Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Disney: American Dream or Nightmare?

                                                                                    By: Peter Schnall & Erin Wigger
The name Disney is highly evocative for many Americans. Some think of their favorite childhood movies – Bambi, Pinocchio, Snow White, Lion King, etc., others call to mind one of Disney’s 14 worldwide theme parks and resorts. Disney  has, over the last 70 years become a part of what many conceive as the American Dream.

Today,  when someone wins a Publisher’s Clearing House award, or the Superbowl, what do they think to scream? Many things I’m sure but, “I’m going to Disneyland” has become a catch-phrase for people who, for whatever reason, have come into enough money or fame to finally elevate themselves into the class of people who can afford to have the magical experience of a Disneyland adventure.

But there’s a darker side to Disney Corporation, which has a long history of labor disputes. As reported by Steve Lopez of the LA Times on October 19th, something new and unwanted has made an appearance in the perfect world called Disneyland. Disney Corp. has begun a new chapter in electronic monitoring of some of its workforce in the form of large TV screen displays in the work area. Workers at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel in Anaheim have labeled the large flat-screen monitors in the laundry room the “electronic whip.” This screen, displayed for all to see, visually tracks worker progress by giving “efficiency” percentages in green - for those who are at or above expected productivity - and red for those below it. Not only does this cause anxiety for workers in general, it pits them against one another in a minute-by-minute race to be on  top. Workers complain of putting off or missing toilet breaks in order to keep up.

If you look to the left  on our blogsite you’ll see snippets from Charlie Chaplin’s movie Modern Times. After reading Lopez’s article on the electronic monitoring of Disney Hotel Workers, Charlie’s satire of the industrial production line appears, once again, prophetic.

This Disney tale is one example of “lean going mean.” Though the Foxconn plants (see earlier blogs re Foxconn) are many thousands of miles away, this speeding up of the workplace has become widespread. Known to be detrimental to worker health, the ever-increasing push to produce more and faster keeps workers locked in a social and biological struggle to meet inhuman demands under inhumane working conditions. But speed ups and social isolation created by competition between workers is just the tip of the iceberg. Workers at Disney not only complain about the pace, they also complain of low wages, job insecurity, lack of respect and the injustice of having to put on a “happy face” and give, even the most slovenly of guests, a “magical experience” when they themselves are looking at dwindling wages and increased health care costs (see psychosocial stressors blog #2).

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