Sunday, 18 June 2017

Classism and Employment Contracts

The leadership in the UK blindly trundles on believing that there is nothing in the British capitalistic system that would cause a person to pursue an action against the state (i.e. terrorism). I argue that this is blindness to the very structure and organisation of the capitalist system. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) saw that the civil rights movement had achieved changes in race relationships but the underlying issues of racism, materialism, and militarism remained. The struggle had to continue for the poor of any race and for poor nations. This struggle must continue since colonialism, classism, materialism, and militarism are not dead. They continue to drive our society in subtle ways and are engrained in many of our attitudes.

What I believe King was seeing is the impact of a framing story, a story that we live by. Our framing stories do not change overnight or simply because there is a law change. A framing story requires conceptual change. A change in the way we think and the assumptions that we use on a daily basis. The old colonies may have been given their independence but if we are continuing to try a dictate how they develop then we still have a colonial attitude. The class system may be dismantled but if we endeavour to keep someone in a particular state of employment then we still have classism.

I see the problems of framing stories on a daily basis. They come across in the way news is presented and in the reactions to disasters or acts of violence but they also come across in daily workplace interactions. This became clear again to me through the process of discussing workloads and contractual status for the next academic year. What do I mean?

I have touched on the ideas of economic slavery in previous posts (21 February 201523April 2017, 14 May 2017). In those, I have argued that the type of work or the employment position dictates someone's status in the economic order. However, I want to take this idea further in this post. I am going to contend that employment contracts can and are used as a way of keeping people in their place. It was clear in discussions that I have had this week that what my employment contract says is more important than what I am capable of doing or even might be interested in doing. The discussion wasn't simply about my work for the next academic year, it was also about the lack of prospects for those on similar contracts. I was left in no doubt that those on contracts like mine should not expect to do anything else but be a teaching slave (my terminology) and they should accept that as the basis of their employment contract.

This isn't about promotion since promotion is possible within my contract. This is about the nature of the work and the expectations that people on my type of contract should have. It assumes that a person accepting my type of contract, accepted it because all they wanted to do was teach and not to explore the subject or how to communicate the subject. Most of those that I have talked to took the contract because they wanted to pursue an academic career. Many like myself found it difficult to obtain lecturer status because they didn't yet have the research background or because their field of research isn't widely supported or encouraged, or there were family reasons for not moving from their current location. Mobility is assumed when it comes to career paths but mobility isn't always possible.

Having grown up in a society where stepping outside the bounds of contractual agreements was encouraged and working to change things for the better was fostered, this attitude of contractual containment irritates and frustrates. What I see in contractual enforcement is simply another form of classism. The original class structure seemed to be about who your parents were or the class into which you were born (I still see this existing even in more liberal societies). This modern form of classism seems to be about what your employment contract is or says. There is no understanding of individual potential (25 March 2017) and definitely no encouragement to pursue creativity outside the limited sphere of your contract.

As the civil rights movement saw changes in the law to end segregation and to achieve voter registration for all, they also saw an increase in riots primarily initiated by the poor or disadvantaged. This I believe is what we see now with the acts of violence in our society. Some who feel trapped in the system of poverty or employment contracts or conformity to western capitalistic attitudes find their escape through attacking the very culture that makes them feel trapped. The riots of the 1960s tended to be against property but what we are seeing in the current wave of violence is that it is against people. Maybe this says something about the current feelings of entrapment within the system. The poverty or lack of status isn't about ownership or access to ownership (i.e. property or possessions). It is about the way they are treated or respected. An employment contract or the enforcement of an employment contract can be a catalyst for feeling mistreated and disrespected. It can be a way of keeping a person in their place. The difficulty is that this attitude is implicit in the way they are enforced and upheld and many who express this attitude do not realise what they are saying to those who feel entrapped by the contract and system.

One place where we can start to address this particular issue is through the focus of education and shifting the focus to enabling potential and away from employability but this same attitude can apply to employment contracts. A employment contract can seen as tool to keep someone in their place, just as the class system did, or we can see the employment contract as giving space to develop and grow according to a person's potential. This is about respecting the individual for who they are and not simply treating them as part of the system.


King Jr., M. L. (1968). Where do we go from here: Chaos or community? Boston: Beacon Press.

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