Thursday, July 05, 2007

Power and Control: The Corporate World

I had a conversation with a co-worker today about a former supervisor of mine. More than any other supervisor, I really disliked working for this guy. One time I even got so upset with him that I stood up and walked out. I have never done that before or since but that day, my choice was to calmly say that I wasnt feeling well before walking out or to start screaming my head off. I guessed that the latter action would have been rather embarrassing for me.

Mostly what I didnt like about this guy was how controlling he was. He was constantly looking over everyone's shoulders to try to catch us surfing the web. He got himself on a committee to change the dress code to one that was more restrictive. He would just randomly tell people to do things and would get angry if anyone questioned him at ALL. The time I got upset with him, I was clocked out but sitting at my desk when he came and told me to move. I said that I was at lunch and he said that it didnt matter.

So I said that I would move right on over to the time clock to punch in and he forbade me to punch in so I told him that I was punching in and if he had a problem with it, he should discuss it with the HR department and then in my own special "fuck you" kind of way that I know others find annoying, I told him that when he talked to the HR department he might want to mention the FLSA and the Dept of Labor's views about firms having their employees work off the clock.

Basically, a little bit of labor law worked in my favor that day. He couldnt fire me because it would have been illegal (and an incident with another co-worker that happened a week later kind of led me to believe that he would have fired me if he could have). I was insubordinate but since he was telling me to do something illegal, I was protected.

The funny thing about this guy too was that he actually is a pretty nice guy in every other situation. He is not alone. So many people, when given any kind of power over anyone else, act as if someone had just given them a jackass pill! That is what happens when one guy gets to supervise 8 people. What happens to people who find themselves in charge of large corporations?

The other day I was watching a documentary about Ralph Nader. They mentioned that after _Unsafe at Any Speed_ was published, Nader thought he was being followed. Nader reported that strange women would come up to him in places like the grocery store and ask him out. My first thought was "man, that guy is paranoid" but then they started interviewing people who backed up his story. They interviewed people who had noticed he was being tailed. They interviewed people who had been getting strange phone calls asking them for information about Nader. Was he fucking anyone? Was he a pot smoker? etc.

It turned out that it was GM who was doing all of this in an effort to discredit the Nader. They even admitted that they sent the sexy women to try to seduce him so he could be found in a compromising position! Now that is a company with too much power, imho. It was too bad for them that Nader is such a nerd because they never were able to find any dirt on him. It pretty much took an act of congress to get GM to lay off!

It got me thinking about large corporations and the power they wield. I worry that our current SCOTUS is giving too much power to corporations by essentially making some of the labor laws and antitrust laws meaningless. I worry that a lot of people have an attitude that corporations should be allowed to amass huge amounts of power.

I am not really sure what I can do about it other than to talk about it and to remind people that who they vote for in the presidential election can really make a difference with this. The damage in this area done by the Bush administration and their appointees to the court might last for decades. Who knows how much more powerful large corporations might become in the mean time?

I also think that besides voting, it is very important to support consumer activists who work hard getting the word out about corporate misdoings. The corporations have a lot of power but they *need* the rest of us as labor, as consumers, and as stockholders.

So let's all just think about all of this a little bit. What kind of world do we want? One where we are powerless and subject to the whims of the CEO class or one where we have regulated capitalism designed to keep any one firm from growing too large?


Proshat said...

I was just thinking that my own employees may have the same feeling about me: I'm rather authoritative & Even sometimes I catch myself being on a power trip. I try not be nosy but I can not & will not let anybody sidestep the job that they are assigned to. I'm also very impatiant with the results & I expect the best out of everyone. I'm not sure why the picked me as their fav supervisor though.

Lynne said...

Having high expectations of the people one supervises is NOT the same thing as abusing power. I would say that if your subordinates picked you as their favorite supervisor, you probably arent being overly authoritative.