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White-Collar Sweatshop: The Deterioration of Work and Its Rewards in Corporate America Paperback – June 17, 2002
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Financial journalist Fraser fingers the "merger frenzy," ushered in by federal and state regulatory changes, for the layoffs, longer work days, shrinking benefits packages and the rise of contingency workforces that have beset white-collar workers since the early 1980s. As soon as hostile takeovers, leveraged buyouts and corporate bustups dominated the landscape, financial goals took priority over all other business considerations, making cost cutting, layoffs and benefit reductions the order of the day. The single-minded pursuit of these strategies, Fraser opines, has gradually transformed the paternalistic workplace familiar to white-collar workers circa 1979 into our present Darwinian arena, which Fraser characterizes as a sweatshop. Through interviews with white-collar workers and references to various studies, she charts adverse trends for workers in such industries as banking, communications and high technology. In her attempt to put a human face on the impact of these changes, each page is strewn with generic quotes about uncaring management and pervasive stress that portray workers as powerless before their employers ("There's something so unfair about all this"; "the company's attitude is, This is the way of the world. If you don't like it, go somewhere else"). Considering her stark portrait of bitter and forlorn white-collar workers, Fraser's proposed remedy sounds both hollow and nave, as she calls for workers to restore balance in the workplace by lobbying for reduced workweeks, reasonable productivity goals and limits on the use of contingent labor. Agent, Sloan Harris, ICM.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Why amid record levels of employment and a booming economy, asks Fraser, are so many people unhappy? Fraser is currently the financial editor at Inc. magazine. She has documented workplace dissatisfaction over the last four years and comes to the conclusion that today's white-collar worker faces an "epidemic" of overwork and stress, has no time for family or personal interests, lacks long-term financial security, and suffers uncertainty wrought by corporate and technological change. Although Scott Adams has made light of these problems with his Dilbert cartoon strip, he has also given them validity. At the same time, though, others have suggested that these complaints are simply selfish whining. Certainly, Fraser's "sweatshop" is hyperbole, but she does offer a justifying explanation. Regardless, the sheer number of people--across a wide range of industries--eager to tell their tales of woe indicates something is amiss. Fraser interweaves these stories with supporting data and research to document disconcerting levels of malaise in the workplace. David Rouse
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The book suggests that much of the heralded productivity gains of the 1990s were due not to the wonders of technology but to the kind of old-fashioned sweatshop labor practices that Karl Marx might have recognized in an earlier era: unpaid and compulsory overtime, cuts in pension and health benefits, homework, speed-up, etc. Fraser cites numerous sources and statistics to show that the era of the paternalistic corporation that thrived from the 1950s to the 1970s has given way to today's unsentimental corporation that values only the bottom line and regularly uses fear as a motivating factor.
However, Fraser challenges the idea that fear is a good motivator and that management failures should always be corrected by squeezing the rank and file. She cites figures showing that most companies that have suffered massive layoffs do NOT enjoy better stock market performances than other firms. Her oftentimes moving correspondence with the human casualties of this corporate callousness suggests that this is because the surviving employees become demoralized. They have learned that the rewards for their hard work may never materialize. Their teamwork suffers when workers are taught to become self-reliant but protective "free agents" of their own careers, and the tendency to self-identify with the success of the company has practically been destroyed.
Fraser also highlights the blatant and unconscionable lack of consistency in the executive suites to the call for shared pain among the workers. "Chainsaw" Al Dunlop, Jack Welch and Michael Eisner are a few of the CEOs who are criticized for accepting lavish pay-outs when their respective corporations were supposedly enduring hard times.
Fraser concludes the book with some optimism and proposes a number of suggestions that could help end sweatshop conditions, such as: caps on CEO pay, limits on the use of contingent labor, increased use of employee stock ownership plans, better benefits, and so on. Unfortunately, many of Fraser's ideas depend on their support from enlightened executives and consequently may be of little use. But with the wave of corporate scandals that have roiled America since the book's publication in early 2001, it is possible that change may be legislated anyway to help curb the public's disgust and investor mistrust of corporate America.
In the end, Fraser has succeeded in focusing our attention to the fact that the fate of business depends on the well-being of its workers. I believe that "White Collar Sweatshop" should be read by CEOs, legislators and disaffected workers alike if we are to avoid doing further damage to our lives and our economy. Highly recommended.
I find it to be a major failing of the book that the author did not explore the ignorance of U.S. labor history exhibited by the various knowledge workers that she interviewed. Though the author did acknowledge that the ascendancy of the labor movement in the few decades after WWII positively impacted white collar working conditions, it was hardly noted the period was an aberration in the long history of generally hostile labor-management relations.
The blissfully ignorant organization man of the fifties has had the rug pulled out from under him by the rise of Wall St, investment bankers, globalization - the entire neo-liberal project. The short term rise of stock prices aided considerably by squeezing and eliminating workers has become the focus of corporate managements. The paternalistic organizations of the fifties were only too happy to increase salaries, benefits, and pensions when they ruled the post WWII world. Now the lament of reduced financial rewards is certification that today's knowledge workers have no idea of just how little standing they have in large corporations. Company spokespersons channel any discussions of negative repercussions to workers from management decisions as necessitated by competitive pressures.
The author's suggestions for improvement of the situation are quite hollow. The first suggestion for individuals to stand up to the corporate giant is surely a course of self-sacrifice. She accepts that white-collar workers don't like unions without addressing the issue of employee power. Legislated European-style works councils are not mentioned. The political behavior of knowledge workers is not mentioned at all. Is there a connection to supporting the Repubs and workplace conditions? The author feels the pain of workers subjected to sweatshop conditions, but for a veteran of business affairs that is clearly insufficient. I expected far more.