From Socialist Voice, December 2006

Thought police at work in Gate Gourmet

Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is probably best remembered for its notorious “thought police”—a sinister, omniscient secret police network that employed psychology and surveillance in finding and eliminating members of society who were capable of the mere thought of challenging the ruling authority. Orwell’s target is well known, but perhaps he might have looked elsewhere: to the machinations of what is often known as “industrial psychology” and its application in the capitalist work-place.
    An international airline catering company, Gate Gourmet, has been caught engaging in its own form of thought-policing in attempting to pre-empt a potentially recalcitrant work-force at its plant in Dublin. Corporate head office has urged the management at the plant to carry out a quasi-psychological profile of individual employees to ascertain who is most likely to resist changes in their duties as the company pushes towards changing existing work practices. The “Dublin risk matrix,” as it is euphemistically called, seeks to collate such information as whether workers were married or have children in order to determine their likely stance in an industrial relations crisis.
    A list of fifteen “factors” for each worker is designated as required management knowledge on such categories as sources of contractual flexibility, employee profile, and employee risk profile. Some of the factors under “employee profile” include “married and kids,” date of birth, “strength of work ethic,” “flexible attitude,” “conduct at work,” and union membership. “Married and kids,” for example, would seem to suggest that those workers who have family commitments are looked on as more malleable instruments, less likely to rock the boat, take strike action, or protest unofficially.
    Under “employee risk profile,” managers are asked to rate individual workers according to three questions: (a) would protest and raise a grievance, (b) would disobey a reasonable instruction, or (c) would take illegal action. The “contractual flexibility” category includes such factors as whether the worker has a flexibility clause in their particular contract, or whether they have accepted instructions in the past to do different jobs and work in various departments.
    SIPTU has rightly described the documents as sinister, provocative and reprehensible and may now seek to take an equality claim against Gate Gourmet. This is a company that is in no way a stranger to controversy, having recently ridden roughshod over workers’ rights in England in actions that bear all the hallmarks of a crude union-busting campaign.
    In 2005 the company sacked hundreds of its workers at Heathrow Airport by megaphone, handing out prepared dismissal notices with just three minutes’ warning. However, as events at Dublin prove, this company is quite ready to employ more sophisticated, manipulative forms of action in order to garner compliance and maintain its effective totalitarian grip over the work process.
    Such militant acts of employers’ counter-mobilisation more than ever show the necessity of a robust union organisation model which has the ability to challenge ideologically opposed employers.

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