Brexit For “Entrepreneurs”
Written by Blanca Espigares Rooney and Jose María Echarte Ramos
So Patrik Schumacher loves Brexit. He is such a fan.
While we were watching Game of Thrones and wondering -but not too much it is fair to say-, if his heart belongs to the Wise Masters of Yunkai or to the Khaleesi, we had the time to translate his recent piece in Archinect for you. Spoiler alert: Patrik is not so much into Brexit and what implies in his relation with the common market (which allows Offices like ZHA to easily offer their services all over Europe) as he is into workers’ rights: social protection and that “communist” stuff you all have wrongly get used to.
FYI: He seems to want you to have any.
If we start reading something and we find the term “entrepreneurial creativity”, it is logical to think that we will find, in the next few lines, the consequent “entrepreneurial responsibility/duty”. A right comes with its duty, as Spiderman said. If we don’t find it, and we usually don’t, we immediately look for our reliable Colt 45. It is a common practice these days to use the term “entrepreneur” and its multiple combinations so often in order to hide old habits regarding the exploitation of workers. Again the same archaic story, but this time the scenario is a terrific cool office space (which sometimes the workers pay) and hipster letter fonts. And creativity. Loads of creativity. We are not sure if you can feed on creativity, pay for your kids clothes or a root canal for you molar. But it is for your own good.
The twisted dirty trick is to make workers feel falsely involved. Feel part of an adventure, like if this is the only way creativity works and flows, by associating that the lack of social rights does not matter in the name of contemporaneity –you know, using the best old guard skills with a perverse avant garde twist. Rockefeller on a fixie bike. The perverse part of this so called new entrepeneurs is that they are blaming the worker for having rights: we can’t exist if you –oh, you… you greedy worker– demand to have a decent salary, a regular schedule to be able to have a normal family life, and some kind of social protection. Can’t you see? You, pesky unionists are killing creativity.
And the worst part? Young people are buying this shit like if it were ice cream in August. The rights their parents and grandparents fought for, are sacrificed in the altar of creativity so you all have the reward to include in the CVs you have worked “there” taking orders from “someone” you might have glanced once. So, when Schumacher says:
We need more entrepreneurial freedom to creatively exploit the opportunities of our burgeoning technological age, accelerate progress. The tendency of the EU to regulate and ‘harmonize’ more and more aspects of social and economic life in the name of protecting citizens and in the name of creating a level economic playing field is paralysing entrepreneurial innovation and leads to stagnation.
What the hell does he mean? Maybe it would be interesting to know if he is speaking about freedom like (…) well, like the one that workers enjoy in Qatar for example? Just to clarify. The truth is that there is freedom in Europe, there is trade freedom, services freedom and capital circulation freedom. In fact that is what the EU is all about, and for a service like architecture, that seems to be ideal. So when Patrik talks about freedom, what is he referring to? He is talking about your rights. Patrik wants to be free, even libertine with your rights. This is what, apparently, stagnated creativity is made of: the fact that he cannot in a redundancy round (nice term for “clear your desk and close the door behind you”) get rid of whoever he wants, regardless of any legal obligations. Indeed, hidden in a lot of creativity-guru blabbing, this is inherent when he says:
It’s time to roll back the state and for us to take the risk of giving more freedom and self-responsibility to us all, unleashing entrepreneurial creativity, organisational experimentation as well as individual aspiration and empowerment. I think we are ready and well equipped for this, at least in the most advanced societies and in the most advanced arenas of the world economy. One-fits-all rules are not the way to create a fair, meritocratic, competitive, level playing field. The inevitably differentiated world societal landscape needs adaptive elbow room everywhere. If the same rules are imposed on different contexts then there can be no fair competition at all. Real competition requires real freedoms. If the most advanced arenas impose their standards on less advanced arenas then they only protect themselves via political (police) means, avoiding economic competition. Gladly the UK still has less restrictive employment rules than EU countries like Germany, France, Italy and Austria. A firm like ZHA does not exist and could not exist in Germany. I cannot imagine how we could stay cutting edge, if each redundancy round the only real effective protection of employees is an unhampered and therefore fluid employment market would leave us not with the people we most value but with the people protected by the prescribed social indicators.
So there you have it. Your protection as a worker comes from trusting Patrik Schumacher on keeping you there if you prove yourself valuable. Not the law, not our rights achieved during centuries, no. The issue is even clearer in some of his answers to the debate:
Jungle? No, I am imagining a civilized society, where entrepreneurs solve social problems with a creative drive fuelled by the prospects of honour, fame and profits (to reinvest) and where charities will do a much better job for those who really cannot compete anywhere at all than any state authority can ever be expected to do.
So some of you, maniac unionist, will ask: what if those problem-solving-entrepreneurs decide that besides I am a hard worker, one of the best, a creative member of their company…. I am more expensive than (…) let’s say, ten free apprentices. Tough luck then, you are fucked. And not in a good way I’m afraid.
You see Patrik, this is not new. This is like Coca-Cola “letting go” more than a thousand workers in Spain although the company had profit at the end of the year just to increase the holders’ revenue. This is Zara taking its business to places where if you are old enough to stand on your feet, you are old enough to work like there’s no tomorrow. This is banks in the Eurozone applying massive staff reductions even though they had been rescued not to do so and, at the same time, raising their CEOs salaries. To be clear, Patrik, it is not that we do not trust you: we don’t fucking trust you. Or to be more precise, that trust is an option but the main issue must be the law. And the law is that workers, whether you like it or not, have rights because along the history they have fought for them and the ways to apply them. Yes, workers. Not entrepreneurs in pre-union capitalism –very similar in its principles to what you describe as “civilized”. Workers uniting and forcing governments to enforce their rights as laws. And the law is for everyone. Is not a compendium of singularities. It is not something that you apply analysing if you are creative or not. It doesn’t care if your surname is Schumacher, or Hadid, or Tagliabue and you are a leading light in Schools of Architecture all over the Universe. Its unique purpose is to be applied to all.
Let see an example, a tricky one, but a real –a very fucking real- one. A woman in her late twenties or even in her early thirties, looking for a job. Let’s imagine she gets one without being asked if she wants to get pregnant or if she has a boyfriend or a girlfriend and would like to start a family (and we all know that she will always be asked these questions). She starts working. So, according to your system, what do you think would happen if she wants to have a child? Do we –communists and unionists– have to rely on entrepeneurs to not fire her when she asks for maternity leave? What about if she asks for a break time for nursing mothers (as it is, or should be, her fucking right)? Do we rely again on that false meritocracy or on your good will? Well, let’s have a crazy idea, maybe we better rely this kind of things on the law. On a balance of power between employer and employee? We are personally supporting the law, for workers’ rights. It is to avoid the dilemma of trusting you, Patrik, or anyone else. And, by the way, we must say those workers’ rights are pretty much the same all across Europe (so we don’t know where do you get the idea that the UK rules are less restrictive, unless you are being a cheeky Wise Master of Yunkai yourself, you naughty boy).
It is sadly a common practice in architecture to use the resource of creativity, or its consequent fame, as an excuse to ask for a special treatment when it comes to workers’ rights. A perverse habit that turns formation –an investment made by the employer- into a form of payment for the employee. It happens in other professions and it has to do with vocational careers: it is the same system for chefs and cooks all over the world, that demands to work for free in Michelin Star restaurants if they ever want to join the perverse club of the chosen ones. Yes, you have read it well, that restaurant you are so eager to go to and where you are going to be charged 150 – 200 euros at least for a meal? It will probably be on 30 to 40 NOT PAID apprentices (interns). That is the very definition of exploitation: profiting on someone’s work without paying them.
[Please, don’t bring up the usual lies about “opportunities” for those exploited workers or the embarrassing excuse that they are learning something. Everybody learns something while working, in fact it is great if they do. It makes better employees and better employees make better companies. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to pay them, in fact it means you should pay them more]
Which brings us to another fallacy in Mr. Schumacher discourse. Patrik, my dear, if your business can’t exist without that special treatment when it comes to workers… maybe it shouldn’t exist at all. Or maybe you are doing something wrong. Let’s go back to Michelin restaurants: Ferran Adrià’s usual complaint was that ElBulli wasn’t profitable. Let me be clear about this: a restaurant with no à la charte menu –which means you know almost exactly what you are serving every single day–, and that is all booked since two years ago –which means you know exactly how much you are going to charge–, and very well-known all around the world with waiting lists for several years, is not profitable? Adrià used to suggest that having 40 chefs for 40 guests was not logical at all. And maybe it is not (I personally doubt it if we see all the reasons above) but if in order to survive you must rely on non-paid workers then what is corrupted is the system and it must be not only denounced but also reconstructed.
It is the same for architecture. Every time we read a spoiled neoliberal brat arguing about free creativity and the connection that freedom has on the waiver of workers for their rights, we should go to the very basics: do you want great creative workers? Pay them well. Pay them very well. Treat them well. Invest on your staff. They are not fucking expendable. Their formation is not an expenditure but an investment. Do you feel that having interns is not your cup of tea because you have to train them and they take loads of your time? Well, first of all, here is the easy response: you do not need to train them. Hire experienced professionals through proper recruitment procedures (they may, oh surprise, be more expensive than your average unpaid or underpaid interns). Do you still want them? We are all for it. Know then that the time you are investing in their training will make a tailored-made worker and that is what you get in return. Better workers, better service, better company. Again, not an expenditure, an investment.
[For other fallacies, please follow this simple reasoning: if you hire unpaid or underpaid interns in order not to train them but to do a professional’s work, you are perverting that market you apparently love so much by distorting production costs. And that is called unfair competition: prices below production prices, experienced professionals earning the minimum and so on. This is the A-B-C of labour regulation and work market economy, in case you are wondering]
As we said before, the worst part is not only the twisted, perverse and fascist idea that social rights, workers’ rights, are a drag for creativity. It is not even that Schumacher has exposed in 1380 words that “I want to fire you as I please” –because that is what he is saying. No. The worst part is that while we write this lines, young, underpaid, exploited architects are themselves involved in the destruction of their rights and the social protection system. And we see architects that after reading about “severing work relations”, “redundancy rounds” and all the neocon fallacies that would make Hayek blushed, they would consider all of this, normal. Even worst, there are those that would consider themselves part of an elite because they are accepting to sacrifice their legal protection leading the promise of meritocracy and the “we’ll do the best for you, trust us”. And thus, what worries us is not that Schumacher is eager to liberalise the redundancies with any serious and contemporaneous employment policy, but that “archiworld” is so perverted that workers go for it and they do not care at all.
Maybe it’s a creative thing.