Saturday, October 14, 2006


Victims Of Layoffs Are Made To Feel Shame

Here is an article in an Ivy League college newspaper that focuses on journalist Larry Uchitelle, author of The Disposable American. I have discussed Uchitelle and his work before in this blog, but his message certainly bears repeating. He characterizes downsizing and layoffs as a routine strategy employed by American corporations to save costs - even when such corporations are successful and unthreatened by imminent failure. It is this routine quality that he deplores the most. The lives of American workers are destroyed no longer as a last resort or as a desperate measure by a floundering managerial class, but as an ordinary cost of doing business. Uchitelle emphasizes the psychological damage of downsizing and layoffs, which is acute for the individuals to whom these events happen no matter how "routine" they have become for their bosses. According to Uchitelle, "people laid off blame themselves" - not the corporations that cast them aside. The reluctance of the government and civil society at large to extend support or even sympathy to the victims of layoffs only makes them feel more guilty and ashamed. It was not always this way. "Job security was an important part of our industrial success starting in the late 1800's," he says. "Now we tell people that they don?t have value, that people who attach themselves to a company or skill suddenly are told they don't matter." And layoffs are scarcely something that happens to the other guy either. Uchitelle estimates that approximately 7 percent of the American work force is laid off every year. "We need more moral outrage," he says. "Especially from our unions and spiritual leaders."

If you have been reading this blog, you have heard all this before. If not, you are hearing it now. But I am a veteran, a person who has himself been laid off or downsized - and not once, but several times. Hence, I am a person of no value, and why should you listen to me? However, it is interesting that Uchitelle's message has been promulgated by a college newspaper. Maybe that is a good sign. Uchitelle may not be preaching entirely to the choir after all. The Ivy League young are viewed as the "promise of the future" in the eyes of all "forward-looking" corporations - and, indeed, hiring them provides much of the impetus for discarding those already employed. If we can induce sympathy for the downtrodden foot soldiers of American industry among this crowd, we can induce it anywhere.

Another irony here is the curious exclusion of downsized workers from the culture of victimhood that has pervaded our culture for decades now. It is most odd indeed that they are not widely counseled to project the blame for their own misfortune onto those who imposed it on them in the first place. We blame Daddy if he beats us or molests us, don't we? Why can't we blame him if he fires us for no reason at all - other than to satisfy his lust for greed? We castigate our racists and sexists and anti-Semites, and imprison our rapists and child molestors and gay bashers - don't we? Don't we? Then why are we allowing the greatest of all the violators of human dignity in our society to get off scotfree?

"Journalist Discovers Layoffs Cause Victims to Feel Guilty" from the Cornell Daily Sun

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