Divorcing your boss

BY:Brayden Hafner| July 20, 2020
Divorcing your boss


Class consciousness—the awareness of one’s social and economic position in relation to others and of the collective interests of one’s class—is not easy to come by for workers. The class consciousness of the worker is constantly subverted to create compliance in the workplace and keep workers from unionizing. The worker-boss relationship is one avenue of subverting the worker’s ability to voice their needs and desires and to become class conscious.

Although the disparity between workers’ and CEOs’ wages is at an all-time high,[1] and real wages have barely budged for the working class,[2] many workers  identify with their bosses, to the point of viewing them as their friends (even while not being connected to them outside work).[3] The disconnect between positive worker-boss relations and the inadequate material well-being of the working class indicates a lack of class consciousness—a lack that is perpetuated by companies/bosses and an ill-placed loyalty to them.

While an increase in income leads to higher job satisfaction,[4] only about 43 percent of employees ask for pay increases, and fewer than half receive an increase (the percent is lower for people of color and women). Along with this, people on the lower end of annual salaries are far less likely to request a raise than more affluent people.[5]

One of the many reasons behind this phenomenon is the identification of the worker with the boss, which leads to guilt. Workers are made to feel guilty about making demands that would cut into profits. Demanding fair wages and good working conditions is branded as troublemaking. While the greed of the capitalist is never quenched, the simple act of asking for fair pay is treated as the greatest greed in the workplace.

The workers’ consciousness must be rid of guilt, and to remove guilt one must reject the idea of the boss-friend. The boss under capitalism can only play the role of the antagonist, perpetually stealing the wages of the worker who will never see the fruits of their labor.

The very core of socialist theory and praxis, from thinkers like Marx to Lenin to Luxemburg to Che, has been the seizure of private property by the working class. This does not mean that the Marxist revolution cannot reach out to the boss or the manager, so long as they are willing to relinquish the unjust power they hold over the working class.

What it does mean, however, is that workers, in their constant battle against the capitalist system, must not shackle themselves to personal feelings of loyalty or guilt. Doing so must naturally be contrary to Marxist thought, as these feelings suppress not only the wages and potential enjoyment of work but also the most important tool against oppressive systems—class consciousness.

Working-Class Independence

The current system of employment does not work for the betterment of the working class, and the system as it currently exists is not a requirement for a society to function effectively. However, there are alternatives. Instead of a top-down system, Marxists advocate for a workplace democratically run by the workers. Although not wholly a reality under our current economic system, democratically run workplaces do exist—worker cooperatives—and the outlook for them is quite optimistic.

Worker co-ops function in a way that results in greater happiness shown through higher job satisfaction, lower quit rates, and a feeling of job ownership.[6] In recent years, the number of co-ops has recently grown to about 300, but the opportunities to work in a co-op are very limited. (An example of a large, successful co-op is the Spanish Mondragon Corporation, a federation of worker cooperatives founded in 1956.) Fairly large co-ops exist in industries that can, for the most part, employ only able-bodied people, and some smaller, more localized co-ops hire people with disabilities.[7] Sometimes worker co-ops are located too far from workers to be a feasible opportunity for employment, and even a co-op located close by is likely to be too small to offer many jobs.

Given the difficulties and limits of finding employment in a worker cooperative, what ought workers do?

Union membership peaked in the 1970s when nearly a third of workers belonged to a union; now only about one in ten workers is unionized.[8] Unionization can lead to significant wage increases, more vacation time, and better benefits, such as health insurance and pension plans.[9]

So, for the betterment of the working class, it is in the best interest of workers to join together and demand from their bosses fair compensation for their labor. To do this there must first be an understanding of companionship and solidarity between fellow workers, along with the shedding of guilt found in making these demands. They must come to realize that the antagonist is not the unions or the socialists, but the capitalist bosses who subvert the class consciousness needed to make these demands.

While the ultimate goal of the communist cannot be reached single-handedly or on a local basis—that goal being the complete democratization of the workplace and the abolition of private property—what can be done is personal action which manifests into workplace change. Workers might be able to form co-ops, but absent this, this can band together in unions to demand fairer compensation and better working conditions. Until the end of private property and wage slavery, these solutions are temporary Band-Aids for an inherently broken system; the workers’ strife will only end with the demise of capitalism.


[1] Mishel, Lawrence, and Jessica Schieder, “CEO Compensation Surged in 2017.” Economic Policy Institute, August 18, 2018.
[2] Drew DeSilver, “For Most U.S. Workers, Real Wages Have Barely Budged in Decades.” Pew Research Center, August 7, 2018.
[3] “Study Explores Manager and Employee Relationships.” Olivet Nazarene University, June 2018.
[4] “How Americans View Their Jobs.” Pew Research Center, December 31, 2019.
[5] Bourree Lam, “Do People Who Ask for Raises Actually Get Them?” The Atlantic, December 3, 2015.
[6] Anthony Murray, “Co-Operatives Make for a Happy Place to Work.” Co-Operative News, March 20, 2013.
[7] Karen Kahn, “Worker Cooperatives: State of the Sector.” Medium, July 26, 2018.
[8] Quoctrung Bui, “50 Years of Shrinking Union Membership, in One Map.” NPR, February 23, 2015.
[9] Matthew Walters and Lawrence Mishel, “How Unions Help All Workers.” Economic Policy Institute, August 26, 2003.

Image: Raymond “Dmitri” Beljan, Creative Commons (BY 2.0).


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