Two recent articles, seemingly unrelated, reveal a common strategy deployed across the spectrum of entities that make up our society. This strategy, simply put, is that of divide and conquer.

The first article was a column by Noel Candelaria, president of the Texas State Teachers Association, and addresses a proposal by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to introduce merit pay in teachers salaries. Merit pay systems are employed in many industries and businesses and organizations as an effective way of controlling and diminishing wage growth.

It eliminates group dynamics by splintering a work force to individuals. Each individual, under a merit pay system, has a solitary contract with management. Under a merit pay system, salaries quickly diffuse throughout an organization. New hires are introduced at different (lower) pay scales. Seniority is eliminated. Case in point: a high performing recent employee at a certain job level may be making less money than a longer employed mediocre worker at a lower job level.

The second article concerns Denton County state legislator Jared Patterson’s desire to eliminate the state sponsored “Power to Choose” website. This website was created as an aid to consumers shopping around amongst the proliferation of power service provider plans that came into being after the power utility was de-regulated. This phenomenon of multiplicity of plans is another example of eliminating group dynamics by splintering consumers down to the individual consumer.

Rates quickly diffuse across the spectrum of individual consumers. Consumers cannot compare the costs of power by any measure of standardization. It has allowed service providers to introduce such unpalatable features as minimum usage requirements whereby the consumer is charged for using less power. This scheme is employed in many consumer services such as internet services, cell phone services, air travel, and entertainment.

It's a primary cause of the diminishment of the middle class. New (and old) industries use this strategy of contracting at the individual level to completely eliminate the employee. Delivery drivers become individual contractors. Refineries contract out their maintenance requirements. This eliminates professional trades. Professional pay grades are eliminated, wages are eroded, benefits are eliminated. When companies use contractors on an exclusively dollars per day arrangement, all benefits and conditions of employment are circumvented. Labor department rules and regulations no longer apply.

It behooves us to remember this strategy of divide and conquer when assessing the merits of proposals such as merit pay systems, deregulation of industries, and privatizing public services. Selling points for such proposals are pitched as allowing for greater efficiencies, enhancing consumer choices, encouraging competition, and reducing costs to the consumer. Be not naive. It's not being done for your benefit, it's always being done to make more money. Making more money in and of itself is a good thing. But you don’t want their gain to be your loss.

Leroy LeFlore lives in Galveston.


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