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It's a job."" For Professor Pfeffer (Political Science, Johns Hopkins) it was also, and more importantly, a chance to spend his sabbatical year exploring the world of the blue-collar worker. With other applicants, he waits hours in personnel offices; then, hired as a forklift operator in a piston-ring factory, he finds his instruction minimal, management hostile or distant, the union co-opted, the workers themselves resigned and discouraged. Aware that he's not there to stay, Pfeffer nonetheless succeeds both in communicating how job oppression filled and overflowed his working hours and in relating this experience to Marxist ideas of labor theory, alienation, and capitalist exploitation. His early efforts to master the job meet with frustration--one great problem lay in adjusting to ""the endless series of disruptions,"" another in the near-constant machinery breakdown, yet another in management indifference: ""What you think or care about is essentially irrelevant and ignored."" Like the other workers, Pfeffer spends his day relating to things--to the piles of trash and piston-rings lining his route-instead of to people: ""actual face to face cooperation during smooth periods is virtually non-existent."" Black workers are restricted to lower paying jobs, rabble-rousers are punished or fired. And the union functions more to support than to challenge management. After this rich description, however, Pfeffer proceeds to examine at length six related books which he evaluates on a Marxism vs. liberal scale. Studs Terkel (Working), at midpoint, is criticized for citing ""a variety of factors other than capitalism itself"" to explain worker dissatisfaction. Richard Balzer (Clockwork), in turn, is scored for his ""liberal unconsciousness"" and (again) for not realizing that ""capitalism, not production as such, is the problem"" Capitalism may be the problem, all right, yet exactly how ""working for socialism"" will brighten up the piston-ring factory remains to be shown; too bad Pfeffer didn't stop there.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1979
Publisher: Columbia Univ. Press