For the Victors comes the Spoils…..
By Michael Caton.
This is both a personal and professional account of the experience of TUPE and current organizational dynamics.
The personal interest comes from my recent experience, where my substantive employment as a first line manager and therapist within a substance misuse treatment service came to an end, after a long commissioning battle and employment transfer to a new service provider. So intolerable was my experience of the new provider and what they asked of me and my work, that I painfully resigned my employment.
The professional interest comes from my new role working as a group psychotherapist in the group analytic tradition, working and supporting staff teams within the caring professions with their work and relationships to each other. In this, I have seen an increase in the number of teams either preparing or going through their own commissioning challenges and seeking support with the increased level of distress and suffering experienced as a consequence.
“For the victors comes the spoils” was a recurring phrase that came to my mind when considering my own experience of employment transfer. However, I did not know where this came from, and had to look for the origins of this seemingly meaningful phrase to better understand its relevance. I was intrigued to find that its origins were from a congressional debate in the USA where William A Macy in 1831 defended the process where by thousand of public servants would loose their employment at the end of an election, when a new administration was appointed. The “spoils” in this context was a free rein to remove the existing staff from their government jobs and to appoint supporters of the new political regime into those same jobs. This was considered and defended as a perk of being in government and victory in elections.
The employees of 1831 lost their employment due to the whimsical nature of the politics of the day. Today, for many people, employment and work is again being brutally and unfairly challenged.
For Foulkes, it was “the social” that permeated the individual from the earliest moments. Now, in our working life, it is perhaps the political that permeates every aspect of our working lives. With a now stark capitalist agenda, hell bent on inviting free market economics and competition into where competitions needs not be. This new political agenda invites once friendly, collaborative organizations, into competition, empire building and acts colonialism of often smaller organizations to survive in the new political order.
Whilst I can see that times have indeed changed for the better and legislation has been passed to protect the rights of employees from arbitrary loss of employment, the phrase “for the victors comes the spoils” still remains relevant and meaningful today. In the case of TUPE legislation, the incoming contract holder no longer has the power to do away with existing staff in an arbitrary fashion a la 1831, but nonetheless, does enjoy the spoils of their victory over the outgoing organization, and I would add the psychological spoils of victory over the staff which they must take on as a consequence of their victory.
In many ways, the process of TUPE and contract management change, is experienced by the staff and teams involved, as if a colonial power has arrived. The new arriving organization comes to the scene from a position of power and privilege, this it exercises both consciously and unconsciously over existing staff. It is now that position of power and privilege that are the spoils of victory rather than the ability to dismiss staff arbitrarily.
The experience of this type of organizational change is stark and for those who experience these events, the pain is clear to see. As a colonial power, perhaps one spoil they enjoy, is the mandate to be able to ignore the history that comes before it, ignoring often the therapeutic language and approaches that existed before it’s arrival, often imposing a new therapeutic language and model as they come, pronouncing this “to be the one true model” of the moment and sadly with it ignoring the pain and suffering of the staff and clients alike.
On a metaphoric level, as I think of it, I liken this experience as being similar to the cultural and physical attacks on indigenous populations that has been seen throughout the history of world. In these real acts of colonialism, it was and is the local gods, rituals, language and customs that are prohibited and out moded whilst a new religion and culture is implemented and given primacy. Where the colonialist of the past came armed with guns and swords, the new organizational colonialists come armed with: 3 or 4 letter acronyms (after all you are nothing without an acronym these days) contractual privilege, the political rhetoric of the moment and often a so called evidence based approaches, that on inspection may have only very thin evidence bases but still become the new reality of the moment.
With smiles, handshakes the colonized are asked to forsake their beliefs in exchange for metaphoric beads and trinkets and perhaps may even be offered positions in the new order of things, in exchange for their lands and freedom to self determine. In organizational colonialism the exchange is often to give up your therapeutic training, thoughtfulness and ethics in exchange for pay and conditions. The organizations themselves give up their therapeutic integrity (if ever that was their bag) in exchange for a 3 to 5 year tender and the chance to expand into new lands.
The most useful definition or prejudice I have come across, is the one that says that says prejudice is not so much about any real difference but much more about the denial of real similarity. This for me sums up both the mechanisms colonialism and organizational take overs, as with the new power comes their own truth that denies that which previously existing, with it is a superior belief system that holds on to semantic differences as being real rather than just linguistic variations. The spoils here are superior ego states based on the denial of similarity and the experience of oneself as being superior- a rather grandiose position you may well agree.
The individual trying to survive these changes, goes though many emotional states. Many are comparable to that of a loved one being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Denial, shame, guilt and anger are all are part of the process of coming to terms with the impending change and the eventual letting go.
However, mixed into this process, is also ones own survival needs. How will I survive? How will my professional work with people survive this process? Will I be accepted be accepted into this new organization or rejected? And in turn, will I be able to accept this new organization, or will the attachment to what is already known be too strong to be able accept the offer of a place in the new order of things? For me the later of these were true…..
I think to look at the personal dynamics the pain of these changes is felt most strongly by those who know this already on the inside and may well be part of the reason they trained therapeutically. Those who already know loss, experience this new loss in the most profound ways. To survive and to ward off what they already know to be so painful, they may well initially try to identify and ingratiate themselves to the new colonial power supporting unconsciously the colonial powers own assumptions of privilege and power.
In many ways I liken this to the same way that the kidnapped or held to ransom might do so towards their captors, this essentially has the function of warding off annihilatory fears and anxieties that are understandably evoked by such changes and the experience. Survival perhaps for many, involves a line of least resistance and ingratiation to the new organization, a place where anger and rage at what has happened, has at least for the time being, needs to be kept at bay. However, the risks of such strategies from both personal and professional experience for those who take this route can often be feelings of depression and exhaustion for the individual, as they are forced to swallow down their anger and rage and accept to operate from a “false self” position.
I can’t help but be drawn to the patterns that I identify as recurring. There is a duplication throughout the work matrix that our new political agenda has created. As the government of this moment creates a system that invites organizations to fight for their very survival and wage wars for resources, it is interesting to consider their own very thin grasp on power and perhaps their own fears regarding the fragility of this? Perhaps like many, when our own feelings cannot be contained, we enter into the projective world, where the “spoils” are essentially not to have experience our own fears and anxieties, but to have others experience them on our behalf.