Let us call experience seniority. And let us mean by this that people who work over extended periods of time develop, ripen, face the hard knocks of life day in and day out, and that they usually gain from the experience.
To be experienced is to have spent the time, paid the dues of the job, learned what it takes, put out the raw energies and skills required. And more: to be experienced means that one has internalized all these things, and that one can bring to the everyday situation of work an array of competencies that the inexperienced are unaware of. That is why this precious game of life requires the serious engagement with it. Engagement brings, even if only eventually, an enlargement and a subtilization of competencies, things that one has in one’s hands, in one’s plan for the day, in one’s skill set, in one’s general work habits, all which add up to becoming experienced.
But consider: “senior” in America typically means old people, not only not at the top of their game, but also not necessarily competent. In the right-wing attack on seniority in the public sphere, and unions more generally, seniority translates into deadwood. Now every institution has some tiny percentage of deadwood in it, people who have disengaged from their work experience. But to assume, for example, as Republican state legislatures are in the process of doing, that teachers with years of experience are the deadwood whose seniority rights have to be eliminated (meanwhile ignoring the administration deadwood), is sheer folly. It completely ignores how those experienced teachers incorporate a reservoir of potential mentoring and actual “how-to” knowledge. It is a way of promoting inexperience at the cost of experienced professionals. And isn’t that what the mad-hatters’ Tea Party celebrates in politics as well: lack of political experience as a qualification for office?
Seniority in the workplace means that the years and decades you have put in paying your dues to the job count for something in the work community, and that a larger and deeper outlook and ability is something to be valued. In short, it means that all that work adds up to something like: work is a life, and that the work and workplace are intimately connected to the lives of the workers and the surrounding community.
Seniority in the Republican attack on middle class values means something quite different apparently. It means that you are someone earning more than the average for your job, so that your elimination can mean savings. That abstraction of eliminating seniority translates practically into hiring and promoting cheap, inexperienced labor. It means not having to pay fair and deserved wages (and, at the other end, not paying fair and deserved taxes). It serves to protect growing moneyed power interests at the cost of skimming from the middle class. It manifests the unwritten right-wing rule: Crush the vulnerable, immunize the invulnerable.