March 2001

Brave new working life

Employees have to work harder to maintain their standard of living. Professor Juha Siltala from the University of Helsinki describes this as "re-proletariatisation" of workers.

In an interview in the national daily, Helsingin Sanomat (11 March 2001), Siltala — who is described as 'psycho-historian' — says that at the beginning of the 20th century, the workers' movement wanted employees to have eight hours for themselves after work.

"Now, in the new system, employees — or at least key persons — are required to completely commit themselves to the company and its values. They have to be available around the clock."

Whilst working hours were getting shorter until the 70s, in the 80s and 90s they have been getting longer. Siltala thinks that companies and organisations are depriving employees of their privacy and free time and offering them instead an artificial community and a substitute family.

"Merely doing one's work is not enough. One has to prove one's commitment by being there in a sociable way. Everyone has to be a champion of team work and always capable of doing better.

"I am really worried that the aim is to create a completely new kind of human being who has the stamina to be with everyone, everywhere. This enthusiasm for corporate spirit and testing one's values works against citizens' freedom."

Siltala says that capitalism praises individualism but forces employees to think alike. In the old days there was a dividing line between private life and work. In the conditions of a "flexible" labour market the difference is becoming blurred.

"Human beings are deprived of freedom, their own sphere and the possibility of peace and time to think. Then they are lectured that workers' and shareholders' interests are identical. We are all supposedly in the same boat and we are all really enjoying ourselves together. There is no need to long for anything else."

In the same article, another 'psycho-historian', Jukka Relander from the University of Helsinki, says that the employee's whole personality has been co-opted for working purposes.

"On the other hand, even while the whole personality is required, strong personalities are not wanted."

Relander thinks that what is typical of today's society, is also typical of employers: the fear of conflict. Work places promote a culture of mutual pleasing. In this atmosphere, employers are introducing various kinds of tests to monitor their employees. Relander sees this as a way to keep employees compliant. Negative feelings are being discouraged. Critical thinking disappears.

One motive for testing is to make sure that staff are free of drug use. Relander sees this as a clever way of finding a common enemy, as no one will be defending the use of drugs. Everybody is thus a member of family where conflicts have been externalised. This ideal of healthy, sober and energetic employee comes from the United States, the article concludes.

See also:

How to survive work

9 March 2001

Culture as source of well-being

8 March 2001

Government accused of jobs flop

21 February 2001

Finnish working life

14 February 2001

EU employees working harder

3 February 2001

Short term job contracts criticised

29 January 2001

Temporary jobs on the rise

18 January 2001

What makes people hate work?

5 December 2000

Farewell to full employment

20 September 2000

“Would inefficiency create more happiness?”

1 June 2000

Work: How about enjoying life?

12 March 2000

The decline of the 'employment society'

January 1999

Why a Citizen's Income should be combined with a Citizen's Wage

November 1998

Shorter working hours – solution for the future?

November 1998

The end of work or the end of wage slavery?

June 1998

Citizen's Income model

June 1998

6+6 hour model

June 1998

A social welfare state which encourages job creation

June 1998

Archbishop of Finland supports Citizen’s Income

June 1998

Scenarios to predict the future

July 1997

On the way to knowledge society

July 1997

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