A On the shop floor, wherever you are Scott Van Osdol BOOKS & THE CULTURE A Mind of One’s Own The Chains of “Professional” Employment BY CHRIS GARLOCK DISCIPLINED MINDS: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes Their Lives. By Jeff Schmidt. Rowman & Littlefield. 293 pages. $26.95. This book is stolen.” Jeff Schmidt’s provocative opening to his book cost him his job: the ink was barely dry on the pages when Schmidt’s employer called him in and summarily dismissed him, barely giving him enough time to pack his personal effects. Schmidt’s offense was his forthright admission that Disciplined Minds had been written in part on time “stolen” from his employer. “I felt I had no choice but to do it that way,” Schmidt writes in his introduction. “Like millions of others who work for a living, I was giving most of my prime time to my employer…. No one was about to hire me to pursue my own vision, especially given my irreverent attitude towards employers.” So Schmidt started spending office time writing Disciplined Minds, a book, appropriately, about “professionals, their role in society and the hidden battle over personal identity that rages in professional education and employment.” The great strength and weakness of Disciplined Minds is that it reads like a book written largely on the job: an uncomfortable see-sawing between constant glancing-over-the-shoulder nervousness and a powerful undercurrent of anger and bravado. Like the burned-out coworker who can’t seem to help telling you way more than you ever wanted to know about the latest injustice from the Head Office, Schmidt has gotten hold of a very real problem, and refuses to turn loose until he’s laid it out in excruciating detail. Judging by the reaction so far \(see sidebar, “Work is bull’s-eye. But there’s also some fairly convincing evidence out there to suggest that larger social forces may well be stirring. Stockbrokers are doing it. So are lawyers, rocket scientists, and doctors. Joining unions, that is. Maybe not in huge numbers yet, but then the battles in the streets of Flint began years earlier in small shops, as workers began organizing to regain control of their lives on the job. This looming struggle between workers and bosses which will play out this time in carpeted offices amid the silent hum of air-conditioning differs only in degree from the bloody strikes, lock-outs, and sit-ins of the last great battles over the American workplace back in. the Thirties. At the same time that blue-collar workers are once more taking to the nation’s streets janitors have blocked traffic in major cities across the nation this year in their increasingly successful quest for justice many of America’s 21 million professionals are beginning to reject the trade-off of a comfortable salary and a cushy desk job for mind-numbing meaningless work. What’s going on? Unions have been a shrinking percentage of the workforce for decades now, victims of their own success, as union members ascended to the American middle class and all the middle-management ethos that implies. Problem is, the house, the car, and the summer vacation isn’t enough any more. Never was, in fact. The battles in Flint \(and elsewhere, of course; Flint serves here as a more about workplace control issues line speed and the right to organize, for example as they were about wages and hours. “The hidden root of much career dissatisfaction is the professional’s lack of control over the ‘political’ component of his or her creative work,” argues Schmidt. Today’s professionals, far from being independent, creative “partners,” turn out to be just as much cogs in the machine as the blue-collar guy tightening bolts eight soul-numbing hours a day on the assembly line . To update the metaphor, perhaps a more accurate description of the professional is as micro-processor, buried deep and invisibly in the computer innards, forever relaying instructions. “Professionals sell to their employers more than their ordinary labor power, their ability to carry out instructions,” writes Schmidt. “They also sell their ideological labor power, their ability to ex SEPTEMBER 22, 2000 20 THE TEXAS OBSERVER
You May Also Like
The documentary in Falfurrias is sinister and spiritual.