Letters

Dear PW:

Hey! We just got a great idea! If you can't beat them, join them!

We should start up our own temporary agency and call it RED ROVERS: (of course, the slogan could be "Red Rover, Red Rover, send someone right over") the kick is that they are quiet fomenters of revolution, distributing pamphlets, and generally spreading the Word.

If not a reality, it would make a great story...

E. — San Francisco

Dear Processed World,

I have come across a small example of your journal within my CoEvolution, Winter 81. Enclosed is my check for $10 for my sub.

I am impressed with what I read and I'm looking forward to reading an entire edition.

My situation? I'm not even sure I know what it is. At present I am a Systems Software Clerk for a large oil company. I've been with them a bit longer than two years. I "enjoy" my job, it is diversified and keeps me busy. I do a lot of data entry, arranging and running reports, and miscellaneous. My co-workers have educated me in several systems. But...

"They" tell me business is the only decent major (I attend a community college part-time and will have my AA by '83 — at last, my major being education secondary). "They" tell me I should learn Cobol and Fortran to get somewhere from where I'm at. I'm not motivated to. I don't want to be a Programmer. But if I say that, I appear ungrateful. Dumb broad in their eyes. "They" laugh when I confess my major is education. (But telling some my major is Philosophy keeps them quiet and at a distance!)

Big Business is not where I want to be — with dept. vs. dept., manager vs. manager, politics and high finance. No — that's not for me. But then I do seem to need the money. I've been divorced for nearly six years and I support two children, 11 and 10, one of whom is crippled and blind. Can I afford to drag them off on my dreams and move to Maryland or Colorado — or can I afford not to?

I'd like to be involved with teaching and communication. The back to basics approach. I want to be involved in building a society my kids and I can survive in, have friends I can trust, and be with people who can love and allow others to love them. Those people seem rare to me. So many seem frightened by kindness, by love. Fear is understandable. There are a lot of confused and violent people to contend with. But running, hiding, is not the answer. What is the answer? Perhaps that is why I am writing. It seems strange to put this on paper. Strange to send it off to people I don't know. But maybe your ideas can help me. My dream is to have that BA degree before 1988 — (part-time takes forever!) Still, that seems like a long time to just get by. Hopefully, I can get some educating experience by teaching at my church once a week. Do I have better choices? I hope so.

In any case, I'll be looking forward to your journal and your ideas. Thank you for this opportunity to write. Perhaps I will be able to contribute to Processed World at some future date.

Sincerely,
L.S. — Parma, Ohio

Dear L. S.,

All of us at Processed World were very touched and pleased with your letter. I think the frustrations and desires you expressed are widespread — which is partly what inspired us to publish in the first place. Our project, in the most immediate sense, is to help validate and encourage dissatisfaction with what this world offers us. The source of so much difficulty in "coping" stems more from the society we live in than from individual failure. If people stop blaming themselves, and stop trying to fit into the established models, maybe we can begin acting to change the whole set-up.

It would be facile and pretentious to claim that we have "answers" to the situations of individuals trapped in the office world. For one thing, as long as this society remains based on profits and the power of corporations and governments, and as long as the important decisions that affect us remain in the hands of entrenched authorities and bureaucracies, the problems of survival and the difficulties in creating bonds of trust and friendship can only be partly and temporarily resolved. The pressure of earning a living already limits our choices considerably.

Aside from being an outlet for our own creative impulses and desires to change the world, working together on P.W. and related activities has led to close friendships and to a sense of community that is so lacking in most of our lives. Of course we have plenty of problems and personal conflicts, and we don't always live up to our ideals of free social relationships.

In addition to publishing and distributing P.W., we try to speak to people we work with, making friends and alliances that help alleviate the time spent at work. Wherever possible, we provide support for those who are trying to challenge the order we live under. We encourage people to make use of our resources, contacts and experience.

Apart from more or less regular editorial meetings we have begun to hold a sort of open house at a bar in the Financial District to meet, talk and make plans after work... I hope you enjoy the magazine. Please keep in touch.

Maxine

HELEN WRITES HOME

Dear Dad,

Why did I do it? Become part of PW magazine that is. Well, I was working at BofA, and it was ultra-beige in spirit and surroundings. At this time I entertained a mild flirtation with local Working Women aficionados, but their respectability and "Proper channels" emphasis was tres ennui and a big yawn besides. So when a kindly temp worker told me he had heard reports that crazy people in the financial district were wearing VDT heads and shouting in the streets about office work, and when I ran into these same people during my lunch break, I felt, shall we say... sympathetically inclined.

At first I was misled by the "professional" appearance of the magazine and was surprised to discover that it was put out by a small group of friends, all of them office peons like yours truly. My remaining two months at BofA were made a little easier by knowing other people who shared my rage about selling 40 hours a week to a place where too often your most intimate and scintillating companion is a typewriter. I met people who questioned office work very deeply — both in the abstract and at the eminently practical level of how to survive in the oh-so-cheery office of today, while at the same time striking against it.

You keep waiting, but if my rebelliousness is just a phase I'm certainly taking a long time to grow out of it. I show no signs of reaching for a steady, prestigious job. I work for Mr. Big as little as possible. And when I'm "Mr. Big's Girl" I try to get the best deal for myself and steal back my time, creativity, and self-respect in whatever ways are possible. PW helps invent more possibilities.

Well, that's enough for now Dad. In my next letter I'll tell you if crime pays, how much, who's hiring and how you have to dress for the job. Send my love to Snoodles, Chopper and Betsy.

Bye now.

Love, Helen

Greetings—

I read the first two issues of your journal while visiting Vancouver. I could identify with personal contradictions of being an intellectual doing unskilled labor since I have always done menial manual labor myself. My current position is as a laborer on the garbage trucks for the City of Toronto.

I don't mean to denigrate your more theoretical insights by discussing the personal contradictions involved in unskilled labor. Indeed I found your overall analysis of work and not-work to concur very much with my own ideas. But over the 8 months that I worked as a garbage laborer, I have become much more aware of the elitism of the left and their misunderstanding of people who choose non-careerist survival options.

My own position is summed up by paraphrasing the old dictum; "employment if necessary, but not necessarily employment." I know that I have other options, so to speak, i.e. retraining in computers or electronics for instance, but I feel so alienated from this system that I find it difficult to direct my energy to increasing the social value of my skills when the only benefits that I will receive out of it is security and the remote possibility that my work will be more interesting. Otherwise any benefits certainly go to the abstract extraction of surplus value.

Compared to most people that I know in Toronto, I prefer my alienation straight. When one does manual, unskilled labor, there is no way that one can mystify oneself into thinking that one is working for some social or political good. One works for survival and for some extra income to fund personal/political projects. But the careerists lose that clarity. Their politics and their careers begin to dovetail into each other. They become more concerned with their resumé than with their lives.

It was interesting to tell people what I did. People's responses on hearing that I was a garbage laborer were readily divisible into two distinct categories. One was quite pragmatic. They were interested in how much money (good), working conditions, i.e. outside work, physical work, time for which we were paid that we didn't have to work, etc. The second category of responses was generally a non-response, usually a polite silence at best. After a while, I almost enjoyed maliciously telling people quite bluntly that I worked on garbage to shock them a bit.

I had only recently moved to Toronto and it was quite a different left to what I had ever been around before. In the other cities that I had lived in, lefties (using the word very generally) were usually marginals or workers or some unbalanced combination. But in Toronto there is no large culture of marginalization as there was in Kitchener or Vancouver. I just had never had much contact with people who actually thought in career terms. It seems so unfortunate that people direct their energies towards an end that is not at all in opposition to the Machine. At best, they work 35 hours a week for the system and ten hours a week against it.

J.C. — Toronto

Dear P.W. People;

I was given your excellent publication by a guy in a very fetching detergent outfit (TIED) on the corner of Carl and Cole on the 24th of December. As I didn't have a dollar on me at the time I promised to mail it in. So, for once, the check IS in the mail!

Keep up the fight
L.A. — San Francisco

p.s. — I typed this on company paper, on company overtime and put it through the official postage meter. Pay ME shit, will they-

Dear Processed World:

In her dialogue with the person who participated in the United Stanford Workers organizing drive, Maxine Holz counterposes "direct action" to "unions". As a person who has also participated in white collar union organizing — and who sympathizes with Processed World's viewpoint, this immediately provokes certain questions in my mind: How can direct action in opposition to the employers be a collective activity of a workforce without mass organization? And isn't any mass organization which tries to bring together all the workers who are prepared to fight the boss an expression of some kind of unionism?

Even your "informal groups" can be an affirmation of unionism. Imagine that a group of office workers, who have gotten to know each other from working together for months in the same office, decide to ask the boss for a raise as a group. Such an incident of workers acting in union is an embryonic form of unionism.

Direct action will only lead 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 Maxine says), if it is collective. For sure, it can feel great to sabotage the company's computer or rip off supplies from the employer (at least, I've gotten a sense of satisfaction from doing it), but isolated acts of individuals won't bring workers to an awareness that we have the potential power to transform the world in the direction of freedom from domination and exploitation.

Most people seem pretty skeptical about proposals for sweeping change. It's this feeling that we're just powerless individuals that will incline people to reject ideas of fundamental social change as "unrealistic". If "the feeble strength of one" describes your perception of your situation, you'll tend to strive for what you can get as an individual within the system. Collective action can alter the sense of power that people have because it changes the real situation from atomized individuals, cut off from each other, to the power of worker solidarity. Especially when the action and solidarity among working people spreads beyond the "normal" channels and unites — and brings into active participation ever-larger sections of the workforce — as in the recent movement in Poland. Movements on that scale begin to create the sense that it's "up for grabs" how society is organized. And if it's up for grabs, then efforts to change society in a freer and more humane direction seem more realistic to people.

It's also during these periods of heightened struggle and mass participation that workers move to take over more direct control of their struggles with the employing class and in the process, create more independent ways of organizing their activity, free of top-down control. For example, during the "hot autumn" of 1969 in Italy workers at the Fiat and Alfa-Romeo auto plants created mass assemblies, organizations of face-to-face rank-and-file democracy outside the framework of the hierarchical unions.

This happens because the top-down structures of such unions make them unsuited to carrying the struggle beyond the "normal" channels. The officials who run them, with their bureaucratic concern for avoiding risks to their organizations (and their status), will work to contain struggles within the framework of their longstanding relationship with the bosses.

Thus, "union" can refer to top-down structures whose separation from the rank-and-file invariably means that they will act to contain worker protest within bounds acceptable to the powers-that-be. Or "union" can refer to a form of association that is just the rank-and-file "in union," a mere means to get together and come to agreement on common goals and common action in dealing with the employers. I think tendencies in both directions have always been present in labor history.

Effective direct action means workers have to get together. "Informal groups" can be helpful in developing unity, but I think mass organization on a larger scale is called for if working people are to develop the power to make the sort of social changes you have been talking about. Besides, "informality" does not guarantee that an organization will be self-directed by the rank-and-file. Informal hierarchies can develop.

And the kind of "union" that is run directly through mass meetings of all the workers is important, not just because it would be a much more effective tool in fighting for what we want right now, but also because mass organizations of this kind contain the premises of the kind of society we want to create "in embryo" — a society without bosses, free of the exploitation of some people by others, a society of genuinely free and equal humans.

For a world without bosses,
R.L. — SF

(RE: HENRY ADAMS' THE VIRGIN AND THE DYNAMO$ AND THE SENSE OF BEING A LITTLE BALL BEARING IN THE GENERATOR THAT POWERS THE ELECTRIC CHAIR IN A VAST PROVINCE DEDICATED TO EXECUTION IN THE OUIETEST MANNER POSSIBLE)

Dear PROCESSED WORLD:

The other day as I walked into Standard Oil's 575 Market Street building, I was suddenly saddened and felt hopeless. The change was so abrupt that I had to analyze it. Now, the metaphor is commonplace but what it signifies is still significant and worth considering in some depth — that is, the metaphor of being a small part of a machine.

We talk about the corporate machinery. We recognize that efficiency is the main aim of a machine. Heat loss from friction, wear and eventual breakdown, production of inferior products, consumption of fuel — these are the kinds of losses which technicians seek to minimize when they work on a machine. Each part of a machine should perform the same way each time it is called upon. There should be no random behavior of the parts. The machine should do what you want it to.

Only a certain kind of person makes a good machine part. Our most valuable people are those who do not make good machine parts. They produce unexpected and inexplicable things like art, theory, humor, stories — things which derive their value from their singularity.

The idea of having a machine made of humans is not a good idea. Humans do not perform with regularity, except for those few like Sergeant Ed Bowers, a redcoat guard in 575 Market who would do well behind a desk in a novel by Franz Kafka, who, in fact, may have screwed up his courage and walked right out of a novel by Franz Kafka into the lobby of 575 Market. My problems with Mr. Bowers are the problems of a human being trying to relate to a cotter pin in a mill wheel.

Faulkner worked on a dynamo when he was writing As I Lay Dying. The hum of the dynamo was a pleasant sound. He could think out there, and he only had to get up. every now and then to stoke the fire. I'm speaking generally, and I'm really opening my position wide to criticism by doing so, but let's just say that the dynamo and all it stood for still left humans with a private dignity. Nobody's saying that back-breaking work is terrific, and I hope I'm avoiding any tendency to eulogize physical labor, much as we might eulogize the lives of peasants because they are tied to the ground, or the poverty of blacks because they have soul. I am saying that physical labor does not threaten to insidiously change the worker's mental processes to the point that the worker suffers confusion and is psychologically malleable. Say a worker has to move a hundred boxes a day. His body gets used to moving boxes. He begins to look like somebody who moves a hundred boxes a day.

Say a worker has to move a hundred pieces of information a day. His mind gets used to moving information. Say the boxes contain radioactive materials. The worker suffers not from the work but from the content of the stuff he works on. Say the information contains the elements of fascist state control, the ideas of subordination of the individual, submission to rules, threats. The worker suffers not from the work, but from the content of the work. A philosophy gets transmitted like a virus.

What we do not see hurts us. The transmission of disease long remained a mystery. It is transmitted by things we do not see.

The long range danger of having corporations organized like feudal estates is that you infect a democratic people with feudal germs. It is information that shapes people. The mover of boxes may go home and read Schopenhauer. The mover of information is fatigued with the movement of knowledge, and goes home to exercise.

Even a mill worker, who works in a machine (a factory is a large machine) can at least readily identify that aspect of his life that is machine-like, and has the mechanical model before him to rationalize the routine to which he is subjected. The machine has to work this way to make flour, or cloth. But the office worker is asked to accept routine as a way in itself. The worker in the modern bureaucracy is taught to accept routine as a way of operating. The rules of the machine thus take on the character of arbitrary control rather than justifiable control. We learn to submit to authority as a general rule, and not as a necessary exception to the rule of individual freedom.

I work as a temporary at Standard Oil and I don't have time to work on this letter any more. I realize the arguments are not fully developed but this is a first and last draft. And that's that.

C.D. — San Francisco

EEEeeeeeee Processed World #3;

high, y'all, really do hope these words find you in the very best of health and determined spirits.

I really enjoyed that, and I've sent it into the mid-west to a few friends, one of whommmm works as a secretary at the Denver mint, so maybe y'all better get ready for some strange lookin' change, hmm...

... Being in prison and now in the hole (for my attitude) I of course am deprived of access to resource material — and am kind of 'out of it' so far as what's happening and like that. I've been good for several weeks in a row, so how do you feel about communicating more often you know, like maybe some of the flyers laying around or back issues of the World?

Anyway, I really do like your style — god! When the young ones begin to communicate in kind, these pyramids will... be reconstructed and mean something more than a procession into degrees of bondage. Nevertheless, take care,

Sincerely,
one of the Rainbow Dragonfly