Rewilding Work

Complexity tends to be resilient, while simplicity tends to be fragile. | George Monbiot

Quote of the Moment

The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world.

| J. G. Ballard



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In the process of transitioning all my workings into Obsidian (a long story), I turned up various materials I had read once but never wrote about. Here’s one example.

George Monbiot, environmentalist and author, has written a lot about ‘rewilding’ — allowing domesticated parkland or farmland to revert to a wild, more complex and chaotic state — and once offered the prescription of rewilding politics:

When you try to control nature from the top down, you find yourself in a constant battle with it. Conservation groups in this country often seek to treat complex living systems as if they were simple ones. Through intensive management – cutting, grazing and burning – they strive to beat nature into submission until it meets their idea of how it should behave. But ecologies, like all complex systems, are highly dynamic and adaptive, evolving, when allowed, in emergent and unpredictable ways.

Eventually, and inevitably, these attempts at control fail. Nature reserves managed this way tend to lose abundance and diversity, and to require ever more extreme intervention to meet the irrational demands of their stewards. They also become vulnerable. In all systems, complexity tends to be resilient, while simplicity tends to be fragile. Keeping nature in a state of arrested development, in which most of its natural processes and its keystone species (the animals that drive these processes) are missing, makes it highly susceptible to climate breakdown and invasive species. But rewilding – allowing dynamic, spontaneous organisation to reassert itself – can result in a sudden flourishing, often in completely unexpected ways, with a great improvement in resilience.

The same applies to politics. Mainstream politics, controlled by party machines, have sought to reduce the phenomenal complexity of human society into a simple, linear model, that can be controlled from the centre. The political and economic systems they create are simultaneously highly unstable and lacking in dynamism: susceptible to collapse, as many northern towns can testify, while unable to regenerate themselves. They become vulnerable to the toxic, invasive forces of ethno-nationalism and supremacism.

I believe that this observation carries over to the world of work. I’ll recast the line from Monbiot that I bolded in the paragraph above:

Mainstream business, controlled by the mangement elite, have sought to reduce the phenomenal complexity of work culture into a simple, linear model, that can be controlled from the centre. The organizational systems they create are simultaneously highly unstable and lacking in dynamism.

Monbiot makes a case for rewilding politics, where local groups have come together to reoccupy

the political space that had been captured by party machines and top-down government. They have worked out together what their communities need and how to make it happen, refusing to let politicians frame the questions or determine the answers.

We need a rewilding of work, where the people doing the work have a much bigger voice in how to organize from the bottom-up, as an emergent, complex social system rather than a top-down machine based on power and control rather than participative cooperation.


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Farah Stockman’s What Killed the Blue-Collar Struggle for Social Justice shines a bright light on an area not often explored: how women were hit by the migration of manufacturing out of the US:

In 2016, about three million American women worked in manufacturing, a far greater number than worked as lawyers or financiers. Yet the urgent needs of blue-collar women for quality child care, paid medical leave and more flexible work schedules rarely made it into the national conversation, perhaps because the professional women who set the agenda already enjoyed those benefits.

So much of the debate about sexism and women’s rights focuses on how to negotiate salaries like a man and get more women onto corporate boards. Meanwhile, blue-collar women are still struggling to find jobs that pay $25 an hour. And the United States remains one of the only countries with no federal law mandating paid maternity leave.

[...]

In many ways, the decline in American manufacturing hit Black people the hardest. According to a 2018 study of the impact of manufacturing employment on Black and white Americans from 1960 through 2010, the decline in manufacturing contributed to a 12 percent overall increase in the racial wage gap for men.

When you follow a dying factory up close, it’s easy to see how globalization left a growing group of people competing for a shrinking pool of good factory jobs. Affirmative action becomes more fraught as good jobs get scarce and disappear.

Google’s regional pay cuts for employees who work from home may backfire says Ranni Molla:

Google recently bet $2 billion that its New York workforce will return to the office. But to encourage its employees to actually make use of its massive real estate investments, some say the tech behemoth is using sticks, not carrots: Google employees who move to less expensive parts of the country could see their pay cut. In June, the company launched a tool for employees that showed how much less they’d be paid — anywhere from 5 to 25 percent, according to Reuters — if they move from somewhere like the Bay Area or New York City to a lower-cost location.

Many companies that employ the estimated 13 percent of US workers who are still working from home due to the pandemic expect to open their offices back up in January. Google is one of several notable tech companies, including Facebook and Twitter, that has enacted controversial plans to lower pay for remote workers who’ve moved away from the expensive areas where their headquarters are located. But there are signs these policies may backfire.

While potential repercussions for cutting workers’ pay may not be immediate, humans are highly susceptible to loss aversion — losses are more painful than gains are pleasurable — and pay cuts could cause workers to either leave or resent the company. Alienating your existing workforce is always a bad idea, but it’s especially bad when tech companies are already struggling to find the workers they need.

Even though Google is a highly desirable employer, 53 percent of 230 verified Google workers said, in a survey for Recode that was conducted by workplace community app Blind, that they would think about leaving the company if they moved and had their pay cut. That’s a bit less than the 68 percent of all professionals on Blind who said so, but it’s still high. Googlers are also more likely (30 percent) to have moved outside their metropolitan area since the pandemic began than professionals at large (22 percent), and some Googlers have already shown a willingness to leave the company over what some of them have called hypocritical remote work policies.

The hypocritical theme arose when a senior executive at Google announced he was moving to New Zealand while most would have to be in the office at least three days a week.

A great quote from the piece:

Just because you work in tech doesn’t mean you’re magically enlightened in management styles.

| Paul Rubenstein


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In Could an I.A.T.S.E. Union Strike Fix the Film Industry?, Alex Press details various unions striking for better work conditions to counter ‘mandatory overtime and unpredictable schedules have proven to be two of this year’s most volatile labor issues’.

Jonathan Malesic offers deep insight in Returning to the Office and the Future of Work, including this:

Leisure is what we do for its own sake. It serves no higher end.

In Facebook ends 'WFH forever' rule after mega outage, Sead Fadilpašić thinks Facebook is just using the recent 5-hour outage as workwashing to get people back in the office:

The era of hybrid working may be at an end for Facebook employees after the company announced a full return to the office.

Having previously offered a "WFH forever" approach, the social media giant has now told employees they have three months to get back to the office, according to a Daily Mail report. The news comes days after Facebook suffered a major outage, which the company apparently believes would have been a lot less devastating had people been in its American headquarters.