[Editor’s note: I wrote this editorial for the June 2011 edition of “Labor Pains”, which was the newsletter I established for CWA Local 4034 after being ‘lifted-up’ to full-time union status as Administrative Assistant to the Local president.
Recently, the title phrase came into fashion when noted celebrity boss-turned- POTUS used it to brush off over 160,000 American deaths during the COVID-19 crises. I remain convinced that nearly all bosses use this phrase to avoid accountability and it is the job of the union steward to find this unacceptable and question this premise at every turn. Our members very livelihoods, and sometimes their lives, depend on union leaders not accepting this answer from filthy bosses. Hook]
“It Is What It Is” – Loser Theme Song
I’m not sure when that poisonous, seductive phrase became so common; I think I began to hear it from management in grievance meetings about three years ago. Then, it was attributed to a since-retired director known for his pithy and somewhat…abrupt way of speaking. Of course, all managers below that director had to accept those words as gospel and go meekly about their business; the more ambitious immediately began copying the saying to indicate their slavish devotion to a motto that, while grammatically correct, actually means nothing.
But, let us face what the mindless parroting of these words really means when used in the context of AT&T. “It‘s too hard.” “I can’t figure it out.” “It‘s scary.” “It‘s confusing.” And on and on ad nauseum. When I hear these words, I know that the speaker has released himself from the burden of thought, accountability, responsibility and mentally retreated into a land of blissful ignorance where the big, bad workplace is just a thing that somehow happens and can’t be impacted by humans. Any hard decision in the land of AT&T, no matter how much it may serve the customer, or improve conditions at work, can be successfully avoided by uttering this magic phrase. It works even better if accompanied by a hapless shrug and a slight rolling of the eyes as if to say, “Yeah, I could fix [fill in the blank], but it’s easier to spout this pseudo-Zen crap in order to mask my incompetence/laziness/helplessness!”
This trite, overused and ultimately meaningless phrase is often delivered with a wise nod and a nervous chuckle that invites you to join in the helpless, soul-sucking excuse-making of a dis-empowered manager. The cruelest twist is that if we were to use that same excuse to a manager when we failed to execute, we would be suspended. As a bonus, the manager who copped out by using that incredible statement of the obvious would deny having ever uttered it.
Ever notice that winners never proudly proclaim, “It is what it is?” Instead, they are happy to tell anyone and everyone that they wanted it, so they took it! This is what our Union has stood for, and what we continue to stand for. Put simply, in 1947 at AT&T workers decided that life sucked at work and if they wanted it to change, they would have to fight and maybe get a little bloody (Eeeassy, Company! It’s a metaphor..so far) Did our Union collectively gaze into its navel and meditate on the “is-ness” of things? No, we left that to management so they could explain falling share-prices to incredulous investors.
Instead, we got to work, made our demands and stuck together. It’s time, again, to roll up our sleeves. Time to say not, “It is what it is,” but “It is what we make it.”
Hooker, Administrative Assistant
CWA Local 4034