I’ve been leading a double life recently, working at an investment bank in Hong Kong for the past couple of months. It has been an experience to say the least. I was hired on a contract basis as the bank offshores the department piece-meal style to India. At this very moment our Indian ‘counterparts’ are over here being crosstrained. I’ve put ‘counterparts’ in inverted commas because these people are the ones that will be replacing the Hong Kong office’s headcount.
Let me just set the tone right now, I love these people from Chennai, I’ve gotten to know them on a social as well as professional level and I wholly and freely admit they are a great deal more fun and interesting than the majority of my immediate local Hong Kong team mates (who can barely squeeze out a genuine smile from beneath their forced expressions of enthusiasm and feigned compassion for one another).
I will henceforth refer to the Indian team as C-Team and the Hong Kong team as H-Team.
Where was I?
What is most striking is that my Hong Kong colleagues have been tasked with cross-training the C-Team. This means the H-Team is effectively carrying it’s own crucifix.
Despite this fact, which I can only assume everyone in the office is aware of, the H-Team is still ever ready to impress their bosses. They do this by training the C-Team very well; so well in fact that it is inevitable that the department will certainly be entirely offshored, even if it wasn’t certain before.
This is somewhat of a concern to me. Perhaps I don’t fully comprehend the ‘career builder’ model or the Asian worker mentality. As a human geographer (No, not the geography of the human body…), I have always looked at life through the stained-glass view of a sociologist. I subscribe to Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’. This almost-suicidal behaviour baffles me. Have we been so brainwashed by corporate America that we will willingly chase that dangling carrot all the way to the bottom of the cliff? Why are we as ‘workers’ so willing to accept this path of self-destruction? Surely the monthly pittance is no trade off for long term security.
Or perhaps it is because we have no choice in the matter? Certainly as a contractor, I can understand the feelings and perspectives of somebody who doesn’t really have a choice or the ultimate say on the tenor of their employment.
This experience has convinced me that the Labour Process Theory is in full swing, but it does not exist in the factories or coal mines of the industrial revolution – they have long since been unionised. No, it exists in the corporate world, in the banking sector especially. As Harry Braverman (awesome surname) espoused, capitalist corporations are an alienating force, exploiting the workforce in pursuit of a dollar gained, or a dollar saved, or both.
In Asia, where competition is fierce and worker protection is minimal, only a clear perception can free us from this life of servitude, or at the very least, make it more comfortable.