Absenteeism, Sabotage, and Resistance
Absenteeism is one means by which workers resist working conditions that they consider to he oppressive. Ben Hamper (1992: 47) describes how employees were chastised in a meeting for their absenteeism at the Flint, Michigan. GM plant: 111e Plant Manager introduced the man in charge of overseeing worker attendance .... lIe didn't seem happy at all. attendance man unveiled a large chart illustrating the trends in absenteeism . He pointed to Monday .... Monday was an unpopular day day attendance-wise. He moved the pointer over to' Tuesday and We enJoy which showed a significant gain in attendance. 111e chart peaked way up high on Thursday, Thursday was pay night. Everybody showed up on Thursday. "Then we arrive at Friday," the attendance man announced. A guilty wave of laughter spread
through the workers. None of the bossmcn appeared at all amused. Friday was an unspoken Sabhath for many of the workers. Paychecks in their pockets, the leash was temporarily loosened. 'Ih get a jump on the weekend was often a temptation too
ditficult to resist. Other workers use sabotage to brlngabout informal wurk stoppages. 'The phrase- "throwing a monkey wrench in the gears" originated with the practice of workers "losing" a tool in assembly-line machinery. Sabotage of this sort effectively brought the assembly line to a halt until the now-detective piece of machinery could he repaired. Industrial sabotage has been described as an expression of workers' deep-seated frustrations ubout poor work environments (Feagin. Baker, and Feagin. 2006). Although most workers do not sabotage machinery, a significant uumbcr do resist what they perceive to be oppression from supervisors and employers. In a study of Asian American women who work inlow-status occupations such as hotel housekeepers. the sociologist Esther Ngan-Ling Chow (1994) found that many of the women felt they had lillie to lose if they chose to resist or rebel. On young, one of the Korean American women interviewed by Chow. described low she felt: Many of us depend on this job to support our families. When I am blamed fur the things that I do not do and have lIO part of it. 1 will yell my guts out to protest. At most I will lose this job. 1 want my dignity, to be all honorable person. which my parents taught me. (qtd, in Chow. 1994: 214).
Resistance helps people in lower-tier service jobs survive at work (Dill, 1988; Chow. 1994). In interactions with their employers. domestic workers attempt to maintain their personal dignity and to gain mastery of situations in which they arc defined as objects. not as human beings. Scholars have documented resistance by African American domestic workers (Rollins. 1985; Dill, 1988). Chicana private housekeepers (Romero. 1992; Houdagncu-Sotelo, 2(01). and Japanese domestic helpers (Glenn. (986). According to Chow (1994: 2(8). many Asian American women become "active agents and goal-oriented actors. capable of taking
charge of their own lives" in their interactions with supervisors and co-workers. Workers who feel that theycan take charge of their own lives may be less likely to . experience high levels of alienation than workers whof el powerless over their plight. Studies of worker resistance are very important to our understanding of how people deal with the social organization of work. Previously, workers (especially
women) have heen portray d as passive "victims" of their work environment. As we have seen.