Saturday, October 30, 2010

work slowdown, here we come

it is an exhilarating feeling to be a militant who is being organized by other workplace militants. today my coworkers talked to me concretely, schedule-wise, about what i need to do to get on board w the work slowdown. i was initially planning to have a meeting today with some other coworkers (which didnt end up happening cos one of them fell sick and we postponed it), and wanted to talk exactly about how we can do a work slowdown together. but others beat me to it and, today at work i was being organized. it's a great feeling to be organized by other workplace militants!

i feel like in this past year, since i started working at this nursing home, i have experienced for myself the lessons in "American Worker." more so than any job I have been in -- which had been more restaurant, cafe and non-profit work. i think perhaps it is because nursing homes, and hospitals begin to look more like the factories that American Worker was written out of, and restaurants/diners/cafes, are more individualized and involve smaller scales of labor. i do think there are other factors at my job that make it feel this way but i will mention them later in this post.

there's been some developments since i last wrote. i like to think that because we delivered our petition letter, the Director of Nursing and management told us that they were going to revise the way the shower aide system is going to be run. Not that they care about us any more, but more so, to make the plan more palatable to us in the short term, and to divide us. These m'fuckers are so shrewd.

Basically what it had been before was that the first floor of my workplace, consists of 2 longterm care units (56 long-term care residents, many with dementia or alzheimers and need intense assistance for daily living). In a total, we had 7 CNAs on the floor which amounted to 8 residents/CNA. Every CNA had to give a shower everyday and by the end of a week, all the residents would have had their weekly showers. We had a new DNS arrive a month ago, and she wanted to switch things around/play boss with us. She decided that we need a shower aide, and rather than hiring someone new, she says one of us on the floor will have to switch out to be a shower aide.

That meant 8-10 showers a day for the shower aide, while the rest of us on the floor (now 6), would have around 10 residents/CNA.

We submitted a petition by all the dayshift CNAs saying that this was UNSAFE for residents, as well as for us!! It was impossible to get the fucking job done safely!!

So management comes back, and says that for a "trial period", we will have 2 shower aides on the floor. That leaves us with 5 CNAs for 56 residents!!! That amounts to 11-12 residents/CNA.


In the meantime, each shower aide would have less showers/day. Between 3-5, which is doable.

So this was their plan. Starting Monday. And yours truely is being picked by them to do the shower aide position. I can only imagine it's cos I spoke up pretty intensely AGAINST it.

We were all confused by this change in their plans. Why make the shower aide job easier, why load more unto the remaining CNAs on the floor?

In conversations at work, we broke the shit down:
- It is to divide us. They observed that we were united as a group of CNAs and now they wanted to have the shower aide position seem hella easy, so many people will WANT to be the shower aide. They will find volunteers for a position that we once really hated. (and people did in fact say that they wanted to be shower aides now that it seemed like an easy job, or at least damn much easier than being a CNA.)

- By having a shower aide position that is much easier than the CNA position, they are institutionalizing the division b/w this new shower aide position and the CNA position. Everyone will wanna be the shower aide and thank god they arent CNAs with 12 residents each. Again, everyone gets to step on the CNAs.

- Since this is their trial period, they wanna sell the idea of a shower aide position. A few months later after we are used to the idea of having a shower aide, they will come back and say that having 2 shower aides is too many, since the work is EASY. So, they will eventually cut 1 shower aide and we will go back to having 1 shower aide for 8-10 residents.

By this time, any resistance against the shower aide workload will be done only by the 2 shower aides. It will no longer have the collaboration or unity of EVERYBODY, which is when we are most powerful.

They are brilliant and so are we. Fuck em. Now we have to organize so EVERYONE sees through this shit.

Another insight I learned from these past few days, is further understanding our solidarity and collaboration with one another. Again, this idea was discussed in Facing Reality by the Johnson Forrest Tendency but I had only understood it more as a conceptual/theoretical/political principle because I hadnt experienced it in my previous jobs, at least not in such an intense way. Experiencing this gives me the opportunity to understand this more deeply.

James et al in Facing Reality talk about how workers, without management, will be able to a hell lot more productive. They will be able to exercise their solidarity with one another, their creativity and share skills toward *hopefully* constructive ends.

We always say at work how management knows how hard it is for us to do the work, but they load it on anyway because they know we will do it.

They know we will do it because they know we will help each other.

So, management talks about the need to "help each other out." Obviously, THEY dont help out. When we are short staffed, they disappear and maybe help us with serving 1 tray during meal time. But they do talk the big talk of us being a unified, helpful workforce and give out awards for that shit. But their talk of solidarity is 101% different from our form of solidarity on the floor.

Back to the shower aide business.

On the surface it looks like the shower aides have it easier than the CNAs who have 12 residents a person.
But in reality, I think the shower aide position is actually gonna be H*E*L*L*I*S*H*
Workload isnt the only determining factor.
In reality, if the shower aides have 3-5 showers and we finish early, then we are definitely going to help out the other CNAs on the floor, at least until they hella institutionalize and divide the position as a shower aide has nothing to do with being a CNA. I have seen them do that with the Physical therapist aide position which previously was a CNA position, and now is seen as completely different (and thus doesnt need to help out on the floor.)
If we help out on the floor, which we will cos many of us are friends and generally good coworkers, then we will end up doing 3 - 5 showers AND take on many residents. Worse still, BECAUSE we wont have a job description, we will end up being on everyone';s beck and call -- we will end up being everyone;s servant cos we are supposed to help out with everyone and anyone if we "look" free.
This stark division of labor where one assignment seems a lot easier than the other, is only actually recipe for OVERWORKING and recreating the servant position where you work work work but dont know where the time went to.

Anyway, I am sure management knows that we have the ability and the conscience to help each other out on the floor and rely on that to get the job done.

Workers resistance to this exploitation of our solidarity is to tell management that we are NOT helpful to one another, that we are only concerned about our own workload on the job, that we are in fact what they are: SELFISH.

I have an anecdote that expresses this.

E and A are 2 of my coworkers who are the formal shower aides. (Yours truly is for days that they are off).
A. had volunteered for the position cos she wants to suck up to managament.
E. is one of the most militant m-fuckers I ever met.

Management sits down w A. and E. to talk through the shower aide position.
E. says: This change is too drastic, my coworkers have 12 residents and I can't help them cos I am busy giving showers. This plan is impossible.
A. says: Dont worry, we will help each other out.
Management says: GREAT! A., you have great attitude. E., you should learn more from her.
*End Scene*

E. tells ALL of us about how A. sold us all out. A. sold us all out by telling management how we help each other out. This is supposed to be workers' knowledge. You dont snitch on that to the boss.
Management reaffirms what it already knows: that the workers dont sell each other short

I think this is why organizing a slowdown is so hard. It is my natural instinct at this workplace to help out my coworkers and vice versa when we are done with our tasks. But a slowdown is hard is because it forces us to counter our natural workpalce instinct to help one another and actually forces us to be like those who boss over us: SELFISH.

I am really just speaking about my own workplace. I know these lessons dont transfer into every workplace. This "natural instinct" that I am talking about, of helping each other, is actually also really cultivated. It doesnt NEED to be like this. But it makes things a hell lot easier and our work -- the need for cooperative labor and teamwork -- shows us that.  So much for human beings being "nasty brutish and selfish," I feel like right now, capitalism is forcing me to be that, very counter-instinctually.

Having read Theses on Feuerbach recently, and seeing Marx's critique of the Enlightenment thinkers (and the resulting capitalist/individualist conception of human nature), as well as his critique of Feuerbach when F. presents human nature in a static, unchanging manner, I feel like I can see very concretely how my being is being transformed by the relationships that arise out of my concrete material conditions. The workplace solidarity is of course, only one dimension of it. There are others, not always positive.

I know too, that I cannot take the workplace dynamics I experience for granted. More to think about, is how my workplace consists of many African immigrants from the same country who are very new to the US and have a sense of community and solidarity with one another, looking out for one another. This is cultivated, and might not be the same elsewhere.

Last bit: I read alot about Afro Asian solidarity and am excited that I am trying to do it at my workplace around a concrete struggle. I feel like I am crossing the color line, in struggle. To use the language of my coworkers, we are all modern slaves.

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