Letters

Dear Processed World Readers:

You may have read Caitlin Manning's review of the movie "Nine to Five" in the first issue of Processed World. You may not have. At any rate, one of the criticisms of the movie pointed to the inadequacy of dealing with such oppressive conditions with fantasy solutions, such as the three vignettes of Snow White (Lily Tomlin), the round-em-up cowgirl (Dolly Parton) and the safari huntress (me-Jane Fonda). The sad reality for thousands of us is, though, that fantasies of revenge are about the only outlet for our frustration and resentment on the job. For whatever reasons, "real" or "perceived." we feel we need these jobs. Sure, there's sabotage, often a limited option with minor results (not all of us key in the vital statistics for mega-corporations ions and world banks). and there's liberation of certain office supplies, photocopy subsidies, relief from high telephone bills... you get the idea. I'm sure.

And there's fantasy. Fantasy provides, quite literally, an escape valve from office drear and ennui. The people of PW obviously recognize this value, and choose to print imaginary office adventures. I feel better for having one. Don't you?

So my idea was that we could have a fantasy festival, a carnival of revenge — on the pages of Processed World. that is. Send in your favorite scenario of liberation, your visions of revenge, rebellion and resistance, actual and imagined. I'd love to see what other conspiring minds are cooking up behind all those typewriters and terminals. What d'ya say folks-

Yours in the imagination,
Pandora Pennyroyal
67 Penny Lane
Lavendar Leaf, QR
10987654


Ed. Note — The point of the review was not to criticize fantasy per se, but to point out how the particular fantasies in this Hollywood movie were used in the context of the reality of office worker organizing. Of course , fantasy is not inherently a good thing either — imagine the perverse fantasies of Jerry Falwell or Phyllis Schlafly for instance. Anyway, we love the idea of a carnival of revenge and we'd be delighted to help publicize the fantasies of our readers... Send 'em in!

Dear PW people:

Huddled secretively over my non-private desk, not in the mood to try to look busy, I put aside my copy of Processed World to reverse the communication flow. Hi!

But my brain is fried and I can't concentrate. The beginning of my third week of legal secretary-ism (not my favorite ism, to say the least), marked, like all the weeks, with fresh cut flowers, also marked by my beginning to take drugs at lunch. Yesterday it was only a glass of wine, much less than the 3-martini crowd consumes; today it was (how do You spell relief? ) m-a-r-i-j-u-a-n-a. Gidget forgot the cost of coping in her quick calculation of job-related expenses on her way to the interview. By the way, my small triumph is that I've only spent $1.50 on "acceptable" office clothes, and zip on pantyhose, and we have to dress up. Otherwise Gidget had the whole trip right on, down to the nausea you feel when you discover your work is directly or indirectly contributing to the military. In my case, my last temp job had a connection to nukes and the NRC. I took it, and with a few acts of sabotage against my favorite nukes, probably had more effect than in six months of anti-nuclear activism.

I've been wandering... what I was getting at is that between the lunch-time relief and the word-processor simulation my brain has been performing, as I said, my circuits are smoking.

Surreptitiously slipping in and about the cubicles of the most likely of my coworkers, I have distributed the Processed Worlds I got from your literature table on Market Street last Thursday. I hope they start some wheels spinning.

Processed World clarifies and enhances an already acute awareness of the nature of the work I have sold myself into for the next four months, and lets me identify with a group of people around the common experience of alienation. I like PW's sardonic tone, its prank and sabotage orientation, and appreciate the inclusion of positive alternatives at the close of almost every article.

Oh yeah, one good outcome of this particular job interlude... my slumbering political activism has become wide awake; in the face of these 7 hours of nonproductive time spent here, it is all the more imperative to spend the "free" time effectively.

Yours truly,
Ilios Aditya

Wage Slavery Type I and Type 11, sort of like Herpes simplex. Sure, they're both capitalist wage slavery, i.e., the product of your labor benefits only a privileged class. I planted flowers in the garden of a mansion, with over 100 rooms (over 13 bathrooms, they bragged), so other rich pigs could come get their new home drekorating ideas. Subject-verb-object-subordinate clause... forget the subordinate clause for a change ... I planted flowers. That's Type 1. Type II — I type contracts, to enable shopping center and condominium "developers" (the "Owner" in legalese) to maintain control over "their land" while extracting rent from their tenants, to enable them to steal land they covet through "condemnation proceedings." OK, so in this case, it's basically the super-rich accumulating capital from the rich, but they got theirs from the not-so-rich, who got theirs from the poor, the wage slaves, the tenants. Oh, and my boss is getting his cut; you can be sure he always includes a clause providing for attorney's fees in case of any suit or "legal" action. And oh yeah, we (we secretaries) get cut flowers once a week, the office is just full of flowers, but they can't fool me, those lights are fluorescent and they're robbing me of vitamins, that's not the sun, that's not fresh air, that's not dirt on my hands, it's typewriter ribbon — wage slavery Type II, type 3, type 7 hours a day and your body rebels, says move, don't bind me up like this. Is that a faint, despairing voice inside my brain saying the same?

When I garden, the exchange is between me and the employer. When I type, the government has its hands all over me, my paycheck, my address in its computer, state, federal, and of course the whole corporate bureaucratic apparatus as well.

And the court has granted me a 41/2 month continuance — thank goodness for the finite nature of this interlude. And how did I, a subversive, a rad, a red, get where I am today, asked the interviewer from Processed World. An agency sold me. I needed money for noble pursuits (is that a contradiction? ), so I went to an agency and asked the sugary paper woman to sell me, just like Gidget. And I don't even know how much she got — $150-200, I would guess, for a couple of phone calls and me. How smoothly I fibbed to cover for my job record, maximum length of employment: 4 months; how smoothly she fed me the words she wanted to hear, reassuring her that now I was ready to settle down for a year or two. The personnel worker and my prospective boss asked me more about my "fiance" (part of the cover story) than they did about me, except, of course, was I going to quit work and have babies soon.

Hired immediately, starting salary $1300, more than I've ever earned. I'm good, I know I'm good and that knowledge is going for me strong — only in the long run I've GOT to know that I'm good for more than this inane, insane secretarial stupor. What does it do to a person's self-esteem to do this all one's life? Ask my mother. She won't tell you, but talk to this clever, quickthinking woman about doing something independent and she just doesn't believe it's possible. Subordination to men all her life, husband and bosses. The next generation can provide the antithesis:

INSUBORDINATION!
Yeah

Dear PW:

Hi!

Enjoyed your magazine very much. One of your operators was kind enough to front me a copy as it was one day before payday (exchange-day) — someone gives it to me, and I turn around and give it to someone else.

I am a temporary worker and was drawn to your article on temps. It pretty well outlined my experiences of being a secretary's slave, and more recently, a word processor. After attempting permanent employment in some lucrative field for several years, I decided on the temp circuit because it's... well, all so temporary anyway.

Your left-wing stance is interesting, however, I feel you're not getting at the crux of the matter. There is a direct parallel to the rise of technology and the strength of the patriarchy. Until the alphamales with their war-like aggressive tendencies (right or left) are dethroned, the same old thing is bound to occur.

Good luck on your next publication and thanks for the good reading.

K. SF

Dear K,

Thank you for your letter and your appreciative comments on the magazine. At the risk of sounding unduly concerned with semantics, I want to make a few comments on your description of PW's stance as "leftwing. " Processed World was conceived as an antidote to the left's traditionally sterile, unimaginative ideas and actions. If being "leftwing" means being anticapitalist, then we're left-wing, but unlike so much of the Left, whether New or Old, Blue or Borrowed, we would also call ourselves anti -authoritarions. We believe that social conditions in both Soviet and Western blocs need to be revolutionized, and that such a transformation will be brought about by the organized spontaneity of those whom leftists refer to disdainfully as the "masses."

I sympathize with your impatience with pat left-wing solutions, but I am hesitant to ascribe social injustice to genetic accident, as you do. I don't know who or what an alphamale is nor how you dethrone this strange beast — through genetic engineering? psychosurgery of all male children? I think we should realize that despite, and even because of, the [revolting] privileges men have reaped from patriarchy, they are nonetheless oppressed as workers and as human beings. Hence, they have a necessary role in transforming social life [and, by extension, themselves].

I also don't think that the evolutions of patriarchy and technology are mutually conditioned. One need only look at the mutilation of women practiced by various tribes around the world, or the domination of non -technological social groupings by male
"elders", to see that the issue is not as simple as it seems. The struggle for women's emancipation cuts across social and technological differences, and its victory will put an end to the unceasing parade of "same old things."

I'd be interested to hear what you think about all this and other matters. Good luck to you, and here's hoping that present conditions are as temporary as your employment status.

Best wishes,
Chris Winks

Folks —

Thanks for the information about the PG&E gas/PCB leak at Embarcadero [See "Oops! Notes on an Unnatural Disaster" in this issue]. I had no idea that in a disaster the "authorities and bosses" would think first of money and only later of their public image.. oops, I mean the health of their workers. Naive! I should've known from the way people are used in nuclear power plants clean-ups like old rags.

Anyway, send me more information about what we can do. Also, please mark envelope personal so they won't open if for me.

Thanks,
R. S.
San Francisco

Dear Processed World,

I've read both numbers 1 & 2 of Processed World with much interest and sympathy. I do feel that I must comment on the article titled "Stanford Office Workers Reject Union" in issue #2, as I was involved in the organizing effort. I will keep my comments brief.

First, I think it should be noted that Stanford clericals voted 2-to-1 to reject affiliation with United Stanford Workers (U.S.W.), not United Stanford Employees (U.S.E.) as indicated in your article. U.S.E. became U.S.W. in April, 1981.

Secondly, the Office Staff Organizing Committee (O.S.O.C.) did not ask for University recognition as a bargaining agent in August, 1979. True, a large public meeting was held then. A majority of those attending that event signed authorization, or as they became known "Blue Cards". Signing these cards was an indication of support for the then U.S.E. Local 680, because they meant that clericals were beginning a petitioning effort that would allow them to form a separate bargaining unit within 680 to haggle their price with the University.

Thirdly, S.E.I.U. may or may not have made exaggerated claims about, "the prospect of improving wages and working conditions at Stanford through collective bargaining." This was not proven to my satisfaction in the article. Bartering over the price of the skills you have to sell is easier when you're more powerful, i.e. organized. Neither being in the actual struggle nor reading PW, has suggested to me that the clericals at Stanford would have been able to achieve more collective power than they would have, had they unionized. Further... "many" may indeed have been "skeptical about the extent to which a union would improve their overall job satisfaction" but these "many" were not those whose present mentality would embrace a goal of classless, self-managed production for use. The "many" who voted against the union were those who would for example most likely see the E.R.A. as a threat to all true ladies and gentlemen .

So, to my mind, the question of office workers having been right "in believing that the union wouldn't have been able to deliver on promises made during the campaign" falsely assumes that any such workers believed so because they were too advanced for trade unionism. Although I wish I had, I never once met such a clerical during the organizing campaign. Antiunionists are almost without exception coming from a perspective dominated by a traditional, narrowly individualistic ideology.

Maybe it is time to raise the stakes. I hope we find a way. There are many relevant observations and criticisms in I which shed light on the direction we need to go. The dialogue you encourage should help us all learn from each other.

for the end of sold time,
Y

Dear Y,

I regret having made factual errors in the SEIU/Stanford article. I got my information from union and university publications. For example, in the Stanford Daily, many articles on the election indicated the voting was on whether or not clericals would have U.S.E. Local 715 as their bargaining agent (c.f. April 23rd issue).

The union implied that a contract could win for Stanford workers economic benefits such as 90 days a year sick leave, three weeks vacation, and other gains they claimed had been won by clericals in SEIU Local 925. Union publications insisted that a contract would guarantee the rights and dignity of clericals on the job. (They compared it to the Bill of Rights... Since when has the Bill of Rights protected workers from managers? ) But no reference was ever made to the leverage workers could use to gain these ends. The implication was that a good contract could be won without a strike or any other form of pressure that could be brought to bear on the Administration. Maybe I'm overly pessimistic, but I doubt the Administration would bend so easily at the bargaining table, especially given the current anti-labor climate in this country. The examples of Blue Shield in S.F. and PATCO reinforce my doubts.

Finally, I didn't at all mean to imply that workers who rejected the union were "too advanced for trade unionism. " To the contrary, I noted "the apparent reluctance of workers at Stanford to stand up to management as an organized group with collective demands and common interests is a serious obstacle to any attempts to improve their conditions." It's just that I'm not sure that a union which you yourself characterize as 'totalitarian' and 'authoritarian' is the best way to encourage people to seek common cause with their coworkers.

M.H.

Dear Maxine,

You make an astute observation when you say, "But no reference was ever made to the leverage workers could use to gain these ends" (referring to economic gains). There was debate among people in OSOC on whether to or not to soft sell the strike aspects of unionizing. I was in favor of bringing it out in the open, but others thought differently. I think that tactically they were right, but I still have my doubts. The University made much of the possibility of a strike and the confrontational aspects of unions. Perhaps we played into their hands by avoiding the issue. I thought so at the time. But then again, I do see the other side of this question. We may have scared even more people away from us. It is a delicate point that can't be solved through forms of pure honesty or pure and simple political opportunism.

Unfortunately, I disagree again with your comment on the Bill of Rights. I do think that the Bill of Rights protects many workers from many employers, who if they had their way would impose restrictions on many activities that they don't now, for fear of bringing law suits down on their heads. Besides the real point of all that propaganda was to emphasize that employers are much less apt to step all over workers, if they face legal sanctions involved with breaking a contract. I agree that the Union's propaganda was a little too optimistic here. But I'm a communist and most unionists don't share my perspective in dealing with capitalists. By the way, most clericals at Stanford already get 3 weeks of vacation a year.

As to what we could actually win from the University, that's an entirely different bag of tricks. I think you may be overly pessimistic here. What we could win would depend largely on the balance of forces at the time. But no one could predict in advance, at least this far in advance, how much we could get. Again, the Union was being too optimistic. History is more fluid than either position allows. I think it is well to point out to workers that a strike may fail and that take-aways might happen. A group has to feel out the situation and not rely on blind optimism or resign themselves to automatic defeat.

Finally, my characterization of the union as "authoritarian" and "totalitarian" were rather poor attempts at sarcasm on my part. I'm glad that you don't believe that workers are beyond trade union consciousness at the moment. Of course things can change, the history of the 1905 aborted revolution in Russia and the Paris Commune demonstrate that. I really don't know how workers could combine more effectively at the moment than in trade unions; they have too many illusions about the rule of capital. Maybe you do have that answer.

Y

Dear Y,

I understand that the prospect of strikes, or any other direct confrontation with management, could have made Stanford clericals even more reluctant to join the union. But I think there is something fundamentally wrong with concealing the fact that militant actions by workers themselves are necessary to make substantial gains at the workplace. It leads people to believe that all they have to do is vote for representation, pay dues and the union will take care of the rest. Once installed, the structure of the unions and the terms of contracts with management further reinforce workers' passivity. In my opinion this passivity is one of the greatest obstacles we face in getting people to think and act in ways that will lead to the kinds of changes in society that have been discussed in the pages of Processed World.

As for the Bill of Rights: Do workers have freedom of speech on the job? Are they permitted to assemble freely? Certainly not in any job I've had. The one time I told a boss what I thought about how he treated the secretaries in the office I was fired on the spot.

Sure, contracts have allowed a modicum of security for some unionized workers. But most contracts also contain clauses guaranteeing management's "right" to make decisions on any issues of substance that may come up during the contract period, as well as commitments not to strike. Thus the legal sanctions involved in contracts also present a real hindrance for workers ready to fight for what they want (By the way, did you know that in the whole U.S., the NLRB has at its disposal two lawyers to handle contempt of court cases against employers found guilty in court of having unfair labor practices?)

Unionization drives tend to be most effective when they are backed up by direct action against management's prerogatives, but once the union is securely established, it defines the terms of any subsequent actions. Given the present situation, where most office workers (and indeed, most of the work force) do not belong to unions, it would seem more sensible at this late hour to encourage the direct action and forget the "acceptable" (if convenient) solution of unions. If people gain the confidence that direct action can provide, they can and should withstand the temptation to "let the steward/delegate handle it" and instead create informal groups put pressure on management and its allies. In many workplaces, whenever people share their grievances and problems, the nucleus of such groupings already exists. The same people who get together on breaks to complain about their bosses are just as capable of mounting a challenge to all workplace hierarchy. Of course, we don't know how this can be done—but we're trying everyday to find out, from ourselves and from others. That's why we created PW in the first place.

M. H.