A strange paradox – can NZ workers really be happy with this crap?

Posted: December 20, 2013 by Admin in Alienation, At the coalface, Capitalist ideology, Class Matters, Economics, New Zealand economy, Poverty & Inequality, Unions - NZ, Workers' rights, Workers' strikes, Workplace injuries and deaths, Youth rights

miserable-workersby Phil Duncan

The latest Morgan Research findings on workers’ job satisfaction, published yesterday, found that 77% of New Zealand workers are satisfied or very satisfied in their jobs.  51% rated their pay as good.  According to this research people’s job satisfaction seemed more closely related to being praised for their work than getting pay rises.  The research covered 7,620 New Zealanders 14 years and older.

Yet on December 4, a NZ Herald on-line poll, involving 13,700 respondents, indicated that 57% had received either no pay rise or had their pay cut over the previous 12 months.  34% indicated their pay had risen a little bit and just 9% that it had risen markedly.

Isn’t there a big contradiction here?  Stagnant and falling pay for 57% of workers in one poll while research on a much smaller sample suggests 77% are happy in their jobs.

There are several possible, and possibly overlapping, explanations for this.

Heading across the ditch is an option that people dissatisfied with jobs and pay have.  And, in the past two years alone, about 96,000 people have left New Zealand for Australia.  That’s a big bundle of dissatisfaction solved by emigration.  (And, of course, thousands of other New Zealanders migrated elsewhere.)

Another is that the Morgan Research included people as young as 14, whereas teenagers are a lot less likely to have responded on-line to a Herald poll.  Moreover, almost any first job carries a honeymoon period, some exciting sense of being an important part of a larger entity with a new social circle.  And, for many teenagers, especially if they’re still at school, pay may be low by adult standards but it is either mostly or all discretionary spending.  So if the survey starts at 14, you are getting a proportion of children encountering a fun new experience, providing more discretionary spending money than they’ve ever had.

A third explanation could be that workers’ horizons have been so successfully lowered over the last couple of decades that simply having a job and enough pay to just about manage to make ends meet is regarded positively.  Especially when unemployment and underemployment remain rife.

The current historically low levels of industrial action and union density would tend to back this up.  Even the comparatively high level of workplace accidents and deaths (compared to, say, Australia and Britain) don’t rouse much ire from workers.

My guess is also that when confronted by researchers many employees don’t want to look foolish by admitting they have stuck with jobs they aren’t happy in, so tend to say they’re happier than they are.

While I wish Morgan Research got out a bit more – I work in a very large workplace where hardly anyone is happy – I think their findings are the result of a combination of the four factors listed above.  The most serious of these is workers’ lowered expectations and horizons.  As long as the capitalist ideology of “This is as good as it gets – and there is no alternative” – prevails, workers are likely to continue to just settle.

A new culture of raised expectations is urgently required.  But here we’re in a chicken and egg situation.  For workers to develop higher horizons, there has to be a certain level of struggle develop.  But how can such struggle develop if workers don’t lift their expectations, if they continue to just settle for the crap that is, rather than believe they should – and can! – have better?

  1. Don Franks says:

    The Child Poverty Monitor report, released yesterday by Children’s Commissioner Russell Wills, shows a quarter of New Zealand children were under the standard 60 per cent income poverty line and, of those, 10 per cent were in severe and persistent poverty.

    “Child poverty” is a crap copout bosses spin to disguise working class poverty.
    Even so, the ruling elite’s own figures shows low paid worker living standards in dire straits.

    So why not more fuss?

    My working life has been spent holding down several very low paid jobs.
    Over 40 years, antisocial hours for minimum wage or just a few cents an hour above.
    If some busybody had come down to my job and asked me about how it was, (they did never do) my response would have depended on what hat I had on that day.

    If I was in conscious agitator mode I would say man everything is terrible, write that down.

    More likely, I would say, things are not so bad, I’m doing ok.
    People have their pride, we don’t like to say I have a shit job and a shit life.

    My father’s generation was trained to put up with stuff and my generation inherited some of that.
    We were taught not to whine. We also know that we are a long way from the bottom.

    No statistics can see all the picture. The black economy provides a way for many of us to make an ok life. Noone will ever be in a position to do the sums about it, but the black economy is an essential social grease, I think more than employment safety valve of Australia,

    These days, with hardly any unions left worthy of the name, atomised workers don’t see a collective way to hit back. So we make the best of it and carry on.
    Not saying our response is what history requires of us, but when I think about it, the Morgan research finding does not really surprise me.

    Not will it surprise me when collective worker’s struggle asserts itself in the future.

    Given time, shit produces gas and gas denied nice proper outlet will burst any boiler.

  2. Susanne K says:

    Nice images Don; let’s hope there is a load of gas building up here!


  3. Peter says:

    It is quite possible that people genuinely believe they have an OK job, that things are going alright. I’m not sure if you have delved into the philosophy of Herbert Marcuse (not a favourite amoung orthodox Marxists, and not the only one to explore these ideas), but his work seems relevant here.

    The results of this survey seem to be a clear sign of the ability of the capitalist system to integrate the working class quite happily into its being, through the oppressive power of ‘technological rationality’ and the promotion of ‘false needs’. The mechanisms of power (eg ‘rational’ thinking, perverted legal code, mass media, bourgeois political institutions, etc) maintain, without overt violence (though violence can come in many forms), a false consciousness that becomes increasingly difficult to break as industrial society develops.

    “The means of communication, the irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers to the producers and, through the latter to the whole social system. The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood…Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior.”

    ““One-dimensional thought is systematically promoted by the makers of politics and their purveyors of mass information. Their universe of discourse is populated by self-validating hypotheses which, incessantly and monopolistically repeated, become hyponotic definitions of dictations.”

    Many people probably are satisfied with their work, in that limited, soul-destroying manner permitted to them. But just because they are well entrenched in their false consciousness does not mean the system is morally valid. It does however signal to those of us who would see the system overthrown, that the strategy to do so must recognise the overwhelming strength and success (thus far) of the mechanisms of power.

  4. PhilF says:

    Marcuse’s ideas were interesting, but keep in mind he was writing about the period of the postwar boom, a period when living stanards were rising, so working class acquiescence was understandable. Capitalism seemed to be working.

    But now, we’ve had about 40 years of stop-start, slump, artificial boom, slump, new artificial boom, more slump etc – we’ve not had anything that compares with the postwar boom. So workers’ acquiescence now is acquiescence in a period of protracted slump conditions, a time in which it would be reasonable to expect more working class resistance than in the 1950s and 1960s.

    Having said that, we certainly have a binding of consumers to products and obsession with new gadgets that seem to keep people tied into the system. I suppose in a country like NZ there is also a certain wiggle-room, due to the ‘black economy’ and also state benefits and the fact that there is still a welfare state to quite a significant extent, despite the cuts and reforms.

    However, I think the single most important factor is that the Establishment has (so far) succeeded in lowering workers’ horizons. So many people these days don’t expect a helluva lot and don’t see an alternative.


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