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Summer 2006

Workers and Managers

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David Mamet

I had despaired, these past five years, of that entity I described to myself as "The American People." This people, to my mind, had elected, re-elected, and suffered the depredations of an unprincipled, ungovernable band of thugs.

These had cheapened the dollar, enrolled us in an absurd war, alienated immemorial allies, abrogated rational treaties, drowned the country in debt, and knew neither remorse nor obligation.

How, I wondered, could "The American People" abide this monstrous perversion by the few of the laws and comforts established for all?

These ruminations took place in my accustomed solitude. I am a writer, and spend the whole of almost every working day sitting alone and brooding.

Last week I got out of the office.

The best entertainment I know is a film set, and once in a while I am privileged to leave my hermetic environment and work with others.

Film workers are the salt of the earth. They work very hard, and have a great pride in their workmanship—the industrial norm is to do the job quickly, correctly, and with spirit and humor, in a manner reflecting honor not only upon the individual's performance, but upon his particular craft: lighting, designing, props, makeup, and so on.

After a day on the set, I recognized that I had been thinking of "The American People" in the unhappy abstract—I had unconsciously cast them as something foreign, other-than-myself. The film set reminded me that the actual people of whom I despaired were those same workers I'd known all my life, and of whose life and community I'd always been a part until I became a solitary writer.

These people, the film workers, cabdrivers, merchant mariners, factory workers, union workers, were the American People I'd always known and loved—smart, funny, responsible, honorable, and creative. They were and are the people I came from, and for whom I'd always written.

To the half of our people who voted for Bush, I would like to say this:

I am confused by politics. I, perhaps like you, am capable of being both enthused and seduced by slogans. In a contest whose essence is divisiveness, I, like you, will find entertainment in taking sides.

I believe the Democrats and Republicans are, as individuals, generally people of good will, and, as groups, capable of many and varied enormities.

Each side has some truth and some utility in its position; and it's probably a good idea that the country tires periodically of one side's operations, and replaces it with an inefficiency of a different complexion.

I do not think either side or any individual has a monopoly on truth.

I believe that Bush and the members of his clique must go.

My party, the Democratic Party, has done little beyond sputtering these last six years; and I expect, sadly, little better from them in the days to come. So I make this appeal to the Republicans—not as a Democrat, but as a fellow worker.

The triumph of Orange County/ Reagan Republicanism has been in convincing the working people to vote against their own best interest.

The Democrats have been, traditionally, the party of labor, and, as such, that necessary force which kept the party of capital in check.

Our country is now largely de-industrialized. In the waning days of the industrial state, big business—which is to say, the Republicans—broke the labor movement by threatening to take jobs elsewhere, should the unions continue to demand legitimate wages.

The Republican Party turned the workers, the vast bulk of Americans, against labor, and in so doing they divided and conquered. Big business gladly accepted the gifts the now-nonunionized worker gave them, and, when the American worker could give no more, big business took the jobs out of the country, which they had intended all along.

To my Republican friends and fellow workers, I suggest this:

If you look on the actions of the Bush administration not as those of politicians, but as those of management, you will recognize them instantly for what they are.

Management will use any tool necessary to extract more labor from its workers.

Management always attempts to pit the massed power of capital against the supposedly powerless individual.

Management always wants to oppose or break the union, for the union is the only flimsy shield between the worker and that which I do not believe I over-characterize as wage-slavery.

Management will coo: "You don't need a union, we will treat you better than any union—give us your pension funds; invest in our company." Which is what Bush has attempted in his fraudulent grab at Social Security. But we, as workers, know that if and when we give management our pensions, it is damn near inevitable that they will plunder the pension, and/or go broke, and leave the long-serving worker with nothing. (It is an anomaly of American law that the corporation has all of the rights but none of the responsibilities of the individual: the corporation may go broke, and the management which made the decisions leading to bankruptcy may—short of and often including absolute larceny—go free.)

Management will always outsource if possible, for this lowers costs. Lower costs may be turned into corporate profits (in which the workers do not participate), and thus into increased management salaries and perks (of which the workers cannot even dream).

The Bush Administration is in the process of outsourcing the Armed Forces.

The war in Iraq, an elective adventure of the Bush Administration, is being waged for the Bush Administration's gain.

How can we know? No-bid contracts have been given to these corporations which, in effect, are the Bush Administration.

And while the Bush Administration has curtailed veterans' benefits, it has increased the use of commercial security contractors in Iraq.

This is the ancient ploy of management. If there is free work to be had, it turns to the underpaid worker and asks a favor ("How'd you like to stop by on Sunday and paint my house?"—to the soldier: "How'd you like to do your country a service and go to Iraq?").

When there is money to be made, however, the contract goes not to the obliging worker, but to the boss's nephew (the Halliburton corporation). Management wants to do away with the worker's benefits: lunchroom, infirmary, day-care; and, indeed, the Bush Administration, through the evisceration of OSHA, etcetera, works to give even these few pennies back to management.

Management has no interest in safety. Plant infrastructure is allowed to deteriorate, as capital expenditure will look bad on the balance sheet; so FEMA was shelved, the administration of this gutted agency given as a plum to a Bush crony, and New Orleans was washed away.

And management always wants to turn the workers against each other.

Historically, it pitted the native Protestants against that which it called the Irish Plague ("No Irish Need Apply"); it put white against black, denying African-Americans equal work for equal pay, and, in so doing, lowering the consciousness, the morality, and, correspondingly, the wages of the white worker. Whenever management can pit worker against worker, wages and conditions suffer, for it hides from the worker the identity of his true antagonist: the corporation.

And note that the Bush Administration has succeeded in setting the workers against each other and calling it "family values."

The issues of abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, and so forth are difficult. But I ask you, as fellow workers, to consider this: who benefits from the insistence that these issues be resolved in an atmosphere of antagonism? The management, which has again succeeded in turning the workers against each other.

Now, the issues confronting our country are serious, but they are all resolvable, and resolvable in an atmosphere of cooperation. How do I know? Because I've seen it, and you've seen it, at work.

We have been conditioned to huff and puff ourselves about political questions, and characterize those who disagree as fools—but we may discuss these same questions with our fellow workers, around the water cooler, at lunch, over a drink, and in that discussion we find that, rather than proclaiming our own view, we want to know what the other fellow thinks, and, after listening, may find some possibility of consensus. Why? Because we are looking for consensus. At work we recognize that we are going to have to live with those who disagree, and that therefore there must and will be some accommodation.

We know this at work—why do we forget it in politics?

Because it is in the interest of management to keep the workers divided.

I am not a Marxist. I do not believe that the corporation is, per se, bad. I do not believe that capital is, per se, bad. I believe that the corporation, like any powerful entity, will, unchecked, progress toward tyranny, and that it must be kept in check.

The force which kept it honest was the American labor movement.

The labor movement, like any agglomeration of power, may itself have had and may again have its excesses. We've also seen this on the shop floor.

Management will scream about labor corruption, of course-but I ask you to review the excesses of an unfortunately weak union official against those of his stripe in the boardroom.

The Bush Administration is the American corporation run wild.

Management has broken the union (the union, here, is the electorate), and the workers, as happens periodically, have got to sit down, do the math, and recognize that our health, safety, and finances can only be protected through collective action.

Let's find our mutual interests—we know from our day at work that we have them—keep our eyes on the ball, and look to the bottom line, as do our friends in management. Their methods are not magic. Management relies on the considered application of blunt power against the worker. The union movement was and is only the employment of the exact same tool. It worked before and it will work again.

We, the "muddle-headed Democrats" and the "wrong-headed Repub-licans," have got to stop letting the bosses divide us. It's time to band together (under whatever party or coalition) as the strong, inventive, and honorable people that we are. Now, and in the midterm elections, let's remember that we are not only the workers in this corporation, but the vast majority of its stockholders. Let's review the board's record over the last five years, vote them out, and get back to work.

David Mamet is a playwright, director, novelist, and screenwriter. His scripts include Glengarry Glen Ross and Wag the Dog.

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