Like his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, decadesbefore, Trump won the presidency buoyed by the support of organized labor andthe working class. Donald J. Trump’srhetoric during his candidacy was in lock step with the concerns of organizedlabor. Trump proclaimed that if he wereelected, he intended to put, “America First!” He addressed many of the fears of organized labor, head on. As part of his rhetoric, Trump made demandson manufacturers to not ship jobs overseas and along with that, arranged for a 35percent 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, DonaldJ. Trump seemingly represents the embodiment of the Protestant work ethic,described by Weber. He is a seeminglysuccessful, billionaire, entrepreneur and job creator. Through the rhetoric heespoused during his candidacy, Trump appeared to be in touch with the workingclass. 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 andmen of his ilk will likely trickle down to the working class? And these aresome of the reasons that many Americans voted for him.Through the rhetoric espoused by DonaldJ.
Trump during his candidacy, it would appear that he would be a friend ofunion and non-union, blue and white collar workers, but his rhetoric during hiscandidacy does not align with the policy set forth during the first six monthsof his presidency. In June, LaborSecretary R. Alexander Acosta announced that he would be rolling back two prominentObama administration guidances that would help workers, in general, andparticularly the working class. Thesedocuments do not change the law, but do indicate how a department interprets itand can certainly influence employers. The first guidance withdrawn, dealt withdistinguishing whether a worker is an employee or independent businessowner/entrepreneur. This action particularlyimpacts 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 thesurface, it appears that the withdrawal of this guidance elevates nonstandardlabor to a more prestigious level by declaring workers of this category, independentbusiness owners/ “entrepreneurs,” instead of employees.
However, being deemed an employee bringsforth certain protections like a minimum wage, overtime pay and medicalinsurance. The Obama administration putthis guidance into place, in response to the many ‘gig economy’ employers, likeUber, who were treating employee as independent contractors, when in fact theywere relying on these ‘gig’ companies for their livelihoods. By withdrawing this guidance, Trump isclearly demonstrating his favor for the entrepreneurs running these companiesand not the worker. (Scheiber 2017, NewYork Times). The second guidance impactingnonstandard labor withdrawn by Trump involves when an employer could beconsidered a “joint employer.” Joint employment occurs when a worker is employedby two or greater employers. An exampleof this might be a temporary staffer employed by a staffing company and workingonsite for another employer.
Both thestaffing company and onsite employer are both individually and jointlyresponsible to uphold fair labor statutes for the temporary employee in somecases. Generally, the guidance mademore people employees rather than independent contractors. In particular, thisguidance sought to (1) define more rigidly the situations in which aworker was found to be an employee under an “economic realities test”, and(2) expand the joint employer doctrine taking into account “whether, as amatter of economic reality, the employee is dependent on the potential jointemployer.” By enabling more workers tobe 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 issueis overtime pay. The Obamaadministration reviewed 300,000 comments before settling on raising the salarythreshold to $47,000 for receipt of overtime pay for salary employees havingworked over 40 hours per week. The Trump Labor Department plans to allow foranother round of public comment, with the expectation of rolling back thesalary threshold to $33,000 or under (Elejalde Ruiz 2017, New York Times).When faced withchallenging problems, it can be helpful to examine the issues through differentangles, lenses and perspectives. Thisposition paper will examine the issues laid out in its introduction pertainingto some of the administration’s policy that impacts Americans who are nonstandardworkers. The issues will be examinedthrough the sociologic lens of Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, proposing reasonsfor the problems caused, solutions and potential outcomes.We begin with how Emile Durkheimwould assess these issues by studying how our society developed and how it isheld together.
According to Durkheim,there is a division of labor that holds all societies together throughinterdependence (solidarity), creating a moral effect. The division of labor is what causes a societyto develop. Pre-modern societies weredeveloped along the lines of mechanical solidarity, as solidarity in these societies resulted through the populationbeing more homogeneous, having similar social facts like: religion, education,occupations and lifestyle. Mechanical solidarity is found in tribal andsmall-scale societies based on kinship, not typical of today. (Durkheim, Division of Labor in Society , 37-38,56, 127-131, Kurtz Lecture notes)ForDurkheim, dynamic density caused society to evolve from the cleaving ofindividuals together through the conscience collective of religion inmechanical solidarity to organic solidarity brought on by dynamic density andheld together by the glue of consumerism as its conscience collective. Dynamic density resulted from greaterpopulation density and social interaction, producing organic solidarity. Thisgreater social interaction is considered globalization (Durkheim, Division ofLabor in Society, 262).The division of labor varies in direct ratiowith the volume and density of societies, and, if it progresses in a continuousmanner in the course of social development, it is because societies becomeregularly denser and generally more voluminous.
(Durkheim, 262, Division ofLabor in Society) Cities always result from the need of individualsto put themselves in very intimate contact with others. There are so manypoints where the social mass is contracted more strongly than elsewhere. Theycan multiply and extend only if the moral density is raised.” (Durkheim, 258, Division of Labor inSociety ). Consumerismin modern, organic solidarity society, replaces the conscience collective ofreligion in pre-modern societies based in mechanical solidarity.
In the United States and other modern daysocieties, individuals rely on one another for goods and services and literallycannot meet all of their needs by themselves. In fact, a shirt that I own, might have been sewn by a child laborer inVietnam from cotton grown in South Carolina, because it was cheaper to have aVietnamese person produce the shirt sold by JCrew instead of an American. I, onthe other hand, am producing data to help Arlington County with its urbanplanning, but am purchasing flowers grown in Mexico at my local store (Durkheim,Division of Labor in Society, 73, 79)Thisgreater interdependency in other people, or globalization, leads to an increasein competition among participants in the organic division of labor worldwide.This greater competition results in corporations’ proclivity to engage workersto produce goods and services for maximum profit at the lowest possible costs. And globalization is the reason that Durkheimwould give for Trump’s administration’s encouragement of businesses to exploitpeople in nonstandard labor under the guise of entrepreneurship. Thedivision of labor after it gets to a certain point begins to disintegrate ordecompose society. Durkheim called thisdisintegration of organic solidarity, economic anomie. For him, capitalism essentially leads to abreakdown of society.
(Durkheim, Division of Labor in Society, 353-358) Durkheim unlike Marx was not clued into classstruggle, but he certainlyrecognized the angst felt by workers in the organic division oflabor and called it economic anomie. Durkheim says that the working classesreally are not happy with the conditions in which they live, but they do nothave the ability to change these conditions (Durkheim, Division of Labor inSociety, 356). In small scale industrywhere work is less divided, there were displays of relative harmony betweenworker and employer and much more similar work being conducted, with employerand employee living in similar conditions. However, when industry evolves to large-scale industry, work is moredivided and there is a great difference in the type of labor provided by theemployee and the employer (Durkheim, Division of Labor in Society, 357) . The individual hemmed in by his task, becomes isolated in hisspecial activity. He no longer feels theidea 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, likefamily and religion (Durkheim, Division of Labor in Society, 16-18). Capitalism elevates individual’s needs abovesociety. Individuals have insatiable needs and wants.
With capitalism comes a secularized societycoupled with a disintegration of the family. The disintegration of institutions that bind us to one another leads toa normless society, resulting in endless individual liberty. Endlessliberty, according to Durkheim leads to great unhappiness and even suicide.
(Durkheim, Suicide: A Study ofSociology, 241, 246- 247)Unlimiteddesires are insatiable by definition and insatiability is rightly considered asign of morbidity. Being unlimited, they constantly and infinitely surpass themeans at their command; they cannot be quenched. Inextinguishable thirst is constantlyrenewed torture” (Durkheim, Suicide: A Study of Sociology, 247) This is proving true in the opioid crisis that PresidentTrump called recently a public health issue.
Too much self -indulgence of individuals and industry will destroy ourcountry and a little more regulation of the economy from government might beprudent, instead of the traditional Republican deregulation sentiment. We end up with excessive liberty and becomeunhappy. This even results in the mostindulged 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 oflabor. 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 becomeabsolutist. People living under theorganic division of labor instead of subordinating themselves to the consciouscollective of religion, subordinate themselves to the state. Given the anomie that results, whiletemporary, Durkheim calls for a counterbalance of occupational associationsthat could represent the interests of the workers to the state, thereby mitigatinganomie and restoring the solidarity contained within the division of labor.
Durkheim believed that workers within theoccupational associations have similar interests and values in common. Unions and more permissive laws set by thestate 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 bean accumulation of too much power by the state. He was concerned that the state could fall victim to powerful privateinterests including other powerful and corrupt capitalists and landholders. Just like Durkheim, he saw the need foranother entity to provide a check on power. The entity that he proposed was parliament. Additionally, Weber thought that parliamentcould serve as a training ground for state leadership (Kurtz notes).
Weber’s theory on the state largely resembles what we havein the Western world. Weber agreed withTrotsky that, ‘every state is founded on force.’ The state has sole ownership over the rightto use violence.
It can even give thisright to other individuals. Being a capitalist society, the state defendsprivate property and economic interests of a given territory. Weber defines the state as a human communitythat successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate uses of physical forcewithin a territory. The state isessentially built on men dominating other men, supported by a legitimate meansof violence.
This domination must go onfor the state to exist (Gerth & Mills, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, 78-80). I wonder if Weber would consider economic aggression a form ofviolence? Why do men obey other men? Weber says that there are three reasons for domination; specificallytraditional, charismatic and rational-legal. Traditional authority is an example of what a monarch might have.
It is authority and power resting on thebelief of age-old traditions. (Gerth and Mills, From Max Weber: Essays inSociology, 79). Personal loyalty determines the roles and relationships thestaff has with their leader. Obedience isgiven to the leader out of loyalty, but not because of law.
Charismaticauthority is authority resting on ‘righteousness’, heroism or exemplarycharacter. It is also know as the ‘giftof grace’, or a ‘calling’. Finally, there is domination by ‘rational-legal’.This is literally domination by the belief in legal statute and functionalcompetence based on rationally created rules.
This is typically the dominance that exists in most democraticsocieties. (Gerth and Mills, From MaxWeber: 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 enjoysa ‘charismatic’ dominance, but he and his staff and party are striving for amore ‘traditional’ dominance. Weberwould 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 asa ‘charismatic’ figure with special powers that enabled him to make lots ofmoney and to be an entrepreneur. His followers want to be like him. They especially liked that he spoke theirlanguage and seemed like he understood their concerns. They see in him, thepower that they do not have.
Observing his presidency, it is clear that Trump is runninghis administration based on ‘personal loyalty’. He is striving for a more ‘traditional dominance’. In fact, he has demanded that members of hisadministrative staff and party take ‘loyalty pledges’ for their obedience tohim and not necessarily the law. As forwhom he has appointed to his cabinet and has as part of his administrativestaff, some are family members and some are friends who have no ‘competence’ inthe area where they are working. Forexample, he has Jared Kushner, his son in law and real estate advisor as hissenior advisor. And he has beenproclaimed by Trump to be the man who will broker Middle East peace. Anotheradviser to the President is his daughter Ivanka Trump, a woman who runs aclothing, shoe and handbag line, built off the backs of nonstandard labor.
If Trump has his power based in ‘charismatic dominance’ andif he succeeds to ‘traditional dominance’, there are some warnings for Trumpfrom Weber. If Trump’s leadership failsto benefit his administration and party first and his followers secondarily, itis likely that his charismatic dominance will dissipate (Calhoun, et. al., Classical Sociological Theory, 325). Weber warns that charismatic power isunstable. (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 continueto push his power, until one day he pushes his power too far.
Weber warns thatthere would be a resistance, directed either at his administration or Trumphimself (Calhoun, et. al, Classical Sociological Theory, 324). It seems clear that in order for Trump tomaintain his dominance, he may need to find middle ground between enriching hisadministration and putting policy into place that will not disenfranchisenonstandard laborers and the working class, but continue to enrich his partyand administration.
He can no longer act on rhetoric. Can he appease both masters?Trump and his administration need to understand that peopleare not all on equal footing when it comes to competing in the marketplace. Weberidentified three aspects of class (1) people who have in common a specificcausal component of their life chances (2) which rests on economic interestsand 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 resourcesare distributed throughout the market for the purpose of exchange, creatingspecific and unequal life chances. Hesays that the law of marginal utility excludes the non-owners from competingfor highly valued goods. In fact, he says that it values the owners. All that those without property, or owningthe means of production have to offer in this equation is their services.
This mode of distribution essentially createsa monopoly for the propertied class to own the means of production. The propertied class has access to resourcesand 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 lifeis not fair and that people must work hard to be on equal footing with theelites. Weber offers a warning withregard to this sentiment. Like Durkheim,Weber points out that ‘communal’ and ‘societal action’ may develop within thelower classes, given certain cultural conditions. Ifintellectuals (journalists) make transparent the causes and connections of thelower classes ‘class situation’ and how their ‘class situation’ differs fromthe 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 isall in the control of the Republican party, Trump’s own party.
This puts the American people at large andeven his followers, essentially at the whim of Trump. Ideally, nonstandard laborers could formunions, but given that the majority of the legislature is part of the same partyas Trump and is anti-union, it is likely that unionization will not beencouraged. It is also unlikely thatlaws will be passed that will change the power relation from favoring theentrepreneur to favoring the worker.
Workers need to start electing legislature that would be more favorableto their own interests.The Trump administration needs to find common ground withall classes of people (workers and entrepreneurs). Even though we exist in the web ofinterdependence through globalization, unfair labor practices do not have toexist within our borders. Donald Trumpwas elected for his ‘charismatic’ abilities; known for being a seeminglymagical, moneymaker, and entrepreneur. Weber warns that “charismatic’ power is fleeting, especially if hecannot appease both his followers and his administration at the same time. Weber and Durkheim both point out that as theclasses begin to diverge and people become aware through intellectuals(journalists) of how the other lives and why they live that way, there willlikely be uprisings among his followers and the American people at large. References:Greenhouse,Steven. 2017.
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Sheiber,Noam. 2017. “Trump Shifts LaborPolicy Focus From Worker to Entrepreneur.” NewYork Times. Retrieved November12, 2017 (https://www.nytimes.
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