Temp worker Stella shares her experiences of sabotage on-the-job.

Submitted by ludd on December 18, 2010

Skill sharing is the way of the future. This is probably not what Kropotkin envisioned when he wrote Mutual Aid, but I'm going to go ahead and share with you some of what I've learned on the job. I work as a temp, a word processor, a secretary, part of what the communists call the "paper proletariat," doing what this anarcha-feminist prefers to call "paperslutting." My agency (read: pimp) arranges the trick, and I meet the client. I dress and act appropriately, and I do whatever they tell me for the time specified. (If they are overly cruel, my agency/pimp will ostensibly protect me. The one time I did report a client for cruelty I found the agency very sympathetic, but they haven't gotten me a single assignment since then.)

For as long as I work the job, I get approximately 40% of what the client pays me hourly. The state gets something like 20%, and the agency takes the rest. On the training video, they showed me a pie chart detailing what they do with my earnings. According to the chart, my earnings go to pay their "rent, office supplies, salaries, profits, and other costs." Funny the way they order their words to make profit sound like an unavoidable expense.

So here's some advice from the vast stores of my desperate creativity. If work is a prison of measured time, it is only logical to begin with time. What do you do with time at work (other than watch it)? WASTE IT! I'm sure you can figure out how to do this on your own, but here are some of my favorite ways.

Be 5 minutes late for work. Get lost on your way there the first day (even if you don't, they can't expect you to find your way around their zoo very easily, at any rate). Get coffee or tea or water. One trick is to get half-cups, on the ostensible basis that you like it very hot; that doubles your coffee-getting time. Ask for a small tour of the worksite, if you think your genuine interest in their operations could be plausible. Write down everything they tell you. Ask several people to recommend places for lunch. Be 5 minutes late getting back from lunch. Whenever possible, don't use your best judgment. Wait until someone's off the phone to ask them how they want their letter typed if you have a question. If you're typing it in the computer, sure you could always change it later, but my motto on the job for the hourly wage is, "Why waste work when you can waste time?"

The most famous way to waste time at work is an old radical union trick, from the military too. It's referred to as working by the book. Literally, the rule book. They write the damn things, but if work actually were done by all the regulations, nothing would get done. Working by the book means doing exactly what procedure dictates and more but never less, no short-cuts, no rushing, check everything twice, get approval at every step, cut no corners, and, whatever you do, don't use your intelligence to streamline their processes.

At work, people break rules for two reasons: to benefit the goals of the corporation (for example, evading EPA regulations) or to work against the goals of the corporation. Which side are you on, after all?!?

Go to the bathroom a lot. (One temping friend tells me he takes small naps on the toilet, waking up when someone opens the door. I'm impressed but not that adept.) While you're in the bathroom, try out new hairdos. Wash your face. Pull up your stockings (as the case may be). Masturbate. Plan your evening. Do graffiti if it's possible not to have it linked to you.

Leave work five minutes early.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Be creative. Your creativity in this respect is only rivaled by the creativity of those who devise the thousands of stupid regulations set up to keep you passive in their workplace. Lest you feel frustrated with this approach-it may seem petty-bear in mind (and they have told me so in so many words) that your time is their money.

Be careful, but always keep alert for opportunities. You'd be surprised at how many apartments can be furnished with the seldom-missed surplus of the corporate world. If you have particular skills, you may be able to do large-scale damage to office machines that will be interpreted as due to breakdown rather than sabotage.

Maybe I've read too much Foucault, but in any case, I think the most damage you can do in an office setting is organizational. The whole idea of bureaucracy (rule by desks or offices) is to centralize information, to have at the fingertips of those who make decisions all the available facts about those they control, affect, observe, monitor, select, disregard, ignore, and forget, and about those by whom they are affected and limited and on whom they depend.

Thus they rely on computers, on elaborate filing systems, on steep but extensive hierarchies, and on principles of secrecy and mystification. Organization and structure are the backbone of the internal aspect of the corporation which I think is most interesting to the infiltrator: Bureaucracy.

Misfiling even a few documents can do a lot of damage. On the IBM, you can name files inscrutably and fail to label the floppies, so when you're gone they can't really derive the name of the file from the subject of the document. On the Mac, files can be stored in inappropriate folders and can likewise be labeled unintelligibly. When you leave, don't explain what you've done with things unless you have to.

Address labels can be riddled with misspellings and typos (no one has to approve them before they go out). You can answer the phone in a confusing way. Just do it the way you learned how; pick it up and say hello. Almost without fail, the person calling will think they have a wrong number.

I think it's good to do these things even when they have only a marginal effect in countering and undermining the evil and power of these companies because it keeps you critical. This kind of dual consciousness at work prevents slippage toward the conservative careerism that is what is so insidious about office work.

Without a critical consciousness at work, it's too easy to mingle your ego gratification with their corporate goals. They have it set up that way. You do a good job for them, and they pat you on your soft little head. Sabotage is resistance. And resistance is sabotage because their work order depends on the association of your personal fulfillment with their processes. When you resist, you fuck that up.

So go ahead, fuck shit up. I did. I do. I am. And you're reading it. It's fun, but it's not just a game, not just heroically pitting your mind against the enemy.

Sometimes way up on the 57th floor of their corporate headquarters, you find a wide-open window, and if you stick your head out, you might just see the sky. And if it makes you feel deadened or sick or frustrated or lonely or crazy or helpless or angry or just sad, remember, it doesn't have to be like this at all.

— by Stella