Like his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, decades
before, Trump won the presidency buoyed by the support of organized labor and
the working class. Donald J. Trump’s
rhetoric during his candidacy was in lock step with the concerns of organized
labor. Trump proclaimed that if he were
elected, he intended to put, “America First!”
He addressed many of the fears of organized labor, head on. As part of his rhetoric, Trump made demands
on manufacturers to not ship jobs overseas and along with that, arranged for a 35
percent tariff on Mexican imports and an overhaul of NAFTA. Additionally, he said that he would allocate
$1 trillion to infrastructure spending (Elejalde-Ruiz 2017, The New York Times).
For the American working class, Donald
J. Trump seemingly represents the embodiment of the Protestant work ethic,
described by Weber. He is a seemingly
successful, billionaire, entrepreneur and job creator. Through the rhetoric he
espoused during his candidacy, Trump appeared to be in touch with the working
class. Donald J. Trump’s lifestyle,
power and entrepreneurship are the
‘status’, Weber would say, that working class voters aspire to. After all, what is good for Donald Trump and
men of his ilk will likely trickle down to the working class? And these are
some of the reasons that many Americans voted for him.
Through the rhetoric espoused by Donald
J. Trump during his candidacy, it would appear that he would be a friend of
union and non-union, blue and white collar workers, but his rhetoric during his
candidacy does not align with the policy set forth during the first six months
of his presidency. In June, Labor
Secretary R. Alexander Acosta announced that he would be rolling back two prominent
Obama administration guidances that would help workers, in general, and
particularly the working class. These
documents do not change the law, but do indicate how a department interprets it
and can certainly influence employers.
The first guidance withdrawn, dealt with
distinguishing whether a worker is an employee or independent business
owner/entrepreneur. This action particularly
impacts nonstandard laborers or workers of the ‘gig’ economy. Nonstandard labor can take the form of temp, contract,
part-time, subcontract and numerous other forms not commonly recognizable. On the
surface, it appears that the withdrawal of this guidance elevates nonstandard
labor to a more prestigious level by declaring workers of this category, independent
business owners/ “entrepreneurs,” instead of employees. However, being deemed an employee brings
forth certain protections like a minimum wage, overtime pay and medical
insurance. The Obama administration put
this guidance into place, in response to the many ‘gig economy’ employers, like
Uber, who were treating employee as independent contractors, when in fact they
were relying on these ‘gig’ companies for their livelihoods. By withdrawing this guidance, Trump is
clearly demonstrating his favor for the entrepreneurs running these companies
and not the worker. (Scheiber 2017, New
The second guidance impacting
nonstandard labor withdrawn by Trump involves when an employer could be
considered a “joint employer.” Joint employment occurs when a worker is employed
by two or greater employers. An example
of this might be a temporary staffer employed by a staffing company and working
onsite for another employer. Both the
staffing company and onsite employer are both individually and jointly
responsible to uphold fair labor statutes for the temporary employee in some
cases. Generally, the guidance made
more people employees rather than independent contractors. In particular, this
guidance sought to (1) define more rigidly the situations in which a
worker was found to be an employee under an “economic realities test”, and
(2) expand the joint employer doctrine taking into account “whether, as a
matter of economic reality, the employee is dependent on the potential joint
employer.” By enabling more workers to
be employees under “joint employment,” it entitles workers to protections like,
overtime pay, minimum wage and possibly medical insurance (Scheiber 2017, New York Times).
A third issue
is overtime pay. The Obama
administration reviewed 300,000 comments before settling on raising the salary
threshold to $47,000 for receipt of overtime pay for salary employees having
worked over 40 hours per week. The Trump Labor Department plans to allow for
another round of public comment, with the expectation of rolling back the
salary threshold to $33,000 or under (Elejalde Ruiz 2017, New York Times).
When faced with
challenging problems, it can be helpful to examine the issues through different
angles, lenses and perspectives. This
position paper will examine the issues laid out in its introduction pertaining
to some of the administration’s policy that impacts Americans who are nonstandard
workers. The issues will be examined
through the sociologic lens of Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, proposing reasons
for the problems caused, solutions and potential outcomes.
We begin with how Emile Durkheim
would assess these issues by studying how our society developed and how it is
held together. According to Durkheim,
there is a division of labor that holds all societies together through
interdependence (solidarity), creating a moral effect. The division of labor is what causes a society
to develop. Pre-modern societies were
developed along the lines of mechanical solidarity, as solidarity in these societies resulted through the population
being more homogeneous, having similar social facts like: religion, education,
occupations and lifestyle. Mechanical solidarity is found in tribal and
small-scale societies based on kinship, not typical of today. (Durkheim, Division of Labor in Society , 37-38,
56, 127-131, Kurtz Lecture notes)
Durkheim, dynamic density caused society to evolve from the cleaving of
individuals together through the conscience collective of religion in
mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity brought on by dynamic density and
held together by the glue of consumerism as its conscience collective. Dynamic density resulted from greater
population density and social interaction, producing organic solidarity. This
greater social interaction is considered globalization (Durkheim, Division of
Labor in Society, 262).
The division of labor varies in direct ratio
with the volume and density of societies, and, if it progresses in a continuous
manner in the course of social development, it is because societies become
regularly denser and generally more voluminous. (Durkheim, 262, Division of
Labor in Society)
Cities always result from the need of individuals
to put themselves in very intimate contact with others. There are so many
points where the social mass is contracted more strongly than elsewhere. They
can multiply and extend only if the moral density is raised.” (Durkheim, 258, Division of Labor in
in modern, organic solidarity society, replaces the conscience collective of
religion in pre-modern societies based in mechanical solidarity. In the United States and other modern day
societies, individuals rely on one another for goods and services and literally
cannot meet all of their needs by themselves.
In fact, a shirt that I own, might have been sewn by a child laborer in
Vietnam from cotton grown in South Carolina, because it was cheaper to have a
Vietnamese person produce the shirt sold by JCrew instead of an American. I, on
the other hand, am producing data to help Arlington County with its urban
planning, but am purchasing flowers grown in Mexico at my local store (Durkheim,
Division of Labor in Society, 73, 79)
greater interdependency in other people, or globalization, leads to an increase
in competition among participants in the organic division of labor worldwide.
This greater competition results in corporations’ proclivity to engage workers
to produce goods and services for maximum profit at the lowest possible costs. And globalization is the reason that Durkheim
would give for Trump’s administration’s encouragement of businesses to exploit
people in nonstandard labor under the guise of entrepreneurship.
division of labor after it gets to a certain point begins to disintegrate or
decompose society. Durkheim called this
disintegration of organic solidarity, economic anomie. For him, capitalism essentially leads to a
breakdown of society. (Durkheim, Division of Labor in Society, 353-358)
Durkheim unlike Marx was not clued into class
struggle, but he certainly
recognized the angst felt by workers in the organic division of
labor and called it economic anomie. Durkheim says that the working classes
really are not happy with the conditions in which they live, but they do not
have the ability to change these conditions (Durkheim, Division of Labor in
Society, 356). In small scale industry
where work is less divided, there were displays of relative harmony between
worker and employer and much more similar work being conducted, with employer
and employee living in similar conditions.
However, when industry evolves to large-scale industry, work is more
divided and there is a great difference in the type of labor provided by the
employee and the employer (Durkheim, Division of Labor in Society, 357) .
The individual hemmed in by his task, becomes isolated in his
special activity. He no longer feels the
idea of a common work being done by individuals working side by side with him. (Durkheim, Division of Labor in Society, 357)
Individuals need to be moored to something, like
family and religion (Durkheim, Division of Labor in Society, 16-18). Capitalism elevates individual’s needs above
society. Individuals have insatiable needs and wants. With capitalism comes a secularized society
coupled with a disintegration of the family.
The disintegration of institutions that bind us to one another leads to
a normless society, resulting in endless individual liberty. Endless
liberty, according to Durkheim leads to great unhappiness and even suicide. (Durkheim, Suicide: A Study of
Sociology, 241, 246- 247)
desires are insatiable by definition and insatiability is rightly considered a
sign of morbidity. Being unlimited, they constantly and infinitely surpass the
means at their command; they cannot be quenched. Inextinguishable thirst is constantly
renewed torture” (Durkheim, Suicide: A Study of Sociology, 247)
This is proving true in the opioid crisis that President
Trump called recently a public health issue.
Too much self -indulgence of individuals and industry will destroy our
country and a little more regulation of the economy from government might be
prudent, instead of the traditional Republican deregulation sentiment. We end up with excessive liberty and become
unhappy. This even results in the most
indulged of us. (Durkheim, Division of Labor in Society, 367)
Durkheim views the state as the “brain of society”
characterized by, in the case of the United States, an organic division of
labor. The state’s power is centralized,
has the ability to enact laws and essentially becomes the morals of society. However, for Durkheim, the state could become
absolutist. People living under the
organic division of labor instead of subordinating themselves to the conscious
collective of religion, subordinate themselves to the state. Given the anomie that results, while
temporary, Durkheim calls for a counterbalance of occupational associations
that could represent the interests of the workers to the state, thereby mitigating
anomie and restoring the solidarity contained within the division of labor. Durkheim believed that workers within the
occupational associations have similar interests and values in common. Unions and more permissive laws set by the
state for unionization could be the solution for nonstandard laborers today (Durkheim,
Division of Labor in Society, 65, 66; Kurtz notes).
Much like Durkheim, Weber acknowledged that there could be
an accumulation of too much power by the state.
He was concerned that the state could fall victim to powerful private
interests including other powerful and corrupt capitalists and landholders. Just like Durkheim, he saw the need for
another entity to provide a check on power.
The entity that he proposed was parliament. Additionally, Weber thought that parliament
could serve as a training ground for state leadership (Kurtz notes).
Weber’s theory on the state largely resembles what we have
in the Western world. Weber agreed with
Trotsky that, ‘every state is founded on force.’ The state has sole ownership over the right
to use violence. It can even give this
right to other individuals. Being a capitalist society, the state defends
private property and economic interests of a given territory. Weber defines the state as a human community
that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate uses of physical force
within a territory. The state is
essentially built on men dominating other men, supported by a legitimate means
of violence. This domination must go on
for the state to exist (Gerth & Mills, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology
, 78-80). I wonder if Weber would consider economic aggression a form of
Why do men obey other men?
Weber says that there are three reasons for domination; specifically
traditional, charismatic and rational-legal.
Traditional authority is an example of what a monarch might have. It is authority and power resting on the
belief of age-old traditions. (Gerth and Mills, From Max Weber: Essays in
Sociology, 79). Personal loyalty determines the roles and relationships the
staff has with their leader. Obedience is
given to the leader out of loyalty, but not because of law. Charismatic
authority is authority resting on ‘righteousness’, heroism or exemplary
character. It is also know as the ‘gift
of grace’, or a ‘calling’. Finally, there is domination by ‘rational-legal’.
This is literally domination by the belief in legal statute and functional
competence based on rationally created rules.
This is typically the dominance that exists in most democratic
societies. (Gerth and Mills, From Max
Weber: Essays in Sociology, 78-80 and Kurtz lecture notes)
An analysis looking through the lens of Weber of Donald J.
Trump’s ascension and dominance as President, reveals that Donald Trump enjoys
a ‘charismatic’ dominance, but he and his staff and party are striving for a
more ‘traditional’ dominance. Weber
would say that the “working class”, many of whom are even nonstandard workers,
elected Donald J. Trump, because they admired his social status and saw him as
a ‘charismatic’ figure with special powers that enabled him to make lots of
money and to be an entrepreneur. His followers want to be like him. They especially liked that he spoke their
language and seemed like he understood their concerns. They see in him, the
power that they do not have.
Observing his presidency, it is clear that Trump is running
his administration based on ‘personal loyalty’.
He is striving for a more ‘traditional dominance’. In fact, he has demanded that members of his
administrative staff and party take ‘loyalty pledges’ for their obedience to
him and not necessarily the law. As for
whom he has appointed to his cabinet and has as part of his administrative
staff, some are family members and some are friends who have no ‘competence’ in
the area where they are working. For
example, he has Jared Kushner, his son in law and real estate advisor as his
senior advisor. And he has been
proclaimed by Trump to be the man who will broker Middle East peace. Another
adviser to the President is his daughter Ivanka Trump, a woman who runs a
clothing, shoe and handbag line, built off the backs of nonstandard labor.
If Trump has his power based in ‘charismatic dominance’ and
if he succeeds to ‘traditional dominance’, there are some warnings for Trump
from Weber. If Trump’s leadership fails
to benefit his administration and party first and his followers secondarily, it
is likely that his charismatic dominance will dissipate (Calhoun, et. al., Classical Sociological Theory, 325). Weber warns that charismatic power is
unstable. (Gerth and Mills, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, 248) If Trump’s ‘charismatic dominance”
transitions to ‘traditional dominance’ he will be able to succeed and continue
to push his power, until one day he pushes his power too far. Weber warns that
there would be a resistance, directed either at his administration or Trump
himself (Calhoun, et. al, Classical Sociological Theory, 324). It seems clear that in order for Trump to
maintain his dominance, he may need to find middle ground between enriching his
administration and putting policy into place that will not disenfranchise
nonstandard laborers and the working class, but continue to enrich his party
and administration. He can no longer act on rhetoric. Can he appease both masters?
Trump and his administration need to understand that people
are not all on equal footing when it comes to competing in the marketplace. Weber
identified three aspects of class (1) people who have in common a specific
causal component of their life chances (2) which rests on economic interests
and wealth (3) and is represented under conditions of the market and labor.
(Gerth and Mills, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, 181) Weber says that it is economic fact that resources
are distributed throughout the market for the purpose of exchange, creating
specific and unequal life chances. He
says that the law of marginal utility excludes the non-owners from competing
for highly valued goods. In fact, he says that it values the owners. All that those without property, or owning
the means of production have to offer in this equation is their services. This mode of distribution essentially creates
a monopoly for the propertied class to own the means of production. The propertied class has access to resources
and is the only ones able to generate wealth (Gerth and Mills, From Max Weber:
Essays in Sociology, 182).
Trump and the administration may make the excuse that life
is not fair and that people must work hard to be on equal footing with the
elites. Weber offers a warning with
regard to this sentiment. Like Durkheim,
Weber points out that ‘communal’ and ‘societal action’ may develop within the
lower classes, given certain cultural conditions. If
intellectuals (journalists) make transparent the causes and connections of the
lower classes ‘class situation’ and how their ‘class situation’ differs from
the ruling classes, this may result in uprisings and protests (Gerth and Mills,
From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, 184).
The ‘checks of power’, mentioned by Durkheim and Weber is
all in the control of the Republican party, Trump’s own party. This puts the American people at large and
even his followers, essentially at the whim of Trump. Ideally, nonstandard laborers could form
unions, but given that the majority of the legislature is part of the same party
as Trump and is anti-union, it is likely that unionization will not be
encouraged. It is also unlikely that
laws will be passed that will change the power relation from favoring the
entrepreneur to favoring the worker.
Workers need to start electing legislature that would be more favorable
to their own interests.
The Trump administration needs to find common ground with
all classes of people (workers and entrepreneurs). Even though we exist in the web of
interdependence through globalization, unfair labor practices do not have to
exist within our borders. Donald Trump
was elected for his ‘charismatic’ abilities; known for being a seemingly
magical, moneymaker, and entrepreneur.
Weber warns that “charismatic’ power is fleeting, especially if he
cannot appease both his followers and his administration at the same time. Weber and Durkheim both point out that as the
classes begin to diverge and people become aware through intellectuals
(journalists) of how the other lives and why they live that way, there will
likely be uprisings among his followers and the American people at large.
Greenhouse,Steven. 2017. “The Unions That
Like Trump.” New York Times. Retrieved
November 12, 2017
Sheiber,Noam. 2017. “Trump Shifts Labor
Policy Focus From Worker to Entrepreneur.” New
York Times. Retrieved November12, 2017
Elejalde-Ruiz Alexia. 2017. “Labor policy
is in the midst of a shift under Trump.” New
York Times. Retrieved November 12, 2017
Durkheim, Emile. 1893 1933. The Division of Labor in Society. Translated by W.D. Halls, with an
introduction by Lewis Coser.
Basingstoke: MacMillan. Free
Press Paperback Edition 1964.
Durkheim, E. (1897/1951). Suicide: A Study in Sociology. (J. Spaulding,
& G. Simpson, Trans.) New YorK; The
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Mills, eds ., trs. New York: Oxford University Press.
Calhoun, Gertei, Moody, Pfaff and Virk.
2012 Classical Sociological Theory. 3rd ed. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.
Lecture notes from Dr. Lester Kurtz