One of the biggest misconceptions in management and politics is the idea that careers, good earnings and self-esteem only matter to high-flying graduates and the ambitious upper-middle class. One of the most heartening lessons I’ve learned in recent years has been the example of enlightened employers bringing better wages and careers prospects to people such as cleaners, security guards, gardeners and workers in clothing factories.
There are, however, two major obstacles to spreading this amazing and enlightening example. One is right-wing politics. The other is left-wing politics.
The misanthropic nonsense that has emerged from neo-liberals in the past half a century is a major contributory factor, with their absurd notions of people as ‘human resources’, or ‘cost units’. Outsourcing decisions have been based on the notion that it’s rational to transfer a service across the world to where the wage rates are x per cent lower. This is simplistic and risky from a pure business point of view, never mind the ethics.
But it’s also worth exploring the contribution of liberals in the arts, in maintaining the idea that an unfashionable job in a factory or shop or office is type of prison from which one ought to escape. I explore these ideas in Meet the New Boss.
Worse still, left-wing politicians, instead of challenging the exploitative neo-liberal business model, lend ideological backing. The recent fire in a clothing factory in Bangladesh was proof, left-wing bloggers thundered, that ‘capitalism’ puts profits ahead of welfare and safety. The fact that you can make more profits by treating workers well is something that the reactionary forces of the left and the right want to keep hidden from us.
As we describe in New Normal, Radical Shift, Marks & Spencer actually improved their margins when they moved to a living wage policy in Bangladesh.
Ed Miliband, UK Labour leader, has recently spoken in favour of a living wage policy, which is a mighty step forward. Unfortunately, he does not consistently believe in the business case. Just a few months ago, he predicted that people would be fired all over the place ‘if their employer didn’t like them’, should labour regulations be lessened even slightly; and he seems to think that businesses have to be bribed with tax cuts in order to implement the living wage.
A truly progressive policy would make living wages and enlightened leadership in the public and private sector the centrepiece of economic and business policy, as well as social policy. There is no benefit to low wages and miserable working conditions. NONE AT ALL. It has all been a terrible mistake, sustained by right-wing and left-wing political beliefs.
Excerpt from New Normal, Radical Shift:
Centuries of Marxists and neo-liberals claiming that exploitation is the way to boost margins, encourages the worst types of managerial style to be deployed. Employee relations can descend into a self-fulfilling, vicious cycle of mutual fear and threat, with management and unions seeing themselves as being on opposite sides of a conflict, each keen to get their retaliation in first. This unhealthy dynamic was the principal cause of the collapse of entire industries in some western countries in the 1970s and 1980s, and was largely self-fulfilling, based on inaccurate and cynical political philosophies.