Kevin Doyle Blog

Writing and activism

Anarchist Lens: Fear At Work…

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Jimmy Savile with ThatcherScandals (and industrial accidents) are often interesting for unexpected reasons. Usually an investigation or inquiry follows and via this we get a view of what is going on inside these organisations and institutions at the center of the trouble. These snapshots, so to speak, are often very revealing.

A case in point is the investigation into the Jimmy Savile affair. Next month former British judge Janet Smith is set to publish her final report into Savile’s rampage inside the BBC. The celebrity had an association with the UK broadcaster for over forty years. Savile was very successful but it has since emerged that he was not what he appeared to be. According to an early (leaked) draft of Smith’s report, Savile perpetrated:

rapes and indecent assaults on girls and boys… in “virtually every one of the BBC premises at which he worked”. He carried out abuse on the sets of Top of the Pops and Jim’ll Fix It, at least once on camera.

Savile died in 2011 but he is implicated in four definite rapes – two of girls under 16 – and at least one attempted rape. It is estimated that he sexually assaulted in total 61 individuals and that these attacks took place “in corridors, kitchens, canteens and dressing rooms” run and maintained by the BBC.

It gets  worse. According to The Guardian, Smith’s final report is expected to include ‘devastating detail of the corporation’s “sheer scale of awareness” of the late star’s activities’. In one bizarre way, of course, this is not that surprising. Savile’s criminal activities were reckless. Many of his assaults were carried out on BBC property and inevitably some of these were witnessed. Or, as is often (and was) the case, a number of victims had attempted to alert people in authority about what had happened to them at Savile’s hands – to no avail. Savile died with the extensive cover-up of his worse abuses intact.

So, what was going on?

Here’s where the ‘snapshot’ element of Smith’s investigation is most revealing. As part of her remit Smith has had the means and time to speak to a wide range of people who are (or were) working for the BBC during Savile’s tenure. She has been able to approach people at most levels. The BBC’s top management have had their say quite a number of times already and, needless to say, they have done quite an amount of hand-wringing: “It’s terrible”, “It should never have happened”,”It’ll never happen again” and so on and so forth. But Smith has also spoken to many others: those on short term contracts, permanent  and full-time employees as well as middle managers. Here is what she has had to say about that:

I found that employee witnesses who were about to say something to the review that was even mildly critical of the BBC were extremely anxious to maintain their anonymity,” she wrote. “These people were, and still are, afraid for their positions. Even with modern employment protection, people fear that, even if they do not lose their jobs, their promotion prospects will be blighted if they complain.

Not to put too fine a point on it then many BBC employees work at the broadcaster under a climate of fear. No doubt they can speak freely about many things but there are many matters that they are simply not allowed to air their views on. If they do they will suffer the consequences.

Thatcher

Even more poignant is Smith’s observation that the situation has actually deteriorated for employees in the last number of years:

potential whistle blowers [are] … even now more worried about losing their jobs. Short-term and freelance contracts [mean] a workforce “with little or no job security”, which [is] even less likely to speak out about the behavior of colleagues.

Authoritarianism in the workplace is part and parcel of capitalism. Most of us have come across it in one shape or another at some time in our life. For many, a big objective in life is to get into a situation where authoritarianism had a limited or minimal effect on one’s working life. Also some companies aren’t as bad as others. Or if you are in a union that has clout  you and your co-workers can win yourself quite a bit of wriggle room – what’s is often termed here in Ireland the ‘not a bad number’ type of job. But for vast numbers of people authoritarianism at work is a huge daily blight in their lives. Stress and depression are common responses that workers suffer. A job where you work in a climate of fear will often more illness and even an earlier death.

The inquiry into Savile crimes in the BBC exposes this and much more. Firstly, it shows, how commonplace and pervasive fear at work is. [Who would have thought and in the BBC too?! Right?] Secondly the deteriorating situation for many workers is underlined by Smith candid observations – thinks are getting worse and not better. So-called ‘workplace reforms’, in effect those changes to workplace conditions initiated by Thatcher, have hugely disadvantage workers – leading to increased casualisation, short term or zero-hour contracts as well as explosion in the use of sub-contracted labour. The effect has been to increase the power of management, making their rule even more absolute. This means greater fear in the workplace and even more silence. Workers, who are often the real eyes and ears of society, are now even less willing to speak out.

Climate of Fear

dictatorship_of_the_bourgeoisie_by_party9999999-d5j1e76The case of Savile and the BBC is no aberration. In essence it is quite similar to a host of other examples from right across the spectrum of work where a climate of fear has actively contributed to disasters and tragedies of various orders of magnitude. If we look closely at event like the Deepwater Horizon explosion or say the Bhopal disaster – to use just two well-known cases – we can read that clear warnings made by workers either went unheeded or were actively censored leading to the tragedies that we now know all about all too well.

Savile ruined a lot of lives and damaged many, many more. His long reign of terror in the BBC is one of the best examples out there now of how damaging authoritarian really is.

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