Managing Radically: A First-Hand Account

A group of business people's arms with their hands joined in the middle to make an 8-pronged star.

I am a Socialist. I am also a manager. I try to wake up and go to work every day with the mindset to help make life in capitalism as bearable as possible for the people I work with. It’s not amazing. We deal with angry customers, long hours, and upper management that is hostile towards organized labor. I took the position because I wanted to put what theory I understand of socialism into practice as part of management. I’m not perfect, but I’m learning and working on it. The goal of this piece is to shed some light on how we, as leftist, can start to transition and win people over by implementing the practice of people over profit in everything we do and every position we have.

Ideally, workers should control the means of production. I tell any new people to the team this. I do not use those exact words, mind you. What I do say is that I want the team to make my job irrelevant. When people ask, I tell them my position should be an elected position so I work for them as if they have the power to hire or fire me. I am there to back them up. Not all, but most managers rely on the fact that workers require them to make decisions. Sometimes these decisions are small, such as handling a customer complaint, issuing a refund, or creating a schedule. Sometimes the decisions might be what a company considers “big” such as raises or hiring and firing. That’s just simply not true. People under me know what they are doing and I trust the decisions they make. There is already a nearly self-sufficient team now in our department that rely on their own training for situations as they come up – and it’s going fantastic.

Another course of action I knew had to be taken when moving to the position was to secure a higher wage for everyone. I really don’t care what performance looks like; it is a matter of basic decency that people should make a living wage. This was one of the more difficult challenges to achieve, yet it was one of the most essential things I felt I had to do. Throughout multiple conversations with upper management, things went as expected: resistance and demands to show some sort of reasoning as to why we would increase pay – taking money away from the bottom line. Let me here introduce you to a budget term that is often used in managerial discussions; it’s called labor dollars per hour value. The function of the term is exactly what it sounds like: it measures how much profit you represent after expenses are paid out. This is how the “worth” of surplus labor is regarded within the cadre of corporate leadership. This number is usually made-up based on financial data from the previous year. The goal is to meet the number by squeezing other areas which can be achieved in a few ways. One it to reduce the number of people on the payroll by either improving the technology or process required to do the job so more can be done quicker. Another way could be to reduce pay in the form of benefit cuts. Usually a combination of many methods are employed, depending on how ruthless the company leadership is deciding to be. It was frustrating to hear from upper management that never learned nor cared to learn how to do jobs “below” them that it was “easy” or that they “didn’t understand why pushing buttons justified such a high pay.” Fortunately, I was able to make it happen for everyone because I could illustrate the difficulty of the work and make a convincing argument of the “reasons” the pay was justified. Most places pay what they pay, despite any extenuating circumstances the worker might be facing, and if people must have two or three jobs like it to have basic necessities, it’s not the company’s problem. After I was able to negotiate a pay raise for my workers, all pay-related decisions have been moved up to a higher position in the organization.

Most work cultures make it taboo to talk about your pay and my workplace is no different. At one time they told people they couldn’t talk about their pay because it was confidential information (an illegal practice; if someone is telling you that you cannot talk with pay I would recommend seeking counsel from a trusted legal professional). I make it very clear that people should discuss things like pay and work conditions with one another. Obviously, this goes part in parcel with what we believe in the power of people to associate and collectively bargain to secure a fair wage. I’ve sat in meetings with VP’s, directors, and even HR say things to the effect of “one person can’t speak for the group, we know what that leads to,” and “we’re a family company,” “we take care of each other, and “we don’t need a union.” When team members come and ask about pay I will always encourage them to talk to fellow team members, find people they agree with, and pressure management as a group. Another anti-organizing tactic you might be subjected to and not even know it are “anti-soliciting” policies. These are things like no personal advertisements on company billboards or no leaving fundraising fliers on company break tables. This reduces exposure to organizing materials. Companies know if they allow personal ads on a billboard like selling your lamp or offering after hour language lessons they would then have to allow someone to put up a note about a meeting after work to talk about your rights or pay. In these situations, you can get creative if you feel you have an opportunity to talk to coworkers who will be sympathetic to hearing us out. I offer my office space as a substitution for such things. Of course, I must limit it to my team, but they can post things in my personal space. During the recent teacher strikes, I used it as an opportunity to hint at unionization and what a strike can achieve (i.e. hey, have you seen the news about West Virginia? Crazy they were able to get that raise! That’s a lot of power people have to shut a state or business down when they walk out).

Direct compensation isn’t the only area where I am able to help. Many times, people will forget to clock in or out. They then must have a supervisor to correct the time. I will always give people the benefit of the doubt. If you tell me you left at 5:30, that’s the time I’ll put down for you, happily. My company also wants disciplinary action when people are “excessively” late. Most people put in 40+ hour weeks and I’m not going to write anybody up for coming in a couple minutes late. I just don’t care. I don’t have an issue until you start screwing over your fellow workers. Per other policies at my company, we are on an accrued paid time off (PTO) system. This means for every hour you work you gain a percentage back that becomes PTO. You can take this anytime, but once you are out, it is supposed to be unexcused. I’ve volunteered my own PTO for people when they are out of PTO so that they can still get paid. I’ve tried to never deny a PTO request.

Supplies are another area in short order. If the team needs something, I will try to get it for them. There was a team member on another team that asked their supervisor for a Swiffer so they could clean a machine and it didn’t happen. When I heard about it I just went and personally bought it. It’s a simple tool that doesn’t need budget approval to get.

I have fought against prison labor, terminations, and OSHA/DoL violations. At the end of the day, I would go to bat for any team member. If it came down to my job or theirs, I would rather I go and I think that is the key. A company wants it to be about profits, but I try to make it about the people because in the end, that’s all we have and that is where the revolution starts.

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