teaching deviance with (the other) nwa
Northwest Airlines mechanics went on strike today. Like many Minnesotans, I have good friends and family members on both sides of the picket line. No one disputes that these mechanics are highly skilled, well compensated, and largely responsible for the sterling safety record of the airline's aging fleet of DC-9s. Citing competitiveness and losses, however, management is demanding deep pay cuts and plans to outsource many jobs overseas. The mechanics have been so frustrated with management's position -- especially the hiring and training of replacement workers -- that there is some evidence of a work "slowdown" over the past month.
In my sociology of deviance course this semester, I'm thinking of referencing NWA as I make my way through the theories -- both as corporate and workplace deviance. I can think of a structural Marxist account of power and rulemaking, as well as a neoclassical or functional account based on markets. I'm most intrigued by the idea of teaching about this at the situational and group level of analysis, though. Let's say a mechanic could fix a cooling fan, but decides instead to ground the flight by defining it as irreparable -- either out of frustration with management or loyalty to the union or both. From a differential association or social learning perspective, this seems a clear case of close group ties compelling (rather than restraining) deviance -- conformity to the group produces rule violation. I'm less certain of social control explanations (the DA take always comes a bit easier to a Sutherland student), but I'll probably lean on Hirschi generally and Toby's stake in conformity more specifically. Once the mechanics figured out that most of their jobs were gone about a month ago, they had zero incentive to conform to NWA (or FAA) rules, and informal controls went out the window. Is this too much of a stretch? It seems like a sad but apt example that raises basic questions about the social construction of deviance and whether or how it is learned in interaction. Sound reasonable? As a companion article, one might use an accessible structural/institutional piece by Rick Mathews and David Kauzlarich (featured in the Adlers' fine reader) about the disastrous consequences of shoddy maintenance at one budget airline.