14 Aug

Work is about relationships

Three machinists in workspace by machine talking

Work. Many people dread the Monday morning when they are heading back to their work place. Others are looking for work and don’t seem to be able to find any. For many different reasons (the need for) work can sometimes feel more like a curse than a blessing. But what if there is virtue in work in and of itself, not because of what it can or cannot do for us? Are we then not missing something? What if work is valuable because it is…. well, relational? Passing on our experiences expertise to others, helping colleagues to grow and develop their skills, serving clients with good products and service, producing items that others benefit from. Not to mention the fact that we work with colleagues, managers, distributors, clients, suppliers…

In an essay that British MP Jon Cruddas wrote for and which was published in “What’s love got to do with it: 14 ideas for putting relationships at the heart of policy” (Relate, July 2015), he expands on the notion of work and relationships. A somewhat shortened version of this follows here:

“Love and work, said William Morris. The purpose of life is to employ one’s talent to useful, beautiful and meaningful ends. Work is about relationships. We inherit knowledge from the past and we shape it with others into new forms of value. Work creates hope.

Morris describes it as worthy work. It carries with it the hope of pleasure in rest, the hope of pleasure in our using what it makes, and the hope of pleasure in our daily creative skill. All other work he said is mere toiling to live that we may live to toil. (1)

Today the value in work is neglected. We have got to the point where everything other than work generates value: capital, technology, risk-taking, innovation, anything other than accomplished work and skilful cooperation with others. Both the market and the state have undermined the conditions of meaningful work.

The crash of 2008 revealed the problem with relying upon the financial sector and state administration as the drivers of growth. It was not just the private debt and the public deficit. It was the neglect of vocation and virtue that led to an economy too often rewarding vice in the form of cheating and greed, and excessive self-regard.

In an economy that values work and workers, the old mentor the young and pass on their wisdom and experience, as well as technical skills to the younger apprentice. Workers associate in order to strengthen their knowledge and skill and where it is valued and upheld by vocational colleges. That is why I am committed to the restoration of vocational training so that we can fix and mend, innovate and create.

In work we will value quality and equality. We need to ensure employees are represented on the remuneration committees of large companies, with real status within the firm. It should not be ignored as peripheral. Building partnerships and dialogue between management and workforce creates mutual responsibility and accountability. Management would need to justify their bonuses and the workforce would need to understand the realities of the company.

We will deploy the idea of ‘skin in the game’ to extend accountability into the market. Instead of tying up business in complicated rules and regulations, ‘skin in the game’ reforms incentives in the market. People who make decisions on behalf of others should share in the risks, not just enjoy the rewards. Only then can we start to truly align power and accountability.

It is not just the private economy that has become disconnected – and threatens to disconnect society from itself. Our system of government and our public services are the same. The state is over-centralised and out of touch. It lacks the trust we need to hold society together. Some of our public services have pursued ‘value for money’, and ‘customer satisfaction’, but neglected the human relationships and trust that lie at the heart of public services.

Public sector reform has failed to give frontline staff and users a sense of ownership and control. Instead, it has transferred power from an unaccountable state to unaccountable big corporations. Too much power has been concentrated in the market and the state. There is too little accountability, and too little transparency. People are left feeling powerless and often humiliated. The market and the state have been used as instruments of reform without any transfer of power to people.

The consequences are insecurity at work and low pay; falling living standards; high levels of immigration; and for many a sense of loss of belonging. We need a stronger and more connected society to reform our economy and share our prosperity more fairly. No Whitehall target will create it. People and politics have to make it.”

(1) Morris, W, (1884) Useful work versus Useless Toil, November 1884 https:// www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1884/useful.htm

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