Letter: “Corporate America had better watch out!”

I am a departmental director at an east coast service company.   As of recently, I’ve been having some very promising  encounters with co-workers that clearly highlight not only the increasing “stirrings of discontent” within the different layers of the US workforce, but also clearly demonstrate how present economic conditions and Corporate America’s responses to them are indeed awakening class-consciousness.  Before I continue, though, let me preface by saying that the enlightened observations of these particular co-workers and the accompanying discussions would have been impossible to imagine just a few short months ago.

The precipitating event was a recent memo issued by the president of the company where I work.

Just two days before that, I had raised my glass with everyone else at my company’s holiday party to toast the president’s announcement that once again we had had a profitable year.  And two days later, as it had been happening for the past three years, we were all sent confidential memos, citing yet another benefit that we, those who actually made it a profitable year for our company, would soon see reduced.  At Christmas 2008 we watched as our medical benefits were cut back to a bare minimum plan with increased employee contribution.  At Christmas 2009 our 401K match simply vanished.   And Christmas 2010 saw our company-funded pensions discontinued.

The impact of this latest announcement on those of us in middle-management was significant – in more ways than one.   First, of course, there were the practical considerations:  With few exceptions, we were all close to 10 years from retirement and were depending heavily on our pensions as gap coverage for significant 401K losses and questionable social security benefits to see us through.  Also, with years of mortgage payments still ahead and kids in college, many of us could not even begin to fathom the possibility of amassing savings to compensate for this loss.  Second, there was the “insult to injury” aspect as well:  Most of us had dedicated 8-10 years of our lives to making “our” company a successful one, and now, arbitrarily, it had been determined that our pensions — our futures — were not worthy of consideration, even as the company remained profitable.  Years’ worth of uncompensated overtime and innumerable missed family obligations were dismissed in one unilateral gesture.  But there was a third, totally unforeseen consequence of the memo:  The discussions generated by the cutbacks were not mere complaint fests as in years past; they were now centered around a collective mood of “this is the last straw” and included other sectors of the company as well – other sectors who, by all rights, should have been organized long ago, but who never seriously considered it because the workers feared jeopardizing their benefits.  Obviously, this reasoning was rendered totally moot with this latest corporate development!

We are a medium-sized, privately-owned company and have always enjoyed a certain camaraderie among employees, but only to a certain point.  As in most companies our size and larger, regardless of type or legal/financial corporate structure, there is a certain “us vs. them” mentality that seems to permanently overshadow our interactions, reflecting differing senses of entitlement, expectations, and certain biases among departments, as well as between salaried and hourly employees.  What I’ve seen happening, however, is that our recent, closed-door discussions have been taking on a new life.   Members of our operations team and corporate administration have actually been combining their efforts in encouraging company-wide interest in seriously pursuing unionizing, with the support of middle-management!

Corporate America had better watch out!  Through their arrogance, greed and condescension, they are now doing exactly what the labor movement has been unable to do.  They are awakening the class consciousness of middle-management.  They are creating a new wave of solidarity among workers with different skill sets, levels of education, and spheres of responsibility.  In effect, they are bridging the very same gaps within the workforce that they created by their divisive tactics in the first place.  Yes, we still have the “us vs. them” mentality, but the corporate owners are rapidly becoming the new “them”!

And I don’t see this trend reversing anytime soon.  Nothing hits home like having your livelihood pulled out from under you.


C.S. in New Jersey


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