What Shakespeare tells us about the working world

Zoom replaced the expense of meeting face to face. PHOTO BY Lincoln Holder - Lincoln Holder
Zoom replaced the expense of meeting face to face. PHOTO BY Lincoln Holder - Lincoln Holder

Shakespeare somehow always said it first, didn’t he?

Do you remember in The Merchant of Venice (you probably didn’t; I had to look it up, too) when Gratiano said: “I am Sir Oracle. And when I open my lips. Let no dog bark?”

It is considered polite when you use other people’s words at least to say you are quoting them.

Preacher, poets and politicians, as we know, often don’t, giving the impression that other people’s wisdom is their own, but then, as Basdeo Panday told us, “Politics has a morality of its own.”

Is it something medical? A kind of creeping insidious infection that people have in their DNA?

Ivan Illich, the great modern philosopher and social critic, introduced the term “iatrogenic disease,” which means that the medical industry (and it is now more of an industry than a profession) often causes more disease than it cures.

Illich pointed out that “great organisations” start out with high ideals and ethics about serving humanity, but as they grow, their objectives and goals slide into self-preservation and self-empowerment. They justify it by claiming that their original objectives can only be achieved if they, and they alone, maintain absolute power and control.

Is this true of individuals as well? Wasn’t it Drucker who posited in business organisations that once you put a modest man into a position of authority he will grow into it?

Or is Ilych right? Does power ultimately infect people’s brains, however slowly and insidiously, so that they become corrupt on some level?

Corruption does not necessarily involve money, although various forensic audits into government enterprises have convinced most citizens of TT and the vice president of Guyana that in TT it does.

Corruption grows out of the decaying of the soul that is seen in other addicts: addicts of power – educational, religious, domestic, creative, artistic, spiritual and intellectual power.

It is that creeping addiction to control that convinces people that their perception of reality is not just one of a possible many but the
only reality, so they need everyone else's to conform.

Is it that, if they can’t control their external reality, their inner world is so fragile or vulnerable that they fear it might collapse? Hence the Merchant of Venice: and “let no dog bark”? Could be.

Addiction trumps everything. When it creeps into people in charge of large corporations or government ministries, ideals die. Ideals like democracy, respect for the law, freedom of speech, opinion or belief are devalued then demolished...And we thought substance addiction was harmful?

To live is to work. To threaten to terminate someone’s ability to work via “do as I say, think as I think, my way or the highway” without redress is to threaten death. There is a law that says to threaten death is a crime. Isn’t there?

One of the reasons why capitalism as a methodology for creating and sustaining economic growth has proven so successful, arising out of what is known as the Industrial Revolution, now being overtaken by the Digital Revolution, is because it has had what is known as the principles of natural justice injected into it by generations of people who watch, observe and analyse what makes human work effective.

On these observations, they then built systems, laws and practices around what they clear-headedly learned. In a world that is divided into employment systems governed either by force and the threat of poverty or pushed into agreement by knowledge, discussion, explanation resulting from what seem like endless meetings reminiscent of being back in school.

It is not perfect. School wasn’t either. But historically the system was forced into practice above all by generations of trade unionists ensuring through whatever means were available to them at the time that those principles of natural justice were turned from theory into practice.

Industrial courts and tribunals were and are there to enforce justice where violated by caprice, poor judgment or the addiction to power.

We cannot assume that courts and tribunals are always right. As Justice Ulric Cross often pointed out: “Judges don’t have to be right, they just have to be obeyed.”

But as imperfect as our systems are, they are better than any of the other systems the Caribbean has had in the past, like slavery, indentureship, forms of contracted labour where debts or jail sentences could be paid off via the once-prevalent practice where colonial governments could send off delinquent children or adult women and men convicted of crimes such as adultery, loitering, idling or being drunk and disorderly to far-off colonies to work off their sentences.

Systems are receding rapidly as digitalisation takes over making human labour and the expensive systems that sustain it unnecessary.

Witness what is happening at TSTT and the postal service. As cellphone technology took over, landlines were no longer used. Telephone technicians and operators were laid off. Now digital phones have replaced what remains.

Communicating by Zoom replaced the expense of meeting face to face. Office buildings with meeting rooms have closed down. Expensive overseas meetings now take place online and airline staff have been retrenched. The internet replaced handwritten and typed letters that used to be posted. Typists and postmen’s jobs disappeared.

As trade unions evolved into money negotiators (which accountants do better), entire public-service organisations, along with government budgets, shrank. Those expensive “perks” and pensions also shrank alongside new recruitment, as functions became digitalised, as ours is doing, cutting the need for expensive and indifferent staff.

Throughout the world, union membership is falling, except, I am told by a trade unionist friend, in places like Germany, where they have built high-quality schools and hospitals and sought-after membership is handed down from parent to child.

From “Let no dog bark” we are seeing instead: “Now is the winter of our discontent.” Shakespeare, Richard III, act I, scene I.


"What Shakespeare tells us about the working world"

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