- McJobs and Workers -

Rap Sessions as a Technique of Control

Posted by: Quincunx ( IWW ) on October 10, 1998 at 11:31:26:

One of the most interesting books about McDonald's is a book entitled "BIG MAC-The Unauthorized Story of McDonald's" by Max Boas and Steve Chain. The most famous book entitled "McDonald's: Behind the Arches" by John H. Love (long time writer for Business Week Magazine) is endorsed by McDonald's and the dustcover jacket touts it as the first book on McDonald's. In short it's a puff piece.

The fact of the matter is that the first book by Boas and Chain came first. It's rather old (1976) but the chapter entitled "MAC UNDER ATTACK" ia a starting point of the labor problems at NAthan's hotdog chain in the spring of 1973 and summarizes how the fastfood outlets really took note of these events as talk of unionizing spread to McDonald's. Here's some excerpts from that chapter and others...

In line with its customary low profile, Central theoretically fights no union battles. The company long maintains that it would agree to unionization but that the workers are better off without a "third party" to come between crews and management. Economically, McDoanld's argues that it is forced to pay rock-bottom wages in an industry where this is the rock bottom rule. It says, not unjustly, that it needs thr cheap labor to stay competitive, and this is part of the "economic reality." The apparatus that it employs to resist workers in in wages and unionization usually handles labor with a kid glove rather than the naked fist, having learned that manipulation is more effective than coercion. In Washington, McDonald's fights the battle with an effective subminimum wage lobby, while internally its sophisticated anti-labor apparatus roots out union sympathies from the ranks with propaganda, dossiers on organizing attempts, even lie detectors. But nothing compares to a combination of bull sessions, psychodrama, and interrogation known to McDonald's as the "rap."

The rap was born after President Fred Turner engaged the Chicago managment firm of A.T. Kearney to do a study and make recommendations. the conclusions of the Kearney Report startled everyone: there was nothing out in the field that stood in the way McDoanld's and organized labor. McDoanld's was wide open to infiltration.

McDoanld's apparently took the report very seriously. From the management consultant firm that authorized these findings it hired away John Cooke, a former trade union organizer who had evidently changed his loyalties from labor to management. His close associate in this task was personnel director, Jim Kuhn.

Like Doc Cougle at Hamburger U, Kuhn believes in "recognizing" employees not as workers" but as "people". "It's 150,000 kids busting their tails out there that makes us tick. I'm not a social worker.... If the unions succeed at McDonald's then my job has failed."

A leprechaunish redhead, forty-year old Kuhn hold an M.A. in industrial psychology and prides himself on an "unorthodox, human approach to employement supervision." In response to the "needs of the kids out there," Kuhn gave them not only the "rap", but also "recognition", "competition", "praise", and the "All-American Team."

Jim Kuhn designed the rap to show employees that Hamburger Central "cared". Theoretically, the employees that registered their grievances while the hamburger manager listened. But in reality, the rap served an altogether different purpose.

Crews were encouraged to let off steam in a setting that appeared to be informal but was, in fact, highly controlled. They were given the privilege of "rapping" with the hamburger executives, talk with Jim Kuhn or any of his deputies in the field. The rap substitued talk for action and served to monitor the young hamburger workers.

The rap swung into action before the rumbles in the kitchens reached a boiling point. In effect, it was little more than a sophisticated interrogation technique. It was used whenever young workers attempted to organize themselves, as shown by central's confidential report on union activities in the month of August, 1973. The report cites employees in La Grange, Illinois, threatening union organization and rap sessions accelerated to determine the extent of union sympathy among the crew. Likewise, in Cahokia two crew members outwardly advocating union organizing, resulted in accelerated rap sessions to determine the extent of crew sympathy.

The rap was familiar to McDonald's management graduates, its elements having been studied in Doc Cougle's course. The techniques adapted the tenets of Transactional Analysis, especially manipulative flattery and ego "stroking".

Jim Kuhn spread the teen-age gabfest concept to every stand. Managers and operators were given detailed instructions on how and where to hold such sessions and what to ask. Inside Hamburger Central, Kuhn assembled a staff of people to interpret and to guide their further development. The local raps led to regional raps, district raps, finally to a national rap, which saw hamburger workers being flown in from all over the country to participate. Jim Kuhn filmed the First National Rap Session.

"I'll brag about it. I think it's fantastic," says Kuhn. "I've seen it ten times and I still get tears in my eyes everytime I watch it."
NOTE: Transactional Analysis has spawned two national bestsellers. One being "I'm OK, You're OK". I think some folks might be familiar with it and Erich Fromm in his book "The Art of Loving" made some satirical comments on the ideas.

Follow Ups:

The Debating Room Post a Followup