now time to apply the above to the typical capitalist workplace. To what extent could the latter be regarded as a dictatorship? Although it is said that an increasing number of companies is becoming less vertical when it comes to organisational structure, this does not mean that they have necessarily become more democratic. In many situations, regardless of whether there is one or more supervisors/managers, the entire workforce is there to achieve the objectives laid down by the shareholders (the leaders): to maximise profit and to minimise costs. In several large companies, the shareholders would rarely know much about their workforces and their interest in the well-being of the employees would usually be limited to productivity issues. In other words, many shareholders would often only show an interest in their employees provided that the money is rolling in. If an employee succumbs to, say, a mental illness, a shareholder would usually pay more attention to finding a quick replacement for that person rather than spending money to ensure that the employee receives the best possible treatment.

Given that the leaders are not always around, a network of enforcers is absolutely essential to ensure that the objectives are obtained and that any resistance is crushed. Within a workplace context, although the enforcers would normally be the managers or the supervisors, there is almost always a small group of individuals who believe that they are special within the organisation and who would provide information about the behaviour of any employees who might not be toeing the line.

Most employees normally play the role of silent conformists. They might grumble and complain about the company with other employees who share the same rank or who could even be a rung or two below them, but they would usually be too scared to rock the boat. These individuals tend to be terribly scared of unemployment given that the income they receive from the job might be supporting a family or going to several creditors. Their loyalty is based on fear and if a better opportunity appears, they would not be scared to move.

The rebels are typically described by the shareholders and by the enforcers as the pessimistic, negative employees. Although there are people who seem to be hell-bent on complaining against virtually everything, the rebels are not to be confused with them. In an average company, the rebel could be that employee who is tired of earning less than a person with fewer responsibilities. It could be the employee who does not want to end up working on week-ends or on public holidays as a result of the company's decision to assign the work that would ordinarily be done by three people to one person. It could be the person who is tired of the lack of respect shown by an autocratic manager.

In view of the above, it seems pretty obvious that most workplaces function as dictatorships. They are, however, camouflaged by all the fancy websites and management guru books that portray the typical capitalist workplace as a sort of college that serves to mould human beings in such ways that they become better citizens. The typical capitalist workplace might be generating more productive people, but that does not mean that more harmonious societies are being created. Sadly, in countless workplaces, the main focus is on the self - devoting more of one's life to earning more money for oneself without paying much attention to the welfare of other human beings who might not be contributing to one's wealth and happiness. In such an atmosphere, other people are regularly perceived as rivals and not as partners in creating a better world.

Many politicians might boast about how democratic their countries are, but this article clearly shows that multiple dictatorships still exist within those countries. Even though some people would say that an unhappy employee is free to move to another company, such a move is normally from one dictatorship to another.

Some people might say that contrary to political dictatorships, a typical employer would not throw someone into prison or torture them. Well, when an employee cannot really move quickly to another workplace, that person could feel imprisoned. Furthermore, the anguish felt by many employees when faced with certain conditions could be regarded as a form of torture.

When will there be a serious effort to put an end to all forms of oppression? When will there be more structures that allow human beings to live decently without having to compete against one another? When will the members of a society be regarded as equal partners rather than being divided according to whether they are employers or employees?