Bullying can be expressed physically, but more often than not takes the form of psychological aggression, whether aggression, threats, abuse, or ridicule... Whichever form it takes, it is always vindictive, cruel, malicious and humiliating. The result is devastating for the victims, causing serious stress-related heath problems, such as severe fatigue, depression and immune system suppression.
While the dangers of bullying in the playground are now regularly highlighted, little attention is paid to the bullying that takes place in the workplace. Meanwhile, it has reached staggering levels. Research by the University of Manchester found that 50% of people had witnessed bullying at work and one in six had been bullied in the last six months, while one in four had been bullied in the last five years. A study of workplace bullying, ‘Workplace Bullying in Britain', found that 18 million working days are lost per year due to sickness caused by bullying.
Why is so little being done? Because capitalism uses bullying to control the workforce and increase productivity. Historically, the extent of bosses power to hire and fire dictates the level of bullying and fear of the sack used to intimidate workers into accepting worsening conditions. The last twenty years has seen the virtual collapse of workplace organisation, which was the only real check on the power of managers. Hence, the growth of workplace intimidation, which has led to a sense of powerlessness, making it hard for workers to challenge the attitudes of even the most obnoxious of managers.
Managers now routinely exploit people's anxiety arising from an almost permanent state of job insecurity in order to force them to work harder for less. Amid this climate of fear, capitalism has sought to create a culture of conformity, routed in free market ideology, as a means of social control in the workplace. They have attempted to enforce this new doctrine of teamworking by getting rid of or marginalizing those workers unwilling to conform to the new mantra. This has enforced a nasty workplace culture in which bullying thrives. Workers who are not ‘onside' are constantly undermined, passed over or sacked.
The aim is to marginalise unwanted workers both as a means of getting rid of them, as well as to send a clear message to other workers that they must conform or face the consequences. Amid this poisoned atmosphere, bullying becomes the norm, not just by mangers but also by workers eager to run down others as means of currying favour. In today's workplace environment, people who go sick, have family commitments, are different or even wish to take holidays, become susceptible to bullying. In countries such as the US and Japan, where the culture of management-inspired conformity has been most widespread, people work longer than at any time in the last 100 years. On average, they only take 10 days holidays each year.
We hear much about the caring nature of modern capitalism, but the old realties remain. Fear and intimidation are the main methods through which management control workers. Bullying will always be present under capitalism. Its extent will be determined by the ability of workers to organise in order to stand up to managements diktats. Workplace bullying in all its cruelty will ultimately only disappear in a democratically controlled workplace, where decisions are taken collectively.