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Sympathetic to workers' problems but you may find little new here
on 21 October 2007
A doctor warned me once that people weren't built for rapid mentally jumping from one thing to another and that hi-tech companies tended to use people up. Sennett's warning came quite late.
Sennett's findings seem well intended but not surprising at all to anyone who has worked in hi-tech. I suspect many other workers have noticed the consequences of the "new" capitalism. Similarly, there seems nothing wrong with trying to simplify what is happening by noting a few key characteristics and values. Sennett's observations on the exploitation of "teamwork", although familiar, are welcome. "Risk", "failure", "flexibility" , it all can become as manipulative as political speech about "liberty", "democracy" and "free markets".
However, the 176 pages seem like 20. Despite footnotes, Sennett seems to be writing as if he were the first observer of capitalism, entirely out of character for the profound author of "The Hidden Injuries of Class:. The exact nature of the impact on character in this newer book seems largely unestablished. The efforts of unions, albeit sparse with hi-tech, goes unnoticed. The real consequences on real lives becomes an apparent gentlemenly philosophical exercise. How carefully he closes: "But I do know a regime which provides human beings no deep reasons to care about one another cannot long preserve its legitimacy". If there were, in this book, more sociological and less anecdotal support for such a claim, "The Corrosion of Character" might be worth your reading. As it is, you may well know it yourself.
Sennett does note at the end a "fear of the resurgence of unions". I didn't see that Sennett provided any pointers on where to seek help apart from an abstract appeal to community. Instead of watching your own character corrode, one possibility is seeking out a union on the Web (such as the Industrial Workers of the World).
This book was a big disappointment as I had read Sennett before and been quite impressed, so I may now have expected a lot. It may still be that for some readers this book will help identify for them what is troubling about their work and serve as a basis for discussion of work problems with others.