09 March 2009
The Workplace: All Against All
The government reports a record number of workplace bias claims as employees scramble to save themselves from waves of layoffs. More people claim that they are being cast off without justification. The numbers are up in all categories of bias claim, including race and sex, but the biggest growth has been in complaints against age discrimination and "retaliation," which presumably means people getting laid off because others have grudges against them. That last category probably includes a lot of young, healthy white males, the group otherwise least likely to have cause for complaint. Discontent is inevitable, since the only absolutely fair way of reducing a workforce, by lot, goes against the business imperative to maintain efficiency. Those who have the power to lay off others have to do so pragmatically, but an employer's standard of pragmatism will differ from that of an employee, who has his own survival to consider rather than the company's. This is probably a time when Republicans would be right to say that we can't legislate fairness. As long as companies must lay off people, people are going to get laid off who don't think they should. Government's business is what should be done with the surplus manpower, and its solution is stimulus hiring. Republicans complain about this, as if they think the unemployed should tighten their belts indefinitely until some entrepreneurial genius, sufficiently inspired by tax cuts, comes up with a brilliant idea -- and ideally until they learn better than to make uppity claims about wages, health care, etc. Meanwhile, bias claims hint at a workforce at each other's throats, fighting to cling to the lifeboats, without considering whether the system might really be biased against the working class as a whole.