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October 1975: The Fight at Unitron Printer Friendly Version

[Prefatory Note, June  2007: This was an incredibly exciting political fight. We managed to establish an Employee's Association which held regular meetings on company time. We straddled the day and night shifts, taking 15 minutes (or maybe half an hour) from each. It was a very instructive experience. It was largely at my initiative, although I had allies. We did this after having gotten stabbed in the back by both the union and the company in our campaign to unionize the shop. It lasted several months. I got fired at some point. The Association disintegrated soon thereafter I later learned. My firing, and the defeat of this initiative, marked the end of my "movement" years. The years that followed, the late 1970s, were the  darkest, worst years of my life -- down and out on Manhattan's lower east side.]

Documents and Notes from the Fight at Unitron

James Herod
April-October 1975

1. Memo to the other Wage-slaves at Unitron Graphics

  The striking thing about the recent struggle over the union issue in the shop was the complete absence of the points of view, the voices so to speak, of one of the parties to the conflict. Jack (the owner) was able to write down his thoughts and distribute them to everyone publicly. The union representative also had a right to speak out, to write down his views, and to distribute them publicly to anyone he wanted to. Similarly, Frank (the production manager) had a free hand to cajole, flatter, threaten, bribe, scold, or frighten at will. He could freely and openly express his views to anyone in the shop at a time and place of his own choosing and for as long as he wanted.

  The only people who could not speak openly and who did not have a voice in the dispute as it was being argued out were the workers in the shop. We had to sneak around like rats (whether we were for or against the union), meet in dark corners, talk in whispers, and act as if nothing were going on. It was almost as if we didn't exist, as if we didn't have voices with which to speak and minds with which to judge, and this continued right down until the very end, to the secret ballot, which was the final suppression of our opinions. Even now it isn't exactly clear who thought what. We were the invisible, mindless, silent party to the conflict. It was thoroughly and utterly degrading.

  Nothing could better illustrate our real situation in the shop than this. There have actually been explicit attempts by the bosses at Unitron to suppress communication between workers, and the implicit pressure toward that end is always present. This policy is only one of many which reflects the general attitude they have toward those of us who are actually doing the work. We are thought to be robots and are treated that way. The work we are doing is seen as a mechanical process which can be done without thinking and which does not involve the application of intelligence, the use of judgment, or the making of decisions. It is abundantly clear though that the reality of the work is very different. It is not possible to set, proof, correct, or layout a single page of copy without exercising judgment and making decisions at every step of the process. And of course when a boss needs to find out how the work is done, as Frank did when he came in as manager (since it was obvious to everyone that he was incompetent when it came to the work itself, having been hired as an efficiency expert), he comes to us. Management still pretends however that we know nothing about our work, and we are always instructed to do only what we are told to do, as if that were even a possibility. Not a single lick of work would ever get done if we really obeyed that order.

  The truth of the matter is that we are viewed by the bosses not as human beings in our own right but as so many objects to be manipulated for the greater profit of the owners. It is almost as if we were machines, like the beloved computers, to be programmed and reprogrammed at will. Procedures are changed and changed again with never so much as a boo to those of us who are doing the work, as if we didn't have opinions on the matter, and feelings. The utter contempt with which the Zuckers and their managers regard the persons who work in this shop is almost beyond belief, and this gets expressed in many ways other than in the work process itself, although that is by far the most important area, giving rise as it does to the daily, almost hourly, humiliations and insults which make working under such conditions onerous. Their contempt for us is expressed also however in the fact that they have never even bothered themselves to adopt a decent sick leave policy, or any of the other ordinary amenities, not to speak of adequate wages.

  Their utter disrespect is most clearly and brutally expressed however in their long standing practice of firing people arbitrarily and without notice, even though they promise fairness, consideration, and notice when they hire. This has been going on for a long time now and it is still going on. Mattie was fired, after working for the Zuckers for nearly three years, without notice and without reason, with only the shoddy pretext being given that ``your heart is not in your work.'' The two layout artists, George and Matthew, were fired suddenly without notice and on the flimsiest of excuses. June was fired, for god knows what (Frank later lied to Paula that June had been given severance pay). Kevin was fired and Nona and Paul. And so forth. Many people have left on their own accord because they suspected that they might be next themselves, or because they became disgusted with the whole thing (Cynthia, Gary, Kelly, Linda, Steve, Mel). And now there is Dee. She was fired primarily because she could not be intimidated by Frank's cheap, backhanded, and cowardly threats. It takes a big man indeed, sitting comfortably in the knowledge of his own fat and secure income and backed by the owners and the whole legal apparatus, to threaten to throw people into the streets.

  And yet the man who has practiced and endorsed such policies for years, Jack Zucker (not to mention his father), has the gall to sign a letter to us with the phrase ``In mutual respect and understanding,'' and to address us as ``Fellow Workers.'' Fellow workers my foot. It is no wonder that the shop is in constant turmoil.

  In spite of all these injustices and the deep resentment and hostility toward management that exists in the shop, the decisive factor in the election two weeks ago was the widespread hatred of unions. At the start, sixteen people favored the union and several more were sympathetic. At the finish only seven voted yes. Several of the people who are among the angriest at what has been happening in the shop were against the union from the outset. This sentiment also prevailed among those who had trouble making up their minds, but who voted no in the end. Even those who wanted the union had grave reservations, but some of them felt that the union would at least be one way to begin putting a stop to the perpetual reign of terror that is inflicted on everyone who makes the mistake of signing on at Unitron. No one had any illusions about any huge wage increases nor did anyone think for a minute that it wouldn't be necessary to struggle against the union bureaucrats on many issues as well as against management.

  Thus what seemed on the surface to be a vote of confidence in management was in fact merely a rejection of the union. And indeed, nobody is going to fight our battles for us. If we don't defend ourselves, assert our rights, and protect our own dignity, no one is going to do it for us. Several of those who voted no wondered why we couldn't have our own union.

  It seems to me imperative to assert our absolute right to a voice in the work which occupies the bulk of our waking hours and consumes the bulk of our energies. Otherwise there will never be an end to the degradation, boredom, waste, exhaustion, stupidity, and regimentation that is presently associated with earning a living, no matter whom you work for.

  This is why I am taking the initiative to establish a Workers Council at our place of work and am seeking support for this effort. The first and most important step is always the establishment of the right to talk things over with each other and to express our views on the matters that affect our daily health and welfare. This can only happen if we are able to meet together and speak openly about our common problems, but especially about work procedures, job evaluation, error accountability, dismissals, grievances, and remuneration.

  For these meetings to be successful and effective they will have to be held at the place of work itself and not in somebody's home, and held during work hours. No one wants to devote precious evening and weekend hours to more hassles about work. Problems regarding work are best dealt with at work. I am therefore suggesting a weekly meeting of two hours to be held every Wednesday between 3:15 and 5:15 in the afternoon. This would actually mean that the meeting would be half on company time and half on our own time, which is perhaps not an unreasonable compromise at the beginning. I am also suggesting that the chairperson for the first meeting be selected by lot from among those who attend, and that everything subsequently – all procedures, agenda items, and policies – be decided by majority rule. This will be an open meeting, for anyone at Unitron.

  It is obvious that David, Jack, Frank, and Nina will fight such a development with all their power and with all the means at their disposal since they seek to exercise absolute control over everything that happens in the shop down to the last detail. Nevertheless, we have decided to take this step and we are prepared to see it through to victory and to resist the efforts of the bosses and their sympathizers to defeat it (probably through firings). We are willing to use all the means at our disposal, which after all are not insignificant, to accomplish this end. (April, 1975)

2. Some Comments on Aaron's Proposed Bylaws

  Aaron's Proposed Bylaws are a remarkable document in a way and provide an opportunity to raise in a more systematic manner some of the issues involved in setting up an association among those of us working at Unitron. It seems to me that Aaron's draft bylaws are based on a whole set of false premises which have virtually nothing to do with democracy. This is very disheartening. It used to be that the prevailing conception of democracy was that people would get together and discuss their common problems, air disagreements, and try to reach joint decisions about what to do. It was the town meeting image of direct democracy. Now, however, with the deep penetration into our culture of ideas of representative rule, presidents and vice-presidents, Robert's Rules, elections, terms of office, and most importantly, the practice of polling isolated and atomized opinions without any prior collective discussion of the issues, a very different image of democracy prevails, one which I believe is not democracy at all but bureaucracy. Thus the predominant impulse, it seems, when it comes to setting up an association among ourselves (even though we are few in number and work basically in one big room) is to recreate right in our own ranks those very same hierarchical structures which prevail in the society at large and which constitute the basic reason for our needing to get together in the first place.

  The authoritarian drift of Aaron's draft bylaws can be seen in virtually every article. The most important of these points, however, and the ones which would turn the association into an authoritarian structure, are:

  a. the infrequency of general meetings
  b. the long six-month term of office
  c. the complicated three-tier structure of representatives holding decision-making power
  d. the preservation of departmental divisions
  e. the exclusion of part-time employees
  f. the power of the chairperson to appoint committees
  g. Robert's Rules of Order
  h. the secret ballot
  i. the frequent use of the two-thirds rule
  j. reliance on the quorum
  k. the primary focus on communicating with management
  l. the implied practice of polling the various members individually as a way of arriving at directives for the negotiating committee

  In light of all this we can indeed be thankful that Aaron reminds us that this ASSOCIATION, which has already assumed OMINOUS dimensions as an ABSTRACTION separate from and above those who have created it, lacks the power of taxation. Let me discuss each of the above items, beginning with the last.

  The implied practice of polling the individual workers in the shop, with no opportunity for group discussion of the issues, as a way of arriving at the will of the association. This is implicit throughout these bylaws but can be deduced especially from the provision for only one general meeting a month, in contrast to the several instances where the will of the association is invoked, for example in Article X on job action, or in Article VI on appointment of committees. We cannot possibly cover all these matters in only one meeting a month. More importantly, although the negotiating team is supposedly ``subject to the directives of the ASSOCIATION'' (Article IV), we have only one meeting a month in which to formulate these directives. This is where the pollster enters the picture, in the guise of the departmental representative. Aaron says, in Article IV, ``Departmental representatives shall be to act as liaison between the members of the individual departments and the Negotiating Body...'' Whatever this is, it is not democracy. I have no interest whatsoever in divulging my own individual views to some liaison officer who will convey them, picking and choosing among the various opinions expressed, to some negotiating body, with any changes deemed necessary being made in transit. It is obvious that the real decisions will be made by the negotiating body in the name of everyone in the shop. Since our present situation is already one in which others speak for us there is no need to set up yet another mechanism whereby we relinquish, this time voluntarily, our own voices. This is absurd. What I am interested in is a chance to listen to what others have to say and to be listened to, so that I can make up my own mind on the issues and vote to establish a collective position. This will be impossible if Aaron's model is adopted.

The long six-month term of office. This is far too long, especially in light of the striking turnover of workers in the shop, and is probably based on the idea of electing decision-makers rather than on the idea of rotation of specialized tasks. Thus it is authoritarian, not democractic. There is no need for us to elect someone to make decisions for us and speak for us when we can do these things ourselves. Ideally, the chairperson, secretary, and negotiators should rotate about every month or at least every two months. I have proposed a three-month rotation as the outer limit of what still might pass as rotation rather than abdication to an elite of decision-makers.

The preservation of departmental divisions. This is an enormous mistake. Some of the so-called departments consist of only one or two people. What we need to do is break down the divisions between us, not perpetuate them. The present divisions and the rigid parceling up of work into supposedly separate and distinct phases is precisely what gives rise to many of the problems in the shop. These divisions damage productivity. They also throw up false barriers between ourselves when it comes to discussing, analyzing, and improving the work, as well as in discussing and analyzing anything else. We began in one big spacious room. First there appeared one day a wall sealing off art, and then walls sealing off people on the scopes. Soon there will undoubtedly be more walls, around keyboarders, proofreaders, and markup people. This is no accident. It reflects the mentality of management. The shop – once open, airy, light, and spacious – resembles more and more the standard prison where each inmate has a cell. The physical walls go hand in hand with all the other measures adopted to suppress communication among persons working in the shop. It is insane to model our own association along the very same false divisions already imposed on us by management.

Exclusion of part-time employees. Free-lance people are an important part of the labor force in the shop and have an important bearing on full-time employees, especially in light of the way management uses part-time labor. It would be a mistake to exclude them from the association. In fact, it seems to me that we shouldn't exclude anyone, including management. Managers cannot be excluded anyway merely by physically keeping them out of the room, since their perspectives will inevitably make their way into our meetings either inadvertently or intentionally through one of us, or else through infiltrators. Better they speak for themselves, openly and honestly. Great care obviously would have to be taken to make sure they wouldn't take over the meeting and use it for their own ends.

Power of the chairperson to appoint committees. Why do we need this? If committees are needed they can be selected at a general meeting. There is no reason that the chair should have this power, especially since in absence of a decision by the majority that some task or other has to be performed, the chair would have no way of knowing what the group wanted done. These committees would in fact merely reflect the wishes of the chair.

Frequent use of the two-thirds rule. This rule only makes it all that much more difficult for the group to function. The two-thirds rule is designed basically to protect the rights of the minority and is needed perhaps in some situations. But since the majority in this case has no coercive power, and since there are so few of us to begin with, we had better be looking for other ways to tend to the delicate relationship between the majority and minority than this mechanical device, which in fact wouldn't solve the problem anyway because there would still be the question of the one third that was voted down.

The secret ballot. Secret ballots undermine democracy, not strengthen it. The practice probably had its origins in fear of reprisal from those wielding real power, as well as in the need of the real rulers to separate and divide people and prevent them from ever dealing with the issues collectively. For us, however, the practice serves no useful function. Rather it engenders suspicion and dishonesty and prevents us from relating to each other in a straightforward, candid way, and on the level. We ought to be adult enough to stand up for our own views. This is true I think even when it comes to elections, an area in which it is traditionally thought that secret balloting is most warranted. People have a right to know what others think of them. Otherwise we are bogged down forever in a two-faced, double-dealing runaround.

The complicated three-tier structure of representation. This is preposterous. That's the only thing that can be said about it. This convoluted design is called forth only because of the prior rejection of direct democracy. It is absurd on the face of it that a group as small as we are has to set up, in order to function, all these functionaries and all these rules.

The primary focus on communicating with management. It is significant that Aaron lists as the first objective of the association (Article II) ``to open channels of communication between the management and the employees...'' Actually there are plenty of channels of communication with management already in existence. They are the wrong channels, one-way and lop-sided channels, individual channels, and so forth, but they are channels. What is lacking are channels of communication among ourselves. Aaron overlooks this. In the absence of channels among ourselves it is pointless to establish more channels to management since they would function just like the ones which already exist, mainly to the benefit of management. What is needed is a channel to communicate the collective will to management. Obviously the collective will must first of all exist before it can be communicated, and that's where channels among ourselves enter the picture.

Reliance on the quorum rule. We do not even know how many people are going to be interested enough in the association to come regularly to its meetings. It is impossible therefore to set in advance, a priori, a number which would constitute a quorum. The quorum rule is an arbitrary, mechanical, and hence unworkable attempt to ensure that an organization is not taken over by a minority. But in real life it works very differently. The quorum rule usually functions to enable an apathetic majority to stymie any effective action by those people who are interested enough to put time and energy into an association. An association should be governed by a majority of those who care enough to go to its meetings, not by some mystical and arbitrary quorum, which is almost never there when it comes time to take the vote. If a meeting is exceptionally unattended because of some fluke or misunderstanding, those present will have sense enough to postpone any major action; if they do not, no rule can save the association from disintegrating anyway.

Robert's Rules of Order. Sometimes I think that Robert's Rules have done as much to destroy democracy in this country as any other single thing. It is not only that very few people ever master them. This is bad enough. It means that an authoritarian expert, judge, or umpire is required to interpret this complex law and rule on whether specific instances of group behavior are in compliance with it or not. Worse than this, however, is the mentality that the Rules foster. It comes to be presumed that there is a preordained Correct and Incorrect way for people in a group to act, an Objective Code which is outside of and independent of themselves and which governs their conduct. People lose sight of the fact that they themselves create the code and can change it at will. This was strikingly evident at the first meeting we held several weeks ago. Throughout the meeting various people expressed concern over whether this or that could or could not be done. Aaron even went so far as to presume that the group had already voted to govern its conduct by Robert's Rules, and furthermore that it had appointed him as the interpreter of the rules, since at numerous points he asserted that this or that procedure was out of order, permissible or impermissible, debatable or not debatable. I have seen more groups collapse because of Robert's Rules than for almost any other reason. The Rules are rigid and arbitrary. They make it possible for just about anyone to derail a discussion through some technicality. They put the group into a straight jacket. They presuppose external force rather than internal assent. They give too much power to the chair and in fact channel all group energy through the chair. It is thus a centralized, bureaucratic, authoritarian, hierarchical, and top-heavy form. Any democratic discussion, since it is between free and equal individuals, involves a lot of give and take. It has an inherently stormy quality about it. That is, it is alive. Robert seeks to reduce the group process to a mechanical, tightly controlled, and predictable order, that is, to a lifeless form. Robert separates form from content. I think we should generate our own rules.

The infrequency of general meetings. This is really the crux of the matter, isn't it? To have an effective association and work through the numerous problems facing us we should really meet every week, especially during the first year or so. Every two weeks is the outer limit of effectiveness. Every three weeks is already far too seldom, and once a month is impossible, if the group is to function democratically. If the majority of people in the shop do not want to meet often enough to work out collective solutions to the problems, or even to aim for such meetings as a goal or demand, it can only mean that the majority is not interested in speaking its own voice, and is content to let others speak for it. This is the real meaning behind the contorted layers of representatives. I can see no point in creating an association if the only result is to put us in exactly the same spot we are already in: silenced, with no voice of our own. (June, 1975)

(Note, 1986: I used caps in the above essay because all the key words in Aaron's document were typed in caps.)

3. Basic Agreements of the Unitron Workers Association

1. Purposes

  To communicate among ourselves, openly and freely and without fear of dismissals, about the common concerns facing us on the job; to establish dignity in our lives at our places of work; to oppose the view that the work we do can be accomplished without the exercise of judgment and decision-making; to establish a voice in the shop on matters relating to our activities there; to improve the quality and productivity of our work and to better the conditions under which it is done; to improve channels of communication with management; to minimize as far as possible the unpleasantness associated with wage-laboring; and to use to use whatever powers we may have to accomplish these objectives.

2. Specific Topics of Concern

  While as a matter of principle, no problem is beyond the scope of discussion if it is deemed relevant by the majority (after due consideration for any minority views), the major areas of possible concern are: a. Work procedures, work organization, and work allocation b. Job evaluation c. Error accountability d. Dismissals and job security e. Remuneration (wages and benefits) f. Allocation of overtime g. Job training

3. Meetings

  a. As a rule, we will meet every three weeks in the shop at a time chosen by the majority in cooperation with management. A tentative agenda will be posted one day prior to each meeting. Proposed agenda items must be submitted to the chairperson at least two days prior to the meeting. The secretary will post the meeting date and time one week in advance. b. In the event of special circumstances, crises, or unforeseen developments, an emergency meeting can be called by the chairperson after consulting widely with other people present in the shop at that particular time and after posting notice of the time and purpose of the meeting.

4. Specialized Tasks

  There are three specialized tasks which need to be performed – chairing the meetings, taking minutes at the meetings, and negotiating with management. Consequently there will be a chairperson, a secretary, and a three-person negotiating committee. All shifts must be represented on the negotiating committee. When elections are needed the chairperson will call for nominations and persons will be elected by majority votes. Persons elected to perform these tasks will rotate every four months and no person can be elected more than twice in the same year or hold more than one position at a time. The chairperson will preside over the meetings in accordance with the discussion procedures outlined below, and will also convene any emergency meetings which seem necessary. The secretary will keep a current list of membership and will take minutes and record all decisions taken by the association, reporting these when needed. The negotiating committee will negotiate with management regarding decisions and policies established by the members at the general meetings. It should meet once a week, roughly.

5. Recall

  Any person elected to perform any of the above specialized tasks will be subject to immediate recall and relief of these responsibilities if serious abuses of power have taken place, as judged by a two-thirds majority at a general meeting, after a fair and thorough consideration of the evidence in the case and of all the various points of view involved. Recall proceedings can be placed on the agenda by anyone but require a majority vote to be considered further.

6. The Negotiating Process

  Negotiating will be an on-going process, and not a periodic affair concerned with a total package deal contracted for a fixed period of time. We will take up the issues one at a time in a sequence to be determined at the general meetings. Each agreement reached with management will be considered permanently in force, but subject to renegotiation at any time deemed necessary. The power to decide what will be negotiated with management lies with the association as a whole, through its general meetings, and not with the negotiating team, although the negotiators will obviously need a certain latitude and flexibility in order to function. Nevertheless, the negotiating team has no autonomous power of its own to propose, formulate, or conclude agreements directly with management. A `grievance' is simply a complaint, difficulty, or proposal relating to one of the areas of possible concern listed above. If a grievance is thought to be covered already by an existing agreement (an `old' grievance), an individual should take the matter directly to the negotiating committee. If the negotiating committee agrees that the grievance is covered by an agreement already in force, the question can then be taken directly to management. Otherwise the problem (any `new' grievance) must be placed on the agenda for the next meeting, unless its nature is serious enough to warrant an emergency meeting. In dealing with old grievances the negotiating committee can meet, at its discretion, either singlely or collectively with management, and either with or without the aggrieved person. As a rule however aggrieved persons should be present at these meetings in order to argue their own cases directly with management. There is nothing in these procedures to stop persons from dealing individually with management, directly, and on their own, about anything they may choose to. Obviously however the backing of the association cannot be expected for such private deals. That can be had only by following the procedures collectively established.

7. Voting

  All disagreements will be resolved by the principle of simple majority rule of those present and voting if a quorum is present (50% of membership), except for the adoption of these basic agreements, amendments to these agreements, recall, and secret balloting, all of which will require a two-thirds majority.

8. Membership

  Any full-time employee at Unitron (non-management) or any part-time person working at least 20 hours a week, can participate in the meetings and vote. Others may participate in the meetings at the invitation of the association or the chairperson.

9. Discussion Procedures

  The meetings, which we hold for the purpose of discussing common problems, airing disagreements, and establishing collective policies, will be conducted according to the procedures and guidelines outlined in the Appendix.

Appendix: Guidelines for General Meetings, Discussions, and Decision-Making

1. General Order of the Meeting

  a. Minutes of the last meeting (or a report)
  b. Setting the agenda for this meeting
  c. Considering each agenda item
    (1) Discussion period
    (2) Formulating and phrasing a decision, if necessary
  d. Tentative agenda for next time

2. Setting the Agenda

  After hearing the minutes from the last meeting the agenda for the meeting will be set. This will be done by going down the list, in the order listed, of proposed agenda items on the posted agenda, either one by one or in groups, and deciding whether or not the item or items will be dealt with at the meeting or postponed. (The posted agenda consists of any tentative agenda fixed at the last meeting plus any new items submitted to the chairperson in the interval since the last meeting.) If any member feels that circumstances warrant it, other proposed items, not previously submitted, may be accepted at this time. Deciding whether to deal with a proposed agenda item at a meeting is not the same as discussing it and deciding how to deal with it. As a rule, any proposed agenda item has a right to a hearing.

3. Getting the Floor (standard procedure)

  After the chairperson has opened up an agenda item for discussion the chair will pick persons to speak on the question from among those who have indicated a desire to speak with a raised hand.

4. Other Discussion Procedures

  The chair may call for one of the following discussion procedures instead of the standard procedure:

 a. Debate. One, two, three, or more speakers on each side of an issue, as designated by the chair, with time limits on each speaker.
 b. Round the room. Going around the room methodically and letting each person speak in turn.
 c. Open discussion. Free-wheeling discussion with no prior designation of speakers.

5. Phrasing a Proposed Decision

  After a topic has been discussed for a while, the chair can ask whether or not someone is ready to try to formulate a proposed decision on the issue. This should not be done prematurely. Nor should people attempt to phrase exactly a proposed decision early in a discussion when they are first laying out their views on an issue. If disagreements have emerged during the discussion, a second or third possible decision may be proposed. Each proposal will be considered a separate and distinct possible resolution of the topic under discussion, no matter how similar they may seem. No proposed decision can be presented verbally to the group until it has first been written down. There will be no amendments or substitutes. Rather, a different wording or slight change of a proposal on the floor will be considered a separate proposal. A proposed decision can be withdrawn at any time. Reaching a decision involves a process of eliminating these various proposals down to the one the majority favors. Before the final vote the secretary will read the exact wording of the proposed decision that is being voted on.

6. The Practice of Quick Voting

  Innumerable decisions are required throughout a meeting. Whether to include an item on the agenda? Whether to continue or terminate discussion? Which discussion procedure? And so forth. It will be the practice of the group to vote quickly and frequently, by a show of hands, on all these matters. Only the chair can call for a vote, although others may suggest it obviously.

7. Interjections

  A certain level of interruptions, speaking out of order, moans and groans, voicing approval and disapproval, procedural admonitions to the chair, and so forth will be considered normal.

8. Terminating a Meeting

  A meeting is not over until all the items on the agenda have been dealt with and a tentative agenda set for the next meeting. If it becomes impossible to cover the entire agenda that was agreed upon in the time available the chair must reopen the question of the agenda to enable the group to decide what to do about the remaining items. A meeting ends automatically after a tentative agenda has been set for the next meeting. (July, 1975)


Note, 1986. The above was the final version of the document as adopted by the association, which is slightly improved but also somewhat compromised as compared with my original draft.

A deleted section of the document read as follows:

Majority-Minority Relations.
Since the majority obviously has no power to coerce the minority to go along with majority decisions, compliance with majority opinions is ultimately a voluntary thing. It view of this situation one danger is that the association will slowly dwindle away as individuals withdraw from participation because of majority opinions with which they have serious disagreements. A second and perhaps greater danger is not that the minority will withdraw but that the majority will withdraw, by abdicating its power, turning over the association to some minority, and defining away its effective voice, and all this by a series of majority decisions. In order to avoid these dangers we therefore resolve to take great pains to ensure a full and open debate in a collective forum on all issues before us, to listen seriously to all points of view, to strive for the widest possible agreements, and to exercise constant vigilance against any attempt, either deliberate or unsuspecting, to deliver decision-making power into the hands of an elite few, be they leaders, representatives, experts, or officers.

Two deleted sections of the appendix read as follows:

Procedures not to be used
The following practices or devices will not be used: amendments, substitute motions, privileged motions, nondebatable motions, points of order, seconds, suspending the rules, moving the previous question, tabling a motion, calling for the orders of the day, motions to adjourn, points of information.

Role of the Chair
It is not the task of the chair to trigger or manipulate the group in a mechanical way as if operating a machine. Nor is it the chair's task to ride herd on the group. The chair's main responsibility is to try to keep the overall direction of the group process headed toward a resolution of any topic under discussion, that is, headed toward a decision. This is also the responsibility of everyone in the group however. The chair should be particularly alert for example if the discussion veers off on a tangent, and call attention to this. The chair should recognize speakers, and call for quick sense-of-the-meeting votes where necessary.

4. The Judging Worker versus the Mechanical Robot

  Recent arguments and events at Unitron have exposed what is surely the heart of workplace struggles. The main struggle revolves around two incompatible interpretations of the worker. Our view sees the worker as a decision-making, judging person, and recognizes that no work at all could get done if workers did not exercise judgment and intelligence at every stage of the work.

  Management however sees the worker as a mechanical robot that does not think but only follows instructions exactly. They do not believe, in other words, that the worker ever needs to make decisions or exercise judgment in the course of doing the work, but only needs to follow to the letter the work procedures established from above and from the outside by management.

  At Unitron this conflict emerged with great clarity in the argument Kitty and I had with Gene. Gene is a proofreader and has been co-opted by Frank to oversee the entire work process to make sure that errors are corrected and that the final product sent to the customer is accurate. He believes that work procedures are solely the prerogative of management and accepts the view that workers (e.g., typesetters in this case) should never make any decisions or judgments, but do the work exactly as they are told to do it. Management regards all workers in this way, but in this shop the typesetters especially are blatantly regarded as robots. The old man calls typesetting ``idiot work.'' They never train typesetters, never explain the codes, markup, or editorial symbols. Their view is that a manuscript can be typed as is, mechanically, without thought, i.e., blindly, by rote, without the application of intelligence, decision-making, or judgment.

  In reality of course not a single page of any manuscript could ever be typed without making myriads of decisions, nor could any other work of any kind ever get done. You could not even type a single letter without a knowledge of the alphabet and the ability to assign a meaning to the markings on the page. In other words, you have to decipher what the symbol is, what it stands for, and then push the appropriate key. Judgment is required constantly, and at every phase of the work. This holds true even for the most ostensibly routine or monotonous work imaginable.

  Somehow this sums up the whole thing brilliantly. The more we argued with Gene the clearer it became that this is the heart of the whole matter. Most of the problems in the shop flow from management's view of the worker as a robot. This is also the reason for the inefficiency and all the errors. Rather than recognizing that judgment is involved at every stage of the work and then focusing on building up in each worker the capacity to judge, they set up specialists, inspectors, supervisors, and so forth, and then tell workers to do exactly as they are told.

  The case in point is a nice example of this. An unusual job had come through. Rather than writing a simple sentence explaining what was going on – i.e., giving the typesetter a basis for intelligent judgment – the markup person wrote a note saying to type the chapter openings exactly as they were marked. Several problems emerged. The markup person marked it inconsistently, thus leading the typesetters to suspect there had been a mistake in the markup. No definition was given to `chapter opening'. And the text as marked up violated a long-standing rule. Rather than explaining to the typesetter that the long-standing rule had been overridden elsewhere (otherwise unknown to the typesetter) – an explanation which would also have resolved the inconsistency problem – the markup person insisted that it be set exactly as marked. This instruction flowed out of the mistaken belief that work can be done mechanically, without judgment. This is a myth.

  Management is based on two contradictory principles and therefore on inconsistency. Managers insist on defining the work procedures themselves, excluding the people who are actually doing the work, demanding that workers follow these procedures exactly. But then they hold workers responsible for errors. On the one hand, we are suppose to take responsibility for our work and exercise initiative in executing it. On the other hand, we are expected to do only what we are told. It cannot be both ways.

  Gene expressed the inconsistency when he said that it is entirely management's prerogative to define work procedures, and if they don't work then the worker should go to the managers and tell them. Why should a worker exercise judgment about whether a procedure works or not? If managers insist on deciding how the work is to be done, they should also, to be consistent, insist on judging whether or not their procedures are working. If workers are robots how can they have any opinion about whether or not a procedure is a good one?

  How it actually happens is that managers, since they are not in fact doing the work and do not therefore know how to do it, go to the workers and ask them what they are doing and how they are doing it. They then write up the procedures independently of the workers, making changes as they see fit. Finally, they impose these procedures back on the workers and demand that workers follow the instructions to the letter, mechanically, like robots. It is a practice of `From the People, To the People'. The process begins with the judgments of the workers, i.e., with their knowledge of how to do the work (although management would never admit this; they probably think workers are routinely following some code; the robot theory of labor is admirably expressed in the `job description'). The process ends with the workers being treated like robots who only carry out management's orders.

  This whole process unfolded recently with Frank's entrance into the shop as the new production manager. It was immediately apparent that he was incompetent when it came to the work itself. He was hired as an efficiency expert. (Nor has he made much of an effort to learn the specific skills involved; and what he does know clearly came mostly from the people who are doing the work.) He was forced therefore to ask people what they were doing. He then attempted to reorganize the work more efficiently by himself and impose the new procedures back on the very people on whom he had originally been dependent for knowledge about the work. It's insane.

  The robot theory is the view of the laboring process required by duality (hierarchy, authoritarianism, capitalism, management). The view of work that recognizes that judgment by the worker is necessarily involved at every step leads directly and rapidly to proletarian democracy. (March, 1975)

5. A Statement on the Alleged Unprofitability of the Firm

  For years now the company has been claiming that it has not been making any money. David Zucker once told an employee that he had lost a million dollars on the firm. Management knows of course that there is absolutely no way for the employees to form an independent judgement on this matter, and therefore that it is virtually impossible to argue against the claim once it is accepted as a relevant piece of information. It must simply be either rejected arbitrarily or else accepted on faith. The truth of course is that it is not a relevant piece of information. A company should begin with adequate reimbursement to its employees in wages, holidays, sick leave, health insurance, and job-training. Questions of profits come after this, not before.

  In any case it is not difficult to see why there is no way for the employees to even consider the claim.

  1. We do not know how much money is leaving the firm in the form of salaries to David Zucker, Goldie Zucker, and Jack Zucker.

  2. We do not know what kind of trade-offs go on between Unitron and other firms to which it is closely tied, e.g., Danbar Press and B.G. Frank.

  3. We do not know what kind of prices are being charged to the various religious and political organizations with which the owners are affiliated or with which they are in sympathy.

  4. We do not know what kind of salaries are being paid to the salesmen and to the plant manager and her assistants.

  And so forth. It is obvious that the claim of unprofitability is a meaningless one as far as the employees are concerned. What we do know however is that this claim can no longer be accepted as an excuse for mistreating employees.

  Nor can we, even if the firm is indeed losing money, accept blame for the situation. Yet the attitudes and actions of the owners usually imply that the firm's troubles arise because there is something wrong with the employees, including here also the production managers, who are employees of course. It is no accident that the firm has gone through seven plant managers in the last three years. Rather than examine in a new light some of the company's own policies, however, there is instead an incessant search for new and better employees and harder and better work. Actually, there are many conceivable reasons why a company like Unitron might be losing money:

  * Maybe there is no market for cold type for books and magazines in the NYC area;
  * Maybe financial miscalculations have been made in pricing the products so that they are being under priced;
  * Maybe the company is being undersold by other companies;
  * Maybe the salesmen are incompetent;
  * Maybe the earnings of the firm are being taken home in the form of high salaries to the owners,
   some of which have to be ploughed back, thus enabling the owners to claim that the firm is in the red
   and being kept afloat with money from their own pockets;
  * Maybe someone is juggling the books and embezzling money from the firm;
  * Maybe exorbitant salaries are being paid to the top managers;
  * Maybe the managers are incompetent;
  * Maybe the employees are incompetent;
  * Maybe the attitudes and policies of the owners themselves keep the shop in a constant uproar
   and produce a high turnover rate which continuously undermines production.

  Except for the possibility of exorbitant salaries to the officers and managers of the firm and subsidies to Jewish customers and allied firms, we doubt if any of the above conceivable situations – except for the last – exists. There can be no doubt about the last item however. The attitudes and policies of Jack and David Zucker toward their employees keep the shop in a constant turmoil and drive people away by the dozens. Even aside from the alleged unprofitability of the firm, this is a situation that must be remedied. (October, 1975)

6. A Statement on the Interruption and Cancellation of Conferences

  Your declared intention of interrupting the negotiating conferences in order to accept calls from customers, while innocuous enough at first sight, appears upon further reflection to be merely another instance of the company's long-standing practice of putting employees last. Furthermore, your expressed fear that the accounts of these customers will be lost if the president of the firm is occupied in an important conference and unable to come to the phone seems to us incredulous. If this is the kind of relations you have established with customers then the firm is in more difficulty than even you have alleged. It would be another matter of course if you had made a prior commitment to a customer to be available by phone at a particular time, but in that case the conference with our representatives should not have been scheduled. Otherwise the usual business practice will surely be the guiding norm. No caller can expect to reach the president of a company automatically, simply by picking up the phone. It is standard practice everywhere for executives to return calls later which are received while they are in conference. Since it seems impossible that you are not aware of this, your attitude toward the conferences with the negotiating members of our association indicates that you do not attach any great importance to these meetings. It is our belief however that if you would take your employees as seriously as you take your customers then you would soon find yourself with more and better employees as well as more and better customers.

  The cancellation of scheduled conferences is an equally grave matter. Since this has happened not once but three times, we can already suspect that this is a pattern that will reappear in the future. We must voice immediate and strong opposition to this practice. These cancellations can only be regarded as acts of disrespect, in spite of what we believe are your well-meaning and sincere claims to the contrary. Evidently you view the meetings as events of secondary importance to be squeezed into your day if everything else gets done, and expect the negotiating committee to stand by and be ready at your beck and call whenever it suits your convenience. This will not do. Any president of a business enterprise who does not have enough control over his work schedule to be able to plan and hold uninterrupted conferences on matters of importance to the firm is obviously in serious trouble.

  In light of what has been happening we feel that the only sound basis for proceeding with the talks is to have regularly scheduled meetings with a day's notice of any necessary change in plans. An interruption or last minute cancellation of a conference will be seen as the insult that it in fact is. (October, 1975)

  (Note: This was a memo to the president and owner of the firm.)