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What's in store before 1994?

We asked our readers what impact they thought the slump would have on our lives this year. Here are some of their thoughts. If you want your say, keep it short and send it to Living Marxism, BCM JPLTD, London WC1N 3XX, or fax it to (071) 278 9844

Genevieve, London

Councils of war

There was a time when a position in local government was thought to be a good little number. What with flexitime, time off for trade union meetings, generous holidays and a better sickness allowance. Not any more. The council I work for is a clear example of how local government jobs, terms and conditions are being slashed in a climate of never-ending cuts.

Flexitime? The manager in my office insists that everyone gets in before 9am and does not leave before 5.30pm. Anyone more than 10 minutes late three times faces disciplinary proceedings.

After five days sick leave staff are asked to attend a 'discussion' with management (otherwise known as a verbal warning). After 10 days sick it's either a written or final warning depending on the circumstances. Management assure us this isn't a disciplinary procedure - it's the new sickness procedure!

As yet the holiday entitlement hasn't been cut - officially. However, holiday requests are being refused because management say there is insufficient cover. When you try to carry over the 15 days (which have been refused) at the year-end, they say the limit is five days - the rest must be lost.

The threat of compulsory contract-tendering looms large. When management say you must double your workload to compete with the private sector, you must not refuse because it is a disciplinary offence. With big spending cuts coming, my manager told us to expect 'massive' compulsory redundancies. People with high sickness levels and disciplinary records will go first.

On this basis he won't have any staff left to manage in 1994.

Heather Owen, London

Human sacrifice

In 1993 I think we will see more of Human Resource Management, as opposed to the Personnel Management style, now dubbed 'welfarist'. This means that we will increasingly be encouraged to identify with the needs of 'our' organisation, through a conscious strategy of worker participation.

Human Resource managers will spend 1993 inventing new methods of attempting to cohere workers around the aims of the organisation. We will be encouraged to accept that we all need to make sacrifices in order that the organisation can remain viable; whether this is by accepting pay cuts, putting in extra unpaid overtime, putting up with worsening safety standards, or allowing fellow workers to be 'outplaced' without a fight.

At the same time many employees are being 'empowered' to take a more active role in decision-making. Giving individuals some say over the control of work practices or budgets is simply a cosmetic measure aimed at making us take responsibility for the slump. It is vital that we are not taken in by these tactics.

Rebecca York, Barrow-in-Furness

Horse sense

We will all be living in fear for our horses and ponies. The sick knife-attacker and crazed master of rope-burns and bondage is omnipresent and 'knows horses'. Even sleeping with your horse in the safety of your home cannot stop him. One owner contemplated having her horses put down to avoid suffering and this is jolly good advice. Other ideas include putting a padlock on the stable door, although some owners worry about the risk of fire. Still, if your horse is a non-smoker then it is a precaution worth taking.

Paola Martos, Brighton

Slump style

The fashion houses will be empty of ideas and the public will be empty of pocket. Wearing good, expensive new clothes will be considered a provocation; instead, we will be encouraged to spend less, to buy second-hand clothes, to dig out our mothers' flares. Designers once considered daring and innovative will follow Marks & Spencer's lead, producing sensible clothes at affordable prices with no pretence of originality. Others will follow the ecological route, selling garbage dressed up as recycled wear.

Quality will suffer, so will quantity. The supermodels will lose their height, their prefix and possibly a few noughts off their salaries. In utter desperation, fashion nostalgia will rediscover the good old working classes. Naomi Campbell will go down the catwalk in sequined cloth cap and ripped boilersuit. This won't stop the decline of British fashion or the financial difficulties of retailers. Along with every other aspect of our standard of living, fashion will be impoverished in spirit and in matter. But grunge-like attempts to make poverty acceptable will not be much inspiration to those of us at the sharp end of the recession.

Robert Lockwood, Nottingham

Heads down

Where's the fightback? The collection of veterans of the labour movement I spoke to on the Nottingham miners' rally didn't seem to have an answer. But nobody was there for answers - they were just there to show their support.

The members of Nalgo who had just turned down strike action to defend their wages didn't seem to have an answer either. Every worker in every department knows there are cuts going on, but nowadays cuts are just a part of life - not something to fight (ie, risk your job) over. Some people are even accepting the idea that we all need to tighten our belts and make sacrifices.

People won't take strike action because they are scared; they want to keep their heads down. And that affects all of us, whether we'd like to go on strike or not. Behind the apathy is a feeling of dread about what's to come. One woman told me she didn't want to talk to other workers about the cuts because it might make them even more worried about it.

I predict that in 1993 we will see this sort of mood get worse. The idea of 'keeping your head down, you might keep your job' will become more entrenched.

On a more positive note, I also predict that there will be more people open to new ideas. Nowadays it is very rare that I meet anyone who has anything good to say for either Labour or Tory. The cynicism that the vast majority have for old-fashioned politics is the one positive thing that stands out today - and with it the possibility of creating a new opposition for the future. *

Linda Hargreaves, Kent

Ill-health service

Health service workers will continue to bear the brunt. While their pay and working conditions decline, there will be more talk about 'patients' rights' courtesy of PR-style management.

The theoretical doublespeak will have nothing to do with access to decent healthcare. Instead the endless meetings will have on the agenda vitally important matters such as the greeting the patient should receive as he or she enters the hospital.

This laughable logic has a sinister meaning. Blame for mistakes will be put firmly on to the shoulders of NHS workers. The fact that someone receives crap medical treatment will matter less than if the receptionist didn't smile at them.

Increasing workloads will ensure mistakes are made. Trained nurses will be replaced by untrained staff on rock-bottom grades. The casual 'bank' system will replace permanent posts, with no sick or holiday pay and no guarantee of work.

'Community care' will force even more people to forfeit their own lives to look after sick dependants. Those who have nobody to care for them will be left to fend for themselves, with increasing numbers of psychiatric patients turfed on to the streets as more hospitals close.

And the meetings will continue with such things as 'quality assurance' and 'patient throughput' under intense discussion.

Meanwhile, in the real world of lost case notes, three-hour waits, computer breakdowns and overnight stays on casualty trolleys, public frustration will be fuelled still further. In the absence of any positive outlet for this anger, it will be the health workers with their painted smiles who will have to deal with it.

Graham Lovejoy, West London

Hi-tech/low prospects

Not very long ago, people who worked in the new hi-tech industries enjoyed relatively high salaries and good job secuity. The lack of workplace organisation did not present a problem to those who used the skills shortage to bargain for better pay.

In the last year or two, more and more of these skilled workers have joined their unskilled counterparts in the dole queue. Today a degree in computer studies will not guarantee a job. Hi-tech industries such as electronics and computing are now experiencing the consequences of the slump. Computer-giant IBM recently announced massive losses, and others are bound to follow.

We can expect salaries to deteriorate. There will be more moves towards performance-related pay and individual assessment. And because most of the workers in this sector have never been involved with unions, their response is likely to be even more individualistic than those who have.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 54, April 1993



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