Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Is Workplace Violence A Form Of Slave Rebellion?

Below is a link to an interview of author Mark Ames, whose book Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion -- From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond analyzes violence in American workplaces and schools. Mr. Ames likens the condition of the American worker to that of a slave in pre-Civil War America, suggesting that eruptions of workplace violence are akin to slave rebellions. Don't think crazed day trader or disgruntled postal worker, he says - think Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey. I, for one, think the comparison is a bit extreme, but provocative nonetheless.

Ames is right on the money when he claims that the self-mockery of the American wage slave, as it is expressed in Dilbert cartoons and countless TV ads, is very similar to American slave humor, which likewise put a wistful and creative twist on resignation. For the most part, slaves of any kind feel that there is little they can do to rectify their own situation and relieve their frustrations by joking about it. It is the rare few who rebel. Nor is the humor of cubicle drones and plantation slaves an isolated phenomenon. World War Two army grunts had exactly the same kind of humor, to judge by Bill Mauldin's cartoons in Stars and Stripes, and peasants the world over, from medieval England to modern Mexico, share (or shared) this approach as well.

Ames astutely points out that the slave rebellions of the 1800's, although hailed in retrospect as auguries of emancipation and a catalyst of the abolitionist movement, were viewed as inexplicable and aberrant outbursts at the time. We view violence at the workplace and in schools the same way now. He claims that such violence does not occur in a vacuum, and is an understandable response to real oppression. Most of the school violence was a reaction to severe bullying, and much of the workplace violence was a response to intolerable circumstances - draconian bosses, the garnishing of wages without the employee's permission, etc. He cites the morbidly amusing case of a man with long-standing anti-government opinions who shot a postal worker seven times so that he could be put in prison, where he would be provided finally with the medications he needed to survive - but which, as a private citizen, he could not afford.

Ames may have extreme opinions, but sometimes extreme opinions are necessary. I absolutely agree with him that injustice has prevailed at the workplace since the Reagan administration - in the form of thoughtless and unnecessary downsizing, the extortion of longer (and often unpaid) hours out of workers through the threat of dismissal, the deliberate stunting of career paths, the slashing of benefits and pensions - and that this injustice has received scant attention from the press and remains virtually unacknowledged for what it is. Anyone who even suggests that something is wrong is pilloried. As he himself says, "I hate to sound like a Clintonite here, but let's remember Hillary Clinton became the most hated human being alive because she tried to give most Americans the opportunity to lead longer, healthier lives, while these same Americans adored goons like Sam Walton, George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump -- everyone who has dedicated their lives to transferring wealth, health and pleasure from the masses to a tiny elite. Liberals are hated in America precisely because they want to help people, which is seen as 'patronizing.'" In response let me say that I am proud to call myself a liberal.

"A Brief History of Rage, Murder and Rebellion" from AlterNet

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