Chapter 6: Occupational Dismantling and Commodification
INTRODUCTION In the Global Transformation, one sub-plot has scarcely been noticed. Initially, the neoliberals targeted regulations protecting employees through labour law, unions and collective bargaining. They successfully demonized unions as interfering with flexible labour markets. But once collective bargaining had shrivelled, progressives did not wake up to the new target, perhaps because those being attacked hardly counted as proletarians or ‘one of us’. The neo-liberals went after the professions, demanding they dismantle nonmarket practices and their communities and privileges. One barrier to labour commodification was the system of occupations. They can control the pace and intensity of work, set standards of efficiency and quality, codes of conduct and patterns of social responsibility towards clients, colleagues and friends. In the course of a transformation, once proud crafts or occupations lose status and autonomy while others emerge. But the dictates of a market society jeopardize occupational work in general. No occupational community has had an ideal structure consisting of equals indulging in deliberative democratic decision-making, with openly shared knowledge and an ability to monitor and limit opportunism, internal oppression and hierarchy. All tend towards oppressive inequalities that have to be combated from inside and outside their community. But they have acted to resist commodification. In their own way, occupations build up an ethos of dignified behaviour that places social values above opportunistic money-making. They build an ethical code, usually over generations. It involves a sense of trust, with ‘gentlemanly’, convivial values that place the occupation’s long-term interests high on the set of...
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