3.1 The design office was adjacent to the main workshop. There didnít appear to be anything unusual about the office: quiet environment; good lighting; carpeted floor that looked a little the worse for wear.
3.2 We approached one of the draftsmen and asked what kept him at this kind of work. He replied, "I suppose, because Iím a partner in the business and I belong and am accepted here. It is very stimulating to work on a tough problem where all necessary resources of The Partnership are marshalled and focussed on achieving the best possible solution."
3.3 "I know that most draftsmen donít have the kind of work experience that I have: most never have the opportunity of being part of a large team working through a complex problem. This is not a perfect place. It may look calm and peaceful, and it is, but there is an underlying discontent with the way things are, a vision of the future that we only dimly see and strive toward, a continual effort to achieve more."
3.4 "Why the heavy bias toward manufacturing?" I asked.
3.5 The draftsman replied thoughtfully, "I know that the partners reject on principle getting involved significantly in the commercial, service, or franchise sectors. Manufacturing, as we do it, releases a personís creativity in tangible form. We end up seeing and using what we create. A manufacturing plant is something tangible that the partners can hold in common, see grow and improve - something that is a permanent visual reminder of what they have achieved. The things held in common here are significant to each partner since in most cases the capital investment in The Partnership is the biggest capital investment a partner has."
3.6 "Another thing that appeals to me is that it is my own business and I identify with it. If I create an advanced method of producing something, I get the benefit of it in a fair and equitable way. The Partnership does not have employees, so any labour saving device cannot result in any of us getting sacked - labour saving devices can therefore be worked on with a clear conscience, in the certain knowledge that none of us will suffer because of them. Itís not lack of work that outsiders fear; itís lack of money! All the multinationally-owned means of mass-communication keep emphasising that unemployment is a bad thing. What in truth should be given equal weight is that the lack of money is a bad thing - the two are not the same. Wealthy people donít mind having no onerous work to do, just so long as they have plenty of time and money to pursue their interests theyíre happy - in this sense the partners are wealthy, and they know it."
3.7 "How does The Partnershipís emphasis on maintenance effect you in the day-to-day life of your family?" I asked.
3.8 "Maintenance is so much a part of life that itís difficult to explain to an outsider how it has been integrated into our partnership way of life."
3.9 "Take our clothes peg, for example. This is our simplest product. Did you know that we sell spare plastic components for it? Weíve tried many materials in developing this product - steel, galvanised steel, plastic, stainless steel. We found that electro-zinc plated spring steel and ultra-violet inhibited thermo plastic achieved a uniform life span. That is, all the components reach the end of their life at approximately the same time. This seemed a little wasteful though because we could delete the handling associated with the plating, and substitute a stainless steel spring for the same price. Thus we opted for the stainless steel spring that outlasts on average about ten plastic peg bodies, and redesigned the peg body and spring for ease of replacement. You may say that this is a very marginal improvement, but a marginal improvement can cause a dramatic increase in sales under fierce competition."
3.10 "Replacement parts for a clothes peg?" I mused aloud. "Do customers really bother?"
3.11 "They do. The sales figures show it. We sell more plastic bodies than complete pegs. They go out in different coloured bags - one for complete pegs and one for plastic bodies. Itís a very easy job to replace a body on The Partnership peg - a child can do it. Most of our mothers have their children do the job of sorting and repairing the damaged pegs mainly as a good form of training, but also as a direct saving. The idea of repairing things, of not wasting, of putting in some small amount of labour yourself in order to save a disproportionately large amount of someone elseís labour and materials, is all really part of a way of living that has to be learned. We only make one model of every appliance, and we offer a small amount to children to bring us the springs from outsiders who will not do the replacement for themselves and we recycle the good springs into our production. Pegs with used springs are sold at a slightly lower price. We probably donít save anything by doing this, but there is a principle involved: the husbanding of scarce resources and designing conservative solutions to problems."
3.12 "This all seems so minor when you think about the bigger things in our lives, that I can hardly believe anyone would worry about it," I said.
3.13 "The partners often produce for their own use," replied the draftsman. "Because they are reasonably worry-free, they have the time and interest to reflect upon some of the minor aspects of their lives. Youíre probably right if you apply your statement to outsiders, but I can assure you that when I was redrawing the parts after the engineers had redesigned for maintenance, the partners took a very keen interest in the success of this Ďnewí product. Itís an attitude of mind eliciting behaviour that conserves labour and materials - we regard it as an aspect of good stewardship and try to husband our resources as Jesus asked us to."
3.14 "Donít you sometimes feel hemmed-in and restricted? Donít you ever feel the need to be away from this group?" I asked.
3.15 "Yes, I feel this way at times," replied the draftsman, "but then I have to consider what alternatives are open to earn a living. The world is a very competitive place, and most people canít make it on their own any more. A person needs to be part of a productive group now to survive against such forces as unemployment, overcharging, and exploitation in many forms. Hence of necessity I submit to a disciplined working environment - is there any other option? Outsiders under a hierarchical, dictatorial system are worse off. When relationships get too close for me, I use the 15-hour rule -Rule 5 - and withdraw a little from the group so that I never get overwhelmed by the closeness of the relationships. At such times I divert some of my time to another partnership operating on the same principles in which I am a partner. For me it would be a mistake to be wholly occupied with one set of partners for the whole of my working life. The long-term strain would be uncomfortable. But there are other partners with a higher tolerance limit who seem quite able to accept the continued close relationships."
3.16 "I must admit," went on the draftsman, "that I would much prefer to be the employer than the employee, to be propertied rather than propertyless - but I have come to accept that it is unjust to require these things if others associated with me cannot also have them in equal measure. For me to have a just and equitable influence over decisions that effect me that necessitates those associated with me having the same just and equitable influence over the decisions that affect them. It would be unjust for me to own the means of production used by others in the sense that the equality that I have been talking about would thereby be destroyed. The Partnership embodies this mutual freedom and I accept the restrictions on my personal chances of becoming extremely rich and powerful this mutual freedom necessarily requires."
3.17 "All is not gloom, of course," continued the draftsman. "For example, the partners manage to get a few extra holidays by adjusting their work to demand. Since The Partnership only makes finished products for sale to end-users, there are seasonal fluctuations in demand that we have never been quite able to iron out with product diversification and stockpiling. Due to these seasonal fluctuations, the partners sometimes work short time....they do not Ďmake-workí; they donít work if the demand is not there for their labour. An additional benefit of the policy of not producing components for other makers is that The Partnership depends only on the consumer, not on other makers of finished products who tend to exploit component makers."
3.18 I thanked the draftsman for his comments, and as we walked away I noticed him apply himself to his work again.
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From The Partnership, by Graeme Doel.
Converted to HTML by Simon Grant, 2003.