3.90 on the workplace, cont. (116)

Sat, 3 Jun 89 00:03:01 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 90. Saturday, 3 Jun 1989.

Date: Fri, 2 Jun 89 11:13:49 EDT
From: jonathan@eleazar.dartmouth.edu (Jonathan Altman)
Subject: Re: 3.86 research on the workplace (66)

[This direct reply to Fox's note is republished with permission, at
least of the sender. --W.M.]

In response to:
> Date: Thu, 1 Jun 89 09:41:47 EST
> From: Johnfox@RCN
> In looking at these interviews as a unit, I have come to
> be aware that most of the retired and displaced workers tend
> to look to their past work experience as having been
> fulfilling. In interviews they stress how happy they were at
> their job, how rewarding it was, and how well the
> owners/management treated them. When they touched on times
> or events that seem to bring the perception into question,
> they usually found an explanation which did not modify or
> destroy their images. Most of the workers recognized that
> their job had had some undesirable elements about it. Yet,
> as they surveyed their working life, they came to the
> conclusion that the good outweighed the bad.
> If these perceptions were limited to one company or one
> occupation it might be easy to dismiss. But my interviews
> leads me to conclude that the perception is not unique nor an
> aberration. This view is strengthened by the fact that Tamara
> K. Hareven, in her work on the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company,
> uncovered similar perceptions (Family Time and Industrial
> Time).
> What may really be unique about this perception, is that
> it seems at variance with the way workers today view their
> work experience. My research is not complete enough for me
> to draw more than tentative conclusions. On the surface, the
> dichotomy between my interviewees and current workers might
> be partly explained by the growth since the end of World War
> II of the impersonal corporation. Most of the interviewees
> worked in small factories or in occupations which put them in
> daily contact with the owner. Few changed places of
> employment or occupations unless forced to by factors outside
> of their control. For many, the workplace provided not only
> economic support, but fraternal and social relationships which
> gave substance and meaning to their lives.

How about the dichotomy between people still working and people who
no longer work at a job anymore? Your two samples are not well
correlated to each other. This would be furthered by your
assertion that the difference could result in the change from small,
personal companies to impersonal after World War II. I will cite
one of your own sources: _Amoskeag_, by Tammy Hareven.
Amoskeag was NOT a small mill, although I will allow that the
control of the mill by one family (were they overseers?
Unfortunately, my copy of Amoskeag was just moved home, and I'm at
work) added a personal touch to a very large organization.
Nonetheless, Amoskeag was not an intimate setting. I will
also point out the film _Rosie the Riveter_ about women's work
experience during World War II. Many of the women interviewed worked
in very large installations (shipworks, for example) and nonetheless
remembered their work experience very favorably. I think you need
to examine the subject groups more closely.

What is probably more important in the post-World War II era is
unionization. It is doubtful that a US Steel worker has
much affection for USS, but probably finds the United Steelworkers
to have been a rewarding experience. I would look at the
replacement of the corporate identification with union
identification more closely. The only source I can cite in this is
my own evaluation of the work I have done, although I draw the US
Steel example from a videotape done by PBS in the early 1980's on
the crisis in the Monongahela River area brought on by the collapse
of many of the steel companies.

What are the socio-economic constraints of your study, by the way?
In looking after the World War II period, I would think you'd need
to study the effect of rising expectations in terms of education
that the G.I. bill brought about. The concept of "commuter
colleges" and the increase in people obtaining post-secondary
degrees probably has some effect.

> I would appreciate others who have or are conducting
> research in the work-place share their findings or suggestions
> regarding my research interest and hypothesis. Hopefully, my
> work will lead to a paper being presented at a professional
> conference. I will be glad to forward a copy of any papers
> I deliver to all who would like to receive one.

I hope my suggestions help. I always feel a little uncomfortable
jumping into scholarly questions on Humanist, because that's not
strictly my area of expertise. Your question, however, falls
squarely into my area of greatest research and interest. I think
that what you are proposing to study is more suited to spending a
career evaluating (and I have thought of doing so myself, if I could
convince myself to commit to academia). I think a book could be
written on each of the issues I have brought up.

> Please send all replies to my e-mail address.
> JohnFox@taylor.Rcc.Rcn.edu

I'd like to hear back from you on my suggestions.

Jonathan Altman jonathan@eleazar.Dartmouth.edu
Database Consultant jonathan.altman@Dartmouth.edu
Dartmouth Dante Project