Sunday, 18 December 2016

Dad's lads & Bad Dads- Andrew Sanchez's theory of the precariat.

'Dad's lads' was a term I came across when I was first studying Industrial Economics. The notion was that, at the margin, Craft Unions recruited only the sons of members, preventing other unskilled workers from being able to move into better paid niches within the industry, thus entrenching mutual antagonism and a divisive stratification within the Labor pool. The plethora of Craft Unions, each jealously protective of its inherited privileges, contributed to the parlous state of Britain's declining industrial base. It also hurt the Labor party, because the better off skilled worker had begun to see any gain his Union could make for him would be at the expense of the unskilled workers who either belonged to a different Union or else were disqualified from entry into his own line of work by a sort of self perpetuating caste system. Thus 'Dad's lads' was part of the reason for Mrs. Thatcher's election victory as well as an explanation for the worrying survival of racist and communal sentiments (for example, in Northern Ireland) within the working class.

Employers reacted by favoring 'Company Unions' on the Japanese model because, during the course of the 1970's, it became clear that Government mediations- even the proverbial 'beer and sandwiches' meetings at Downing Street- were not able to curtail the 'Dad's lads' based Craft Unions opposition to rationalization and their insistence on maintaining or widening wage differentials.

However, as property rights in jobs became more and more financially salient- in particular with respect to ballooning pension obligations- Companies were forced down the road of casualisation creating duality within the Labor pool with new entrants increasingly consigned to 'zero hours contract' status who could be hired and fired at will. This phenomenon added a new term to our vocabulary- the 'precariat' i.e. precariously employed proletariat. Middle aged people, like myself, began to feel guilty for having secured our own economic security and affluence at the expense of the life-chances of the rising generation.

Previously, in Economic theory, the Enterprise was considered as the proper body to take on risk for which it earned the reward of profit. However, improved property rights in jobs as well as greater longevity due to affluence and better health care (which meant pension obligations greatly increased) made the risk/reward ratio, for providing permanent employment, untenable for globally competing Enterprises. Hence, the burden of risk was shifted onto those least able to bear it- viz. young, asset poor, entrants to the labour market.

The question arises, why did Enterprises not just reconfigure themselves to get rid of the inherited 'Dad's lads' permanent workers?

Andrew Sanchez, writing of Tatas in Jamshedpur, enables us to discern a wholly novel reason why such 'deadwood' might be retained.
In this context, it should be borne in mind that Tatas ran a paternalistic 'Dad's lads' recruitment policy. However, since property rights in jobs are better entrenched in India- people can't be fired- and also because Tata's blue collar workers are, on Sanchez's report, drug addled, 'proto-male Bihari ideal' type, hooligans with a negative marginal product- the question arises in its acutest form- why does a rational Enterprise not just surgically remove the 'deadwood' which permanent employees represent? Why do they not employ only casual workers?

The obvious answer is that it is a subterfuge required by India's bizarre Labour laws and thus has no universal significance. However, the puzzle remains, why not just pay these doped up hooligans to go sit somewhere else rather than let them run amok on the shop floor?

The answer, according to Sanchez, is that the spectacle of these ganja smoking, glue sniffing, shitheads who get subsidized housing and higher wages and a ton of other benefits from the company, reminds the casual worker, who is himself a 'dad's lad', that his precarious future was ruined by the greed and laziness of his own 'bad dad'. Thus Tata's retains its paternalistic image- it's just that a generational problem occurred and the sons have to pay the price for the worthlessness of their middle aged, workshy, drug addled, fathers.

Why do Tata's keep the permanent staff around on the shop floor? Sanchez says the contribute 'only indirectly' to production. What is that 'indirect contribution'? Sanchez paints a vivid picture-

So there you have it. The young casual worker doesn't want to end up like the crazy, dope smoking, Nepali with a tumor the size of a golf ball bulging out of his cheek.
The message is clear- work hard and even if you don't get paid much or enjoy subsidized housing and job security and so on, at least you won't end up an utter degenerate like Sandeep. What sort of husband and father do you suppose he is? Is that the pattern you want your own life to conform to? Hasn't Jamshepur had enough of 'Dad's lads' turning into 'bad dads'?

Not that Sandeep is a bad man. It's just that the security of permanent employment has turned him into an undisciplined sack of shit. If he were truly evil, he'd have entered the Union racket and killed a few people by now.

Trade Unions and Property Rights in Jobs don't necessarily turn 'Dad's lads' turn into 'bad dads'. But, in 'sunset industries' in a criminalized, 'tribal' backwater like Jharkhand, that's what is bound to happen.

At least, that's what Sanchez's book is telling us.
But, this raises the question- could India have taken another path?
What if the greed of 'bad dad' permanent employees hadn't ended job security for their sons?
Well, older Indians already the know the answer to this question.
Consider the following item from the Times of India, April, 1997

It appears, casteist hiring policies- 'Dad's lads'- produces not just bad dads but murderous sons.

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