Saturday, December 09, 2006

Comrade Homeslice, bring everything in your desk with you to the office...

From time to time, I check my traffic stats to see where my traffic's coming from, what they're looking at, how long they're staying-- okay, I'm a nerd when it comes to stats....though not quite as bad as Three Standard Deviations to the Left (though it's a great blog, I draw the line at putting uh, scatter diagrams of my classes' performance on my blog).

Anyhow, I've been getting a handful of hits from China, which is kind of funny-- unions and China don't seem like they'd mix. Seeing as how the communist party there is the people's party, why would there be a need for a union? I speak Marx:

"From each according to their ability, to each according to their need."

Anyhow, I got a hit the other day from somewhere in China, albeit cool, but their activity was surprising to say the least. Why do I say surprising?

They translated my post about "How to explain a layoff" from English into Chinese. Wonder what it was used for...or who got screwed because of it. You can see what this blog looks like in Chinese here.

(Somewhat long post follows inspired by that football email every teacher in the free world has been forwarding around. Except me, of course.)

I can imagine it now...somewhere in Communist China nestled in the back alleys of an overgrown, over industrialized city among the stores selling our pirated videos, DVDs and music there exists a smallish factory.

In the central office, the manager turns around from his computer and stubs out his cigarette. He clicks the factory's public address system, and speaks to the entire factory. Out of respect (and fear) the workers on the assembly line floor stop their work and anxiously look up at the speakers. Their machines fall silent.

The manager never addresses us twice in the same day, they think. Once in the morning with a reading from the Chairman's little red book to inspire us, and then nothing until the end of the day announcement by his assistant.

"Comrades, please pardon the interruption.” Announces the manager. “Would Comrade Machinery Operator Number 451 please report to my office immediately?"

A gasp goes out among the workers. No one has ever been summonsed to the manger's office for anything good. A few workers knowingly glance at each other, but nothing is said. The din of the machines begin to fill the recently silenced void as the overseers look on. The large North American discount retailer expects their order to be fulfilled and on time, thought one worker, and there are not good things that happen when it's not.

In the office a few minutes later, a knock at the door alerts the manager.

"Come in." says the manager.

"You wanted to see me, sir?" said Machinery Operator #451, his hat in his hands.

"Yes, I'm sorry to say this to you, but I'm going to have to lay you off." replied the manager.

"Lay me off, sir? I don't understand what you're saying." said #451.

"Uh, yes, it is a western term. You see, we aren't making enough money as a factory to keep you as a worker and pay you your wage. Therefore you're going to be let go."

"Oh. But I thought this factory was subsidized by the People's Republic of China, and that's who paid our salaries. Has the government run out of money?" queried the worker.

"Heavens no, he government hasn’t run out of money! The factory is subsidized, but not as much as it used to be. You see, recently the 56th People's Party Congress passed a law at the behest of the President to make sure that our factories were putting out the best product. It was odd, government officials that usually do not agree agreed and got this law created." the manager looked around. "Some groups actually accused the factories of not working as hard as they should or putting out the best product."

"Sir," said the worker, "I am the first one here and the last one to leave. Rarely do I get a break, and when I do get a break usually I use it to put out a better product. My days here are devoted to being the best possible worker I can be. I put my all into this product."

"I know you do. I am proud of your work, and I am honored to have you in my factory. But this law....what is it called, let me see. Ah yes, it is called the Strengthening Trademark Unification and Preventing Industrial Defects law."

"That's a long name." said the worker.

"Yes, it is. Most of my fellow managers have just shortened the name to STUPID."

"Ahh. I see. So what does this STUPID law do?"

"Well, basically it says we must be the best factory in China by making the best product, and our product must pass all of the quality control tests administered by the government. If our products do not pass these tests, we face penalties from the government. You see, each of us in this factory must work as hard as we can."

“Who wrote these tests? Were they workers like me, or managers like you who are familiar with how factories work?” asked the worker.

“No number 451. They were written by government officials who probably have never set foot in a factory in their life or thought about how complicated factory work can be.” The manager looked around nervously. “But I’m sure they wrote these laws with the best interests of the Chinese people in mind.”

“When are these quality control tests?” asked the worker. “Are they each day, each week, month….when are they?”

“They are in the 4th, 8th and 10th or 11th month—I can’t remember which.” Said the manager.

“But that doesn’t make sense. If these quality control tests are so important….” The worker trailed off, perhaps because of the glare from his manager. “But I’m sure they wrote these tests with the best interests of the Chinese people in mind.”

The manager nervously wiped his sweaty brow.

“Have they given us extra workers to meet these new standards?” asked the worker.

“No.” answered the manager.

“What about new machinery or more resources?”

“No.” said the manager again.

“Were we given any money to train workers to get ready to make a product to comply with these quality control tests?”

“Some money,” said the manager “but it is not enough to do what must be done. However, we must make do with what training we have and are able to provide. We must also make do with the equipment and resources we have because there isn’t any money to update them.”

"But my equipment is old," cried the worker, "it must be from before the Great Cultural Revolution! It breaks down often, and there is no money to replace it! Often times I have to fix it with my own means, including chewing gum, tape and my own money!"

"I know." said the manager. "But as I said before, there is no additional money to fix these machines or buy new ones, even though we could make a better product with better machines and resources. In fact, if our products don't pass enough of the government's quality control tests, they will take away some of our machines to focus our efforts. Then we’ll have to do better with whatever equipment and resources are left."

The worker looked astounded. How could a factory be expected to meet its production quota each month and maintain the quality if the means of production were taken away?

"But sir," said the worker, "sometimes the raw materials we are given to make our product require us to take extra time to prepare them to be made into our product. I don't mind taking the extra time, that's what we are here for, and I am committed to producing a quality product. However, I know for a fact that the factory on the other side of the valley gets raw materials that do not require as much preparation time as our raw materials do. That means that they have an advantage over us, one that seems to be unfair. Yet we are expected to compete with them. Why is this so?"

The manager looked out the window at the snow that was softly falling onto the Stalinist-era concrete buildings.

"I don't know, number 451. That is a good question. A good question indeed. I think our factory does an excellent job with the preparation of the raw materials and the creation of our product. Our workers, such as yourself are devoted employees and go above and beyond their required responsibilities. I would venture to guess that the workers and managers in the valley factory might not have to work as hard as we do, given the condition of their raw materials when they receive them. But we have recently run into a problem."

"What is that, sir?" queried #451.

"Well, because some of the raw material suppliers have not been happy with our preparation of them or the products we create with them, some of our suppliers have chosen to divert their product to other factories." said the manager.

"Like the one on the other side of the valley?" asked the worker.

"No, that one is too far away, and due to where they are located, the suppliers will not be able to send their raw materials there. Instead, there have been newer factories opening up in some of the empty buildings around town, and many suppliers have been sending their raw materials there.

"In empty buildings? They do not sound safe or the proper place for a factory. A lot of things are needed for a proper factory. Are they inspected by the People's Republic Building and Manufacturing Comradeship as we are? And are their workers required to be trained on their machines and raw material preparation methods prior to being hired?"

"No." responded the manager.

"But that's not fair!" exclaimed the worker. "They've got our raw materials, they aren't being held to the same government regulations that we are and it sounds like their workers might not know what they are doing because they don’t have the training to do things correctly. With this lax attitude, these factories can’t be doing well. In fact, I bet they put out the worst possible product out there.”

“Many are putting out inferior products. This is not due to the raw materials they are receiving, as I have said before, these are the same raw materials we are getting and you see what we have been able to produce with them.” Said the manager.

“How then are these factories staying open?”

“Well, it must be that they are an alternative. Despite the fact that they produce a shoddy product (if they are able to stay open) for whatever reason, it seems that suppliers send their raw materials there, even though those factories aren’t truly doing everything possible with those raw materials.”

Why were these new factories allowed to open anyway?" asked the worker.

"They are operated by private citizens-- wealthy private citizens and their factories. Many of these private citizens petitioned the government for these factories to open, saying they would be able to make a better product in place of many of the state-run and operated factories. They said factories like ours were inefficiently run and could not put out a quality product. So they allowed raw materials to be diverted and loosened or got rid of the many rules that we have to deal with so that these new factories could open."

"These rules are for the benefit of everyone. Workers, managers, products and raw materials." said the worker.

"Yes. Now, because our resources are diverted, we do not have enough raw materials to keep the number of workers that we have in the factory. We must get rid of some workers." said the manager.

"How are you to do that? How do you figure it out?" asked the worker.

"The fair way is to do it in order of when workers were hired. Loyalty over time should be rewarded. It is also a true objective measure for determining worker order.

"What about how hard I work?" said number 451.

"That is subjective. When I walk the floor, you might be feeling ill and not working up to your usual standards. If one of my subordinates walks the floor, they might be unfair to a worker or give a certain worker an advantage based on their human nature. That is not the right way to judge a worker."

"You're right. So I am to be...how do you say it-- laid off? I would like to continue to work here sir. Perhaps if another job opens up here, you'll consider me?"

"I know you would like to work here." said the manager. "However, I only expect to lose more machinery and more raw materials with the suppliers changing and the government sanctions. We will have to do more and more with less and less. I expect our workforce to shrink and additional workers to be laid off."

"It sounds as if this factory might go out of business." posited the worker.

"It might. It just might, comrade number 451. If it is not forced out of business, it will be irreparably damaged. Imagine that, a state-run institution created for the greater good effectively destroyed or incapacitated by a private sector institution that was created by the government itself."

"Sir, there's just one more thing."

"Yes?"

"Where will I find work if I no longer have a job?" asked the worker.

"Well, you could always sell your body parts." said the manager.


3 comments:

Tracy W said...

I find it interesting that this worker's defences are all about inputs, never about outputs.

The worker says
"Sir," said the worker, "I am the first one here and the last one to leave. Rarely do I get a break, and when I do get a break usually I use it to put out a better product. My days here are devoted to being the best possible worker I can be. I put my all into this product."

The worker doesn't say "While I have been here, I have increased the percentage of our end products that meet the quality standards by 37%".

And it's also interesting that the worker thinks the appropriate people to define quality are the people who work in the factory, not the people who actually use the finished material of the factory.

The manager also doesn't mention that the government has been trying to improve quality for decades by increasing funding, but whenever they put money into the system it just gets swallowed up by the local party politariat and never reaches the factory.

“Well, it must be that they are an alternative. Despite the fact that they produce a shoddy product (if they are able to stay open) for whatever reason, it seems that suppliers send their raw materials there, even though those factories aren’t truly doing everything possible with those raw materials.”

The manager doesn't consider the possibility that his own factory is doing even less of everything possible with those raw materials.

"Well, because some of the raw material suppliers have not been happy with our preparation of them or the products we create with them, some of our suppliers have chosen to divert their product to other factories." said the manager.

Gosh, that's the way capitalism works. People aren't happy, they go elsewhere. And funnily enough, it seems to produce much better outcomes than socialism. People have risked death to be able to chose which factories they get their products from.

"It might. It just might, comrade number 451. If it is not forced out of business, it will be irreparably damaged. Imagine that, a state-run institution created for the greater good effectively destroyed or incapacitated by a private sector institution that was created by the government itself."

Gosh, imagine a government that thinks that the output of a factory is more important than protecting the jobs of the people working there. Imagine a government that is seeking new and innovative ways of producing better quality output.

And remember that this better quality output is educated adults. Imagine a government that thinks that increasing the number of kids who can read and write is more important than protecting any single form of a school.

Dr. Homeslice said...

Wow! Great response...almost as long as my original post.

Touche!

Anonymous said...

Like you, I am always curious about who's reading my blog and why. Such is the beauty of the medium.

I once read that China has gone to great lengths to censor much of the internet, I think via Google. It's sad that Big Brother is alive and well.

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