Workers in capitalism
Workers in capitalism
According to James W. Rinehart in The tyranny of Work: Alienation and the Labour Process, work is a primary activity for human beings that differentiates human from other forms of life and today adults spend at least one-third of their waking hours on the job, which has great impact on personality of those who perform it (Rinehart 171). Quoting from Russell, there are two kinds of work according to professor Conlin. First type of work is the one where you alter the position of matter, which is unpleasant, ill-paid and dangerous. Second type of work involved you telling others to move matter, which is pleasant, well paid and safe. Although I never had a privilege to perform the second type of work, I had a chance to experience the first type of work at Mac Donald’s. As Russell said, first type of work, which I experienced was definitely unpleasant, ill-paid and dangerous. I worked under unpleasant working condition with no benefits, constantly forced work more than five days a week, including the weekends.
My job at Mac Donald involved basically everything, from cashier to cooking to cleaning. At first, I felt sense of pride because I was able to perform many different tasks at any given situation. However it turned out that I was spending too much time at work. Since I was able to perform many jobs, management constantly forced me to work more days with less or no break and even on holidays. I was making government regulated minimum wage of some where between six to seven dollars per hour. When I got home from work, I would be so tired that I was not able to do anything but to recover for the next day of work. Also I started to fall behind in school and I spent less time with my friends and family. Work at Mac Donald’s became a large portion of life and it started to penetrate into my personal life.
According to Rinehart, “What people do during work hours often penetrate to the core of their personalities. Work became an activity that takes large portion of time that spills over into non-work spheres of life.” (Rinehart 171). However I could not quit because of that “sweet” pay cheque that I got every two weeks. Then I realized that I was deeply involved and a part of Capitalism. The purpose of this paper is to relate my working experience at Mac Donald’s to Rinehart’s argument in respect to relationship between work and alienation. According to Rinehart, who quoted Karl Marx, there are four type of alienation. A condition in which workers are alienated from the product they create, a condition in which workers are alienated from work process, a condition in which workers are alienated from themselves and finally, a condition in which workers are alienated from others. These four types of alienation will be further analyze and related as I disclose my working experience at Mac Donald’s.
First type of alienation is a condition in which workers are alienated from the products they create. This was extremely true in relation to my experience at Mac Donald’s. Everything that I was producing was coordinated by management, owner and Mac Donald’s, since it is a franchise. A machine dumped certain amount of fries into basket, which was placed into a fryer that had a timer. Burgers were cooked on a grill that had timer. Certain amounts of sauces were dispensed from a saucer machine and certain amounts of drinks were poured into cups by machines. Every process in preparing a meal was done through machines. The quality, contents and quantity was not determined by those whose labour is responsible for preparing a meal because the ends of capitalist production are not defined by the needs and interest of workers but by employers’ needs to generate profits and expand capital (Rinehart 177). Even though I was earning income through the process I could not feel sense of pride and accomplishment.
Another alienation that Rinehart discusses is a condition in which workers are alienated from the work process. Workers are cede their ability for determine the intensity and duration of work, to define the manner in which work is organized, divided and allocated and to determine the tools and machines used in the production process (Rinehart 178). It is obvious that I had no control over my work process in Mac Donald’s. As mentioned earlier, everything had to follow certain process in preparing a meal for a customer. Even the process of serving had to follow an order. A drink had to be served, and then I take money from customer, then a burger was served followed by fries.
Because I had to follow these steps in serving I received complains from customer about their food being serve too slow. It was not my choice to serve the way I did, I was instructed by management. The work at Mac Donald’s gave me no room for creativity. According to Rinehart, quoting Marx, work is an activity in which people can clearly manifest their unique qualities as human beings and a medium for self-expression and self-development (Rinehart 178). But in fact I was separated from my own creativity and expression at work. All the work processes were routinized and work became not a creative activity but an earning activity in order to survive.
Finally, last type of alienation deals with the relationship of individuals to one another (Rinehart 178). The owner of Mac Donald never showed during the day. But just before store close he would come into the store to talk to the management about the day’s profit. He was not standing in front of a hot fryer or grill. He was not standing in front of cashier taking orders from customers, where as I did not get a minute to catch my breath. But at the end of the day he was the only one going to home with loaded bank account. I also realized that this is not a problem in just one Mac Donald’s. Problems like this are occurring everywhere the label capitalism exist. Capitalism is the name of the economic system that dominates the world today (Heilbroner 3). Individuals invest money into capitals to multiply their wealth and one who possesses wealth is usually a person who enjoys esteem and who wields power in the market place (Heilbroner 29).
In addition, the situation for my manager who has worked since the opening of the store was not so much different from mine. He had no where to move up, has been doing the same thing for years, and only made few dollars more than I did. He worked five to six times a week and often called into fill in for someone else. He was never home on the weekends or even holidays, thus, he had no social life. As an individual he was a kind person but when it comes to work he was very stubborn. This is a form of alienation that Rinehart address and quotes;People who occupy dominant and subordinate positions at the workplace alienated from each other. Their relationship is an antagonistic one and is based purely on pecuniary consideration. This asymmetry of workplace relationship creates the foundation for a class structure that entails sharp differences in power, privilege and life chances and that inhibits social intercourse across class lines (Rinehart 178).
The owner, who only came to collect his daily profit and the manager, who only made few dollars more than me, were alienated from each other based on occupation and position in the workplace. I had never talk to the owner and for owner I was another high school kid who could be replaced at any moment because hundred other guys like me who wants work just as hard as I did. This alienation in workplace created a class system within one little Mac Donald. The source of alienation was social structure rather than in individual personalities; its causes are social rather than psychological (Rinehart 179).
Going back to the purpose of this paper, how are these four types of alienation discussed by Rinehart and Marx manifested at Mac Donald’s? I did not need high school diploma or university degree to work as a cashier and cooker at Mac Donald’s. Also since I was replaceable at any moment and considered not as a person but as a employee number and a kid who sells his labour for minimum wage, the owner and the management treated me as they wish. This is how alienation is manifested, even in such a small local Mac Donald’s, and this is where the true nature of capitalism prevailed. For the working class and the lower class capitalism is always a downhill, as time goes on your moving closer to the bottom of the society. It is definitely a perfect example of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. I have to strongly agree with Rinehart in respect to capitalism and alienation of labour because through my job experience I was able to witness everything Rinehart had expressed.
Rinehart points out three sources of alienation; concentration of the means of production in the hands of a small but dominant class, markets in land, labour and commodities and an elaborate division of labour. It is obvious to see that I experience at Mac Donald’s clearly show all three sources of alienation. I did not have the sophisticated machines to produce tasty burgers and fries. I did not own a building to sell my burgers even if I was capable of making better burgers than Mac Donald’s. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, every work process was precisely and scientifically calculated and measured by management. I was only carrying out tasks that were told by people from above. Work had become a repetitive and mindless and narrowly limited the development of my human capacities (Rinehart 181). However on the other side, there are scholars like Daniel Bell and Edward P. Thompson who disagrees with Rinehart and argues that capitalism is the only way human can increase standard of living.
Bell argues discretionary income is a good thing. Income above that necessary for the fulfillment of basic needs allowed individuals to choose many varied items to exemplify different consumption styles (Bell 155). My question is why should the few dominant class be able to enjoy high level of income where the majority, who work hard everyday be left with a few dollars just enough to put food on the table every night and just enough for basic survival. Our modern capitalist world evolves around money and our social relationship is based on exchange of money. Capitalism is forcing the world to be structured on the factor that skills and experience have little or no recognition compared to wealth and power. Initial principle of capitalism was to emancipate peasants from feudal obligations. However capitalism is forcing working in labour market, where they are exploited by capitalists and turned into machines that listens and obey to our bosses, who contribute a very small portion of what they make for telling us what to do.
Work can offer a sense of accomplishment or meaninglessness; it can be a source of pride or shame (Rinehart 171). In my experience I inherited the shame and the owner who comes once a day to collect inherited the pride. How can a system which provides a hard working individual with shame be the best economical system for workers? Thompson argues that the working class chose to be in the position where they are. Also he says that they system (Capitalism) require large portion of workers that converted into simple machines, ignorant, degraded, and brutal human beings (Thompson 127).
But problem is that working class never had a choice to choose between worker and capitalist to begin with. Is this phenomenon inevitable in modern capitalist society? There are government approaches and labour union movements to give workers not all but some sort of advantage over their work processes. However I never had a privilege to enjoy the help of union when I worked at almighty Mac Donald’s. And although some people assume that union is a pain in society, it is definitely a necessary evil for workers feel sense of pride in their work and protect their right in workplace.
-Bell, Daniel. The cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. Basic Books. 1976-Heilbroner, Robert. Twenty-First Century Capitalism. House of Anansi Press Inc. Toronto: 1992.
-Rinehart, W. James. The Tyranny of Work: Alienation and the Labour Process. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1987.
-Thompson, P. Edward. Making of the English Working Class. Penguin Books. Canada: 1968.