Worker Dismissals

THE PEOPLE
FEBRUARY 2002
VOL. 111 NO. 11

QUESTION PERIOD

Under socialism, can a worker be dismissed from a job for misbehavior, for breaking rules and regulations, or for other misconduct?

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It must be understood that the discipline of workers under socialism will be something quite different from their discipline under capitalism. Discipline, of course, is essential under conditions of cooperative labor, and the failure of one worker to obey rules and regulations can adversely affect the work of many. But the application of the discipline under socialism will reflect the humanity, enlightenment and democracy of socialist society. Today, under capitalism, when the capitalist is master, discipline is enforced with an economic whip that private ownership places in the capitalists' hand. The worker is economically dependent, hence vulnerable to the threat of dismissal. Fear of dismissal -- of being "fired" -- usually suffices to persuade the worker to obey the rules. More, it usually suffices to impose a subservient pattern of behavior on the workers, which tends to be injurious to their personalities.

But under socialism the element of subservience will disappear. In the first place, the rules and regulations will not be arbitrarily imposed by a master; they will be drafted by the workers themselves, democratically, and with the understanding that obedience to such rules and regulations is essential for the common and collective purpose. Perhaps the workers will collectively prescribe penalties for infractions of the rules. Possibly they will find this unnecessary. But if it is necessary, they will do it. Moreover, since the workers are collectively affected by infractions, they will make sure that the rules are enforced and the penalties, if any, applied. In other words, socialism is not anarchy. It is order and efficiency for the common end of producing the greatest possible abundance with the least expenditure of effort.

How far could or would democratically imposed penalties go under socialism? Certainly not so far as to threaten to cut off the source of livelihood of a worker. It may be necessary, in the interest of the collective group, to replace a worker who habitually violates the rules. But the replaced worker would have a wide choice of occupations; economic opportunity would not be closed to the replaced worker.

Meanwhile, the educational forces of socialist society will stress the importance and advantages of discipline in collective effort. And the complete person, the person most admired and respected, will be the one who sets an example in disciplined behavior. In Marx's language, people will have stripped off the fetters of their individuality in disciplined cooperation and developed the capabilities of the species.