Did you see last week’s horrifying stories about the shootings at the Southern California mail distribution center? A 44 year old woman shot three employees in a parking lot, and three more inside the postal building, and then turned the gun on herself. Experts in workplace killings have called it the nation’s deadliest act of workplace violence ever committed by a woman.
For those who track such things, workplace violence by postal workers was more frequent in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, it brought a new phrase into the American vocabulary: "going postal."For those who want to go beyond the headlines and understand the roots of this phenomenon, I recommend Mark Ames’ Going Postal: Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplace to Clinton Columbine and Beyond (Soft Skull Press, 2005). The book places so-called "rage murders" in the American workplace and schoolyards in the context of the brutal socio-economic changes following the Reagan Revolution. Ames ties together a massive shift of wealth over the past 25 years–from the lower and middle classes to the wealthy–as well as the change in corporate culture in which companies have squeezed their workers dry for more hours of work at less pay, with less health care and ravaged pensions. He dissects a workforce that has faced massive layoffs, and workers who find themselves scraping by while their bosses live like kings. Ames never excuses, but he does try to understand why we’ve seen such brutality in the workplace.
This is grim reading –especially in these bleak times– but as The Toronto Eye Weekly puts it, Ames "writes like a breezy, barroom Foucault while building an alternative history of ‘the office’ andGoing Postal is audacious, necessary reading…though perhaps not while transiting to work."
Disclosure: Ames is a friend who, with the inimitable Matt Taibbi–now a regular writer at Rolling Stone–co-founded the eXile, an incendiary English-language Moscow-based newspaper. He tells me that the strangest, positive review he received was in Forbes.
Check out Going Postal.