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The Senate Partnerism Debate, Extended Scene

If you are seeing this page, you have read the book and come here for more!  What follows is an extension of the Senate debate on Partnerism.  I had always felt the debate in the book was too short, but after my publisher suggested making this addition web-only, I decided the debate in the book was long enough.  My fear was and is that to add this extension to the book would slow the plot down too much.  I will let you be the judge.  Perhaps we can add it in a posthumous edition!  I have included the preceding paragraph that you might place it in context.

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The Democratic leader reminded his Republican counterpart that time for debate was not unlimited.  Debate would end the next day, March the Ninth.  Several speakers rose in support of the bill, after word of Geoffrey’s suspension of the strike had spread, but still some Senators fought the rising tide.

Senator Weiss of California cracked wise: “Mister President, I have never heard a better idea: let’s just ask workers what they think they should be paid!  What could go wrong?  Clearly I have misunderstood business all my life.”

Senator Edward Anderson, also of California, agreed with the serious point underlying Senator Weiss’ comments: “Yes, let us have people with little or no experience or understanding of running a business deciding how much of the profits go to whom, because they should be able to quantify the percentage of the profits a position like Chief Operations Officer brings into the business!  We cannot allow this bill to become law.”

Majority Leader Pleary interjected, “The ones with that information, the managers, can easily share it with the rest of the business.  It’s not that hard to share information, unless of course your motivation is to hide and hoard.”

Senator Anderson countered, “The low-level worker cannot possibly know what a high-level manager should be paid.  How do you display on a spreadsheet the actions of a man or woman who keeps offices, production facilities, communication infrastructure, plumbing, heat, air conditioning, and everything else working so everybody can keep working and getting paid? Would you want to hope that low-level workers would understand that traveling far from home to supervise some repair, spending days away from family, should be worth more then the mere hours worked?”

Majority Leader Pleary said, “You’re right: a low-level worker cannot understand the value of family, and it would be impossible to explain a manager’s value!  That is why I should just take your word for it regarding that value, eh?  Managers are just mysterious and above examination.  No, I think workers are smarter than you give them credit for, and they certainly understand the value of family.  The problem here is the lack of information-sharing and decision-sharing.”

Senator Anderson said, “The workplace is not a democracy, and people still get to vote by working someplace else.”

Majority Leader Pleary said, “So, ‘You don’t get a say, and if you don’t like it, leave.’  This is your preferred system?  Under Partnerism, it will be a democracy, and it will be the same at every workplace, so there will be no avoiding responsibility by telling workers to take a hike.  If you want to create, manufacture, and sell a product, you will have to accept that your workers are not below you any more—they are your partners, with just as much investment in the product as you, perhaps more so, since they’re the ones taking the time to build it while you supervise or take vacations.”

Senator Anderson asked, “And what happens if a business does not comply with this law?  Will you fine the business, only to have it pass the cost along to its customers?  You can’t force a business to comply.  Are you going to take over and federalize the business?  They might lay workers off to make up the cost of the fines.  You can’t require businesses to retain employees they don’t want.”

A young Senator from Oregon, Lucas Henry, said, “I see my colleague from California has not yet had a chance to read the Partnerism bill.  Partners can still be fired or laid off.  The issue is who decides.  We have yet to determine the penalties for noncompliant businesses, but truly, I think workers leaving in droves for Partnerized businesses would be punishment enough.  Regardless, I suggest you read the proposal before you discuss it.  Otherwise, you make yourself look foolish.”

Senator Anderson: “I thank my young colleague for the advice, but your side is the one that looks foolish.  If I own a business, I don’t care one whit if a majority of my employees don’t like the person working in Quality Control.  They don’t have the right to cut the pay of that person despite the good job he or she is doing.”

Senator Henry: “What a low opinion you have of your workers.  Why would you employ such unfair people?  Do you really think economic decisions would be made on such an emotional basis?  It is everyone’s livelihood at a business at stake here!  With more of an investment and a say in the outcome, all partners will be more likely to care about their decisions and votes, because they will know they finally have some power over the outcome.  If they punish or fire someone doing a good job, that adversely affects them.  One worker might be that unreasonable, but a majority at a company?  Forgive me for saying so, but if you think a majority of your workers are that foolish or arbitrary, your business should go under.  You are obviously a bad judge of what workers to hire.  Why should we listen to you about anything?  Under Partnerism, the workers will own their workplace equally, which will protect everyone at the company.”

Senator Martha Rust from Texas interjected, “But how can we pay the same amount of money for different work?  Should a store cashier receive more than the store manager because the cashier is the last person a customer talks to?  The cashier is the one who can make the add-on sale, get the customer needed help.  Or should the manager be paid more because he or she makes the schedule, opens the store, goes to the bank, handles upper management’s demands of sales, runs the spread sheets, decides who does what during the day, yet does none of the customer service!  The company doesn’t pay the cashier, the customer does!  So if sales goals aren’t met, the cashier or a sales person gets hours cut.  That means  less money for that worker, while the manager still gets his forty hours a week despite not having helped with the sales they did get.  Is that fair?  No, but then that’s Life.  When you see and learn that life isn’t fair, you are much happier.  Life isn’t and never will be equal for all, because we are not equal in anything! Every employee knows that if he is not the manager, he does not receive that kind of money!  Senator Henry, I know you have grand ideas, but Life doesn’t work that way.  It’s the lion and the lamb: we are not equal, and it doesn’t work that way.

“You can’t pay a man with a family the same as you would a boy who does the same job.  The young guy throws hay like it’s a football.  The other does a great job, just not as fast.  The slower one, the grown man, gets more done because he holds out longer!  Slow and steady gets the better pay!”

Senator Henry said, “Wow, there’s a lot to respond to there.  First of all, owning the company equally does not mean being paid equally.  It just means that who does and earns what will be decided by the employees.  Everyone might stay in the same role, but now at least they’ll have a choice.  And if no one wants to be the janitor, the majority will vote to decide who will be the janitor.  This is not a free-for-all.  Second, since when does what one makes depend on who interacts with a customer?  The argument from the other side has usually been that the mastermind at the ‘top’ deserves the most money, and his interaction is usually limited to other tycoons.  But since you yourself said it’s not fair, I’ll move on to your second point about fairness.  You said, ‘Is that fair?  No, but then that’s Life.’  No, that’s not Life.  That’s human society, arranged by humans, changeable by humans.  And when I see and learn that life isn’t fair, I feel motivated to make it more fair.  I can’t change the whole World, but I will work on my little corner of it and as much more as I can.  I did not become a Senator to sit back while others suffer and say, ‘Oh, well.  That’s Life.’  No, I came here to make life better for countless Americans.  And you might be content to say, ‘That’s Life,’ but I am not—especially when life is unfair.  No one is saying that life under Partnerism will be perfect or equal for all, but it will be better, to at least one large degree, which is proved by the opposition.  They would not be opposing it so fiercely if they didn’t feel it would change things dramatically.  It’s the same whenever there is legislation that would actually improve everyone’s standard of living: those who benefit the most from the old way do everything they can to stop it.  First they fight it behind the scenes with with money, then they fight it in public with money, and always their line is the same: ‘This will destroy our economy.’  Then, when reason and logic triumph over fear and illogic, things finally improve.  We saw it with Social Security, Medicare, Clinton’s budget, and the ACA.  In every case, those who happened to have a financial interest in blocking something said it would be terrible.  How can we take them seriously at all?  In this case, those who oppose Partnerism are all supported by large corporations with the greatest possible interest in keeping things as they are.  Well, those of us who support Partnerism also own businesses, many of us, and yet we wish to do the right thing.  Will it cost us a little money?  Yes, but what we gain in the long run will be far greater.  We will still make money, but we will gain a society in which everyone is doing well.  I don’t like feeling like a target when I go outdoors.  Right now I’m fine, but most people are desperate.  I want to live in a place where I don’t have to worry about crime or disease because everyone is doing well.  Don’t you?  What kind of America do you believe in?  That’s what this debate is all about.

“And the man with the family and the boy doing the same job should be paid the same, because they’re doing the same job.  No one is proposing different pay for the same work.  Now, if the partners at a given business want to create a seniority system for raises or make an exception for a partner whose husband has a stroke or cancer, that’s their business, but I think you’d have a hard time making a case for different pay for the same work based on family members or even skill level.  If you think a partner is too young or inexperienced to do a job well, you shouldn’t hire him, unless it’s simply a matter of training.  Everyone makes mistakes when starting a job.  That’s called learning.  But you made it sound as if the impetuosity of the youth was something we can’t do anything about, just something we have to accept due to his nature.  I don’t agree with that.  He can be trained.  I’m one of the youngest here, and I’m no hothead.”

Senator Garmage had listened to these exchanges with the patience of a predator, but he spoke again: “An honest man’s business is his to control.  It is his business.  If you don’t like that fundamentally American fact, go somewhere else.  There are communist nations that call everything public property.  You would feel right at home.”

“That is not at all what we are advocating, Senator,” Senator Henry said.  “No property becomes public under this law—everything stays private, as it should.”

Senator Garmage said, “That is a distinction without a difference.  The Government is meddling to such an extent that what you call ‘private’ property is meaningless.  I really can’t think of a better way to drive business owners out of America than to tell them they are no longer in control of their businesses and must earn less money in favor of sharing both decision-making power and profits with ‘partners’ who may know nothing more than pushing a broom or cleaning toilets.”

“Yes, because America is about ‘Me, me, me,'” Senator Henry said.  “We tried that.  It didn’t work.  It brought us to this point.  Private property does not become meaningless under this law.  Anyone can still become rich, if he has an idea or a talent.  He just can’t become rich at someone else’s expense anymore, and that is as it should be.”

Senator Rust said, “And I would like the Government to come back and regulate workplaces again, to keep everyone safe and well!  Right now we have too many accidents, too much sickness, and no weekends!  But don’t tell me how or why, or for how long I have to keep someone employed, or for that matter how I hire, and when and why I fire!”

Senator Henry said, “The problem here is you see it as ‘I’.  It might be your design, but when a group of people get together to work on a project, it’s a team effort.  It is not just your project.  But the Partnerism Bill does not say how long you have to keep someone employed.  It does not say when anyone is hired or fired—that is up to the partners.”

Senator Rust said, “That is taking the choice away from the owner!”

Senator Henry said, “Yes, it is.  That’s the point.”

Senator Rust: “That point is wrong!”

Senator Henry: “Well, that’s what we’re here to debate.  Many of us think it’s right.”

Senator Rust: “How will Canada deal with all the Americans sneaking illegally across the border week two?”

Senator Henry: “I’m sure Canada will be happy to receive an influx of capitalists who refuse to consider their workers as partners.”

Senator Garmage said, “I have read the proposal.  It is delightfully naive.  You fail to account for human nature and the risks involved.  If I start a business, I am taking the financial risks.  Ergo, I get the rewards.”

Senator Henry: “It’s odd to me that in your mind financial risk outweighs the risk to life and limb taken on by your partners.  They risk their bodies and health, they devote their time and lives.  Really, your money is worth more than their lives?

“Do you recall the German version of Partnerism?  It’s not really a new idea.  It worked there, until the forces of apathy took over again.  At Volkswagen, workers had a say not only over their working conditions but where plants were built.  They called it ‘co-determination’, but the principle was the same: the workers had a say in their work, because it was their work.  In their case, a twenty-member ‘works council’, composed evenly of labor and management, had to approve any decision to close or open plants.  Our proposal today just takes it one step further, to include more decisions.”

“And we all know how that turned out.”

“Actually, it turned out well.  You can’t judge their program by the fact that larger forces beyond their control put an end to it.  The problem was the rest of German society hadn’t caught up with Volkswagen before money’s men took over.”

“Money’s men?”

“Men ruled by money,” Senator Henry said.  “They certainly don’t rule it.”

Senator Garmage harrumphed.

“Of course, then the public was tricked out of its benefits, and the voices of reason were drowned out.”

Senator Garmage: “Let me put it to you very simply, because I understand you are young, and such a simple explanation might be helpful.”

“Are you insulting me for my age, Senator?”

“No, I’m saying that clarity is always helpful.  And here it is: why should my co-workers decide how much I get paid?”

“Your co-workers do decide how much you get paid.  You might want to rephrase that, since we’re just giving American workers the same right we have.  Actually, more flexibility, since they can create a hierarchy of pay scales, whereas it’s all the same for us, regardless of performance.”

“If I go to work at a fast-food restaurant as a busboy, I don’t want a waiter or another busboy having a say over my pay.”

“Why not?  He probably knows better than the manager how much work is involved.”

“Wages are based on taxation and, in the bad old days, the horror of the minimum wage.”

“No, wages are based on supply and demand.  Neither the minimum wage nor taxation is relevant to job creation, because employers still need the work done by the same amount of workers.  As for the wage, that is determined by what the market will bear, which is just another way of saying ‘what the owners are forced to pay’.  But the owners should not be the ones deciding what someone’s labor is worth—that’s like the customer deciding what they’re going to pay for a product.  There are places where that happens, but I doubt that the majority of businesses in America wish to switch to that model.  Hmm?  Then it would be fair, because the workers receiving low pay could say, ‘Here’s my pay.  That’s what your product is worth to me, because I can’t afford more.’  And why should workers have to buy what they produced anyway?  In a just world, it seems to me, partners at a company should receive at least one of the company’s products free.  You work at a car company?  You get one of that company’s cars free, as your property.”

“Preposterous!”

“Fair.”

Senator Jon Buchanan, Oregon’s senior Senator, rose to speak.  “I personally would rather have it be more of a dictatorship than a democracy.  Granted, only in certain ways would I prefer a dictatorship.  But I would rather have set pay than not.”

Senator Henry said, “Under Partnerism, your pay would be set fairly instead of to make managers richer.  The idea that workers should be paid less to maximize profits without ever sharing in those profits is . . . insane.”

Senator Buchanan: “Why does it matter?  They worked to their position; let them have the power.”

Senator Henry laughed.  “Taking power is not the same as deserving power.”

Senator Edward Anderson of California broke in, “I don’t think there is wisdom in depending upon the popularity of individuals with the majority for the deciding of how much they should be paid.  If you do great work but are unpopular as a person, it shouldn’t determine your pay—unless you are granting a vote according to the quantified value of a person’s contribution to the success of the business, which would be a huge waste of resources to calculate fairly.”

“You’re right,” Senator Henry said.  “Let’s keep doing it unfairly.”

Senator Buchanan said, “No one ever said our system is unfair.  Competition is fair.  It’s the American way.”

Senator Henry said, “People have been saying it’s unfair for a long time, and increasingly so.”

Senator Anderson said, “Fairness may be in the eye of the beholder.  Some people think that folks whose only investment in the creation, operation, and maintenance of a business is showing up and doing their job for two years should decide how much the folks who were involved in creating their job for the past twelve years should earn.”

Senator Henry said, “That is why the partners can decide on things like probationary period, seniority, et cetera.  But why shouldn’t someone who is good enough to be hired be allowed to make decisions regarding his workplace, as long as he has been trained and informed of the relevant issues?  It’s not as if we have to wait for rights to kick in in this country.  Any lout can vote or drive a car, for example.  You’re telling me I can buy a gun but I can’t vote on my workplace practices?”

Senator Buchanan said, “I think it’s good as is.”

[More coming soon!]