Processed World magazine

A complete archive of Processed World, a radical magazine based in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley area by and for office and information technology workers.

Taken from

Introducing Processed World

Introduction and history of Processed World - a quarterly paper published in 1980's and 1990's in Silicon Valley, California. PW was written by a group of radical office workers ("temps"). Unlike similar publications, PW made good use of humor and art to sharpen its subversive attack.

"At the root of this effort is our desire to live and take part in a radically different social system, a society which as yet exists nowhere on Earth." -- Introduction to Processed World

Are you doing the processing...
...or are you being processed?

=== Introduction from the first issue (1981) ===

Hello out there!

This is the first issue of Processed World. We hope it will serve as a contact point for office workers who are dissatisfied with their lot in life and are seeking something better. The current situation of most clerical workers, secretaries, and "processors" of various sorts is our starting place: meaningless work with little material reward in a deteriorating and self-destructive social system.

The opening article offers a compelling description of the individual mired (but not hopelessly) in Corporate Office Land. From there we go to the Blue Shield strike, which is still going on as we go to print. This trade union-based attempt of office workers to improve their situation has run up against institutional and strategic constraints.

The following article, "New Information Technology: For What?" has undergone intensive discussions among the writers and editors of PW. After a brief economic analysis of automation in the office it broaches the touchy subject of whether or not computers-- and high technology in general-- are inherently oppressive. Also discussed are some of our ideas of how a society based on free social relations can put new information technology to use.

Next is a short story about insurrection in San Francisco in 1987, beginning with the occupation of the Bank of America buildings by the workers inside. A review of the movie 9 To 5 concludes our first issue. Hollywood's attempt to address the reality of office work gets lost and distorted in improbability and easy laughs.

We hope these articles (and those in other issues to come) will begin to challenge the assumptions upon which this society is built. At the root of this effort is our desire to live and take part in a radically different social system, a society which as yet exists nowhere on Earth.

These new forms of social existence begin with communication, with breaking down the barriers that isolate us and finding different ways to express our feelings and thoughts. With a shared understanding of the fears, desires, and pleasures of our daily existence, we can counter the false images and stereotypes encouraged by those who want to keep us in our "place."

In a world where so much of our time is wasted on boring tasks or ridden with anxieties, it is important that we experiment with ideas and activities that are in themselves enjoyable. Rebellion can be fun, and humor subversive. Only by cultivating our imagination and talents will we be able to find ways to shatter the existing order.

Write to us. Tell us about your situation-- where you work, what conditions you work under, what kinds of resistance you are already involved in, how you coordinate your activities with coworkers, etc. And write to us about your dreams. What kind f a world would you like to live in? What would you do with yourself if you could do what you enjoyed instead of what you've been forced to do to make a living?

=== History and retrospective (1991) ===

Are you doing the processing...
...or are you being processed?

(some history of Processed World)

Processed World magazine was founded in 1981 by a small group of dissidents, mostly in their twenties, who were then working in San Francisco's financial district. The magazine's creators found themselves using their only marketable skill after years of university education: “handling information.” In spite of being employed in offices as “temps,” few really thought of themselves as “office workers.” More common was the hopeful assertion that they were photographers, writers, artists, dancers, historians or philosophers.

Beyond these creative ambitions, the choice to work “temp” was also a refusal to join the rush toward business/yuppie professionalism. Instead of 40-70 hour weeks at thankless corporate career climbing, they sought more free time to pursue their creative instincts. Nevertheless, day after day, they found themselves cramming into public transit en route to the ever-expanding Abusement Park of the financial district. Thus, from the start, the project's expressed purpose was twofold: to serve as a contact point and forum for malcontent office workers (and wage-workers in general) and to provide a creative outlet for people whose talents were blocked by what they were doing for money.

The idea for a new magazine struck one of these people, Chris Carlsson, while he was on vacation in the summer of 1980. The sources of this brainstorm were simultaneously a certain socio-economic layer of late twentieth century U.S. society, a group of friends, and certain obscure artistic and political tendencies comprising both post-New Left, post-situationist libertarian radicalism and the dissident cultural movement whose most public expression was punk and new wave music.

In the late seventies a number of radicals around San Francisco and New York who had ridden out the decline of the social opposition with brains unscrambled, principles more or less intact and rage intensified, found themselves drawn to the punk/new wave milieu. Incoherent and often crude as it was, it looked like the only game in town-the only place where fundamentals of the ruling ideology like Work, Family, Country, Obedience, and Niceness were being challenged with real panache and real venom. Some of these people formed bands while others organized shows. And still others worked in graphic media such as posters, fanzines and comic books, or revived street theater and other kinds of political performance. Between these people, numbering at most a few thousand around the country, images, ideas, jokes, slogans and techniques circulated like amphetamines in the cultural bloodstream. Before the founding of Processed World, several participants had already shared in such activities. Chris Carlsson, in fact, first encountered PW co-founder Caitlin Manning and early collaborator Adam Cornford in a Bay Area agit-prop group called the Union of Concerned Commies. The UCC began in early 1979 as a left-libertarian intervention into the anti-nuke movement, then at the height of its strength and militancy.

This intervention involved a serious attempt to present radical critique with attention-grabbing style and innovative use of media. For instance, the same cartoon graphics (usually by Jay Kinney and Paul Mavrides of Anarchy Comix) appeared on leaflets, posters, and T-shirts distributed at antinuke events. Some of the UCCers settled in for a sustained effort within the movement, mostly through the Abalone Alliance newspaper It's About Times.

Others, with lower tolerance for the somewhat sanctimonious neohippie antinuker culture, looked around for more exciting terrain. A glimpse of such terrain was provided by San Francisco's notorious “White Night Riot” of May 21, 1979. That night, an angry crowd of gay men and women, quickly joined by hundreds of young workers and marginals, attacked San Francisco City Hall and the police following the announcement of a slap-on-the-wrist sentence for macho former cop and former supervisor Dan White, convicted killer of Mayor George Moscone and gay supervisor Harvey Milk. Several UCCers participated in the events, and immediately afterward mass-produced a T-shirt (designed by Paul Mavrides) showing a burning cop car, the date and place of the riot, and the words “No Apologies."

Unfortunately, White Night led nowhere, the spontaneous community of the riot dissolving as quickly as it had formed. But the UCC soon enough found itself a new field of action. The seizure of US hostages by the Iranians and the Soviet invasion of Afganistan provided the Cold Warrior fundamentalists with the pretext they had been looking for. An atmosphere of militaristic and patriotic hysteria engulfed the country. At a glum UCC meeting convened to discuss the situation, Carlsson proposed that the group “put on army uniforms, go out on (San Francisco's) Market Street and declare war.”

Thus began the street theater phase of the UCC. The declaration of war-backed up with a list of typical wartime measures like rationing, curfew, suspension of the right to strike and censorship -evolved into a full-fledged satirical revue, complete with reworded versions of the Marines' Hymn and “Over There,” skits about the political-economic function of war and the militarization of daily life and lots of marching about and shouting ironic slogans like “One, two three, four! We can't wait to go to war!” In fact, much of the group's satirical bite was directed against the Leninist and social-democratic leftists and their own complicity in capital's authoritarianism and work fetishism. This made the group as unpopular with the apparatchniks of the left as it was popular with the “unorganized” and generally bored stiff audiences at anti-draft and antinuke rallies. It was the most fun any of us had had doing agitational politics.

Alas, the strains of unpaid political performance work, insufficient rehearsal time and an escalating conflict over “amateurism” versus “professionalism” tore the group apart within a few months. (It is difficult to gauge the role of the disintegrating social-political culture, and its diminishing possibilities for intervention, in the demise of the UCC, though it surely played its part.) But well before the breakup, the spirit that had animated the UCC was finding a new home. Before PW was even thought of, Carlsson and partner Caitlin Manning produced a leaflet for National Secretaries Day in April 1980 called “Innervoice #1'' (under the name “Nasty Secretaries Liberation Front” ). The leaflet foreshadowed the PW style. One side was a mock invoice listing the prices paid by an average office worker for her unhappy life. The other was a short analytical essay called “Rebellion Behind The Typewriter.” It referred pointedly to the collective power of information handlers to subvert the circulation of capital.

A year later, in April 1981, the first Processed World hit the streets, Carlsson and Manning having been joined by ex-UCCers Adam Cornford and Christopher Winks (and Steve Stallone as pre-press consultant and printer) in producing that first issue. Finding themselves amid the bulging supply rooms of the modern office, Processed World's friends began collecting resources for the magazine; the first two issues were printed on paper unknowingly “donated” by San Francisco's major banks. A short while later, Gidget Digit and a half dozen others, mostly already friends of the founders, joined the newborn project. The cover art for PW 2 was drawn by a woman who, with her co-worker, wrote in the first wildly enthusiastic letter received by the magazine, and helped realize PW's role as forum. Another new contact, Bonita Thoreson, frustrated with her efforts to write for the proto-union “Working Women” newspaper Downtown Women's News, became an avid participant when she discovered PW's hawkers on a busy downtown street while she was temping. Other participants came in the same way. Processed World's founders saw the importance of community—without horizontal links between people in similar predicaments, no amount of rhetoric, agitation, or sabotage would begin to change conditions. Every Friday writers and editors would head out to the streets to hawk magazines, asking a dollar donation rather than “selling” so as to avoid restrictions on street merchants and to remain protected by the First Amendment's freedom of speech provisions. Collective members would don papier-mache costumes. These, like VDT heads-masks labelled “IBM—Intensely Boring Machines” and “Data Slave,” or an enormous detergent box whose familiar red-and-yellow sides read “Bound, Gagged, & TIED to useless work, day in, day out, for the rest of your life?” attracted immediate if often puzzled attention from passersby.

Sellers pranced around on busy financial district streets, while yelling “Processed World: The Magazine With A Bad Attitude!” or “Are You Doing the Processing, or Being Processed?” or “If You Hate Your Job Then You'll Love This Magazine!” (In fact, many of PW's slogans evolved as such street cries, spontaneously composed on the spot.) In this way, PW managed to develop and maintain a fairly close rapport with its office workforce constituency. Many fascinating dialogues took place during these Friday lunch hour soirees, and a feedback loop was established whereby readers, writers and editors would discuss articles in person, right on the street. More formal social events were developed in pursuit of a new dissident community. Bi-weekly gatherings at Spec's bar in North Beach began in February 1982; these grew to attract upwards of 40 people every other Wednesday night, until they died out two and a half years later, in late 1984.

Processed World always depended on collating parties, a modern-day urban version of the barn-raising. A week or two prior to the finish of printing, a leaflet would go out to the entire Bay Area mailing list, inviting people to come and help collate the forthcoming issue. Many people, isolated at their jobs, would delight in coming to the collating party as their main opportunity to contribute more than money to the PW effort, and as their chance to attend a kind of radical intellectual salon. From noon to as late as midnight, 50-100 people would pass through and take a shift sitting before a tall pile of pages. Amid clouds of marijuana smoke, bottles of beer, and a rich potluck buffet, each person slowly passed the folded pages along, adding their two or three, until collated copies were boxed at the end of the line, ready for the bindery.

Collating parties lasted through issue 18; by then, every joke and humorous aside about assembly lines and free labor had been thoroughly exhausted. PW finally went “upscale” and started paying to be printed and bound by a web-press company.

On Saturday, April 14, 1984, Processed World organized a tour of Silicon Valley, hosted by Dennis Hayes, PW's then newfound SilVal writer. Piling into an old blue bus, some twenty-five malcontents proceeded on a performance/happening to visit a the fabled Valley, by way of the Airforce's Blue Cube satellite control center, the Rolm Corporation's campus-like offices, and Benny Bufano's giant missile-like Madonna, and the squeaky-clean Fashion Island shopping mall. The tour got plenty of attention from nervous security guards and even received a weird write-up in Infosystems magazine, continuing PW's already considerable media coverage.

Just a month later, The End Of The World's Fair, a radical cultural festival aimed at providing alternatives to the New Age pieties of the mainstream peace and ecology movements, was held in S.F.'s Dolores Park. The organizing for the event was done out of the PW offices (primarily by Gary Roush), though the committee behind the Fair was separate from the PW collective. The Processed World collective created a float called “Terminals With Ears” and, with its many props, made a memorable appearance in the Fair's costume show. Annual picnics at various Bay Area parks provided another place for people to meet.

While a community did appear, at least in fits and starts, it did not last. PW never had a specific goal in creating the community, beyond hoping for a movement to erupt independently of the magazine. Many people came to the magazine and its gatherings looking for “answers,” for some kind of organizational structure or at least for an idea about what to do the next day at work. But while ideas were plentiful, PW always lacked a coherent “program.” It had no clearcut plan of action in which to incorporate people, let alone an actual organizational presence in offices. Those who came looking for such things went away disappointed. Not that the organizing-oriented and programmatic groups had a great deal more success. Attempts to organize office workers by traditional bureaucratic service-worker unions like the SEIU and OPEIU were largely a flop. Indeed these unions, like most others during the early eighties, actually lost a lot of members to decertification elections and runaway shops, which began to afflict the clerical workforce much as they had been battering industrial and transportation workers for several years already. More promising efforts, like the underground independent proto-unions Bankworkers United and IBM Workers United, with which PW had contacts in its first four years, fizzled out in the heavy rain of repression under Reagan. As the '80s progressed, and people became more atomized than they were even at the start of the decade, expectations of a political movement based on office workers evaporated. In fact, many PW participants (who have numbered in the hundreds over the course of its life) did not remain in offices either. Lacking a larger opppositional movement among office workers or even a clearcut strategy for creating one, most early PWers took the classic American Way Out: they found other ways to make a living, some as computer programmers or technical writers, several as teachers, still others as graphic and production artists, although a number continue to process words as temps in offices.

As its producers migrated out of supervised office work, the magazine began addressing a broader range of subjects, albeit without losing contact with its roots. Children (14), Food (15), and Medicine (20) are just three of the special issues which went considerably beyond the office while preserving a focus on work and its discontents. By issue 15 (winter '85-6) the collective revised its sense of purpose:

[From the Talking Heads introduction to PW 15]: ...The magazine has gone in a different direction than the one its founders intended. PW was to be a meeting point for dissatisfied and rebellious workers in the “new” technical and service sectors, a place where they could vent their frustrations and share their dreams. So far, so good. But we wanted to go beyond frustration-venting and dream-sharing to help develop strategies for organized resistance at work. We wanted the rebellion to become practical. In 1980-81, this didn't look so farfetched. Revolt was in the air... But as the Right got a firmer grip on the mass media and as the recession hit, terrorizing millions of workers into submission, the revolt largely faded away. Today, an atmosphere of anxious subservience, thinly veiled in born-again patriotism and consumption-mania, pervades daily life.

With office work in particular, the problem goes even deeper. PW has always distinguished its “take” on workplace organizing from more traditional approaches by pointing out that most work in the modern office is at best useless in terms of real human needs, and at worst (as with real-estate, banking, and nuclear and military contracting) actively destructive. Rebel office workers, sensing this, don't identify with their work. They generally change jobs often and work as little as possible. Their revolt takes the form of on-the-job disorganizing-absenteeism, disinformation, sabotage. They seldom view as worthwhile either the risk or the effort involved in creating a workers' self-defense organization. Moreover, rightly or wrongly, they believe that most workers, who identify more with their jobs, also identify with management. As a result, the rebels tend to be as alienated from their co-workers as they are from the boss. Perhaps this is why PW's extensive discussions of autonomous office-worker organizing seem to fall largely on deaf ears-while its frequent references to sabotage have made it notorious...

” ...Any real mass upsurge seems far away. In that case, isn't PW in danger of marketing the image of a non-existent revolt to be passively consumed by its reader-contributors? Perhaps. But we think that even in the absence of real revolt, PW is helping to create the cultural preconditions for it. Again and again, readers tell us: “I thought I was the only person who felt this way. Now I know I'm not alone.” One of PW's principal aims is to make people feel good about hating their jobs, not to mention despising the dullness and ugliness of so much of life in general...

” ...PW has always maintained that, beyond a culture of resistance and some organized self-defense against corporate and governmental power, we need a complete reinvention of the social world... Finally, it comes down to this. Through PW, we try to assert lucid imagination against Rambo-style reactionary fantasy, true diversity against careerist “individualism,” free solidarity against authoritarian fake community, nameless wildness against well-organized death. This helps us to survive a bleak time. We hope it does the same for you. Together, perhaps, we can achieve a lot more. Write us.”

Humor and Detournement

As the opening editorial in the very first Processed World said “Rebellion can be fun, and humor subversive.” Every issue of the magazine has dedicated at least 33% of its space to graphics, usually satirical. As part of its goal to be fun here and now, and to be an outlet for frustrated creative abilities, PW gave lots of room to graphic artists, collagists, cartoonists, and punsters.

What humor communicates is not simply the punchline or the meaning behind the joke, but also the pleasure of laughter itself. Aside from the sheer fun of it, the magazine's humor provides a more accessible, less direct way to express the attitudes and ideas put forth in the more “serious” articles. Humor has always been used to give vent to feelings and fantasies which are socially unacceptable or offensive, since jokes are less compromising than direct statements. The jokes themselves may be offensive, but ambiguous ("Does she really mean it, or is she just kidding?” ). People who won't or can't resort to open confrontation find an outlet in humor. Besides, many people don't form their critical perceptions of the world and themselves via rational, cognitive processes. The directed ambiguity of political humor can give people room to react and respond on other levels-attitudes, feelings, instincts. In a period when Northern American radicals are hanging their heads, dizzied by the speed of negative developments, there often isn't much in which to take pleasure. Or conversely, everything is so painfully ridiculous that it inspires sardonic despair. But political humor provides an antidote to either kind of hopelessness, because it exudes a disrespect for What Is that implies people can change it. Sharing humor also reinforces the immediate subjective pleasure of life, which can occasionally be the basis for bigger, more serious collective endeavors since it solidifies a sense of community among participants.

Nevertheless, humor plays an ambiguous role at work, providing means both to reinforce and to undermine the authority of managers or routines. It can reinforce authority when it serves the purpose of laughing off real problems instead of dealing with them (e.g., the ever-present office jokes about stale and toxic air). Such cracks about occupational health parallel the common jokes about carcinogens in food. Typically, the reaction is “Oh, doesn't everything cause cancer?” The sense of hopelessness is so pervasive that most of us choose not to think about it, and when confronted, to dismiss it with a cynical half-joke. It's pretty obvious who benefits from defeated humor of that sort. Moreover, a lot of job-related humor is racist or sexist, homophobic or xenophobic, and therefore divisive.

Yet the workplace is also a natural laboratory for turning humor around and reclaiming its subversive spirit. Processed World developed a humorous discourse based on the imagery and language of the business world itself. Dozens of images were gleaned from the business and computer press (Business Week, Fortune, Modern Office Procedures, Today's Office, Food Processing News and others) and then revealingly altered, or as the French would say “detournee.” Sometimes these images and slogans are used in collage, but more often they have their overt message inverted or diverted by small additions or subtractions. A subjectively truthful caption changes the sense of a conformist image, or a bland corporate catchphrase is turned inside out by a bizarre or sinister graphic.

Processed World also used humor because it serves to distance the project from the deadly self-importance of dogmatic leftists and their boring, oppressive ideas of “socialism.” Seeking to encourage utopian thinking, to instill and legitimize aspirations for a world motivated by pleasure and desire, Processed World cultivated its sense of humor at every opportunity.

The Physical Production

Steve Stallone and Tom Price printed the magazine from the very first issue in a garage where they had an aging Multilith 1250 offset press. At first they worked for free, but as time went on, they were eventually paid tiny amounts, less than $5/hour. From issue 4 through 8 Freddie Baer, Caitlin Manning, Bonita Thoreson and several other helpers printed a lot of the magazine on a press at an anarchist household in the Haight-Ashbury, though Steve and Tom were always the troubleshooters and printers of last resort, a heroic task for which history will certainly reward them, since PW certainly didn't. They also resumed printing from issues 9-18.

The type was set on a photo-typesetting dinosaur, a Compu-writer Junior, by a variety of people, though Chris Carlsson did the lion's share over the years. The distinctive subversive adverts and collages that peppered Processed World were produced by a long list of people, often active members of the collective, but just as often living far away. Bonita Thoreson deserves special mention for having learned all aspects of production during her many years working on PW (issue 2 through 18), and having found her true vocation in art at least in part through her experience in Processed World. Fantastic artists have been generous to PW: Freddie Baer, Matthew Finch, Melinda Gebbie, Greg Jamrock, Paul Mavrides, Adam Cornford, Doug Pray, Hal Robins, JR Swanson, Tom Tomorrow, Linda Wiens, Jim Ludtke and a host of others have all made many amazing and provocative images, without which PW would be a very different animal. After PW went to a larger format with issue 14, Pauline Paranoia and Chris Carlsson began to develop a more systematic design process, and by the time the magazine reached its “twenties,” PW had a clear and distinctive look.

The Basic Perspective

From its inception Processed World has sought to end the silence surrounding the underside of the Information Age. The participants' political background and detailed outlook continues to be varied, a non-doctrinaire hybrid of traditions and theories. They have in common being against capital and wage labor, nationalism and governments, and for the free association of human beings in collectively determining and satisfying their needs and desires. In short, the old loathings and the old longings, called communism by millions of workers long before Lenin and his many bureaucratic followers and descendents stole the word.

Like these nameless, original theoreticians of revolution, PW collective members developed their views by bringing their critical faculties to bear on shared experiences in the world of work. The magazine's unusual and irreverent slant on issues such as ecology and women's rights stems from this anchoring in work as the primary means by which the existing society is reproduced, and has inoculated the magazine against fashionable idiocies to the effect that workers can no longer be primary actors in social transformation.

By serving as a forum for “ordinary” workers, Processed World has reinforced the often suppressed truth that social knowledge and subversive wisdom flow from people's daily lives and not from an ideology or group of experts. By building a radical publication around art and humor, PW has reemphasized the importance of immediate enjoyment, both for surviving this insane world, and for reintroducing fun into radical attempts to change it.

—Chris Carlsson, Adam Cornford, Greg Williamson (this piece was written and revised numerous times for publication in several places over a three-year period 1989-1991)

To find out how to purchase actual back issues of Processed World, or to learn when we hope to have specific issues of Processed World on this website, or any other queries, feel free to email us at

Processed World #1

Are you doing the processing...
...or are you being processed?

Issue 1: April 1981 from

processedworld01proc.pdf4.04 MB

Table of Contents

Hello Out There...

Manuscript Found in a Typewriter
Ruminations on the return to the office after some time off - essay by Chris Winks

Office Workers on Strike: San Francisco 1981
Analysis of 1980-81 Blue Shield strike in San Francisco - article by Lucius Cabins

New Information Technology: For What?
How new information technologies are being implemented, and how they might be used in a world based on free social relations - article by Tom Athanisou

San Francisco 1987 -- Would You Believe It?
Insurrection in San Francisco beginning with the occupation of the Bank of America bulidings by the workers inside - fiction by Lucius Cabins

9 to 5: We're So Pretty. . . Pretty Vacant!
Review of Fonda/Parton/Tomlin movie "9 to 5" - review by Caitlin Manning

9 to 5: We're So Pretty. . . Pretty Vacant!

Nine To Five directed by Colin Higgins, story by Colin Higgins, Patricia Resnick, starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Funda, Dolly Parton

Reviewed by Caitlin Manning

When I went to see the movie the day it opened in San Francisco, I got the impression that, like me, many people in the audience were office workers, curious to see how the film portrayed a world that was very familiar to them, We'd been hearing about the movie for weeks, thanks partly to Jane Fonda's propaganda on its "feminist" themes, and its relevance to working women.

The action is instigated by the humiliations and frustrations suffered by women at the hands of their male boss. Three secretaries work in the same office of a large corporation: Dolly Parton, as a wholesome, down-home sex-bomb with a wholesome, down-home husband; Lily Tomlin, as a wised-up, hard-working widow with a family to support and repeatedly frustrated executive ambitions; and Jane Fonda, as a marmish, naive middle-aged divorèe newly thrown into the working world when her husband jilted her for his swinging secretary.

In several all-too-typical sequences we see how these women are wronged by their boss, a caricature of back-stabbing, slave-driving, male chauvinist idiocy. He constantly insults and offends his underlings and forces them to do demeaning favors for him. Worse still, he fires one unjustly and covers for his own incompetence by taking credit for the ideas of the Tomlin character, who, by contrast, is super efficient and bright.

From the very beginning, though, poignant depictions of the miseries of office work are lightened up with absurd exaggerations and knee-slapping humor. The emotional impact of seeing one's own experience more or less accurately portrayed as a common plight is dissolved in hilarious fantasy. Not that zany farce and serious social comment can't mix. A play like Dario Fo's We Ca, It Pay, We Won't Pay, performed by the S.F. Mime Troupe last year, is one example. But socially conscious comedy has to be careful of what it makes audiences laugh at, and Nine To Five isn't.

For instance, it doesn't take a feminist to see that Dolly Parton's casting is a classic case of spectacular sexploitation. It was clearly not Parton's acting that got her this role. Although her charismatic personality goes well with the wry, gutsy lines in her part, she delivers all her lines in the same flat tone. Ostensibly, the movie attacks the on-the-job sexist abuses that have been important targets for the women's movement. But the fascinations of Parton's figure were clearly not lost on the director. The way she is filmed, always in astonishingly high spiked heels and skin-tight tops revealing several inches of cleavage, is calculated to direct the viewer's attention to her voluminous chest.

In fact, the film's critique of sexual oppression is as shallow as Parton's cleavage is deep. The drooling sex-maniacal boss is masculine evil incarnate, and Parton, despite her provocative dress, is merely his upstanding, innocent victim. I don't mean to imply that women aren't sexually victimized, at work and elsewhere. But the reality of relations between the sexes is a lot more subtle. Sure, it's sad and frustrating that women can't dress in an even mildly "sexy" way, or show warmth and openness, without provoking unwanted aggressive come-ons or verbal harassment. On the other hand, women are often complicit in their own oppression by creating and using "sex object" images of themselves. But this film doesn't help us understand either problem.

The "fantasy" sequence*--as if the whole film wasn't fantasy to begin with--are likewise two-dimensional. The three women get stoned and one by one describe how they'd like to avenge themselves on their boss. A potentially great device, both for showing the deep contradictions in worker's feelings about their collective plight, and for introducing possible resolutions to it, is wasted on silly wish-fulfillment.

Tomlin's fantasy, complete with Disney-cartoon animals and Tinkerbelle glitter, at least has the grace to admit it's a fairy tale. But Parton's fantasy is a simple role reversal. She imagines having the same power over her boss that he holds over her in reality--the power to treat him like a slave and humiliate him sexually. As though we would be any freer if women were just as sadistic and sex obsessed as men like him! Fonda's, where she appears as a cool slick "white huntress" whose bullets send video display terminals flying satisfyingly apart in showers of glass, isn't much better. For one thing, her acting is dreadful. Throughout the movie, she just can't help playing herself, which is not what the script calls for.

According to the hype, Fonda was a big mover behind this production. She has the reputation, especially since teaming up with Tom Hayden, of being the most "political" of Hollywood actresses. That she could have insisted on the political value of this film is another example of the depth of her political thinking. It isn't only that Fonda talked it up as feminist when it's so obviously sexploitative. The whole plot trivializes the situation of office workers, especially the resolution. The women kidnap their boss and chain him in the bedroom of his mansion, while they transform the office to their liking. They bring in flowers, redecorate in bright colors, introduce flex-time, a day-care center, and an AA program for employees. These changes make everyone happy and result in a 20 % increase in productivity, to the great pleasure of 'he Chairman of the Board. The movie ends triumphantly for the secretaries when the boss, ready to turn them in to the police, is forced to acknowledge and support the improvements and the indispensability of his secretaries in front of the Chairman of the Board, As a reward, the boss is dispatched to Brazil on a special corporate assignment. Justice prevails and everyone lives happily ever after.

Once again, the problem is not so much that this is fantasy, but how the fantasy meshes with the more "realistic" themes in the movie. The way the secretaries go about getting what they want is so preposterous that top management's eventual benign acceptance of their reforms (except for wage equality) doesn't seem preposterous enough. More important, though, the film ignores the ways in which clerical workers are fighting to improve their condition in the real world. Instead, it focuses on the hilariously improbable adventures of three individuals. In this way it obscures the real nature of the conflict hinted at in the early scenes--the conflict between managers and workers in general, between classes.

The barriers which prevent workers from joining to fight for their desires, the forces which divide them and instill a sense of powerlessness and resignation are complex and operate at many levels at the workplace. They involve the structure and nature of work itself: wage policies, job hierarchies, division of labor, favoritism, traditional paternalistic ideologies, misplaced loyalties and fear. The problems of office workers are not dispelled simply by replacing an evil, incompetent boss with a benevolent and efficient one, even if it is a woman. And contrary to the postscripts which sketch the futures of the three heroines, most clerical workers are chained to their form of employment with little chance of escape. Even the fulfilled aspirations of the triumphant secretaries are basically accommodations to the existing set-up: Tomlin gets her promotion, Fonda gets married again and presumably quits the workforce, Parton becomes--guess what?--a country western star.

Despite its title, Nine To Five never questions the fact that most of us have to spend forty-plus hours a week doing jobs which are of no value to us except as a means of survival. It criticizes bad bosses but not bossdom, bad working conditions but not the condition of wage-work itself. In this sense, maybe the Chairman of the Board's acceptance of the reforms engineered by the heroines isn't so preposterous after all. Daycare centers, flex-time, job-sharing and pretty offices may cost a little more, but if they cut absenteeism and stimulate huge increases in productivity, management will come around all right.

Finally, what is particularly offensive about this film is that it uses real problems -- my problems-for purely escapist purposes. By presenting conditions which are a daily source of anxiety and despair to millions (and not only women), the film hooks its audience, but only to get a laugh. It exploits rebellious feelings of an increasingly important group of workers in a period of rapid change and emerging self-consciousness.

We can watch Nine To Five and go home chuckling to ourselves thinking about how these secretaries, whose concerns we can identify with, finally get their own. But we know very well, even though the movie does its best to help us forget it, that tomorrow or the next day we're going to have to go to work just like any other day, and the all's-well-that-ends-well message has little to do with what we will have to face when we get there.

Hello Out There

This is the first issue of Processed World. We hope it will serve as a contact point for office workers who are dissatisfied with their lot in life and are seeking something better. The current situation of most clerical workers, secretaries, and "processors" of various sorts is our starting place: meaningless work with little material reward in a deteriorating and self-destructive social system.

The opening article offers a compelling description of the individual mired (but not hopelessly) in Corporate Office Land. From there we go to the Blue Shield strike, which is still going on as we go to print. This trade union-based attempt of office workers to improve their situation has run up against institutional and strategic constraints.

The following article, "New Information Technology: For What?" has undergone intensive discussions among the writers and editors of PW. After a brief economic analysis of automation in the office it broaches the touchy subject of whether or not computers-- and high technology in general-- are inherently oppressive. Also discussed are some of our ideas of how a society based on free social relations can put new information technology to use.

Next is a short story about insurrection in San Francisco in 1987, beginning with the occupation of the Bank of America buildings by the workers inside. A review of the movie 9 To 5 concludes our first issue. Hollywood's attempt to address the reality of office work gets lost and distorted in improbability and easy laughs.

We hope these articles (and those in other issues to come) will begin to challenge the assumptions upon which this society is built. At the root of this effort is our desire to live and take part in a radically different social system, a society which as yet exists nowhere on Earth.

These new forms of social existence begin with communication, with breaking down the barriers that isolate us and finding different ways to express our feelings and thoughts. With a shared understanding of the fears, desires, and pleasures of our daily existence, we can counter the false images and stereotypes encouraged by those who want to keep us in our "place."

In a world where so much of our time is wasted on boring tasks or ridden with anxieties, it is important that we experiment with ideas and activities that are in themselves enjoyable. Rebellion can be fun, and humor subversive. Only by cultivating our imagination and talents will we be able to find ways to shatter the existing order.

Write to us. Tell us about your situation-- where you work, what conditions you work under, what kinds of resistance you are already involved in, how you coordinate your activities with coworkers, etc. And write to us about your dreams. What kind f a world would you like to live in? What would you do with yourself if you could do what you enjoyed instead of what you've been forced to do to make a living?

New Information Technology: For What?

by Tom Athanisou

"The computerized control of work has become so pervasive in Bell Telephone's clerical sector that management now has the capacity to measure how many times a phone rings before it is answered, how long a customer is put on hold, how long it takes a clerk to complete a call. . . Each morning, workers receive computer printouts listing their break and lunch times based on the anticipated traffic patterns of the day. . . Before computerization, a worker's morning break normally came about two hours after the beginning of the shift; now, it can come as early as fifteen minutes into the working day. Workers cannot go to the bathroom unless they find someone to take their place. "If you close your terminal, right away the computer starts clacking away and starts ringing a bell."
-from "Brave New Workplace" by Robert Howard
Working Papers For A New Society
November/December 1980

Between the lines of the publicity for the office of the future" we can catch glimpses of the treatment in store for office workers. Bell Telephone may be the furthest along in automating office work, but this "future" is in store for hundreds of thousands of clerical workers as new technology gets installed.

In manufacturing, automation is well advanced, though nothing like what's coming when the new robot technology gets installed. This makes blue collar workers a lot more "productive" than office workers. As the salesmen from Xerox and IBM never tire of telling corporate managers, the average industrial worker is backed by $25,000 worth of equipment, compared to only $3,000 for the average secretary and next to nothing for low-to-middle level managers.

With modern word processing equipment, one typist can do the work that previously took three. And in today's increasingly internationalized and conglomerated world, there is a lot of information to be handled. Everyday, millions of economic transactions are tracked by the corporations and the banks, and with each one comes the interminable complexities of a world choked by MONEY and its logic: billing, accounting, insuring, financing, advertising, researching what people can be made to buy. No wonder there has been a tremendous increase in the number of office workers. It is they who file, sort, type, track, process, duplicate and triplicate the ever expanding mass of "information" necessary to operate the global corporate economy.

As office employment has increased so has the cost of pushing around the continually growing body of bureaucratic detail. It has become high priority for management to reduce costs at the office by eliminating as many clerical jobs as possible, and to gain as much control as possible over the ones that remain.

In the office of the future, even middle managers and computer programmers will become unthinking drones. Since they make their living by pushing information, they are prime candidates for "job redesign" -- in other words, job elimination for many, tighter controls and more boredom and repetitiveness for those that remain.

You Can't Lay Off Machines, But . . .

As markets stagnate around the world, international competition sharpens. Faced with soaring prices for energy and raw materials, businesses of every variety are struggling to cut costs in order to maintain or expand their slice of a shrinking pie.

Between 1976 and 1980 companies that wanted to step up production were likely to hire more workers rather than buy more equipment. They were afraid to invest in new machines because they didn't want to be caught with excess production capacity in a time of economic slowdown. Unlike new plants and equipment, workers can always be fired, or, better still, they can be hired as temps.

Meanwhile, the cost of electronic control and data processing technology has been steadily dropping. Today they are "economical" on a larger scale than ever before and intensified competition gives wavering firms the necessary push toward automation. If your company doesn't use the new technologies it will be driven under by one that does, and if your country doesn't use them, perhaps because of union pressure to preserve jobs, it will be blown out of the market by Japan-or whoever else does.

Unemployment, Automation, Revolt

Some computer industry mouthpieces still persist in proclaiming that the new systems will "create" as many jobs as they destroy. But this is a self-serving lie. The "business machine" and automation industries are rare islands of prosperity in an otherwise crisis-ridden economic picture, and they are, if anything, more automated than other sectors. In reality, large-scale unemployment unlike anything we've known since the last depression is just around the corner.

Automation isn't new. and neither is the unemployment it creates. During the fifties, workers in auto, steel and mining waged bitter fights against the mechanical "job killers." But the unions bargained away jobs and skills for improved wages and benefits. The result was a permanent pool of between twelve and fourteen million skill-less, jobless people, culturally, geographically and often racially segregated from the employed population.

Through the last two decades, this segregated "underclass" has provided management with a ready answer to unskilled and semi-skilled workers who resist speedups and takeaways. If you won't do twice as much work for half the real wage there's always someone out there hungry enough to do it instead of you. Added to this threat and the other well-known classic, the runaway shop, the new automation gives management a blackmail "triple whammy." Once powerful and militant groups of employees are bullied into accepting brutal cuts in wages, benefits and conditions, with their unions lending a hand. The current plight of auto and steel workers is example enough.

As unemployment grows and real wages fall distrust and competitiveness between employed and unemployed may prevail. But there are other possibilities. People who thought of themselves as "middle class" may realize that they can be dispensed with just as easily as the janitor, the busboy or the nurse's aide who live "on the other side of the trucks." The newly unemployed, who have been taught to expect opportunities for career and salary advancement that the system can no longer provide, may not passively accept being thrown aside like garbage.

During the last depression, unemployed people joined employed ones on the picket tines, while the employed helped the unemployed fight for better relief or against evictions. The new wave of unemployment may help to recreate such unity by minimizing differences of sex, race, skill and culture.

Holding Actions

There are various ways to try to counteract the impact of the new technology and the economic forces behind it. Unions and workers' support organizations have proposed reduction of the work week with no cut in pay, demanded better working conditions and more control over the work process, and resisted management-imposed job redesign. The methods of unions, however, are limited to the traditional end of-contract strikes, interminable grievance procedures, or lobbying government for better labor legislation. (In the article on the Blue Shield strike, we discuss the need to transcend these methods with more aggressive, on-the-job action coordinated between workplaces.)

Successful actions on any of these issues are always subject to renewed attacks by management. While workers in a given office or factory may prevent implementation of a particularly loathsome technology, the pressures of survival will eventually force the company to take a harder stand. Even if massive social unrest succeeded in winning a four-day work week the wage gains would rapidly be taken back by inflation. Though it is certainly desirable to reduce time on the job and improve working conditions, no amount of "job humanization" will change the basically wasteful and useless nature of most work.

As long as the existing set-up endures there will be no end to the problems created by automation. In the short run, successful actions on particular issues will gain some breathing space and provide people with concrete experience in overcoming their separation and passivity. But in the long run the system itself will have to be challenged. A world where technological progress doesn't mean ever more suffering and loss of freedom will never be created by a system so paralyzed by its need for fast profit and centralized control.

Computers, What Are They Good For!

Though automation threatened livelihoods by eliminating d degrading jobs, there is nothing inherently bad about computer technology, in a different society, it could be used to improve our lives in all kinds of ways.

Consider how hard it is for blind people to live independently. Microprocessor-based technology can ease their isolation considerably by simulating the lost sense of sight. Already there is a reading machine built on a voice synthesizer and a powerful microcomputer which can read any clearly printed text at a rapid clip. The problem is that it costs $30,000 -- the only individual who owns one is singer Stevie Wonder.

"Vision" systems are also in development. They work by converting a TV image produced by a small camera worn on the side of the head into a pattern of tiny painless needle pricks on the back. With a little practice, a blind person can learn to "see" that pattern well enough to walk around in crowds and manipulate small objects. These devices could be made available to millions for only part of the cost of the MX missile system, or for the equivalent of Exxon's annual advertising budget.

Future Features

It is easy to question the warped priorities of modern society, but harder to see the deeper reasons for them. At root is what is most taken for granted-that in order to have things we must buy them; that in fact they are made only to be sold; that we can get things we need and enjoy only if we have money; that "advances" in technology arc, governed by competition for profit, markets, and credits; that decisions about how we spend our time and use our talents are dominated by concerns for "making a living"; that only officially sanctioned authorities have the power and capacitv to niake important decisions that effect our lives. In tliis system -- which rules in the "socialist" countries just as it does here, though in a mutant, state-run form -- everything counts first and foremost as a quantity of money, including our skills and time.

The result is that resources are allocated and products distributed according to power and wealth, rather than according to human need or desire. 'The fragmentation of the world into rival businesses, nations, social groups and individuals creates permanent irrationality-war, starvation, catastrophic wastes of time, energy and materials, misery of every description.

Suppose, though, that all sorts of people throughout the world decided to stop following the rules and priorities that govern society today. Their first actions would probably take the form of massive strikes and occupations something like what has been going on in Poland, or among squatters in Europe.

But suppose people went beyond this and organized themselves into groups according to what they thought needed changing, and according to their skills and willingness to make those changes. These groups could begin to supply themselves and each other by direct communication about their needs for goods and resources, When they needed something they could contact the people who had information about it, or who worked in factories that produced it. Suppose, too, that the workers at these factories had enough information to make informed decisions about where to send their products. Life would turn more and more on the conscious decisions of groups of people; the market would be circumvented, and money would become superfluous as a means of exchange.

Suppose this activity spread throughout society. Suppose the vicious forces deployed against it by those in power were successfully defeated, and the military, governmental, and corporate structures that control our lives were thoroughly dismantled. From now on, people would work, study, create, travel and share their lives because they wanted to, for themselves and for others.

A movement capable of transforming society in this way would have immense problems to tackle. Two thirds of the world population is seriously malnourished or starving. Hundreds of millions are without decent housing, clothing, sanitation, medical care. Most are illiterate. Cities are desperately overcrowded, while huge tracts of land are rapidly becoming deserts. "water, air and soil are badly polluted.

Some of the work necessary to set things right will be dangerous, and some tedious. When the glaring problems are solved, new ones will arise. If people were free to do what they wanted and not forced to work, how would everything get done?

Part of the answer is that a great deal of work that is today required to keep the system going could be immediately done away with, Whole sectors like banking, insurance, and marketing the three largest clerical employers-would be unnecessary. Jobs designed merely to supervise and control the population would be eliminated. Millions would be freed to learn and share other tasks, along with the formerly unemployed.

Products would be made to last instead of to fall apart in a few years so that the owner has to buy a new one. Very quickly, this would reduce the amount of work that has to be done. Meanwhile, as many jobs as possible would be transformed to make them interesting, pleasant and safe. The unpleasant work that remained would be shared around, so that before long no one would have to do them more than a few hours a month.

But how would all this be organized? Who would decide how much time and resources should be spent on a particular project, and how scarce resources should be allocated? How can the rise of a new structure of power and hierarchy be prevented?

Obviously we can't foresee all the problems that might arise, nor propose definite solutions. However, it's reasonable to assume that the more people participate in decision making, the less chance there is of power concentrating in the hands of any particular group or groups.

This is where the new information technologies come in. At present, at least a third of all computer time in the U.S. is used for military and "national security" purposes-monitoring telephone, radio and TV signals, tracking U.S. and foreign military forces, industries and raw materials, planning for present and future wars. Much of the rest is used in the electronic transfer of funds from one corporate account to another. And all this information is tightly guarded, placed under coded "locks," and made accessible only through an elaborate hierarchy of classifications and clearances.

However, in the context of a growing movement such as the one described above, operators and programmers could begin sorting through the immense computerized files. A lot of information, like cash flow accounts and secret dossiers, could be simply wiped. The computers used for spying can be put to other uses or dismantled. Inventories of actual goods, equipment and raw materials, along with any other useful or interesting data. could be kept, made public, and reorganized. With the design of the proper systems and the installation of easy-to-use terminals in accessible places, work groups, communities and individuals could continually update, index and tap into the growing pool of information.

Most production would be planned at the local level. Work groups could organize their tasks as they see fit. The amount of milk or bread needed in a region could be produced locally right there, eliminating fancy packaging and long transportation efforts.

But for other purposes elaborate plans would be required. Many projects would have to be coordinated at an inter-regional level. Computers can help here because they can digest enormous amounts of data into summaries that enable participating communities to set up the broad outlines of a plan: what products they need and how much, and what resources and skills they have available. Computers could match needs to resources and pinpoint potential surpluses and shortfalls.

Once plans were agreed upon, communications systems could facilitate their smooth follow through. When conflicts and shortages arise many of those affected could be brought together "on line" to discuss strategies for their resolution. Potential suppliers could respond to shortages with information about available stocks and perhaps negotiate to expand production. Final discussions could be handled by phone or in person.

Of course, it's not the computers that are actually doing the planning, it's people. And no one really wanted to spend a lot of time in front of a Video Display Unit or sitting through dreary meetings. So "planning committees" would probably be designated by communities to make analyses and suggestions that they would bring back for approval. The "planners" could be delegated on a rotating and recallable basis to ensure both that they do a good job and that their temporary responsibilities don't "go to their heads."

Decision making would be decentralized to the maximum extent, and everyone would have a chance to participate. Gradually, every area and community in the world that wants t) join in could be linked together. The right mix of autonomy and interdependence could be approached in the context of a massive public discussion about the best ways of doing things.

In such a world automation, like computers in general, would mean something entirely different than they do today. Instead of being used to throw millions out of their jobs and squeeze more and more work out of the rest, it would be applied to eliminating necessary but repetitive and boring tasks, and to reduce the amount of less-than-enjoyable activity required of everyone. The time freed could be spent learning, playing, socializing, traveling...

Prototypes: Nonhierarchal Information Systems

These may seem like totally unrealizable fantasies but they are as much part of the potential of the new information technology as the unemployment and degradation it engenders today. There have already been several attempts to demonstrate the hidden social potential of information technology by creating systems that take some first halting steps towards public access and community control.

One such system, named Cybersyn, was being developed in Chile until the 1973 (U.S.-backed) coup put the present military dictatorship into power. The idea of Cybersyn was simple: to install a computerized information gathering system that could be used to observe the Chilean economy in process, and to help predict the effects of various decisions upon it. Cybersyn was to be capable of producing detailed output, or of boiling down large masses of data into easily comprehended graphs and tables. In experiments done just before the 1973 coup, it was found that workers were able to use the system as easily as professional managers.

Cybersyn is not presented here as a model to be adopted. On the contrary, this system was built on request by a central government and was implemented in the context of a national economy intricately bound up in the world market, which functions on the basis of profit, wage-labor and military force. In its very conception, therefore, it was meant to accommodate centralized power and the money economy. These institutions (which eventually put a bloody end to the Chilean experiment are precisely what must be abolished for any attempts to change society to succeed. Cybersyn does, however, demonstrate the simple logistical feasibility of the widespread installation of easy-to-use computer communication facilities.

Today in the Bay Area, a related kind of system is being developed. "Community Memory" is being designed to facilitate the decentralized, non-hierarchical sharing of information, needs, skills and resources, or anything else that can be typed into a keyboard: philosophical or political opinions, recipes, personal advertisements. According to a Community Memory publication,

"Community Memory is ... an open channel for community communications and information exchange, and a way for people with common interests to find each other. It is a tool for collective thinking, planning, organizing, fantasizing and decision-making.

"By being open and interactive, Community Memory seeks to present an alternative to broadcast media such as TV. It makes room for the exchange of people-to-people information, recognizing and legitimating the ability of people to decide for themselves what information they want.

The projected incarnation of Community Memory is a broad dispersion of computer terminals in public places, such as community center, libraries, stores and bus stations. ..

"The designers of Community Memory would like to see a world not broken up into nation states, but one built upon overlapping regions of concern, from household to neighborhood to interest group to work group, from geographical region to globe where decisions are made by all those affected. This would be a world where power is distriputed and governance is the process of collectively trving to determine the best action to be taken, via general discussion and complete dissemination of inforination. With this vision, the Community Memory system has been designed to be a communications tool for a working community."

What Kind of World Do You Want to Live In?

In a world where everything and everyone is treated as an object to be bought and sold, the new technologies-and most of the old ones for that matter-will inevitably create hardship and human misery. Whether it's the office workers at Bell Telephone or the women in Malaysia going blind assembling the integrated circuits for our new, self-tuning, giant screen, stereo color TV's, someone always pays.

The new information machines are bringing changes that call for more than simple opposition. We must have some idea of what we want to do, and not sink completely into the politics of unemployment and workplace drudgery. The ease with which computers are used as instruments of social control cannot be allowed to obscure their liberatory potential.

San Francisco 1987: Would You Believe It?


She glared down at the fancily-dressed woman sitting next to where she was standing on the streetcar.

"What right do you have to complain about being crowded? You only paid 14 cents" sneered back the seated woman, who had overheard the younger woman's explanation to her friend about how most drivers didn't count pennies.

"Look lady, I don/'t care if you're proud of paying, it's none of your goddamn business how I got on this streetcar, so just keep your fuckin' spiked heels away from my feet!!"

Willie Moreland felt the tension building in the streetcar as it whisked along underground. The two antagonists were separated as the crowd surged out and back into the car at each stop, rearranging the mass of sweating, work-bound bodies. Willie could see people choosing sides by the expressions of interest or fear that flickered across their faces. Those who were interested eagerly craned their necks to see the latest outburst of a conflict that had been simmering for some time.

A couple of young Latino women stood in the back, their voices suddenly rising above the buzz of conversation: ""You! You never even gave us a minute! It was just non-stop data entry all day, everyday! You wouldn't even let us go to the bathroom except on our breaks!"

The businessman, his eyes darting about for a sympathetic face, turned ghost-white as he backed into the surrounding crowd trying to escape the wrath of his ex-employees.

"Look, I'm sorry you had a bad time at our company, but we have a business to run and we must get the most from our employees."

"The MOST!! Shit, by the time you were finished with us everyday, we were too tired to do anything but go home and watch TV or fall asleep!"

"Kick his ass!" someone shouted.

"Yeah, let him have it!"

Willie felt his mind racing. Everything seemed so different since the Bank of America office workers and taken over their buildings two days ago.

"I hope Fred, Jenny, and the others are OK in there" he thought to himself. Since he was unemployed he had time to carry a sack of canned foods down to the occupiers, as well s the outside press and 25 copies of the latest issue of their own paper.

SPLAT! One of the women spit in her ex-boss' face. As he swung to strike here he was pummeled to the floor by the blows of five surrounding passengers. They shoved the humiliated executive into the corner. Where a few weeks ago people had ridden to work sullenly, oblivious to the shared misery around them, today the tension reverberated among the tightly-packed bodies.

For a brief moment Willie remembered the past years' organizing efforts, the apathy and hopeless cynicism that seemed to pervade most white-collar workers' attitudes. The lack of enthusiasm during the unionization drives in '84-85 had really depressed him for awhile.

After the unions had gotten in it was a short time before Willie realized there was good reason to be unenthusiastic about them. Except during the couple of months before a contract expired, all the union officials ever did was enforce the work rules agreed to in the contract and exhort workers to increase their productivity. Even when there was a strike, the union would just pull their members out on to a picket line where they had very little leverage. Taking control over the data banks, machinery, and offices was outside of the legal limits set on union activity by the Federal government, and no "sensible" union leadership would risk the fines and jail terms that would follow any real militant activity by their membership.

Now, for the first time in memory, there was a direct challenge to the status quo by hundreds of white-collar workers, acting on their won. Bank of America workers were holding most of the executive staff hostage in the World Headquarters downtown, and controlled the administrative/data processing center at 11th and Market.

Jenny was exultant on the phone yesterday when she told Willie about the spontaneous walkout in one of the data processing centers, and how they had been joined by others throughout the building as they paraded through with the captured executives.

"Fred blew up at the supervisor when he kept hanging around behind. him. He and two others grabbed her and threatened to beat her up if she didn't back off. Terrified, he agreed to everything and soon everything was being demanded--things she had no power to agree to. That's when everyone walked out! It was fantastic!" she excitedly recounted.

In the past two days they and already erased or transmitted a substantial percentage of the records held in the building's massive computer memory banks (covering B of A's operations worldwide). Transcripts of the broadcasts were being made as quickly as possible, printed, and distributed over the area by the network. The broadcasts were coming over a shortwave radio transmitter put upon the 22nd floor, made by a couple of programmers and a maintenance man.

Willie found the details of the Bank of America's international counterinsurgency funding efforts interest, but he was really excited by what his friends we doing. For almost 45 hours they had been destroying or erasing all records pertaining to personal and/or corporate wealth.

He remembered a certain cunning gleam in Jenny's eyes at the last meeting when she said "one of the best things we could do is destroy a big chunk of the records held in the bank. If we eliminate all those 'vital' numbers that provide the illusion of a 'real' basis for the status quo it's going to be a lot harder for anyone to retake power based on this system. We have to figure out a way to directly challenge the money/wage-labor society, beyond our rather limited efforts to acquire free goods, housing, and transportation."

The train came to a halt at Powell Street and people poured out, boisterous and full of frenzied relief. From Hallidie Plaza where they came out, up to the Civic Center in one direction and to the Embarcadero in the other, Market Street throbbed with people. Hundreds of groups of ten to several hundred milled around, with the people moving freely from one group to the next, discussion, arguing, screaming at each other.

Willie and the other fresh arrivals from the subterranean artery were met by people from all walks of life: financial district clerks and secretaries, retail sales clerks, construction workers, truck and bus drivers, cabbies, Tenderloin winos, teachers, students, hippie street people, etc.

Willie entered a nearby circle of people.

"...2500 National Guard troops are on the way from Edwards Air Force Base near Los Angeles!"

"Aren't they the same ones who were in East Los Angeles an Watts last summer? Why are the coming here?!? There aren't any riots!"

"They'll use 'em on the Bank of America buildings and anyone who tries to defend them. And they'll go through the neighborhoods just to show people who's in charge!"

Faces tilted abruptly toward the distinct wap-wap-wap of an olive green military helicopter overhead. Leaflets fluttered down:

June 9, 1987


All citizens are hereby instructed to return to their dwellings until further notice. The State of California is preparing forceful action against the terrorists and criminals who are seizing buildings in downtown San Francisco. All honest and patriotic citizens are advised to return home immediately to avoid unnecessary destruction of property and life.

Mayor Carol Rude Sliver, S.F.
[]Governor Thomas Broadley, Ca.[/]

The police who had been all over downtown the past day and half were nowhere to be seen the SWAT teams had gone back to the Hall of Justice.

Willie knew now that people had not bought yesterday's interpretation of events by the big dailies and TV stations in town.

San Francisco Examiner: June 8, 1987 (Editorial)

Attempts to negotiate with the terrorists in the Bank of America buildings have thus far been futile. No one inside seems to be able to speak for everyone and no specific demands have been issued.

There has been, however, a great deal of communication between the terrorists and the outside world via telephones a shortwave radio station which they have commandeered...

...these communists are calling for something completely unrealistic and impossible to achieve- (from their broadcasts) "a world without the state-administered, capitalist austerity of the 'Free World' or the bureaucratic tyranny of the 'Communist countries'... a world where people co-operate freely in providing for each others' needs and desires without the constraints of wage-labor, money, or any kind of institutional authority." - Imagine the foolishness!

...We hope this hostage seizure can be settled peacefully, though the agitated, rash behavior exhibited thus far leads us to fear the worst...

...Utopian visions have been around for as long as human society has existed. They are no more realistic today than they were at the time of Jesus Christ.

Terrorism is unjustified whatever the cause, it cannot coexist with a free society, and must be thoroughly suppressed.

Some people began leaving down the side streets after the leaflet came down, but thousands remained, buzzing with anticipation. Some groups attacked the stone garbage receptacles. Fragmented pieces of stone, empty bottles, and various other objects were visible in the people's hands. Here and there handguns glinted in the morning sun.

Barricades sprang up at nearly every intersection along Market and in many surrounding streets. Telephone booths toppled over, cars and buses were overturned, office furniture was brought out of various buildings.

"...and the Bechtel building, too!" exclaimed an elderly secretary, her eyes gleaming with excitement. "y'know I've been dreaming of this for 32 years!"

"What didja say?" asked a young fellow from the Sunset who had just entered the circle.

"the Standard Oil building, the PG&E building, and the Bechtel building at First and Market have all been occupied!!" she repeated proudly.

A big smile came across his face.

"My father called home from work and told us that they've occupied Hunter's Point and Bethlehem shipyards. The radio reported that PG&E workers are sitting in at substations and the generating station on the By. I got a free ride here on the K-Ingleside. McAteer, Galileo and Mission high schools have been taken over by the students, and so had USF and San Francisco State!!"

Feverishly excited, Willie yelled "GODDAMN! It's a GENERAL STRIKE!!"

* * *

Arriving at her job at 8:57 AM, as usual, Frieda Johnson didn't realize what was going on just a few blocks away. She parked her car and went into the Pacific Telephone building at Third and Harrison. She knew about the Bank of America building occupations but she hadn't heard any of the shortwave broadcasts or seen any transcripts, so she believed the TV and radio news reports about terrorists who had infiltrated the BofA staff. She had been a bit frightened about driving form the safety of her suburban home into work, only a mile from the B of A World Headquarters siege, but she was more afraid of losing her chance at the promotion to division manager which she knew would be decided soon.

As she entered the building she noticed several executives in the lobby, glancing furtively toward the entrance, urgently discussion something. Frieda always made it a point to discreetly ignore her superiors unless they spoke directly to her. She hadn't lasted this long or come this far only to blow her chances for further career advancement by butting into her boss' conversations.

"Oh Frieda, could you come over here, please?" called Frank Martin, her boss. "I'd like to introduce you to Seymour Taylor. You know John Gilles, our general manager."

"Yes, good morning Mr. Gilles, how do you do Mr. Taylor."

"Ms Johnson, Mr. Taylor here is an agent of the FBI. They are requesting our help in dealing with the terrorist siege at the Bank of America buildings. You will help him with whatever he needs" said Gilles.

"Of course" she replied coolly, though she felt apprehensive as she always did when working around law enforcement officials. This wasn't the first time she helped out in such a way. The San Francisco Police Dept. and a series of small booths in which they carried out wiretaps. She had felt justified in helping them since they were primarily used to bust drug rings, but more and more in the past 3-4 years they served as listening posts on political communications between different people and groups. This made her feel uncomfortable since it was difficult for her to believe in the government's claims about the dangerousness of these "subversive organizations." She still remembered the lies of Vietnam an Watergate, and the stories about McCarthyism her parents told her.

She took Mr. Taylor of the FBI up to the 7th floor. As they walked out of the elevator (it was now about 9:15 Am) Frieda noticed immediately that there were only about 20 of the usual 53 data entry operators at their terminals. She decided to get Mr. Taylor settled before dealing with the apparent sick-out.

They walked down the corridor and when they turned the corner they both started at the sign.

"What's the meaning of this?" demanded Frieda of the group of data entry clerks who were gathered around a desk which had a radio transmitting on it.

Taylor tried to bolt as soon as he saw the group standing around the desk, but he and Frieda were grabbed by several of the workers and put into chairs.

"Listen!" they commanded.

This is the voice of Free San Francisco, broadcasting from high atop the former Bank of America building, renamed the Tower of Power!. . . And for now, we have the power here in our city. There are now 12 buildings under workers' control, the shipyards and Hunter's Point are occupied, the PG&E workers have risen and electricity and gas are assured us. Muni workers are operating buses and streetcars for free, and we have reason to believe that supermarket and restaurant workers along with truck drivers are bringing in provisions from the Safeway distribution center in Richmond. Ten different high school and university campuses have been taken over by students. There are thousands of people out on Market Street and we've just been handed a Martial Law decree that has been dropped on the crowds -- forceful action is being prepared -- (A FEMALE VOICE CUT IN, URGENTLY)

Listen, everybody who can help! Organize yourselves at your workplaces and in your neighborhoods. Arm yourselves! Gather together food, water, and weapons. Prepare to defend yourselves against National Guardsmen who will be here soon. We will never stand alone, call your friends and relatives and tell them what's gong on! . . . Don't get killed trying to be friendly, but remember fraternization is probably our best weapon. We must reach and win over these troops. . .

Taylor squirmed as he tried to figure out a way to escape. Frieda didn't know what to make of it all -- who were these terrorists and was it true what they said about all the new occupations? "Oh, why didn't I stay home today?" she wondered to herself.

"Well, Ms. Johnson, whose side will you be on?" asked Joan Chang, an employee of about 8 months in the data entry center. "His?" gesturing with disgust at Taylor. "Or ours?"

"You'll never get away with this" said Frieda.

"Don't be ridiculous, we are deciding who's getting away with what now" said Walter Fortune, a black man with three children who had ended up here after being laid off from his job as a teacher in San Francisco for the second time.

"He's got a point there, at least for now" she thought to herself. Fried had always been "pragmatic" (that is, sensitive and responsive to power) so she said "I guess you're right about that. I can say quite honestly that I'm not with him and will never be with the FBI or the government, though I'm not sure if I'm really with you either."

Walter, Joan, and the others broke into smiles. The plain truth was that they weren't exactly sure if they all agreed with each other. They had only been together as a work group for a short time. The longest anyone had been there was a year and a half, but most people only lasted few months before they went on to something else.

The common feeling of isolation (which they all shared, each alone) was rapidly disappearing and a new sense of power was present among them. the realized something very important was going on and that they could be part of it. Many felt an almost child-like enthusiasm.

"Let's go make sure they haven't cut off the phones! said Walter, and most of them hurried off to see what they could do.

"You'll pay for this, Johnson!" threatened Taylor.

They left him handcuffed to the toilet in the men's room on the 7th floor.


"All right men! Our job is to clear the streets and seal off downtown. The San Francisco Police Department SWAT teams will be making the actual assaults on the buildings held by these commie, anarcho-terrorists. We are going to assist them as necessary, but no shooting unless you are ordered. Your officers have been carefully briefed on what circumstances justify the use of firearms-- you will have to rely on your crowd control techniques."

Jimmy Radile listened as the colonel tersely outlined their mission. He had only joined the National Guard about five months ago, and already he found himself in this important anti-riot unit. During his nineteen years growing in Fresno, he had heard about riots on TV and they had seemed so distant. Now there were riots in San Francisco, somehow connected to those terrorists in the Bank of America buildings, and he was going to help restore order.

After his basic training and a few months on weekend-only duty, he was called to active duty for this special unit. A lot of the guys in the outfit were involved with putting down the riots in East Los Angeles and Watts last summer. Jimmy vaguely remembered something about Guardsmen shooting unarmed citizens and burning some houses down with incendiary grenades.

"But everyone was acquitted and anyway, those people were going crazy! Somebody had to stop them before they destroyed the city. It was too bad about the excesses, but violence can only be stopped by stronger violence" he remembered his father telling him.

The briefing ended and the Guardsmen went out to the airfield and boarded the nine C5-A's which would carry them northwest to San Francisco. Jimmy's unit, code named ''Red-eater' was scheduled to helicopter from Cruise Field on the north edge of San Francisco. From there, fifteen platoons of 50 each with a machine-gun on a jeep would fan out through Fisherman's Wharf, Chinatown, Polka Gulch, and over Nob Hill towards downtown.

"Hey! Look at that!" shouted one of the soldiers, just as they passed over the Bay Bridge in Sikorsky helicopters. Jimmy and the others craned their necks for a view of downtown San Francisco to see what the fellow was gesturing at.

From the top of Transamerica Pyramid, the Bank of America building, and a few others were enormous colorful banners flapping in the wind. Along the waterfront thousands of people milled about. AC Transit buses headed out onto the Bay Bridge and parked broadside, already about six rows deep and growing fast. "'Black-bouncer' (unit 2) would have a tough time breaking through that logjam even with tanks and bulldozers!" thought Jimmy.

"Look at all those people!" exclaimed one soldier.

"And check out that bus blockade on the bridge!" yelled another.

"Silence!!" bellowed Major Bricknell, field commander for the mission.

"Back to your seats!" he commanded.

His stern demeanor was briefly animated by the strength of his delivery, but he immediately lapsed back into the bland grayness characteristic of career military men.

Jimmy's eyes quickly scanned the others to see if they felt as intimidated and fearful as he did. Most seemed sullen, but few looked as nervous as Jimmy felt. His nervousness was greatly increased by his certainty that 'Black-bouncer' would never get through the bus blockade on the bridge. "I wonder what those color banners were for?" he thought. "I hope they were right when they told us in anti-riot training that most people will go home when we get there" thought Jimmy, as he contemplated the sight of thousands of people around the waterfront.

A few minutes later they were disembarking at Cruise Field at the northern edge of San Francisco near the Golden Gate Bridge. It was now about 11 o'clock in the morning. After about 20 minutes they all assembled, and set out one platoon at a time. Jimmy's platoon was the second to the last of the fifteen that stretched out eastward on Bay Street from Funston Field past Van Ness to Ghiradelli Square.

They encountered no resistance, only a few curious onlookers from windows and a few people scurrying down side streets as they passed by. "All honest and patriotic citizens should go home and tune in the TV to Channel 7 for further information and instructions" blared the public address system on each jeep. "Clear the streets! Martial Law is in effect! Clear the streets or you are subject to arrest!"

Jimmy walked about 20 feet ahead of his jeep, his automatic rifle resting in his arms. He felt like he was in a dream -- somehow he had gotten into a WWII movie but the scene was San Francisco. The streets were almost deserted while he thought about the warm sun on his helmet, the cool wind on his face, and the blaring speakers form the jeep.

"Hey, I heard there's a bunch 'o gooks in this town! My brother told me he met up with three Vietnamese he used to know in Saigon in 1970 in a back street south of Market. They were gonna rip 'im off but then they recognized each other so they settled for the half gram of coke he had." Jimmy's consciousness was invaded by the nervous babbling of another recent recruit, an 18 year old kid from Modesto.

"Fuck you! Shut up!" said another fellow, even more uptight, in the other side of Jerry from Modesto.

On they went, turning up Van Ness, past Lombard and Broadway. As they cleared the top of the hill at Washington Street they came to a sudden halt. Ahead of them from one side of Van Ness across to the other was a solid line of people, arms linked, shoulder-to-shoulder. And behind the front line were thousands more, as far as they could see, and they were slowly advancing down Van Ness toward platoons 14 and 15 of 'Red-eater.'

Jimmy was struck by the crowd -- their earnest, excited expressions. These sure didn't seem like the raving commie, anarcho-terrorists they had been briefed about.

"'This is 'Red-eater'- 14/15 to 'Log Cabin', come in 'Log Cabin.' Facing thousands on Van Ness, please advise course of action." The platoon sergeant was frantically radioing in to the major the situation of his troops but aid and orders were not forthcoming. The Major was too busy with the other units who were facing similarly overwhelming odds. Platoons 41 and 2 had already been overrun and had surrendered without a shot down on the waterfront.

The 100 National guardsmen and two jeeps with machine guns, stretched across Van Ness, couldn't withstand the onslaught of these thousands, though they could exact a terrible price if the platoon sergeant gave the order to resist and fire. As the crowd came within a half a block their yells were clearly audible: "Don't shoot! We are not your enemy! Talk to us! Don't shoot! We have no arms! We won't hurt you! We are people just like you, not terrorists or rioters!"

Jimmy felt utterly confused, he was not prepared for this. Jerry from Modesto started crying to his right. "I don't wanna kill nobody" he sobbed.

The platoon sergeant yelled the orders "Use your rifles to hold back the crowd -- don't let them pass." The crowd drew nearer, Jerry and six other young recruits threw down their guns and ran off to the rear, stripping off their uniforms as they ran. Jimmy, sweating profusely, clutched his rifle in front of him.

There was no more than 10 ft. separating the line of Guardsmen from the crowd. Jimmy found himself face to face with hundreds of people.

"Listen you guys, we want to be free!" said a middle-aged fellow with thick glasses.

"Why are you here? Who are you defending?!? demanded a blond man with an earring in his left ear.

"Wouldn't you like to live in a world where you don't have to worry about how you're gonna make a living, in a world where you have the freedom to experiment with life?" asked a young woman in overalls and a green turtleneck.

"Wouldn't you like to grow up without having to go through ten years of traumatic adolescence full of insecurity, fear, and sexual frustration?" asked a young man, not long past his own adolescence, only a year or two older than Jimmy.

By now the crowd was within arms reach.

THWACK!! 44-year-old Don Emory, a fireman from Visalia, smashed his rifle into the jaw of a leather-clad gay man. Immediately the crowd surged forward and shots rang out. Screams came from all around. Jimmy tried to hold the crowd back with his gun and began swinging it at the people who were rushing all around him.

BAM! BAM! more shots from the other side of the crowd. Blood was everywhere as Jimmy went down, choked from behind and pummeled by people all around him.

37 people died in the battle of Van Ness Ave. including 23 Guardsmen. 115 more were injured, including most of the captured Guardsmen who were severely beaten before being brought to City Hall.

The San Francisco Commune lasted for five and half weeks before the city was successfully retaken by the U.S. Marines at a horrible cost in human lives: thousands dead and injured. Severe civil disturbances rocked twelve other cities during 1987, but none went quite as far in advancing a vision and a social experience of a world without institutional power, where people worked together without bosses and shared everything without prices or money, and where the very idea of Property actually began to lose meaning.

Jimmy Radile joined the defense of the city and had a significant role in seizing Cruise Field, the battle of Tank Hill in the Haight, and the battle of Russian Hill. He was killed on the 4th of July when the building he was living in Polka Gulch was hit by an air-to surface missile.

Frieda Johnson was a changed woman for three and a half weeks. She didn't return to the suburbs but stayed on and played a vital role in the phone maintenance group, and also helped out on shore watch, But as the government commandos slowly tightened the noose around the liberated zone downtown, her temporary residence was raided and she immediately surrendered, begging to be allowed to go home to her husband in Belmont.

The Bank of America buildings were retaken finally without firing a shot. They had been completely gutted by fire and vandalism. As the city joined the revolt, the B of A employees abandoned the buildings to help in the more general efforts. When the commandos arrived they were met by some sniper fire from a few buildings nearby but the Bank of America buildings and the surrounding blocks in the Financial District and near City Hall were deserted. Soiled and torn banners hung limply from rooftops, and signs everywhere proclaiming "Free San Francisco" were ripped down by the troops.

Most of the workers (including Fred, Jenny, and their friend Willie Moreland) survived the pacification and were never discovered as "The" Bank of America rebels. They all came to play important roles in the following years in the snowballing movement for social liberation.

Office workers on strike: San Francisco 1981

A short account of an ongoing strike of Blue Shield clerical workers in San Francisco in 1981, by Lucius Cabins.

Since December 8, 1980, 1,100 office workers at Blue Shield Insurance Company have been on strike. They are represented by the Office and Professional Employees International--Local #3 (OPEIU), AFL-CIO. The union is pressing its demands to retain its Cost-of-Living-Adjustment formula for determining pay increases (which has been in effect for six years and would allow for a 14.7% wage increase this year): to reduce current heavy production quotas (initial claims processors are expected to handle 383 claims in each 7.5 hour shift!); to base the ""average production measurement'' on a four-day week to allow for a bad day; special rights for Video Display Terminal operators; and to improve pension plan provisions.

Blue Shield is demanding no mention be made in the contract of production quotas or standards, claiming such a change would open these matters up to grievances and arbitration, thereby limiting Blue Shield's competitiveness. Production standards, the company insists, should remain a management prerogative. Blue Shield was offering a 9.5% wage increase this year with a reopener clause for wage negotiations in the next two years. Since OPEIU Local #29 in the East Bay settled for 9.5% this year, 8% next year, and 7.5% in the last year with Blue Cross, Blue Shield has offered the same package. Also, some management ""take-away'' demands (e.g. a shorter lunch break) were reintroduced, after having been dropped to avert the strike.

The Company

Blue Shield is facing an increasingly competitive market. Several years ago. it lost its contract to process Medi-Cal claims when they were underbid by a non-union data processing firm. Blue Shield is the only unionized insurance carrier in San Francisco though they do have four other non-union offices in California in Los Angeles, San Diego, Woodland Hills and Sacramento. At the time of the strike, San Francisco Blue Shield was processing 52,000 claims per day, 37,000 of them under a federal contract for Medicare processing. Medicare constitutes a $12-million-a-year business for Blue Shield, about 1.3 million claims annually. Though they have been processing claims at below-average cost in the past four years, they are expecting stiff competition from the numerous non-union data processing companies entering the market to threaten their Medicare contract.

As the only major unionized private corporate office in San Francisco, Blue Shield is on the front lines of the rising battle between management and the increasingly important clerical sector of the workforce. This fact is not lost on Blue Shield, OPEIU, or the workers themselves. Blue Shield is clearly attempting to break the union outright or render it completely impotent.

The Union

OPEIU Local #3 won the right to represent the workers at Blue Shield in 1972 without serious resistance from the company. The 1,100 striking Blue Shield workers constitute 1/3 of the membership of OPEIU Local #3. A small union with a tiny foothold in the enormous office labor market of San Francisco, OPEIU Local #3 is fighting for its life in this strike.

OPEIU is affiliated with the AFL-CIO, and it pledges allegiance to U.S. labor laws. These laws impose severe limits on what workers and unions can do to achieve their demands (for instance, it is illegal to occupy a workplace). Their primary tactic in this confrontation with Blue Shield is the strike, a traditional walkout protected by National Labor Relations Act legislation. Out on the picket lines, however, workers no longer control the machines and data banks that are in their control daily when they are on the job. This divests them of the tremendous leverage they would have if they stayed in the offices and prevented their replacement by scabs.

The Boycott and Labor Movement Solidarity

The second major tactic of OPEIU, in an attempt to gain support for the strike, has been to appeal to other unions for a boycott of Blue Shield insurance contracts. In fact, John Henning, secretary-treasure of the state AFL-CIO, has issued an appeal for all unions and union members to cancel their insurance contracts with Blue Shield if they don't give in to union demands. This threat is less than ""toothless'' since it is only possible to break these contracts upon their expiration. In any case the medical insurance contracts of unions and their sympathizers represent a relatively small part of Blue Shield's total business, the bulk of which is processing federal Medicare claims. The vast majority of workers, who are not in unions, have no say over their companies' choice of insurance policies, and their bosses are hardly likely to support a boycott. With the boycott tactic, the union remains peaceful and within the law, but much of the strike's energy and resistance is diverted into hopeless boycott work.

As usual the union has not attempted to mobilize the millions of AFL-CIO members to support the strikers at Blue Shield (or anywhere else for that matter). Local #29 (OPEIU) in the East Bay, a ""sister'' union, undercut the bargaining position of Local #3 when they recently accepted from Blue Cross a contract which says nothing about production quotas or work rules, and accepts paltry wage increases for the next three years.

Meanwhile, office workers represented by the same Local #29 were on strike for six weeks against the Alameda County Council of Building Trades Unions demanding cost-of-living increases (which they finally got). The Council of Building Trades Unions used their power to prevent the Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO) of Alameda County from sanctioning the strike. One picket line- crossing union bureaucrat even went so far as to admit that he and his fellow bureaucrats were just of bunch of ""hot-air hypocrites who don't practice what we preach.

"The separation and isolation of workers from each other is clearly being furthered by the actions of these Bay Area locals... so much for the ""labor solidarity'' of trade unions.
Naive Union Strategies: Manipulation or Misunderstanding

The union accepts the ""necessities'' of the marketplace, i.e. that costs must be cut for Blue Shield to remain competitive. The union's strategy is to blame a ""malfunctioning data processing system'' installed in '78 by another company called Electronic Data Services for the too-high costs and production quotas, and they are appealing to Blue Shield to cut the 50- cents-per-claim fee that EDS gets instead of lowering wages, and to get an improved data processing system.

It seems highly unlikely that Blue Shield would take such suggestions seriously. Demanding more efficient management or proposing viable economic solutions for the company obscures the basic conflict between profit motives and workers' interests. The union bases its strategy on the erroneous idea that the workers and the company have basically the same interest in the company's success. In reality, the company's success by increasing profit margins. The main way of doing this is to cut labor costs by replacing workers with machinery, lowering real wages, or trying to get more work out of each working hour on the job. These are the very measures that the workers are striking against.

The union remains utterly naive in its political/economic perspective. In the concluding statement on their appeal for solidarity the union says:

"Since Blue Shield does have a federal Medicare contract, union labor should be upheld, not undercut.''

Can the government be relied upon to support workers against management? The answer lies in the history of the role of the U.S. government as strikebreakers (1934 Longshoremen's strike in San Francisco, 1970 National Postal wildcat strike, invocation of Taft-Hartley Act in 1978 coal miner's strike to cite only three examples out of hundreds). The National Labor Relations Act has been hailed as a progressive landmark of workers' rights. But a closer look at the action of workers in the industrial mid-East of the 1930's suggests that the National Labor Relations Board was created primarily to contain widespread militancy (factory occupations and sit-down strikes). At the same time as they gained the ""right'' to bargain collectively, workers were deprived by the courts of their most effective means of fighting when workplace occupations were made illegal.

Since its beginning in 1935, the NLRA has been amended by the Taft-Hartley Act of 1948 which further limited worker's rights to take effective action against their employers. The courts have repeatedly defined workers' rights to take action for themselves in the narrowest possible context. Now, in 1981, Blue Shield justifies its measly wage offer by referring to the President's wage guidelines as well as the pressure to remain competitive for the federal Medicare contract.

No one should hold any illusions that the federal government (or the state or the city) is in any way on our side (though there may be some effort to bolster the sagging AFL-CIO in order to control the upsurge of angry strikes which is bound to occur in the next few years). With Reagan's inauguration, the federal government will move to front and center in the attempt to impose austerity and sacrifice on us ""for the good of the country.''

Blue Shield Workers Take Direct Action

Blue Shield workers have tried to break out of the confines of the union's tactics. During the two weeks preceding the strike the workers engaged in a widespread slowdown on the job. Since the strike began, workers have spray-painted all over the Blue Shield buildings ""On Strike.'' Superglue in the locks of automobiles of scab temporary workers and Blue Shield doors have also caused some difficulty for the company. On the 17th of December, a bicycle messenger who crossed the picket line to deliver a message returned to find his bicycle dumped in the street. He attacked one of the strikers and was beaten up, suffering lacerations and bruises. In mid-January, a pile of claims waiting for processing was hurled out of the windows at the Grant St. office of Blue Shield.

Some ideas that came up during a discussion of the situation on the picket line included: cutting off the water necessary to cool the computer, thereby causing the computers to overheat and malfunction; also, the idea to cut off the phone connections with the building was raised. Some reluctance was expressed about taking such illegal actions, since the union would be blamed and would end up being tied up with legal and financial hassles-- another example of how unions and labor laws constrain workers. Some strikers also wanted the union to bring in ""some goons'' to defend the picket line and prevent scabs from crossing them so nonchalantly.

While force by striking workers (not hired goons) is invariably necessary to make some headway, even a military force of strikers would be inadequate if the struggle remains isolated in one office, company, or factory. Significant permanent gains can only be the result of networks of supporting actions throughout the workforce.

Insofar as they purport to represent specific groups of workers, trade unions are based on the separation of different types of workers and industries. It is becoming clearer that this is precisely what needs to be overcome. The isolation and separation of working people by sex, race, skill, job category, etc. is the single most useful tool that our ""leaders'' have in keeping us down. Trade unions, while occasionally paying lip- service to this idea, actually play an important role in maintaining and prolonging this isolation. Until office workers begin to make common cause with each other and all production workers, strikes will remain defensive and weak, with little chance of success, regardless of the militance of the particular workers involved. Still, the more direct control workers in any particular enterprise take over their workplace, the more likely they are to win their demands.

When in the U.S. Do as the Polish Do

According to Business Week (Jan. 19, 1981) workers' real income has been falling since 1978--the longest continuous decline since WWII--and is likely to continue dropping in the next few years. But fewer workers went on strike in 1980 than in any year since 1965, despite the worsening living standards. For years unions have been bargaining away control over the work process (i.e. agreeing to speed-ups and ""job redesigning'' layoffs) for increased wages and benefits. Now that the system is in crisis, owners and managers are no longer offering the carrot of wage increases in exchange for increased control. Today, they are turning to the stick of unemployment and falling living standards to keep us working for them on their terms.

Waiting for government or management solutions to our worries will get us nothing but less of everything (except maybe war). On the verge of a very serious recession/depression, we will have to begin asserting our abilities to decide what we want and how we are going to get it. For those of us who work in offices the first step toward a better life is communication with each other.

At the workplace our strength lies in our control over the massive quantities of machinery and data which are necessary to the continuation of existing institutions of political and economic power. We must not be fooled by anyone--politicians, union bureaucrats, or anyone else--who say we can get what we want through petitions, negotiations, or bargains with the existing order. For a world free from 9 to 5 drudgery and free from material scarcity and austerity, we will have to take over and transform the existing production/distribution/communication system. Polish workers have demonstrated this collective power-- we must make preparations to use ours.

Processed World #2

Issue 2: July 1981 from

processedworld02proc.pdf4.59 MB

Table of Contents

Talking Heads

From our readers

The Rise of the Six Month Worker
Essay about temporary office work by Lucius Cabins

Career Opportunities: Gidget Goes Binary
Photo-novella featuring puking Gidget Didget.

Raises, Rights, Respect ... Alienation
SEIU, graphs, and heaps of analysis by Lucius Cabins

Computer Workers Strike in England;
Stanford Office Workers Reject Union;
Post-Mortem on the Blue Shield Strike;
Labor Theory of Value?

Office Workers' Olympics
Erasure from the olden days when megabyte still meant "a lot."

Processing Future Processors
You go to school???!!! Essay by Mel Testa

Psalm of the Anger
Don't you want your childrens' bodies to grow thick black fur?

Band-Aids & Escape Valves
Essay on corporate management by Helen Highwater

If blacktop were bullshit. . . Fiction by Chris Winks

Talking Heads

In the introduction to Processed World #1, we expressed our intention to establish a network for discussion, information, and communication that would be relevant to the lives of people employed in offices. The favorable responses to our first issue confirmed our belief that many office workers feel the same dissatisfaction we experience in our own lives. While distributing our magazine on the sidewalks of downtown SF, we met new friends who are actively collaborating with us. Several people have also written to us with comments and criticism, which are reprinted in the Letters section below. Thanks to donations and sales of the magazine, we were able to cover a significant part of the cost of producing issue #2.

Here and there, tentatively and often almost invisibly, clerical workers in the US are questioning the situation they share, and are beginning some collective efforts to improve it. As with other kinds of workers, these efforts inevitably bring them into conflict with management. One of the ongoing purposes of Processed World is to report on such conflicts as well as on the conditions that produce them. While we are often severely critical of the groups, such as unions, that are currently trying to "organize" office workers, it's not because we oppose banding together to fight for better conditions within the current set-up. On the contrary, we believe it is vitally necessary for office workers to oppose speed-ups, counter divisive hierarchies of pay and responsibility, and win improved benefits such as childcare, as well as better pay and working conditions. But we think reliance on the traditional methods and forms of organization can only lead to more crushing defeats like the one experienced at Blue Shield, and in the long run, inhibits workers from finding effective ways to organize and act themselves.

One of the goals of PW is to bring together people seeking to develop new, imaginative strategy and tactics and to create a basis of support for future actions. Experience in self-organization and solidarity between office workers would increase our power to challenge the social relations that underlie not only our dissatisfaction on the job, but the prevailing misery and injustice throughout the world. The people at PW believe that the only permanent solution to our condition as office workers lies in a complete transformation of society. In this and forthcoming issues of PW, we hope to articulate a vision of a society where people would no longer be compelled to waste their times and talents in exchange for a means of survival; where profits and hierarchy would no longer dominate our lives; where social decisions would be made by those affected by them; where people would not depend on money to get the things they need and enjoy—instead products would be made and distributed according to need and desire, and the willingness of people to produce them. The millions of economic transactions which comprise the bulk of office work would be unnecessary, and the dreary tasks now required of office workers would be eliminated.

As an organized group, clerical workers possess immense power to bring about these changes. Because they control the flow of information and money that is crucial to the circulation of goods in this society, they also have the power to subvert the whole money economy. In this issue, we continue to explore various aspects of office work: "The Rise of the Six-Month Worker" offers an analysis of the changing workforce, with its new values and employment patterns. "Career Opportunities: Gadget Goes Binary " is a fotonovela in which Gidget, seeking Big Bucks as a computer programmer, loses her breakfast onto irreplaceable hard disks and consequently loses the job. "Prelude " is a short story about the conflicts and choices faced by a woman climbing the career ladder. "Raises, Rights, Respect... Alienation" and "BandAids & Escape Values" analyze the limitations of two approaches to workplace reform: unionization and Quality of Work Life programs. "Processing Future Processors" likens the university to a white-collar factory, using UC Berkeley as a case in point. We are also inaugurating a regular feature in this issue, "Down Time", which includes accounts of recent events involving office workers. Hope you like it—Send comments, articles, money.... SUBSCRIBE!


From our Readers

Dear PW,


Hi! Nice to know that somebody out there breathes!! The disembodied voice of Mr. Brown's secretary can say more than the trite phrases we've all been taught to mouth to each other over the phone as we arrange other people's affairs and try to keep our annoyance at being disturbed from showing...

Aside from inflated rhetoric (only $5.95 a dozen at Peninsula Office Supply), we would like to offer our services to The Noble Cause. We have limited copying capability with a high-resolution Minolta copier, if that will help. As far as our company's resources go, this office exists solely to promote and sell tax and business information to the Fat Cats to keep us in line. So, if you need detailed information on how far either side can legally go, feel free to come up and use our library. Please call us first, as although this office has an unconventional atmosphere, occasionally someone with marginal power over our existence wanders in. Also, you'd probably prefer not to be hassled by any of our salesmen...

As for the intangibles, Anne is an artist and I am a graphicist of a sort, and we love playing with words (members of the Verbal Vice Squad), so if you-all need any help with content, ideas, embellishment, etc., we are chomping at the bit. The extent of our subversive activities so far has been to plan a parody of one of our periodical publications, with a possible audience of our Main Office (back East, of course) depending on how radical it gets, but we're itching to dig in to the elbows...

This has been so inspiring! I don't know if I can muster the necessary saccharin to answer the phone...

We are the Insurrection and the Light:
Anne K. and Elizabeth B.

Dear Folks, I enjoyed your first issue. Please sign me up for the entire program!

Things are fairly grim here in the Big Apple. A lot of people want to get ahead. Fortunately for me, my forty hours is put in doing something real and concrete—I box and ship bicycle parts to cyclists. I work for a non-profit organization—no one gets rich off my labors anyway. The "Board" (very ominous—never met any of them) seems to believe that people can pay rent and eat off of their good will. Nevertheless, on a day-today basis things function well. One of my co-workers brings her 3-month-old to work. No one objects to the breast feeding and we all spend time with the baby—probably healthy all around. Little Mary Claire is weighed every Monday morning on the postage wale.

I very much enjoyed "San Francisco 1987". Were it only true. It's difficult to even imagine that here. Most people don't dream beyond Fortune smiling and getting a seat in the subway.

Your film review is much like any other film review in a left-wing paper. I don't see the point in reviewing a regular Hollywood movie for ideological shortcomings. Deal with the movie that's being reviewed. When "9 to 5" came out, I read the reviews and decided to wait until it came to the $2.00 movie house. I kind of enjoyed it, although it was a Friday night. No way could I have dealt with Bergman by then.

As to Dolly Parton, I thought she was a great actress. She's probably not stupid, certainly not so stupid as to think the way she dresses is common. Nor is she oblivious to her endowments. Maybe she likes it. If some people go around in three piece suits all day and others are drag queens all day, why can't she look like what she wants?

Here is the old fightsong of a unit in the San Francisco Dept. of Social Services (Food Stamps). We had a merry little party a few years back when the chief cook and paper pusher went out of town. It's written in our working language. If you don't understand you've got to find an old E.W.

To the Long Vacation,
Debbie K.—Brooklyn, N.Y.

P.S. The postage, ink and paper is brought to you courtesy of my employer.

The Eligibility Workers' Fight Song (to the tune of "On Winsocki")

On one-fifties, on 150's
Fight, Fight, Fight, Fight, Fight
Run the L-M through computer
G-Line, sure tonight
(Fight, Fight, Fight)
Keep on filing, keep on smiling
Keep that white-out clean
Ev'ry client's glad to have us on the scene.

UIB cards, EDD cards, ATP cards too
Rush to cut-off, Down to intake
Gath'ring 0-0-2's
(Fight, Fight, Fight)
We won't smash you,
We won't catch you
It's been just a year since we were
(Fight, Fight)

Sure, Dolly can dress any way she wants. (By the way, what makes you think her wardrobe in 9-5 was her choice?) The point we were trying to make was that the way her appearance was used to captivate the audience contradicted the ostensible critique of sexual harassment made in the movie.

Sure, ideological manipulation is to be expected from Hollywood movies. Does this mean we should ignore it? Besides, the progressive, feminist pretensions of this movie set it apart somewhat from the traditional Hollywood fare. We felt it was not accidental that the movie came out at the some time as a unionization drive is being launched to organize clericals.

In spite of the fact that many people have told us they liked the movie, we stand by our criticisms and encourage people to take a deeper took at "entertainment."

Anyway, thanks for writing—we love the Eligibility Workers' Fightsong. Say 'hi' to Mary Claire for us.


To the Editor(s):

All I ran say upon reading your article of the SF takeover in 1987 is "Bravo"! It so happens that I work as a word processor (Wang) at B of A and liken myself unto that fellow in "One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest" at the end of the movie when the big Indian has choked the remains of Jack Nicholson, smashed the window and escaped. Remember how for almost one minute he yells triumphantly and whoops and hollers—and then just as suddenly—he shuts up lest the authorities bear him.

You aim for Utopia. I see that you're trying to raise the consciousness of thousands of business people and tycoons who refuse to have their consciousnes raised. It will take many many lifetimes: for this to happen. I would not be surprised if your little magazine folded after the third issue, but applaud you nonetheless. They occupied UC once; perhaps it's not impossible to occupy BA—think big thoughts!

My situation here is—I've been in this section for four months. Before that I was never exposed to the Wang. I'm being paid $1208 for a supervisory position that should pay at least $1300. 1 was put on Friday probation last month by my immediate supervisor, who I thought I got along with but who apparently doesn't think I can cut the job when I know damn good and well I can. Things are better at this point, but I feel that he might even be under pressure to put me under pressure. He documents everything, undermines my work for me and talks down to me like a 4th grader. So I'm out looking once again.

I marvel at the power this bastard has over me. That is, all he has to do is go to his immediate supervisor, who is the Vice President of the Department, and tell him he doesn't think I'm doing the job—and the VP will go along with his decision! I have no protection whatsoever—no union, no secretaries or word processors association, NOTHING! Nothing but the Employee Assistance Division with their "Let's Talk" in 6 steps, the final step being my case would be reviewed by the higher-ups (top management) who would undoubtedly decide in favor of the Vice President in charge.

So—do you need a word processor? Or a writer? I'm good at words. Maybe (I've thought of this) I could write my experiences here as an article for you. Feel free to call (or write) me at work and if I'm not at my desk leave name and phone # with receptionist. And if she should ask you what it's in regard to, just say go fuck yourself.

Best wishes,
James D.

Raises, Rights, Respect... Alienation

by Lucius Cabins

"On March 3, 1981 the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and Working Women (WW) announced a joint national campaign to organize office workers into unions. WW's executive director Karen Nussbaum proclaimed a "new chapter in labor history'' and predicted that "the 80s will be for clerical workers what the 30s were for industrial workers.''

Working Women was created in 1977 by the national affiliation of five local working women's groups (including San Francisco's Women Organized for Employment [WOE) to advise then-President Carter on the reorganization of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Since that time they've grown to include 13 groups in different cities, with over 10,000 members. In several previous campaigns to organize clericals, WW has emphasized the three Rs--Raises, Rights, and Respect. " Raises Not Roses" and " Scrooge of the Year" were themes used in publicity campaigns to dramatize the low pay of office workers. The "Pettiest Office Procedure" campaign was conceived to draw attention to management's frequent use of office workers to perform demeaning personal favors such as fetching coffee, doing errands, etc.

At this year's National Secretaries Day in Embarcadero Plaza in SF, WOE held an " Office Workers' Olympics." One of the four events was a typing contest where secretaries competed with local officials and celebrities in order to " let the world know that typing is a highly skilled trade!'' This event--and the more general demand for respect'' -- is a response to office workers' resentment against the impersonal way they are treated at work. People demand respect from others in order to respect themselves. They need to feel that their work is appreciated as a meaningful contribution to society. What these demands ignore is the basically wasteful and meaningless nature of office work.

Most of us would enjoy freely contributing a share of our creative abilities to the well-being of others. But since our survival depends on selling these powers for a wage, many of us are forced to derive self-esteem from doing our job competently. No matter how appreciated or well-paid, most office work is useful only to preserve the power of the corporations and governments of the world. To seek positive reinforcement for one's wage-labor only validates a system whose very premise is the degradation of creative human activity--the exchange of skills, affection and loyalty for money.

Beyond this unique demand for respect, WW has declared goals similar to those of labor unions--higher pay, better working conditions, seniority rights and affirmative action. Until the recent agreement with SEIU, Working Women has kept unions at a distance, fearing clerical workers would not accept them. Even now, WW is calling the new national local "autonomous''and establishing separate offices in an attempt to distinguish the new organization from the image of unionism.

The coalition of WW and SEIU is a marriage of mutual convenience. Working Women hopes the unions' money, legal aid and organizing experience will help them overcome the strategic limitations they've encountered. The December 1980 issue of Downtown Women's News in San Francisco exemplifies their limited leverage:

"The single most powerful threat that we as WOE activists hold is our ability to publicly expose and ridicule unfair employment practices.''

At most corporations will respond with mere cosmetic changes to the two minute TV spots WW gets to decry this or that company's prejudicial practices.

SEIU, for its part, has a substantial advantage over other unions trying to gain a foothold in the office labor market. With nearly half the US workforce now employed in "information handling'' and shrinking membership rolls and dues revenues, the United Auto Workers, United Steel Workers, Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers, the Teamsters and others are rushing to exploit the lucrative opportunities among a discontented white-collar working class.

The prospect of a wave of unionization and strikes among office workers is a matter of grave concern to many corporate and government leaders. In the January 1980 Infosystems magazine, attorney Robert P. Bigelow warns:

"Management must recognize that information is a resource...without an organization-wide information system [read human and/or electronic spies], warning signs may go unnoticed... As offices become more and more dependent on word processing equipment and upon computerized information systems, a strike by data entry and text editing personnel becomes even more serious. An organization that depends on the currency of the information in its data banks will be hamstrung if those who make the entries go out on strike. . .''

While most capitalists tend to resist unionization, some may be shrewd enough to take advantage of the role unions could play in disciplining and controlling the workforce. For example, the infamous productivity problem in offices has been linked to office workers' ability to resist tight control of their workloads. According to the Wall Street Journal (Nov. 25, 1980) "Methods Time Measurement Association, a research group, estimates that white-collar workers operate at only 45@5 of efficiency. A survey of 400 firms shows losses of four hours per worker each week to "time theft,' or excessive tardiness, absence or breaktaking.'' Office workers have developed their own informal methods of resisting the efficiency standards established by management's productivity experts which, if enforced, would turn clericals into automatons.

When a union gets voted in to represent workers in an office, it becomes responsible to management for enforcing work rules established at the negotiating table. By its contractual obligation to ensure a full day's work for a full day's pay, unions will be compelled to help combat time theft and to control absenteeism. In the context of explicit rules and regulations agreed to by management and the union, workers' ability to take their own initiatives in resisting productivity demands on the job would run up against the additional opposition of their union. Once in place, workers may find that the union is just another bureaucracy that demands money and obedience.

One of the great limitations of union strategy is the separation of workers into "bargaining units" or specific workplaces. Most office workers, especially lower level clerical workers, don't see their work at any particular job or company as permanent. Attempts to unionize and negotiate contracts for individual workplaces are bound to suffer under a constantly changing workforce.

A case in point is the Office and Professional Employees Union (OPEIU) Local3 organizing drive at Golden Gate University. In March 1980, OPEIU won the National Labor Relations Board representation election, but Golden Gate University refused to bargain. Now the University is planning to call for a new election which is expected to decertify the union--most of the original activists have left the school to do other things.

Although these drawbacks to organizing attempts are discouraging, remaining unorganized is certainly not a better alternative. Individuals facing the myriad of authorities and hierarchies on their own are easily picked off one by one.

Successful attempts of clerical workers to organize themselves will depend, in the first place, on spontaneous and ongoing communication between large numbers of people in many different workplaces. Coordinated actions must be conceived and achieved; self-reliance and mutual aid developed; goals, strategies and tactics will have to be vigorously discussed--rather than left up to the decisions of union or governmental leaders. New forms of allocating responsibility must be established, forms that do not depend upon representation, leaders and bureaucratic maneuvers. This massive, qualitative change will not be an overnight process (although it could happen sooner than one might think). It is towards this change that we should direct our efforts.

The Rise of the Six-Month Worker

Chris Carlsson analyses the worldwide growth of temporary agency work in this article for Processed World magazine in 1981.

In my experience as a temporary worker in downtown San Francisco, I have met many young people working in offices who have no pretensions about the importance of what they do. They seldom have any attachment to their work, though most are usually careful to do it right, and they don't expect to keep the job longer than from a few months to a couple of years.

Most office workers are temporary, regardless of their official status, and feel they have something better to do with the time they are selling for a living. This something better to do is often, but certainly not always, some kind of creative expression--music, photography, dance, theater, etc. But there are not many commercial opportunities for the aspiring photographer, actress or writer who insists on pursuing his or her own desires and inclinations.

There are many women and men who would like to quit working and spend time raising their children. But in this era of rampant inflation and falling real wages, one income is not enough to support a "middle-class" standard of living.

There are also countless students and liberal arts graduates (frustrated philosophers, language majors, etc.) who are forced into office work while they go to school or until they make a connection for a job as an editor, writer, academic, or until they develop a marketable blue-collar skill. For most, though, this temporary interlude becomes a semi-permanent condition, especially when the "good position" in the university or government turns out to be little more than glorified office work. There might be different companies or agencies, the bureaucratic procedures might vary with different jobs, but there always remains the endless stream of disconnected numbers, reports, memos and invoices to be generated, stored, processed or revised.

Meanwhile, a growing proportion of clerical workers seem to reject the notion of a career in the office and express this attitude by choosing the temporary road. This impression is borne out by statistics both locally and nationally.

The S.F. Chronicle, in an Oct. 19, 1980 special section on "Career Opportunities" ,characterized the thousands of temporary workers in the San Francisco area as mostly in their 20's and 30's, about 2/3 female and having an educational background ranging from high school dropout to Ph.D. This includes only people who actually obtain work through agencies, but it can be assumed that there are thousands more who come and go from company to company without the "help" of an agency.

Short-term employment (2 years or less) is the norm in office work, especially in the lower level jobs. Fifty percent annual turnover among clerical workers is common. At the recently struck Blue Shield offices in SF, for example, there was a near 100% turnover in one department during the year preceding the strike.

According to Business Week (10/6/ 80) 90% of all US companies are now regularly using temporary workers. For the parasitic body shops known as 'temporary employment agencies' sales "have tripled to 62.6 billion since 1975 and could triple again in the next five years." About 60% of this temporary market consists of clerical jobs.


For many office workers temporary agencies are offering benefits that are more in tune with what they want than what unions offer. Above and beyond the economic benefits, which vary widely from agency to agency, and union contract to union contract, temporary agencies offer the possibility of employment when it's necessary and freely chosen unemployment when there's adequate cash-on-hand without the stigma or penalties that come with not being willing to hold a job.

Temporary employment also offers a certain freedom from the expectations for sacrifice and dedication that permanent workers face. As Manpower, Inc.'s "Secretary of the Year" Edi Mohr said in the S.F. Chronicle (4/22/81) "...because I'm a temporary, I'm not stuck there like everyone else. So I have nothing to lose by having myself a good time."

Capitalism has survived so long because it has a unique flexibility, a capacity to channel rebellious energies and harness them to its own needs. Wave after wave of mass struggles for better pay, better working conditions, more say in the running of society, have driven the system forward as the market forces beloved of the Reaganites could never have done alone.

A classic case from the recent past is the history of the big industrial unions, like the UAW, the Steel Workers and the Rubber Workers. Formed in the huge and often violent strike movements of the 30's, these unions were rapidly transformed into appendages of the giant corporations their members worked for. In exchange for the closed shop which guaranteed their existence as institutions, they set themselves to maintaining discipline and productivity, beginning with the no-strike pledges they signed at the onset of World War II. The young workers who entered the factories after the war were increasingly indifferent to their jobs, preferring to concentrate on making their home lives as comfortable as possible. Consequently, the unions were able to trade away the control over production and working conditions, won during the struggles of the thirties, for better pay. This steady increase in real wages for hundreds of thousands of workers in turn fueled the booming consumer economy of the fifties and sixties. Temporary agencies play a similar role in relation to the young office worker of today. They allow individuals who hate submitting to the unquestioned authority of bosses and managers, who despise selling their skills and time, to stay out of the work-world as much as possible.

For business, on the other hand, temporary agencies offer the ability to get rid of an unsatisfactory or rebellious worker immediately--and without repercussions. Also, com-panies do not have to pay fringe benefits, payroll taxes, costs for personnel record keeping, advertising, recruiting, screening or training of employees.

By using temporary agencies companies can compensate for the problems of widespread absenteeism. Bringing in temp workers also helps to cement and augment the hierarchy in the office. Lowest-level permanent workers are permitted to enjoy the responsibility and authority, as petty as this may be, of supervising the temps. In return the company may demand greater loyalty and commitment from permanents who are relieved from the most tedious and boring tasks: "One highly placed executive in a mammoth insurance company commented that 'tender minded' academics were 'downright naive' in their concern about worker turnover... It was his 'informed judgment' that clerical personnel are easily trained for their jobs, that if they stayed in larger numbers they would become wage problems--we'd have to keep raising them or end up fighting with them, they would form unions and who knows what the hell else." (Ivar Berg, Education and Jobs: The Great Training Robbery, New York, Praeger, 1970,p.152)


Competing for workers, Temps Inc., a small temporary agency doing about 4.5% of the business that industry giant Manpower, Inc. does provide vacations, bonuses, a major medical plan, and relatively high wages ($6.69/hr. for typists to 610.76 /hr. for word processors). "We developed a comprehensive fringe benefit program to give ourselves an identity as an employer and not just a body shop" explained Barry Wright, founder and president of Temps Inc. in Business Week (10/6/80).

Not coincidentally, Temps Inc. and similar agencies make a big deal about how vital you are, the need for "professional" performance on the job and the "special" relationship between the agency and the temporary workers. They "respect" you a lot--the syrupy insincerity of their "friendship and concern" pervades every conversation.

The ability of Temps Inc., Pat Franklin Associates and other "progressive" agencies to offer comfortable wages and conditions is entirely dependent on the current prosperity enjoyed by SF's financial district. In the 60's France, experiencing very low unemployment rates and an expanding economy, had a similar boom of temporary agencies. (There are now approximately 80,000 temporary clerical workers in France, mostly in Paris.) Temporary work grew rapidly to compensate for increasing absenteeism and to do jobs that permanents wouldn't. Initially French temporary workers received pay that was equal to or better than many permanent workers. Since the world-wide economic crisis of 1974-76 however, real wages have fallen for all French workers, and many temporaries now get minimum wage. As economic activity has stagnated and fewer permanent jobs have become available, more French workers have turned to temporary work. Once employed as temporaries, workers are finding themselves increasingly trapped: jobs are of shorter duration with more time between jobs, wages are low and the chances of breaking out of the low-income/ "underemployment" cycle are very poor.

French capitalists, through the development of temporary agencies, have gained a low-wage workforce easily hired and fired as needed. They also have undercut the unionization of banks, insurance companies and government offices.


The pattern of development of the 'temporary industry' in France is strikingly similar to that of the US temp market. In the US the prosperity of banks and insurance companies might sustain "reasonable" wage and employment conditions for a while longer. But there is every reason to doubt that this will last. Notwithstanding the ridiculous ex-pectations of "supply-side" economists, the long post-W.W.II economic boom is clearly over. The re-emergence of a highly competitive world market ensures that the current stagnation will lead to recession and probably to global depression.

In the meantime, though, capitalists around the world are scrambling to restructure their national economies for the battles ahead. "Reaganomics," with its huge cuts in taxes and social services combined with equally huge increases in military spending, is designed to transfer income away from workers and the "unproductive" poor and make it available as fresh investment funds for the most highly-mechanized, "capital-intensive'' sectors of US industry. These sectors-steel, auto, electrical, aerospace--are already being hurt badly by foreign competition, especially from Japan and West Germany. As a result, they are now leading US business in a drive to cut costs and increase efficiency through automation, robotization and "job redesign."

The effects of this drive on the industrial workforce can already be seen--massive layoffs, speedups, the negotiation of wage cuts by the unions. But clerical workers will soon be feeling the pinch as well.

In the office automation is advancing rapidly. There are more than 7 million data terminals operating in the US and this figure is expected at least to quadruple in the next 5-10 years. Ever "smarter" machines and the advent of the "executive work station" (putting the managers themselves on terminals that will produce finished memos and documents) will erode the need for the bulk of clerical/secretarial work.

The increasing use of temporary office workers gives companies greater flexibility in "letting people go" when productivity gains through automation are realized. Companies don't have to worry about the severance pay and unemployment benefits they are obliged to provide for discharged permanent workers. While the new systems are first being implemented and there are still bugs to be worked out, the office temp market is booming and "decent" wages are. available for some skills (e.g. word processing). But these conditions, alas, are as temporary as the jobs that currently provide them.


The push to unionize office workers will not avert the falling real wages or the imposition of work restructuring, though it may slow them down a bit. But unions are based on contractual bargains over a relatively long period of employment. During periods of expansion, they offer higher wages, more job security, seniority rights, contractually established production standards, etc. But for thousands of temps these things are meaningless since we are not planning to stay at any job very long, especially where there's a heavy workload with little time for breaks and conversation.

Temporary workers, and office workers in general need to develop means of communication and association outside of any particular workplace. This is essential since so few people stay at specific jobs or locations for more than a couple of years at most (usually less). Above and beyond specific work experiences, we have in common our general relationship to Corporate Office Land, and it is based around this collective predicament that we should begin associating.

It's time to take the typical "temp" attitude to work one step further. The problem is not only that office work is boring and useless to individuals who do it and wasteful for the society as a whole. Wage labor itself wastes the hours and lives of hundreds of millions around the world. At the same time it robs us of the power to decide what work should really be done to meet our needs and desires. The society based on wage labor is what must be challenged. In it place we can create a society where work is done directly for social and individual needs and where everyone can participate directly in determining and planning for these needs. Such a society would have no built-in ten-dencies, as the present one does, to constrict our intelligence and imagination into the strait-jacket of "job" and "career." On the contrary, it would depend on the all-round development of the brains and talents of every individual and their voluntary matching to the tasks at hand. The desire for variety and new experience, which is the positive motivation for so many modern workers to move restlessly from job to job, would become a basic principle of life. People could spend their time planting or harvesting one month, building houses the next, programming computers the one after, playing music every night --all without ever being farmers, construction workers, programmers or musicians. But the need for developing our brains and talents does not begin with the birth of this still-imaginary world. We can use the (relatively) free time that "temping" still affords us to create a subversive arsenal, to shatter the system's grip on our minds and those of our fellow humans.

Autonomous groups of workers, unbound by constitutions or laws, provide a starting point. If and when actions are taken and groups begin to link up with one another, goals, strategies, and tactics can be explored. The pages of Processed World are open to further discussions and explorations of these questions.

(Chris Carlsson)

Computer Workers Strike in England

5,000 computer workers throughout England have been on strike since mid-March. They are striking on behalf of the entire 530,000 civil servants in England, all of whom are represented by the Council of Civil Servant Unions. The 525,000 nonstriking civil servants are each paying about $2.10 a week so that the 5,000 strikers can be paid 85% of their usual salary without resorting to the unions' strike funds.

The striking computer workers have made a shambles of England's revenue collections, interfered with defense operations, and brought routine purchasing and some cash disbursements to a halt. The strike is blocking between 25% and 45% of the total tax revenues the British government gets from Value-Added tax and income tax. This is forcing the government to increase borrowing, 2.5 times more this April than last (which in turn is damaging prime minister Thatcher's monetarist policies, in order to continue most of its operations.

To combat the strike the British government has asked big taxpayers to send their checks through commercial banks. Computer workers at the banks, however, have refused to handle those checks. Other computer owners, worried about the strength and solidarity of British computer workers, are contemplating processing their information via satellite in countries where computer workers aren't unionized.

Another strategy of computer owners is to undercut potential collective action by computer workers through increasing the use of decentralized minicomputers. An industry trade association leader in England, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, said "Big companies are already turning down mainframe computers on industrial-relations grounds. I advise getting into small computers. An Apple® a day, I say, keeps the union away."

The strike has been largely ignored by the U.S. press, so information is spotty and incomplete. The relationship between the strikers, the unions, and management (the British government) is unknown to us—perhaps a British reader of Processed World will write something about it for us? from Business Week 3/23/81, and Wall Street Journal 5/19/81.

Stanford Office Workers Reject Union

Article by Processed World analysing the vote of Stanford University office workers against joining the SEIU union.

On May 7, 1981, office workers at Stanford voted nearly 2-to-1 against joining the United Stanford Employees (USE), an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The unionization drive was launched in August, 1979, when the University refused to recognize the independent Office Staff Organizing Committee as a bargaining agent for Stanford office workers. As a result of this rebuff by the Stanford Administration, the organizers felt they had no other recourse but to turn to an established union.

During the months of intensive campaigning that preceded the election, the Stanford administration issued a series of Election Bulletins warning office workers (often in a patronizing and condescending manner) about the authoritarianism of the union. They claimed that the good relations between office staff and management would be disrupted by the union's adversary role. Using endless misleading statistics they argued that clerical workers at Stanford enjoy relatively high wages, and that the University's own grievance procedure adequately responded to the needs of employees. In fact, as one worker who had attempted to use this recourse described in a letter to the Stanford Daily, a student newspaper, the University administration can (and does) easily dismiss grievances at any point in the process without legal repercussions.

For its part, SEW, which currently represents 1,400 technicians and maintenance workers at Stanford, made exaggerated claims about the prospects of improving wages and working conditions through collective bargaining. Surveys published in the Stanford Daily indicated that, although a large percentage of workers were dissatisfied with their jobs (belying the image of harmonious worker/management relations publicized by the University) many were also skeptical about the extent to which a union would improve their overall job satisfaction.

The apparent reluctance of most office workers at Stanford to stand up to management as an organized group with collective demands and common interest is a serious obstacle to any attempts to improve their conditions. On the other hand, the office workers were probably right in believing that the union wouldn't have been able to deliver on promises made during the campaign.

Legal recognition for collective bargaining units is no guarantee that workers will get what they want. The recent settlement of unionized office workers at Blue Shield is a painful reminder of the constraints of the traditional collective bargaining process.

While affiliation with a union offers some advantages to organizers (protection from management retaliation, monetary and legal assistance) it also imposes strict limitations on the form and nature of organized resistance. Union-approved strikes are the only legal means available to workers to assert their power, and this only during actual contract negotiations, since most unions, including the SEW, pledge not to strike for the duration of the contract. The only recourse for workers who want to protest management practices on the job is the grievance procedure, which is notorious for delays and overall ineffectiveness.

(Sometimes even union approval doesn't guarantee legal sanction, e.g. SEW local 715 was found in contempt of court on May 22, '81 for allowing the Santa Clara County special education teaching aides to continue their strike in spite of an injunction against it. The local president has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and the union has been fined $3,000. The sentence has been suspended for 90 days so workers can show "good faith" by going back to work.)

If they are to make any lasting and significant changes, working people will have to find different ways of organizing which rely less on the traditional legal institutions and union bureaucrats and more on their own willingness and determination to act for themselves. The energy and time spent on seeking official recognition could be directed instead toward developing communications between workers. For example, during the months of the union campaign, the workers at Stanford aired their views and attitudes toward their jobs, and discussed problems and dissatisfactions with others in similar situations. Instead of directing this communication and informal networking toward establishing a union (or now, making a second try to win a union election campaign using essentially the same arguments and methods) the dialogue begun in such cases could be extended to address questions beyond the traditional wages and working conditions issues. The nature of the University in modem capitalism, and questions of qualitative changes in society could be raised. New tactics could be discussed and crystallized into direct, on-the-job actions. Links to dissatisfied students could be established and the separations between workers, students, administration and society-at-large could be confronted. The immediate risk of retaliation by management may be greater, but so are the chances of success. Maybe it's time to raise the stakes.


Post-mortem on the Blue Shield strike

Processed World analyses the situation at the end of the Blue Shield insurance workers' strike in 1981.

In Processed World #1 we published an article about the OPEIU-led strike at SF's Blue Shield offices. In that article we criticized the union's tactics as ineffective and pre-emptive of the Blue Shield workers' power over data banks and telecommunications hardware. We also challenged the union's analysis of the situation at Blue Shield and in the US today. The strike has since ended in a devastating defeat for the workers at Blue Shield:

* Lost wages and benefits for the duration of the 19-week strike.

* 448 Medicare claims processing jobs are being permanently relocated to other non-union Blue Shield offices.

* Elimination of cost-of-living wage increases, replaced by the infamous "Blue Cross settlement" (agreed to in the midst of the strike by "sister" local 29 in the East Bay) which raises wages a mere 27% during the three-year contract.

* No provisions for additional break-time for VDT operators, though the company agreed in a separate "letter of understanding," to install glare screens.

* Of the original 1,100 strikers (since the strike's end the union is saying only 950 people were on strike) 350 returned to work before the strike's end. Combining the large defection with the relocation of 448 jobs, this will leave loyal union members in possession of only about 150-200 jobs. Less than 300 strikers actually voted on the new contract (275 for, 22 against).

Judging from the speech given on National Secretaries' Day, organizers at OPEIU are oblivious to these consequences for Blue Shield workers. In a brief conversation with OPEIU representative Tonie Jones after her NSD speech, she claimed that, although they didn't get what they demanded, the Blue Shield workers did gain experience in organizing and working together. Certainly it is true that successful collective actions by clerical workers will call for a good deal of organization and preparation. During the first weeks the strike probably did encourage people to air their dissatisfactions and helped create a sense of community and support among otherwise isolated workers. But for an experience to be worthwhile, problems have to be analyzed and errors understood so that they can be avoided or at least foreseen in the next round.

The basic orientation and legal function of the union must be analyzed in detail. The OPEIU militants who refuse to recognize that they were soundly beaten and need to reconsider their approach are either plain dumb, or think the rest of us are.

--Lucius Cabins & Maxine Holz

Processed World #3

Issue 3: Winter 1982 from

processedworld03proc.pdf5.87 MB

Table of Contents

Talking Heads


Female Troubles: Wage Work & Housework

Horrors of Pooperscooper U

Under Control

Carols for All Occasions


It Reached Out and Touched Me


Jack and the Beanstalk

Compared to What?

The Office as Metaphor for Totalitarianism

Talking Heads


In the U.S. today, the vast majority of office jobs are still held by women. Even as heavy industry with its traditionally male workforce continues to lay off hundreds of thousands, the proportion of women in the workforce at large goes on rising. Why has the Christian New Right chosen this moment to campaign against married women holding jobs?

This issue's lead article, "Female Troubles: Wagework, Housework", looks behind the New Right's current offensive against women's rights at the complex relationship between "housework" and wagework, and at how changes in this relationship over the last century have transformed women's social role. Despite these transformations, women are being forced to bear the brunt of the continuing economic decline. "Female Troubles" discusses the possibilities for resistance—and for a society in which women and men would enjoy real freedom.

Many have hailed the recent strike by San Jose city workers for women's wage parity as a real step towards equality. Certainly, it was a historic occasion—the first time in America that men have walked the picket line to support the goals of women co-workers. Yet the formula of" comparable worth" on which the San Jose strikers based their demands, has serious flaws. "Compared to What?" in this issue reviews the strike and concludes that the strategy of demanding "comparable work" leaves open the possibility of new, non-gender based divisions in the workforce for management to exploit.

In fact, the division between skilled and less skilled has always plagued workers' organizing. The fate of the PATCO air-traffic controllers' strike which dominated the headlines through much of August and September, is only the most recent of the countless defeats such divisions have caused. "Under Control", an account of the PATCO walkout, shows how the union system helped Reagan and the Federal authorities to break the strike and analyzes the consequences for the aviation industry and for other American workers.

Is there a more effective alternative to unions? Our Letters column continues the debate about unionization with an exchange between the author of last issue's article on the Stanford clerical workers' unsuccessful unionization drive, and one of its organizers.

In PW#'s 1 and 2 we solicited first-hand accounts of work life from our readers. In this issue we inaugurate such accounts as a regular feature,"Tales of Toil". The "Horrors of Pooperscooper U" is a bitterly hilarious description of a receptionist's experience in a pet hospital, while "It Reached Out and Touched Me" takes a sardonic look at clerical work for Pacific Telephone. Our series of office worker fiction and fantasy continues with "Jack and the Beanstalk," an updated version of an old fairy tale.

For many of us who spend most of our daylight hours tapping away at keyboards, the office tends to become a sort of dreamworld. The Memorandum, a play by the Czech author Vaclav Havel, inverts this process by showing how life in a single cell of the bureaucracy is a perfect miniature of the whole of modern society. The Memorandum is reviewed in this issue.

For most of a century, clerical workers have tended to consider themselves privileged, even superior, to blue collar workers. This deep-seated attitude has only recently been changing, with the increasing strain imposed by office automation and the growing awareness that the office, too, has its health hazards. "Oops! Notes on an Unnatural Disaster" and "Chills and Drills From Toxic Spills" in DOWNTIME! show how much the situation of office workers has come to resemble blue collar work.

Modern industry has converted the U.S. into a single social factory where all of life increasingly resembles the automated assembly line. Whether their collars are white, pink or blue, their pay high or low, most workers in the social factory spend their time coordinating and modifying flows—of information, money, energy and goods. As these flows get faster, more complicated and more mechanized in the frantic rush for profit and power, the number of disastrous "spills" of all kinds is ever greater, and their effects more deadly.

Most of us at PW still work in offices. But we are anxious to hear from people in other departments of the social factory. Keep those cards, letters, articles and graphix coming!


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

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:


Dear PW:


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.


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.

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,

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.


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.


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.

Horrors of Pooperscooper U.

Pooperscooper U.--a pet hospital stuck like a hairball in the throat of one of San Francisco's poshest enclaves. I got myself hired as a receptionist there in a moment of economic panic.

Three months later, the obsessive cocker-suckers and poodle-diddlers that stump and stagger through P.U.'s piddle-varnished portals have me baring my teeth. So has my supervisor, an obese Sha-Na-Na fan and neo-Nazi known to the rest of us "girls'' as the Elephant Woman. Not to mention the stunningly meager pay rate ($3.75/hr.) or the exalted status I enjoy as one of the kickballs on the front desk. But the best part of this nine-to-six stint is that it offers no opportunity for advancement, let alone for taking a creative five minutes on the crapper.

The duties assigned to us, the under-underdogs, are varied and colorful. First, there is check-in. Say a cluster of German-speaking ladies come hurtling in--mother, grandmother and three teenage daughters, all dressed in tight skirts and tennis shoes. They are moaning up a storm--something about a fluffy my own has been hit! A big black limousine has crushed his tiny bones. I whip out a registration form. With a confident flourish, I indicate to the larger of the two matrons which sections she must fill out.

"But my address--who can remember? What is a Sip Code? Fuffy-- he is a male--could you not tell?'' (Sure, lady, with a microscope.)

"Okay, now what exactly happened to (guk) Fifi?'' The moaning starts again in five-part harmony. Just then a tired-looking bald guy emerges from an equally tired-looking black Volkswagon outside and tries to explain, while the women go into a huddle. "Look, this little fuzzy thing took a hike across the street just as the light turns green. I'm sorry--I thought it was a piece of laundry.'' Nice try, but they don't let him go until he's proved he can't finance a week's vacation for five at the Mark Hopkins. Poor Mr. VW ends up being allowed to pay for Foofy's body-lift and a bonus full-length sweater, whether sleeved or sleeveless to be determined at a later date. Mein Gott!

The (very) personal habits of the doctors must also be considered at all times. One never snarls: "Young Doctor Doctor is having a bowel movement, and if everything comes out all right, he'll call you back.'' Rather, one chirps: "Doctor Doctor is presently in long-distance consultation with the Phillipines. When he is through, he will be most happy to guide your beloved Doberman throught the miraculous journey of her first natural birthing."

Nor does one mention that nice old Doc Rictus has a tendency to fight back when Kitty won't sit still for a shave-'n-shot. "What's that slamming noise?'' Kitty's mom may ask. "Why, didn't you know? We have a handball court between the lunchroom and the back office.'' Beaming, the Doc comes out holding a limp Bobo or Noodles in her claw-torn hand. "He's just a bit groggy from the sedative--don't mind the drooling. He may bleed an eensy bit when he wakes up. Don't hesitate to call, Monday through Saturday, between nine and six--'' And they don't.

Yes, P.U.'s receptionists must know their stuff, especially over the phone. Suppose a young interior decorator wants his cat declawed and dyed violet within three days. Never mind the cat's feelings--will it be detrimental to the orange-focussed bedroom scheme? And telephone procedure is inflexible. When a pug plummets from a seventh-story window and the owner inquires: "Juno's listless--do you think it's due to the fall?'', you must go through the catechism with the demure calm of a nun on Valium: "Has he seen a doctor since the accident/Is he bleeding/Is his stool abnormal/Is he vomiting/Is he eating? (Amen)."

"Well he hasn't really moved much--he just lies on his back and he's sort of stiff when I pet him.'' Then, and only then, you coo: "Sir--here is the number of Bubbling Wells Pet Cemetary, located in picturesque Sonoma.''

Most traditional feminine occupations exploit our maternal impulses--the teacher's aid cleaning up after brutish children and the secretary after childish brutes. P.U. expects its desk- jockeys to extend this motherly attitude not only to the furry parasites which are its patients but to their owners and the doctors as well.

Just let some unruly, unloving female at the front desk ask for a raise, let alone gag when a fresh fecal sample wiggling with worms is shoved under her nose, let alone scream back at one of the stethoscope-toting prima donnas in the surgery, let alone lose her cool with even one of the spoiled, peevish or penultimately stupid clients or their drooling, scabrous, psychotic mammals. Instantly her decades of training are played upon to make her feel like a monster, unfit to be a member of the U.S. Feminine Love-of-Babies-and-Fuzzy-Cripples Institute.

No one but a congenital idiot would pursue a clerical "career'' at P.U. Even the pink-collar hoboes, the temp-worker types who change jobs the way richer women change hairstyles, don't stop here much. They choke on the mingled stench of piss, puke and panic even before they hear about the pay.

The rest? Like the patients, they come in combinations of four basic shades: newborn, desperate, decrepit, and anesthetized. Girls fresh out of high school grabbing for the bottom rung; shellshocked divorcees tiptoeing timidly into the labor market; weary spinsters whom inflation has elbowed out of an early retirement; aging "young ladies'' still listening for the hoofbeats of Prince Charming's charger...

"Solidarity'' might as well be a brand of margarine to most of them, especially Miz Fink whose favorite trick is to yell at her colleagues for making filing errors just as the Elephant Woman lumbers by. Some even join in the Guilting Bee, like prim little Jersey-`n-Pearls who never tires of asking: "But isn't it the animals we're here for?'' Only the real basket cases can stand it for long. P.U.'s door doesn't just revolve, it spins like a centrifuge.

So goodbye to Pooperscooper U. Goodbye to the Puppy Paramedic Corps and its pissing and moaning, yapping and scratching clientele. Goodbye too to the Kat Kare Klub where tortoise shell curry-combs and French satin ribbons decorate lumps of hairy fat that can hardly waddle from bowl to box to bed. Goodbye to being ranked lower in the scheme of things than Persians and their fleas. Pit-bulls and their diarrhea. Goodbye to all the mental cases who hallucinate an intimate world of love and understanding around retarded mutant carnivores like Elmo the Basset Hound, known to his owner as "the only man in my life.''

My case is closed. But there will be many more to follow in my footsteps on this particular hamster-wheel. A world which mass- produces loneliness and boredom, always a little faster than it mass-produces the merchandise meant to make up for them, will see to that.

--Melinda Gebbie

Compared to What?

by Helen Highwater

Throughout the past decade, feminists have demanded "equal pay for equal work." Since this demand applies only to wage discrimination within the same job category, it does not address the majority of female occupations where wages are low across the board. A different approach to the problem of wage discrimination made headlines in June, 1981, when San Jose, California municipal workers struck for 10 days demanding "comparable pay for comparable worth."

Under plans for comparable worth, consultants are hired to rate certain elements of a job numerically and to rank the job against other jobs. Occupations as diverse as ambulance driving and secretarial work can be compared on the basis of similiarities in required skills, training, and decision-making. Pay scales are supposed to follow the ranking system, and when "male" and " female" jobs are compared, studies usually recommend significant increases in women's wages. As San Jose city workers and others have discovered, the next step in comparable worth--getting employers to institute the recommended pay scales--usually requires a concerted effort on the part of workers.There are numerous practical problems with job evaluations. Many of the job characteristics that are taken into account, such as stress and accountability, are quite subjective and allow for a wide variation in results depending on which consultant is hired and the way they carry out the study. Also, there are no clear boundaries to distinguish when jobs are too dissimilar to be compared.

The stage was set in 1978 for San Jose's comparable worth demands when the union, Local 101 of AFSCME, pressured the city to hire the consulting firm Hay Associates to evaluate and rank city jobs. Hay Associates are reputed to be friendly towards management and their findings frequently validate existing pay scales. In this case, the active participation of clerical workers in all stages of job evaluations led to recommmended pay raises of up to 38@6 for some women workers. Pay increases for 330 managerial positions were swiftly implemented. But when it came to raises for typists, librarians, etc. the city government pleaded poverty, claiming they couldn't possibly afford the recommended salary levels. This decision, from a largely female city council and a woman mayor, prompted the first "feminist strike" in recent memory.The union initially demanded a $3.2 million budget allocation for parity increases over a four year period, in addition to a 10% cost of living raise. They finally settled for a two-year contract which provided $1.4 million towards comparable worth, plus an 8% cost of living raise. Average pay increases amounted to 17.6%, including the comparable worth monies.The settlement was hailed as a victory by comparable worth proponents and it has fueled their nationwide attempts to win wage parity. Striking San Jose workers got more or less what they wanted--a rare occurrence in these times of fiscal crises and budget cutbacks. Fortunately for the municipal workers, the city of San Jose cannot pack up and take its business elsewhere like Blue Shield did when it was struck earlier this year. And fortunately for the "feminist" city government, San Jose is one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. and is right in the heart of the prosperous Silicon Valley. Unlike other cities, San Jose can draw revenues from the electronics industry to pay for wage increases.

Other attempts to establish the comparable worth principle have focussed on the legal system. A bout of excruciatingly time- consuming lawsuits have been launched to create a legal mandate for comparable worth. But judges are reluctant to hand down sweeping decisions since, in the words of a U.S. District Court judge in Denver who recently dismissed a comparability lawsuit, "I'm not going to restructure the entire economy of the U.S."Given the large numbers of women and minorities in low paying jobs, wage parity would require billions of dollars in wage adjustments. This means a massive transfer of wealth from business to workers--something which will never be accomplished in the courts.

Choose Your Hierarchy

As an effort to formulate a "realistic" proposal to employers, the union in San Jose helped create an alternative hierarchy of job categories. For example, a clerk typist is now rated as a grade 1, or lowest rank, while a recreation specialist is rated as a grade 7. Implicit in this new and supposedly "legitimate" ranking is the assumption that low wages are justified for those occupations which require less training, thinking and responsibility. While it is no doubt just as difficult and tedious for a clerk typist to show up each morning at the job and follow orders all day long, according to comparable worth it is legitimate to pay her less than the recreation specialist.In effect, the campaign for comparable worth becomes a trade-off: employers will stop discriminating sexually through the informal but effective method of underpaying jobs performed mostly by women. As their part of the "bargain," workers must accept a highly stratified labor market based on the prerogatives of business and the market. In this new system of discrimination workers are still economically rewarded for the merits, qualifications and skills that are useful to employers. The demand that the worth of women's wage labor be recognized puts forth a narrow conception of what is valuable, and obsures the basic worthlessness of so much of our time spent on the job. It is not just that so many workers don't get paid enough, but that the imperative of making money in boring, tedious jobs robs us of the time and energy to do things which are truly valuable to ourselves and others. Nevertheless, demands for comparable worth may prove to be a useful short-term strategy to increase wages for women and minority workers who are victims of wage discrimination. Since much of the oppression suffered by women and minorities hinges on economic discrimination, winning pay increases could be a significant advance. Unfortunately, the comparable worth strategy relies heavily on the use of "experts" --lawyers, union negotiators, statisticians and consultants--which makes real income gains unlikely. When the fight for wage gains is not in the hands of the people most directly affected, the likely result is that cosmetic changes will take the place of cold, hard cash.

Processed World #4

Issue 4: Spring 1982 from

processedworld04proc.pdf6.12 MB

Table of Contents

Talking Heads


No Paid Officials

Letters from Zona Monetaria


Basic Principles of Resistance (by Solidarity)
SF Supes Bolster Sagging City Worker Unions
Justifiable Terminal-icide
Confidence Crisis For Middle Management
The Typist Addreses her IBM Selectric

That Damn Office!

Talking Heads


This is the fourth issue of Processed World, and the beginning of our second year. We are delighted and amazed at the depth and breadth of response to the magazine, particularly since the new year. Our letters section has grown again—keep 'em coming!

This issue's lead article "No Paid Officials" brings to light a little known piece of recent San Francisco labor history. The story of the Social Service Employees Union offers us a look at a group of office workers who broke with traditional trade union organization and discovered new tactics and strategies. Interestingly, the same SEIU Local 400 that the SSEU broke away from in 1966, has recently become the prime beneficiary of San Francisco's new "agency shop" law. A brief analysis is presented in the DOWNTIME! section.

Continuing our "Tales of Toil" series is J. Gulesian, Temporary At Large. Her "Letters From Zone Monetaria" scrutinize the norms of office life in a series of sardonic reports on the hierarchy and cultural conformism around her. Her prediction of a new industry to deal with executive alienation is made believable by a speech we received from friends at Arthur Andersen & Co. In the speech, excerpted in DOWNTIME!, a top company exec pleads with middle managers to believe their jobs are not meaningless.'

Office life is further explored in Maxine Holz's review of That Office!, a play by and for clerical workers, currently showing around the Bay Area's community theaters. The play's portrayal of "the secretary" focuses on the complex emotions brought out by coping with a subordinate position in the office hierarchy. Particularly good the way in which the play captures the combination of imagination an humor as the human response office work. The short story "Traces" flashes us back to Hungary 1956, and forward again to Corporate Office Land 1982 in a juxtaposition of past revolt and current possibilities.

Throughout our magazine's short existence we have tried to describe a different world, a world whose creation we hope to contribute to. What kind of world are we talking about? We have repeatedly said "a world free from authoritarian domination and exploitation" or "a world free from the arbitrary constraints of having to make a living in the money economy. " Indeed, these sentences do describe in vague terms the world we seek. But what does it mean in this world to talk about such sweeping change?

Of course, we do not have nor do we want to have a blueprint for a new society, but we do think it vital to begin imagining how things could be different. The first step in this direction is to thoroughly criticize all existing societies. We don't want our goal mistakenly identified with any variant of "free market" Western capitalism or of the "communist" state capitalism of the USSR, China, Cuba and the rest.

We are interested in a classless, state-less society, where decisions about daily life are made by those most directly affected by the consequences of the decisions. Sometimes this might mean a highly decentralized, locally-based decision-making process. Other times, it might mean a need for decision-making coordination on a continental or even a global basis (for instance, over major ecological questions or to deal with natural disasters, shortages, etc.). Either way, this means a society of free individuals, capable of coping with social problems in a direct and conscious way, beyond present-day "needs" like the maintenance of profits and power structures.

Again, these are fairly general principles of a new social arrangement. We consider PW an outlet for more concrete explorations of utopian ideas and hopes.

We want to begin examining the problems of getting from here to there, as well as what we would like "there" to look like. We hope PW readers will contribute their thoughts and experiences to this quest. Keep sending us your letters, articles, stories, graphics, drawings, etc.


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.

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.



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


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



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,

one of the Rainbow Dragonfly

No Paid Officials

Without the historical experience of unions, union meant "the act of uniting and the harmony, agreement, or concord that results from such a joining." Significantly, then, the definition of the word unionize is "to cause to join a union; to make to conform to rules, etc. of a union." The beauty of the words "harmony, concord, agreement" are lost in the oppressive implication of the words "to cause to join' and "to conform to rules, etc." SSEU then, by my experience is a union that does not try to unionize.

I am in union with SSEU as a group of individuals. I am not a member of a union...I feel that there are many people like myself who don't like listening to the rhetoric, jargon and propaganda of union meetings and union leaders; who don't like organizations or individuals which make unilateral decisions that affect the lives of many people.—Cree Maxon, May 28, 1974

The Rag Times, Vol. 1, No. 16

The Social Service Employees Union of San Francisco appeared in 1966, just as a widespread revolt was sweeping the country. While most people look back at the '60s as a time of urban riots, the anti-Vietnam war movement, hippies, drugs and rock 'n roll, the SSEU represented a now-forgotten convergence of cultural and worker rebellion.

The SSEU aspired to be completely democratic. Its activities were carried on by the workers themselves, on their own time and sometimes on work time. Decisions about union activities were made collectively by both union and non-union members. During its entire existence (between approximately 1966 and 1976) it had no paid officials and signed no contracts with the Welfare Department management.

The 200+ workers involved in SSEU at its peak evolved a unique strategy for improving their own conditions as workers and for challenging the basic authoritarian relations that prevailed (and still prevail) around them. This strategy depended on the diverse and wide-open media they created, consisting of uncensored newpapers and leaflets. It was also based on a dialogue/confrontation process between the workers and their managers, welfare administrators, and government officials.

The Trade Union as an Obstacle

In early 1966, some welfare workers banded together to defend co- workers from summary dismissals. They also began formulating and pressing a number of grievances. As soon as workers acted for themselves, however, their union (Building Service Employees International Union—BSEIU—Local 400, which later changed into SEIU) became as much an obstacle to their efforts as their employers.

For example, one of the first grievances raised was over space. People worked at desks jammed together in cramped quarters. When the welfare workers discovered a space code in the state regulations requiring more space-per-worker they wrote letters of complaint to the Social Services Commissioner and the State Dept. of Social Welfare. They gave them to their union to send, but found out later that the union hadn't sent either.

Shortly, thereafter, the Executive Secretary of the union chastised the welfare workers for sending irate letters to administrators who were his friends, and with whom he had political understandings. In response, the workers demanded to have the question of union representation put on the agenda of the next meeting.

The next meeting, obviously stacked by friends of the union's leader who owed him favors, had the largest attendance of any in the local's history. Then-Executive Secretary John Jeffrey pushed measures through which dissolved the union's welfare section, abolished the workers' uncensored "Dialog" newspaper, barred Dept. of Social Services (DSS) workers' leaflets, and prevented welfare worker meembers of the union from holding meetings at Local 400's office or electing any union officers to represent their section. About fifty of the affected workers then decided to start an independent union, which was named the Social Service Employees Union (SSEU).

The Cultural Context

As U.S. prosperity seemed to be peaking, and the welfare/warfare state assumed its present enormous size and importance in daily life, millions of people organized themselves in active opposition. Rising expectations and desires quickly exceeded what daily reality had to offer. While many focused their oppositional energies on specific issues, all kinds of people rejected traditional roles and attitudes and attempted to find new ways to live, work, and have fun.

In San Francisco, long a city with a bohemian underground and strong oppositional currents, the "flower children'' or hippie subculture bloomed and was made famous by the media-hyped "Summer of Love'' in the Haight-Ashbury district in 1967. For many people "dropping out'' of the "establishment'' meant a rejection of regular work. Still faced with the inflexible demands of a money economy, however, these "dropouts'' often turned to the welfare system for survival. As counterculturists came into regular contact with the social workers of the welfare bureaucracy, the two groups began sharing ideas and perspectives.

Very soon, most welfare workers stopped seeing themselves as representatives of the state and the welfare system. Instead, they counseled welfare recipients on how to best take advantage of "the system.'' But more importantly, they spoke out for themselves, as workers trying to be creative in their work, and helpful to people in need. They went along with the widely held notion within the SSEU that it was part of a broader movement for fundamental social change.

Curiously, though, this notion does not seem to have prompted the SSEU to a critique of the welfare system as such. There is little or no mention in its publications of the role of the welfare system in controlling the poor, nor much reference to the welfare workers' own role in maintaining this control. SSEU members challenged specific injustices both in their own condition as workers and in the allocation of benefits to recipients. But they seldom explicitly condemned the social relationships that make welfare necessary. Perhaps the feelings of self-acceptance and satisfaction gained from helping people get benefits largely blinded most SSEUers to the longer-term implications of the work.

The Dialogue

Basing its activities and tactics on the needs and desires of individual workers, the SSEU developed a strategy of non-violent, incessant pressure on the welfare hierarchy. The union eschewed individual acts of insubordination since these usually resulted in firings. Instead they evolved a dialogue/confrontation process, whereby workers would pursue grievances over nearly anything that concerned them via direct spoken or written communication with the pertinent administrators.

The pressure from below created by the dialogue strategy often led to administrative hearings with managers, commissions, city boards of supervisors, etc. The SSEU demanded and won rights for employees to appear before such hearings to defend their own interests. They also won the right to introduce any evidence or call any witnesses that they felt would support their case.

Although they pursued numerous legal avenues of protest, the SSEU never relied on paid officials to represent the workers involved. Their efforts in the area of commission hearings and dissimilar settings were devoted to allowing people to speak for themselves. And while they would do their best to get as much as possible from the authorities in any given situation, they never signed away any rights (such as the right to strike or to take any other actions to help themselves), nor did they ever agree to stop trying to gain further concessions from management.

The following is excerpted from "The Labor Contract: Nugget or Noose?'', a leaflet put out by Burt Alpert of the SSEU during the 1968 fight over contract bargaining:

There are two basic methods of collective bargaining. Both result in written guarantees: the one a directive by management, the other a contract (or "agreement'') between management and workers.

The Collective Bargaining Directive: this is the direct result of grievance action. Workers with a specific grievance, or group of grievances—whether in a unit, building or entire department, organize a protest. The protest may take the form of submitting petitions, balking at doing certain work, forcing management into conferences, work stoppages, slowdowns, or going on strike.

As a result of the protests, administration negotiates with the employees, or with a committee chosen by them, and issues a directive or bulletin establishing improvements.

On their part, the workers agree to nothing: Administration has published the bulletin, not they. For the moment they may accept what is granted in the bulletin—but they are free to renew their protests, in the same or other forms, and to renegotiate at any time. Out of this there grows a continuous strengthening of employees' bargaining position and an expansion of their control of the job. [These bulletins have the force of law].

The Collective Bargaining Contract: In this type of collective bargaining, employees present a list of demands to administration. If the demands are not met, a strike vote is held. As a result of the strike vote, or if a strike occurs, a negotiating committee meets with adminsitration and comes to a tentative agreement. If this meets with the strikers' approval, a contract is signed for a stipulated time (one/four years). The workers return to work. The process is renewed at the end of the contract.

A contract being an agreement, each side gives something. The first thing that the workers give is the guarantee that they will not take any strike—or other action during the life of the contract.

If there is a violation of the contract, the matter, as almost universally agreed to in contracts, is handed over to a compulsory or binding arbitrator. In most instances, the "arbitrator'' rules in favor of the admininistration—that there has not been a violation (or the violation is "beyond the control of'' the administration, and that is the end of the matter.

The only way in which this can be overturned is through grievance action on the part of the workers. They are forced to do what they could have done previously without the contract, but in doing it now they must oppose not only administration, but also The Contract, and—the union.

The collective bargaining contract may appear attractive, particularly to workers who are not inclined to be active, because in One Big Strike it promises to settle everything (not given away to management) for good—that is, for a year. The dismal failure of one public employees' strike after another that has had a labor contract as its aim, indicates that this is an impossibility.

Fundamental to the success of the SSEU's strategy was the publicity they created to keep each other, and any interested outsiders, informed about the situation. The monthly newspaper Dialog served as an open forum for the exchange of ideas and information. During most of its existence (1966-74?) its policy was to print everything any welfare worker sent in, completely unedited. Later (around 1971) The Rag Times, a weekly 8-page mimeographed news-and- opinion sheet, was created by workers in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) section. Dialog continued to appear concurrently until they both gradually died out around 1974.

For almost five years, a mimeographed leaflet appeared nearly every morning on every desk through five or more welfare office buildings. These leaflets were created by over a hundred different workers, both members and non-members of SSEU, and addressed a wide range of subjects. Individuals would make their grievances known to co-workers and the administration in leaflet form, demand action from management, and then follow up by publicizing the results, or lack of them, in a new leaflet.

This technique puts management in a difficult position. Any heavy-handed reactions will only further the anger and independence of the workers. On the other hand, if they just give in to the demands of the aggrieved worker, other workers will be encouraged to present their grievances and expect immediate results. Exposed like this, authority loses either way.

Direct Action

Equally vital to the SSEU's success was their willingness to take immediate collective action to confront problems. One time, fifty welfare workers left work in mid-morning and went to a Civil Service Commission hearing. All were reprimanded for leaving work, but they were given the right to send five representatives to future Commission hearings.

In another instance of direct action in late summer 1968, 25 workers went to the Dept. of Social Services administrative offices to discuss impending layoffs. Although they received five to ten day suspensions for sitting in the administrative offices for four hours, the layoffs were rescinded.

Some months later, sixty workers participated in a symbolic "case-dumping'' in the office of the division's Assistant Director after a big increase in their workload. Their willingness to do things like this in relatively large groups gave them leverage against intimidated administrators reluctant to challenge them through speedups and other forms of harassment.

Union and Party Attempts to Take Over

The SSEU didn't find the welfare administration to be its only enemy. In early 1968, the same Local 400 of the SEIU which had earlier expelled the welfare section dispatched a paid organizer to recruit members. At that time, the SSEU was growing rapidly, making the administration uneasy. Although the Local 400 organizer didn't have much success with the workers in the Dept. of Social Services, he did manage to recruit some members in other areas of the welfare bureaucracy.

Also in early 1968, the Progressive Labor Party (PLP), a maoist "vanguard party,'' dispatched a small group to the welfare department to recruit followers. By being very active and taking responsibility for the newspaper, the PLPers managed to get editorial control over the workers' Dialog, and in short order began printing a barrage of pro-"collective bargaining'' articles and opnions (i.e. in favor of affiliating with AFL-CIO, signing a contract with the administration, censoring the newspaper, etc.). And, as is always the case with Leninists, the PLP prevented the publication of any ideas that didn't fit their mold of "political correctness.''

During the summer of 1968, a bitter fight erupted between most of the SSEU-affiliated workers and an odd coalition of SEIU trade unionists, various Marxist-Leninist parties (PLP, Socialist Workers, Communists, etc.), and Democratic/Republican party hacks. The "coalition'' was in favor of joining the AFL-CIO, engaging in collective bargaining as an exclusive bargaining agent, signing a contract with the administration, and eliminating the free flow of ideas by "editing'' the newspaper. After several months, which took their toll on the strength and active membership of SSEU, a September 1968 vote of the general membership repudiated the goals of the coalition by better than a 2-to-1 margin. Soon thereafter the PLP and its coalition partners left the department and went to look for other places to "organize.''

In the early '70s, the Service Employees International Union created a "national local'' (535) for federally employed welfare workers. After some initial success at unionization in the Los Angeles area for Local 535, SF's Local 400 gladly turned over its welfare workers jurisdiction. Local 535 recruited some welfare workers in San Francisco, and soon began a strategy to "build the union'': a yearly ritual strike, used by Local 535 as a way to gain members and to establish exclusive bargaining rights for itself.

SSEU members, now a dwindling minority in the welfare bureaucracy, found themselves in the awkward position of being against these strikes. This extended passage by welfare worker Judy Erickson from the March 4-10, 1974 edition of The Rag Times, is a telling expression of the practical and emotional effects of this bind:

The yearly morality problem is upon us again. In making a decision not to strike one hopes not to lose friends who feel strongly that to strike is the best tactic to improve conditions. Again I plan not to strike yet I believe in fighting the same injustices as those who plan to strike.

I feel the yearly SEIU strike is programmed by union leaders who currently are battling each other for membership in order to establish more power when collective bargainnig units are created. Strike in the past ten years has replaced real organizing and become a method to recruit members. The pattern is: Condense and exert all energy a month or two before salary raises. City Hall anticipates the strike action and so makes their bid impossibly low. Union leaders then respond angrily and have a platform for the media and can speak with outraged moral conviction. They who risk nothing set up and control the proceedings from beginning to end. Finally the strike—which may produce an additional one or two percent. Little precaution, if any, is taken for people involved because it is "scheduled'' to last only a few days. The possibility that it could go on indefinitely is hardly considered...

Traditional unions work for conformism, for a mass undifferentiated way of acting, for precisely what we are ordered to do every day for the city and county of San Francisco. It substitutes for real organizing year after year.

I feel strongly there are no shortcuts to freedom or a just salary. The amount of organizing done by every person evey day and the trust created by working things out together is the process to win a real increase in salary. With enough worker activity, strikes would be an obsolete tactic. The mayor and supervisors are comfortable dealing with union representatives. They fear meeting with workers themselves. They can deal with fellow bureaucrats. They are afraid of the spontaneity of individual workers when they are organized. Rather than remain outside as in a strike, I feel it would be more effective to control the machinery inside, not abandon it to the administrators.

Finally, I feel by striking I would reinforce a process which means I could retire in 20 years after 20 strikes and be assured 20 miniscule raises. But by working for change without controllers, I have hope the adminstrators will one day meet such oppositon as transcends even my liveliest imagination.

Dissolution and Retrospection

The SSEU slowly dissolved in the 1970s, like other small independant unions that grew out of the rebellious '60s. The last official SSEU meeting was in 1976. By some accounts the dissolution process began as early as 1970, although different workers still pay dues to this day, and publication of their newsletter continued until 1975.

The SSEU aspired to be part of a general social movement for emancipation; emancipation not just from the real and rhetorical shackles of capitalism, but also from the countless ways we have internalized our oppression and learned to accept our role in a world based on hierarchy and domination.

During its existence, the SSEU brought about a remarkable unfolding of different workers' creative energies. What's more, as Burt Alpert remembers it, the experience of actively challenging the limitations imposed by the daily grind "brought people out into the world,'' asserting their uniqueness and desires. Rather than seeking a "unity'' of thought and purpose, the SSEU encouraged the widest possible diversity, and in fact such a diversity flowered at the time.

The dialogue/confrontation tactic went a long way toward unmasking authority as illegitimate and unreasonable. More importantly, it strengthened people's confidence in their own ideas and in their ability to do things for themselves. Using a simple typewriter and mimeograph, the SSEU participants offered themselves and their co-workers the possibility of putting ideas out into the public realm, further empowering the individuals involved.

Moreover, the fact that workers were in constant, open contact with each other about a wide variety of subjects, including working conditions and problems they faced collectively, put an enormous amount of pressure on management. After all, if workers were figuring out their problems for themselves, what did they need administrators for?

But this stratgegy also put pressure on the workers themselves: to keep the channels of communication open; to keep the heat on management and figure out new ways to subvert management control... the energy to keep all this going came from around 200 individuals.

Their energy, in turn, came largely from the perception that something bigger was going on, a social movement of which they were a part. By challenging the oppressive conditions of everyday life, SSEU participants felt that their actions, in concert with others, would lead to a more generalized transformation of society. Keeping up the energy became increasingly difficult. Today, many ex-SSEUers are (understandably) burnt out.

Actually, this remains one of the key dilemmas faced by those of us who aspire to participate in a rebellion for a free society: How can we challenge the immediate conditions we face, and at the same time contribute to a more generalized oppositional movement? What are the connections between workplace organizing and resistance, and the larger problems of world capitalism and authoritarian domination? Also, how can groups of people organize themselves in their own interest, hang together and last, without turning into new institutions of power and control?

The SSEU pioneered a unique approach to organizing in the office. It was based, however, on the special conditions of welfare work. Most important among these was the workers' perception of their jobs as having some socially useful quality—however ambiguous this quality may seem in retrospect.

This is in marked distinction to office work in CorporateOfficeLand where the work has no relation whatsoever to the direct satisfaction of human needs and few pretend that it does. The vast majority of office work done in San Francisco or any other financial center has to do with circulating money or wealth-related information around. It is difficult to imagine why anyone would want to have more direct control over essentially useless work, except perhaps to put an end to it.

Nevertheless, contemporary office workers can learn a lot from the SSEU experience in terms of strategy, possibilities for creative resistance, and obstacles that will be encountered in any organizing effort. The importance of the individual and his/her desires and needs can be seen in the SSEU story as the central concern of organizing. A new movement for social liberation will not be created by existing (or new) bureacracies or organizational imperatives. It will have to be based on the creativity, humor and resourcefulness of freely cooperating individuals. But first we must contact each other. Isolation is our greatest problem now.

Lucius Cabins

Letters from Zona Monetaria

Thanks for PW 3, which came wrapped in plastic, mangled by the Postal Service machinery. It was good to hold something made by unalienated labor.

The management trainees here decorate their cubicles with all kinds of anti-management paper. Nothing strange about that except that the manager has noticed and commented in a memo. ""Directories, "to-do' lists and cartoons are wallpapered on every vertical staff surface. I find it painful to sign the monthly rent check for this building when I see what our working quarters look like. Since we all spend so many of our waking hours in this building, wouldn't it make sense to take a few minutes to make the overall appearance a little more attractive?'' It's now two months later and the look of the vertical staff surfaces hasn't changed. One example in my line of vision: a xeroxed cartoon with 2-inch lettering reading ""They can't fire me! Slaves have to be sold!'' Actually, slaves can be discarded. The welfare lines are full of them. This morning these vertical staff surface paperers were showing off the afterwork clothes they'd wear to a punk rock concert. The most conservative had the most outre costume, which he claimed was absolutely unique--a pair of chef's pants.

Fashion fascism is the rule here. There's certainly no punk style from 8:30-5. The women in management are dressing for success; secretaries wear pants and success knock-offs; plantation workers labor in polyester. My fantasy today is that there are giant petri dishes on the 39th floor cloning thousands more of these workers. Will the new ones take better care of their vertical staff surfaces?

Call me Mister Kurtz.

Although this job is full of the usual disadvantages, it does offer the chance to expropriate from the expropriators in a modest way. Whether or not I can actually become involved in pushing the advantages of carcinogens in drinking water is a real challenge.

Interesting conversation now about conditions at the PG&E building--workers complaining about airborne particles and ""dust'' on office windows, dry eyes making wearing contact lenses uncomfortable, etc., etc. Management maintains the vents have been ""turned off.'' Messenger expresses reluctance to return to PG&E, even though he's been told his ""nervous condition'' is responsible for his fears. What's going on here?

This place sells soft drinks to the Third World (it's a source of sterile water, I hear) and lots of other stuff like candy bars and carcinogens. I think you can understand my struggle with ethics. Is this an alternative to being a vent person (def.: derelict who finds a place on the sidewalk near or on an exhaust vent, esp. in winter)? Because that's how it looks to me. If I'm too squeamish or exquisite to swallow the corporate dose of cynicism, then what's left for me--the sheltering arms of the streets? But I digress, and there are miles of multiple copies before I sleep.

* * *

Peasants of the global village unite! You have everything to lose if you lose your senses. Break the hypnotic trance induced by hours of office drudgery. Look, listen, touch, taste, and smell. Thinking naturally follows. Start with something simple.

For instance, buttons and buttonholes. Ever noticed that the more buttons on someone's clothes, the more power and influence, and the less socially useful the wearer? The six-button vest, three button suit coat, six- or eight-button coat cuffs, button-down shirt collar equal a real heavyweight in the zona monetaria. Less obvious and much less frequent are the button fly of the $1200+ custom-made suit and the two-button shorts (underwear).

In the fashion fascism game the scoring goes something like this: no points for zippered polyester jump suits (or abberations like snap fasteners posing as buttons--a real button means a button hole, preferably hand sewn); good points to old-style international diplomats, mostly for double-breasted coats and European handtailoring; good points, too, to high-ranking Mafia members; winning score for vestments, especially the Pope's (note number of buttons on chasuble, everything hand sewn in gold or silk thread--the tops).

Question: If (against all odds) computer work stations do increase managerial productivity, will costume reflect this change in efficiency? The five-button vest is becoming more commonplace, probably due to cost-cutting by clothing manufacturers. However, the longstanding tradition of leaving the bottom buttonhole open is disappearing. Brooks Brothers still sells only six-button vests. Any other questions?

* * *

Dressing for success is impossible unless you're a hooker with an esoteric specialty. Vuitton and Jordache, like sex, are the great equalizers. Designer-initialized clothes do attract attention, but probably from muggers. How often is a secretary rewarded with envious looks of her inferiors or the approving ones of her superiors just because she wears Calvin Klein? And how important is a $90,000 sable coat if you can't have one in every color?

* * *

And then there are the plastic buttons that you punch, push, or press.

At a conference of the Computer and Business Equipment Manufacturers Association last fall, Xerox President David Keans expressed impatience that after five years, ""some of you are still wrestling with the question of whether a word processor is a typewriter or a computer.'' He dismisses this titanic struggle with the following: ""I don't think it's an important question. It gets in the way of what really is important, which is that these machines increase productivity dramatically.'' No wonder there's concern with declining productivity if five years is spent on such questions. Of course, Mr. Kearns isn't disinterested. Besides throwing kisses at the icon of productivity he's also a shill for the Xerox 8010, a ""personal information'' system aimed at the business professional. Managers, professionals, and executives in this instance are interchangeable terms. However, vendors using their own definitions divide the market into four parts: ""clericals, who work with numbers; secretaries, who work with words; professionals, who work with ideas; and executives.'' Now we know what executives do.

To help them do it better, vendors are using the print medium in full-color and a catchy slogan, something about ""just pushing a button.'' A similar slogan was aimed at women during the 1950s. Then the vendors were manufacturers of washing machines, vacuum cleaners, air conditioners and other plug-in servants. Curiously, the most resistance to pushing buttons came from white southern women who maintained that if any finger pushed a button it would be a black finger. Executives do push buttons to summon secretaries and subordinates and to practice other forms of harassment. Nation's Business believes executive fingers pushing the buttons of the future will mean a redistribution of workloads.

In a particularly crass aside NB notes that ""clericals who face change have little choice but to comply; managers can resist change -- and often do.'' No examples of resistance were given, but I have no doubt there will be resistance. I am certain, too, that an entire subindustry is poised to spring forth. Led by a media blitz which has already rolled out, this industry will devote itself to the adjustment of managers to the new technology. There will be books and TV shows focused on executive alienation, seminars on technology-related managerial stress, discovery of unknown allergies, digital fatigue, and assorted ""needs.'' The personal computer, once an office companion, will be transformed into a tribble.

In the meantime, I am able to remain a member of la bohème--the temporary work force. Until the necessary point of view develops that will force managers to push buttons I am the known value in the servility quotient, to bring in the multiple copies one at a time. I tremble at the thought of future chores as a result of redistributed workloads, and I know whose time will be saved and whose will be wasted. When the leaders talk of peace, Brecht wrote, you may be certain your draft notice is already in the mail.

--J. Gulesian, Temporary-at-Large

Processed World #5

Issue 5: Summer 1982 from

processedworld05proc.pdf6.54 MB

Table of Contents

Talking Heads


Gidget Gets Fired

Sabotage: the Ultimate Video Game

Memo Of The Month

Not Just Words... Disinformation

Customer Service, Michael Speaking, May I Help You?

Charlie in Videoland
a photo novella

Help, I'm Doing Hard Time In the Federal (or state or county or city)

Tale of Toil

Fantasies of a Working Girl

Talking Heads


Processed World continues grow, both as a magazine and as a community of rebels from the office and elsewhere. Nearly 2,000 copies of PW #4 were distributed in the first six weeks after publication. Our bi-weekly Wednesday night gatherings at a bar in the North Beach district of San Francisco have been drawing new friends, sympathizers and fellow malcontents.

With the expansion of the editorial/publishing group, differences of opinion have multiplied. While we're all still agreed on the basics—the themes that have recurred throughout past issues and this one—we are divided on certain theoretical and strategic questions.

How to organize ourselves—and for what—is the most crucial of these questions. All of us are extremely critical of the existing labor movement. While some of us feel it can be worked with or within in certain circumstances, others are adamantly opposed to trade unions. We all agree that the revolt which Processed World has analyzed, chronicled—and, hopefully, contributed to—has to extend beyond the limitations of the workplace into an attack on the entire complex of social institutions and relations we encounter every day. This involves the development of new kinds of organization, reflecting the diversity of experience and circumstances in modern society. Be they termed councils, unions, assemblies, or affinities, these forms could be the precursors to a situation where everyone could decide on the fundamental questions of work, play, creation and enjoyment. The debate on unions continues in our Letters section with an exchange between a former social service worker and present SEIU militant, and Lucius Cabins, author of last issue's artic on the Social Service Employees Union. We welcome further contributions on this topic.

Another sensitive issue—especially because of all the other questions it raises—is that of "sabotage." While the sabotage theme has cropped up in PW before, often jokingly, this issue's lead article, "Sabotage: The Ultimate Video Game" is the first time any of us has treated this theme in depth. The article has provoked intense debate among us.

To begin with, the very meaning of the word is in question. Does sabotage refer to any destruction by workers of corporate or state property? Or is it merely the disabling of machines? More broadly, does the term cover (as the old Industrial Workers of the World had it) workers' on-the-job restriction of their own output by whatever means?

Moreover, what is the significance of sabotage? Some of us, who emphasize the crucial importance of the new data-processing technology to an already-shaky power structure, see sabotage as an essential means to undermining this structure as part of a wider social transformation. A contrasting perspective is offered by those who view the usefulness of sabotage as limited at best, and which, in its individual forms at least, is potentially damaging to collective solidarity by bringing down management wrath on an atomized workforce. Most of us would stress that acts of "sabotage "should be viewed in their specific context—type of work situation, general level and aims of workers' self-organization there and elsewhere—and interpret these acts accordingly.

These viewpoints alone deserve far more extensive coverage in PW. But Out of the arguments about sabotage have come others: about what kind of world we want (especially its technological base); about what kinds of tactics and strategy are most effective for improving our conditions within the present set-up; and about how such efforts relate to the fight for a new kind of society. The technology question in particular gets another look in this issue with "Not Just Words... Disinformation, " a review of San Francisco's recent office Automation Conference and the trouble we made there, including selected comments from the press. A different slant on the VDT is also presented in this issue's fotonovela, "Charlie in Videoland, " a satirical look at kids and computers.

Along with the disquieting story of Charlie and his friend, the Visions and Nightmares department continues in this issue with "Fantasies of a Working Girl" and "Customer Service, Michael Speaking, May I Help You?" Both pieces take off from workaday situations into the realms of the surreal. So, in a different way, do the various poems, most of which deal with feelings of isolation and despondency in the office workworld. Our latest Tale of Toil, "Help, I'm Doing Hard Time... " is truelife Kafka, demonstrating just how strange this work-world can be, especially within the labyrinths of the so-called "public sector. " Additionally, it provides a useful corrective to currently-popular New Right cliches about why government doesn't work.

We go into our fifth issue a larger, more varied and contentious group, debating many of the same questions that working people have argued about for at least a century and a half. We have in common a dissatisfaction with all of the previous answers. As organizations of office workers outside the traditional unions appear—and PW is just one of them—these debates can only become more widespread and better focussed. PW hopes to go on being one context for such debates. But we would like to see others. Go us one better! And keep in touch!


Dear PW:

Thanks for helping me relax a little bit about office appearances.

I used to be embarrassed about needing even a plain ordinary cushion on my steno chair. Then, when they moved me upstairs and put me in front of the IBM console, it became a rubber doughnut, and now it's two doughnuts on my chair. I was about to agree to embarrassing surgery when I read your last issue of Processed World. going to worry about 40K rances so much. I'm going to continue to bring my rubber doughnuts to work, and I don't care who watches me perform this ritual, my putting the doughnuts, down and sitting in comfort. If it becomes five doughnuts, they'll have to raise the console because my legs are too long for a shorter chair.

C.R., Saratoga CA

P.S. The story "Prelude" by Christopher Winks, is a gem. By the way, I thought you had succeeded in helping out Blue Shield. I pictured them sitting back and reading Processed World and garbaging the mail. But I'll be damned if their computer still isn't working, because the same day your letter came I received a printout from them about why they couldn't pay for my last two office visits, dammit, Keep trying.

Dear Processed World,

Where there is a need for sabotage, it's so easy just to put an Out of Order sign on the xerox machine...

Paper courtesy AT&T.

Love, M (SF)

Dear Processed Word,

Your issue #4 gave me more laughs than anything I have read since the IWW pamphlets. You seem to be hung up in your development somewhere in the '20s, where an intelligent being could still believe Marxist bullshit.

Fantasies about sabotaging computers, fighting work quotas and assassinating bosses illustrate your failure to understand what the world is all about. Here are a few pointers that just might help:

1. Jobs are not created to provide employment. They are created to supply a service or product to someone willing to pay for that service or product.

2. All wages, benefits, profits, tools, equipment, supplies, and workplaces must be paid for out of the sales price of the goods or services.

3. If the customer can get it cheaper or better somewhere else, you lose the business (and your job). (This is the "Production for need" you desire, without the bureaucracy your scheme would require).

4. However demeaning and ill-paid you consider your job, somewhere there is someone who will cheerfully do it for half your price.

5. With today's instant communication, it doesn't matter where a company locates the clerical staff.

Denigrate if you must the "Childish" $50,000 a year executive, but realize that it may be only his childish desire to live in Frisco rather than in Colorado or Korea that keeps your job around.

On that great day when you smash the VDT's and hold the files hostage, you will suddenly find as the air traffic controllers did that society is not impressed with your tantrums. It is true that a concerted labor uprising can break a company. It has happened before, and it will happen again as long as we have people who, as we said in the old army, shit in their own mess kits. But a bankrupt company pays no wages, so where are you?

But if you can't fight business and you can't fight the economy, what can you do to improve your situation? I'm glad you asked.

1. Start out by making yourself worth more to your company than some warm body off the street, then diversify your skill enough to avoid locking in one narrow slot.

2. Your rationalization for ripping off the company is the same one used by the executive for making his secretary fuck for her job. You both feel undercompensated and so you pick up a few extra benefits. Knock it off.

3. When asking for a raise, forget what you "need". Everyone needs more. Talk instead of your proven value to the company, and if they refuse to pay for that, go elsewhere even if it means taking your precious tail onto a paper route or a janitor's job. If you are not worth what you are getting, keep quiet and hope the company doesn't find out.

4. Don't fuck your boss for a raise. Not everyone can do 60 WPM error free, but the chances are that he can hire a better lay. Stick with what you do best, if anything.

If the burden of applying yourself to your job so the customer is assured the best deal for the money does not appeal to you, then fuck, snivel, whine, cheat, steal and bullshit your way through life, because you are nothing but a fucking sniveling whining cheating thieving bullshitter, but keep quiet about it cause we already have more of them than we need.

Walter E. Wallis
Wallis Engineering
1954-R Old Middlefield Way
Mountain View, CA 94306

We encourage our readers to write directly to Mr. Wallis (send us a copy!). Here's one of our responses:

The idiocies of Mr. Wallis are too numerous to be dealt with here. But the bumptious, arrogant tone of his letter, and some of the half-truths it contains, are worth attention for two reasons. First, they reflect attitudes and platitudes regrettably wide spread among workers as well as the like of Mr. Wallis. Second, they express all too accurately the current relationship of forces between workers and business, at least in most of the world. Needless to say, these reasons are closely connected.

Let's begin with Mr. Wallis' economic notions, which are a cross between high-school Civics text and corner grocer. Mr. Wallis, with quaint stubbornness, asserts that market competition brings about "production for need". The reverse is true. The gap between profitability and real human need — for properly-grown and nutritious food, comfortable and spacious housing, efficient and safe transport and energy generation, creative and satisfying work — has never yawned wider. Two-thirds of the world's population are badly-housed and malnourished. Seven-eighths of its workforce spend their lives in exhausting, mindless and frequently useless toil. At the same time, vast sectors of the global economy are devoted to the creation and satisfaction of "needs" like armaments, nuclear power plants and the private automobile.

More compelling are Mr. Wallis' arguments for worker passivity in the face of capital's imperatives. "... You can't fight business and you can't fight the economy," he crows — because if we do the company will either go broke or leave town. At present, more U.S. companies are going broke than at any time since the thirties, though seldom because of employee demands. Meanwhile, larger corporations are indeed moving their industrial operations to low-wage areas like Latin America and South-East Asia. And in fact, the threat of mass layoffs because of bankruptcy or relocation has been remarkably successful in bringing U.S. and Western European workers back into line.

Traditional labor unions have proven completely incapable of dealing with this — except as active enforcers of management demands. Processed World is arguing for a new, offensive approach — for breaking out of the legalistic "labor" framework and creating directly-democratic, autonomous organization that cuts across the lines of income, occupation and (eventually) nation. Moreover, while Mr. Wallis' class currently has the upper hand, there are encouraging signs. The workers of San Juan, Seoul, Singapore and Soweto are beginning to resist in earnest. What if they were to force the multinationals to pay them San Francisco wages? And in Western Europe, a generation of youth has appeared that is openly contemptuous of the miserable choices offered it, and prefers to fight directly for money, free time, and the space to enjoy both.

Underlying Mr. Wallis' bullying, patronizing style is the mistaken certainty that working-class people are incapable of constructive self-organization. He concedes that "a concerted labor uprising can break a company." But he prefers to forget that "concerted labor uprisings" have also broken government after government during this century, and have several times challenged the fundamental relationships governing this society — the state and the wage system. Over and over again — in Russia and Germany in 1917-21, Spain in 1936-37, Hungary in 1956, Portugal in 1974-75, and most recently in Poland during the last two years — workers have begun taking over social power and running production and distribution for their own purposes — without a bureaucracy. That these revolutions were "lost", crushed in blood, undermined by their own hesitations and lack of self-confidence, is not the point. The present order can be shoved aside by the new, freely cooperative and communal society already latent within it. The means and the necessity for this transformation now exist worldwide, in more profusion than ever before.

Mr. Wallis, rather than contemplating such possibilities, understandably prefers to give us vulgar and condescending advice on how to "get ahead" in a world marching in lockstep toward the abyss. Let us not regret either his stupidity or his repulsiveness. Both will make it easier when the time comes.

Louis Michaelson

Dear PW,

I would like to submit more observations on the daily life of a middle-aged secretary. It's all very hard, really, that daily life. It so often demands more than I can give and takes so much that my free time is spent trying to establish continuity between who I am and what I must be. Who I am means that I must establish and maintain human relationships. What I must be makes that dangerous and painful. You know how it is. And as they say on the street, you've got to keep three steps ahead because they keep pushing you two steps back.

-J. Gulesian, SF

Dear Processed World,

It's been aeons since I wrote you about the unions — I appreciate your reply and the 2 copies of Processed World. I found it lovely, charming, beautiful, painful, tragic, hopeful. I should have responded long ago, but my despondence has superceded my ability to respond; I feel as though I am being beaten senseless.

I appreciate your perspective (i.e. that represented by "P.W.") on the unions — I see a great foresight, and seeking for the truth. I am, unfortunately — (? ) — a grasper at straws — anything — to pull myself out of the morass of anonymity of demeaning, slavish work places. I am also a dreamer, my dreams keep me alive in the pit. So when the hopelessness overcomes me, I dream of a little boy wearing a T-shirt that says "Not to try is worse.

-L.T., SF

Dear Processed World,

RE: Article in PW #4 on SSEU and the Welfare Department.

As a firm believer that history should be written by as many of those that made it as possible, I feel compelled to speak out my analysis of that huge elephant, the San Francisco Welfare Department of the late '60s and early '70s. I spent 6½ years of my life internalizing and externalizing the many conflicts rampant in that institution where hippies, acid heads, and white middle class radicals represented the Establishment to unemployed minorities, where workers were oppressed by gay and Black supervisors before the rest of the country was out of the closet or ghettos. Where social workers attempted to cut reams of red tape before it strangled them as well.

Unfortunately, it did strangle most of us, to some degree, and it certainly strangled the SSEU which no longer exists. The question is why? What could have been done differently? What did we learn that can help us now?

First of all, let me present my bias. I was in the SEIU, first in Local 400 (the Municipal Employees Union of 8,000), then in Local 535 (Social Service Union). I was politically naive upon arriving on the SF scene, but I had already dismissed the idea of social work being socially relevant back in the Midwest when I saw that the last thing the Poverty Program was set up by the Kennedys to do was to eliminate poverty! Of the poor, that is. I'd never had a health plan, a paid vacation, or a grievance procedure although I was 25 and had worked since I was 16.

In my first month on the job I was confronted with joining one of the two unions: SSEU which was anti-establishment, anti-authority, anti-organization, for individual rights (sounded like Barry Goldwater on this issue!), and gave good parties. On the other hand there was the SEIU, part of George Meany's AFL-CIO, bureaucratic, in bed with our boss — Joe Alioto, but which did something akin to "collective bargaining," and was responsible for a health plan, paid vacations, and a grievance procedure that even SSEU used and enjoyed. It was to me a choice between power (tho it be corrupt) and "feeling good" (tho not totally un-corrupt). I wanted both. So I joined the SEIU and went to SSEU parties.

During my 6 1/2 years there I joined hundreds of my co-workers (including United Fronts with SSEUers) in job actions, demonstrations, agit prop and informal occupations. We won things like the right to wear jeans and see-through blouses, bulletin boards, and carved out loopholes for our clients to go through until the then-governor Reagan or the Democrats filled them with concrete. We had fun, we protested, and we enjoyed our after-hour escapes

As part of the SEIU I went through 3 strikes, watched many SSEUers cross our picket line, while some walked the picket line with us. (They never had an official position on a strike, it would violate their principle of individual decision making.) We got sold out 3 times, not directly by our union officials but by their superiors in the Teamsters, Labor Council and Building Trades. We got between 4-9% raises when the cost of living rose 8-12%. Tim Twomey and Gerry Hipps (SEIU bureaucrats) gave up our right to strike.

We started a caucus in Local 400 and tried to change things. We made some headway and lost some ground. We ran for office, got 1/4 of the vote, and got kicked out of Local 400 into our "own Welfare Union," Local 535. That meant that 200 of us were separated from 8,000 members in Local 400. In 535 we fought Forced Work and could organize on a state level. We tried to get a Joint Council in the four SEIU Locals with representation from the ranks in order to have a chance to meet rank-and-filers in Local 400 and the Hospital Union Local 250.

We leafletted General Hospital before work and found hatred of Tim Twomey comparable to our hatred of bureaucrats John Jeffrey and Gerry Hipps. We made alliances, drank beer, nourished spirits and shared visions. We wanted to build a caucus in each local, kick out the bureaucrats, establish democratic structures and procedures, use the unions' resources to get real contracts, and learn to defend them by militant mass actions, link up with other militants in the Labor Movement, stop AIFLD monies going to Nixon and worldwide juntas who murder our fellow and sister workers, stop the Vietnam War other imperialist actions, increase social programs, work out a plan for full employment, end discrimination against all minorities and women. All this by pushing the unions to organize a Labor Party which would bring down the Nixon government like the Miners in England brought down the Tories, — and then on to socialism! Workers' control of the whole enchilada! And in our lifetime!

Why did we have such a hard time making the first step? Why don't we still have a contract here in "union" town?" Even in Marin County they have a contract, flexible hours, and a caseload maximum. (My caseload literally tripled when I was there!) Why didn't SSEU get a contract, get a dental plan, get caseloads reduced or even agitate for an end to the Vietnam War among workers outside DSS? An SSEUer told me, and that says it all: "We don't tackle the big issues because we're too small."

Well, in the SEIU we did tackle the big issues. An extra $30 a month the SEIU got made a difference in my life. SSEU scabs didn't turn the raises down as dirty pieces of AFL silver! Eventually Local 400 came out against the war in Vietnam and defended Angela [Davis] and the [Black] Panthers. A stand by 8,000 paved the way for other unions to take public stands against the government. On the other hand, yes, we were limited in what we were able to do because of the stranglehold of the bureaucracy and its politics of supporting the Democratic Party.

This is my main point: I think we could have successfully fought the SEIU bureaucracy in Local 400 if we had 400 unified workers instead of 200 and then 100 struggling in the SEIU while those in SSEU were getting their rocks off on radical highs but changing very little. SSEU in New York City (the model) did separate from the mainstream union movement, but it organized itself and got back inside the AFL-CIO. I never wanted to wear a see-through blouse, and I prefer skirts to jeans. What I wanted and we all needed was a contract with caseload limits, more workers, a dental plan and resources and jobs for our clients. For a start!

SSEU was a diversion, an interesting precursor to the '70s "Me generation." If those 2-300 people had been as interested in communicating and organizing among 18,000 other city workers whose main concern was their working conditions and not their lifestyles and own heads — then we'd be in a hell of a better position now!

If we had had a rank and file takeover of a union of 8,000 in 1970-72 what would have changed? For one, Local 29, OPEU in Oakland had a takeover in a union of 5,000 in the mid-sixties. They were isolated and had to buck two trusteeships and hostility from the Alameda County Central Labor Council (which continues to this day). They made sweeping democratic changes, took part in the movements against the war, in defense of Blacks, and the women's movement, but they were under incredible pressure to compromise. One other large rank and file local in the area would have been an enormous support for them. Local 250 has had caucuses rise and fall for 15 years. Local 400 could have inspired them to keep at it. Local 400 could have supported the drive to organize clericals instead of firing every good Business Agent. We could have instituted elected Business Agents and picked them ourselves!

Rank and file control of a large union could have made a difference as far as organizing other workers in SF and winning protection for them, for influencing the rest of the labor movement and society in general. The ranks controlled SSEU, but they were small and basically ineffectual. We needed (in the Welfare Department) to link up with the thousands of our sisters and brothers in Locals 400 and 250. That's where they were. It wasn't and still isn't easy. There is no shortcut or real alternative, like a better international or no international. Otherwise we're starting from scratch, like much of the New Left likes to do, and discard 100 years of experience along with the bureaucrats.

We've come some distance from the days of the Triangle Shirt Workers, sweatshops, the 16 hour day, and child labor. And it wasn't done by individuals. It was through the sweat of collective effort. We've come a long way from the direct militancy of the Wobblies and the unifying sweep of the early CIO.

Judy Erickson was correct. The AFL-CIO is business unionism and is sleeping with the bosses. But where is SSEU's strategy for "taking it over?" (For that matter where is SLEUTH) The Democratic Party controls SF Welfare just as it controls City Hall and the leadership of Local 400. They made a recent decision to lay off 350 Welfare workers due to Reagan's cuts which affect Medi-Cal. All SSEU could do was "unmask authority" and "feel confident in its own ideas." (Smoking a joint will do that!) Understanding and confidence only really matter when they aid us in changing the things that oppress us, especially if they're the "big issues."

In the SEIU we had a strategy, but not enough people then. SSEU had people (in Welfare) but their only strategy was for small changes. SMALL CHANGES MAKE US FEEL BETTER BUT THE BIG CHANGES ARE CRUCIAL FOR OUR SURVIVAL!

Local 400 now has a caucus that is in a position to challenge the current bureaucrat, Pat Jackson. A new, larger caucus is developing in Local 250. There have been two rank and file takeovers of SEIU locals in Massachusetts recently with a combined membership of 17,000. Workers can and are reclaiming their own unions. This will aid the unorganized workers to organize in new ways that can bypass much of the bureaucratic garbage that has held us back so long. Hopefully we all can learn from past mistakes, and at the same time be inspired by our smallest victories!

I hope this discussion continues because it's critical to office workers. How do we organize? Spontaneously, In small groups at each work site, or do we join with OPEU, SEIU, and AFSCME to be able to take on wider issues like the need to turn the defense budget into the social services budget, to defend undocumented workers, to run labor candidates instead of voting for the lesser of the bosses' evils, as well as do a good job on our own immediate issues.

If we choose the unions we have a struggle against the bureaucracy. If we choose spontaneous networking, we of necessity limit ourselves to some of our own immediate issues. I think we need nationwide structures to even deal with the banks and insurance companies, as well as the support from all of the working class, Including labor, minority and women's groups. But within the larger structures we need a rank and file democracy which encourages the most creative tactics, like the mass grievances and agit prop utilized by SSEU.

—"Dolly Debs"

Weelll HeeellIllooooo Dolly,

Thank you for your response to the article on the SEIU/SSEU controversy. First, there are a couple of points of historical disagreement: Burt Alpert (exSSEUer) claims that it was due to the direct action of SSEU members that the current grievance procedure was established (not, as you assert, as a result of the contractual bargaining of SEIU), one which allows workers to represent themselves in hearings and call witnesses and introduce evidence as they see fit, rather than leaving it up to union representatives to "handle it."

Another point of disagreement lies in your assertion that the SSEU was unconcerned with working conditions, in particular that they did nothing about ever-growing caseloads. As mentioned in the article, the SSEU led a symbolic "case-dumping" to protest the increasing caseloads, and throughout The Rag Times and Dialog there are numerous articles and opinions that dealt directly with a myriad of problems and issues related to working conditions. In fact, you say yourself that the SSEU tended to focus on immediate problems at the expense of the "big issues." "SMALL CHANGES MAKE US FEEL BETTER BUT THE BIG CHANGES ARE CRUCIAL FOR OUR SURVIVAL!"

So you say, and this would seem to be the main theme of your critique of SSEU, i.e. that it didn't attempt to deal with the "big issues." According to you, the SEIU did tackle the big issues, which led to a $30/month raise ($75 in contemporary dollars), a public stand against the Vietnam war, and support of the openly pro-Soviet Union Angela Davis. I think it a bit odd that you could term these significant accomplishments. I know people who get equally miniscule raises and don't think it improves their lives at all. Anyway, how long did it last before it was eroded by inflation?

In other parts of your letter, you give the impression that the "big issues crucial to our survival" are approximately as follows:

1. Health plans, dental plans, paid vacations, and grievance procedures

2. Getting "real contracts"

3. "increase social programs and work out a plan for full employment"

4. Gaining power by establishing a "Labor Party" to take over the government and establish "socialism," which would presumably bring about all of the above

While I wouldn't dream of turning down improvements in my material conditions of existence, and at least some PWers feel they are important on-the-job struggles to engage in, these various issues, to my mind, aren't the "big" ones. In fact, I think you missed the point of the original SSEU and the article describing it: that the biggest issue is the way people deal with each other on a daily basis — the content of social interaction. After that, for us, the point is not to take power through a "Party" and increase the scope and importance of the welfare state, but rather to abolish both centralized power and the state.

You also neglect to deal with the substantive criticisms of both SEIU strikes and collectively bargained contracts laid out in my article through lengthy quotes from SSEU publications of the era. You prefer to call SSEUers "scabs" and to insist that it is the contract that could "limit caseloads, provide more workers, a dental plan, and resources and jobs for the welfare recipients." Frankly, I don't agree. The contract is basically only as strong as the workers it claims to represent. Owners and managers have flaunted contractual agreements countless times. The only real protection workers have is their collective ability and willingness to take action against their employers — which they can do with or without the contract. By now it should be painfully clear that the law is not the friend of the working class.

Then there's your other most important theme, the "what if" theme. What if a militant caucus had taken over the leadership of SEIU 400? Unfortunately, there are all too many examples of union "militants" who get into leadership positions and then proceed to act just like the people they replaced. A couple of good examples are the two leaders of national postal unions Biller and Sombrotto, who led wildcat strikes in 1970 but are now entrenched bureaucrats presiding over the automation of the postal service . Another good example is the "rank and file" militant Arnold Miller, who became head of the United Mine Workers on the strength of a r-a-f movement and then acted just like his predecessor.

Another example, which you cite in in your letter, is that of OPEU Local 29. This local, which still suffers (enjoys?) the enmity of the Alameda County Central Labor Council for its "independence," is the same local which stabbed OPEU local 3 (SF) in the back during the Blue Shield strike (1980-81) by settling for a contract which Local 3 had rejected and was striking to improve. This illustrates another point: no matter how well intentioned or militant a local is, most of the time they act as if they are in a vacuum and take actions which directly undercut other workers.

Unions are set up to do one basic thing: negotiate the terms and (sometimes) the conditions of the sale of their members' labor power. "Militant" leadership faces a myriad of institutional/legal constraints, not the least of which is their isolation in one occupational grouping, geographic area, or nation-state. Invariably, this leads to compromise with the basic setup. Even if a situation existed where a highly motivated, active group of workers abolished paid leadership positions and maintained direct control over their own struggles, it would ultimately be absorbed by the system unless a broader horizontal network between different workers and job-sites developed. And even within such a network, new tactics, strategies and goals would have to be developed.

Somehow you equate doing away with obsolete and oppressive union internationals with the abandonment of 100 years of experience. Union internationals, all of them as far as I know, are in the business of keeping workers' struggles as isolated as possible and focused on issues that can be most easily accommodated by the status quo. In fact, one could argue that union internationals (and the vast majority of locals, perhaps with rare exceptions) are among the primary institutions that have evolved in this society to obscure the connections between the "big issues" and the "little issues" of people's daily lives.

What's more, you assume. that spontaneous networking necessarily limits the nature of workers' struggles to immediate issues, and that this is inadequate. Obviously we disagree on this too. I think that if people are challenging the immediate issues that affect their lives, they will usually find themselves facing the big questions, i.e. the questions of authority, decision-making, and a society based on coercion enforced by the money system.

The overall thrust of your criticisms of the SSEU seems to be that the members should have been less interested in their daily lives. Instead, you argue that they should have joined SEIU Local 400 (even though they were kicked out for being too active on their own behalf), learned to "discipline" themselves by reducing the "chaos" of unlimited positions and ideas on every subject, and directed their energies toward establishing a "labor government" in as many jurisdictions as possible.

You assert that in order to take on the wider issues it is necessary to join OPEU, SEIU, or AFSCME, when it seems obvious that those are the very organizations least interested in seeing workers organizing themselves for things other than union-sponsored demands or candidates. Nationwide structures are useless unless people are taking action that requires coordination on that basis, or (hopefully) on an international basis. Establishing the structure before people are moving to take control over their own lives is a simple recipe for a new bureaucracy, just as oppressive and irrelevant as all the ones we're saddled with now.

Yes, the discussion on how to organize is crucial for office workers, and for the rest of the workforce throughout the world. Organizational forms that depend on the autonomous strength of groups of workers on the job are what we should be seeking, not forms that depend on lawyers, accountants, and bureaucrats. It seems to me that we should be more concerned with enunciating as many visions as possible of directions to move in, in terms of new ways to organize society as a whole, rather than merely trying to exhort people to defend what little they've got.

True in sports, but even truer in class war, the best defense is a strong offense, And in a time of deteriorating social and material conditions, the best offense is the most diverse and varied one, keeping the authorities guessing about what will happen next — unions don't provide such dynamic possibilities, but autonomous groups of workers, taking action as they see fit, do. Processed World aspires to be a part of such a movement.

For Workers' Autonomy,
Lucius Cabins

Dear PW,

As I'm writing this I'm overhearing live coverage of the peace demonstrations in NY and SF. It's exciting to hear how many people are out. But it's depressing to hear the old sixties peace leaders and other old guard leader types calling for the old basic involvement in the electoral system. Does anyone really believe that works anymore? I think just the old guard sixties lib-radical types believe that. I wish Barry Commoner and Joan Baez would explain just when we ever get to vote on whether we want nukes or nuke power in the first place. We can't vote against nuke war, the best we can do is vote for an initiative (non-binding) asking Mr. Reagan please to consider not wiping us in a nuclear war. But that seems to be all I hear coming from the radio — that and old Linda Ronstadt tunes... and mothers whining about saving their babies from fallout (for happy, productive lives as cogs in capitalist-electoral society).

—W., LA

Gidget gets fired

Introduction to: Sabotage: The Ultimate Video Game, in which the author describes how she was sacked when management found the article.

One year ago the Bank of America offered me a job as a Systems Analyst. Not being a moralist, I didn't feel that my anti- authoritarian principles would be overly compromised if I became an officer of one of the largest and most hated financial institutions in the world. Besides, once inside the belly of the beast I could pursue my other career--i.e. professional anti- authoritarian revolutionary. While designing property management database systems I could drop hints to my co-workers about a "world free from authoritarian domination and exploitation.'' Without being dogmatic, condescending or jargonistic, I'd convince others of the desirability of a "classless, stateless society where decisions about daily life are made by those most directly affected by the consequences of the decisions,'' meanwhile making sure not to neglect my duties in providing technical assistance for the department's office automation project. I'd pass out copies of Processed World , I'd never cooperate with management, I'd always support my co-workers in their fights with the supervisors. Perhaps one day we'd take over the data center and take control of the Bank's assets. From such experiences people would become "capable of coping with social problems in a direct and conscious way, beyond present day "needs' like the maintenance of profits and power structures.''

I did carry on my shadow career by participating in Processed World. In fact, that's how I got caught with my theory of sabotage showing. More precisely, I left a copy of the following article "Sabotage: The Ultimate Videogame'' on my desk at work. One of the people who I should have convinced long before of the desirability of a new world found it, and turned it in to the VP of Personnel Relations.

Subsequently, I had a meeting with the VP and was asked to comment on the article. Despite my attempts to turn sabotage into something harmless he meted out a punishment of a week's suspension. At the nd of that week I was fired. In the formal document explaining my dismissal he stated that it was too risky to have a person who advocated and condoned sabotage working around expensive equipment that stored critical financial data.

Of course, it's not surprising that I got the bounce. Everyone knows that the Bank of America is a repressive institution. My firing is more interesting in what it reveals about me.

There was a subtle dissimulation in the way I presented myself to the people I worked with. I'm sure most of them were shocked when they found out why I was fired. After having worked there for a year only a few people knew that I consider myself a radical. Virtually no one was aware of my past political involvements or that my ideas about what's wrong with the world didn't spring full blown from the CRT screen. My problem wasn't that I failed to convince people but that I was dishonest.

The same problem extends to the way Processed World handles the question of who we are as a group. "Office dissidents,'' "malcontents,'' "nasty secretaries'' are all vague ways to respond to those who inquire about our politics. Like me, most of the members have definite political backgrounds that stretch back for years. (This is not to say that PW is a monolithic political organization. While we all consider ourselves anti-authoritarian, we differ from each other substantially in our political points of view.)

Our relationship as marginals, radicals and "revolutionaries'' to the people we are approaching should be analyzed. Perhaps if I had been more open about my ideas at Bank of America I wouldn't have been so isolated when I got caught with my theory showing.

--Gidget Digit

Sabotage: The Ultimate Video Game

Gidget Digit on workplace sabotage in the age of computers.

What office worker hasn't thought of dousing the keyboard of her word processor with a cup of steaming coffee, hurling her modular telephone handset through the plate glass window of her supervisor's cubicle, or torching up the stack of input forms waiting in her in-box with a "misplaced'' cigarette? The impulse to sabotage the work environment is probably as old as wage-labor itself, perhaps older. Life in an office often means having to endure nonsensical procedures, the childish whims of supervisors and the humiliation of being someone's subordinate. It's no wonder that many of us take out our frustrations on the surroundings that are part of our working life.

The current upsurge in the use of computerized business machines has added fuel to the fire, so to speak. Word processors, remote terminals, data phones, and high speed printers are only a few of the new breakable gadgets that are coming to dominate the modern office. Designed for control and surveillance, they often appear as the immediate source of our frustration. Damaging them is a quick way to vent anger or to gain a few extra minutes of "downtime.''

Sabotage is more than an inescapable desire to bash calculators. It is neither a simple manifestation of machine-hatred nor is it a new phenomenon that has appeared only with the introduction of computer technology. Its forms are largely shaped by the setting in which they take place. The sabotage of new office technology takes place within the larger context of the modern office, a context which includes working conditions, conflict between management and workers, dramatic changes in the work process itself and, finally, relationships between clerical workers themselves.

Power and Control in the Office

Once considered a career that required a good deal of skill, the clerical job now closely resembles an assembly line station. Office management has consciously applied the principles of scientific management to the growing flow of paper and money, breaking the process down into components, routinizing and automating the work, and reserving the more "mental'' tasks for managers or the new machines.

The growth and bureaucratization of the information-handling needs of modern corporations and governments has changed the small "personal'' office into huge organizations complete with complex hierarchies and explicitly defined work relationships. No one is exempt from being situated in the organizational chart. The myriad of titles and grades tends to inhibit a sense of common experience, since everyone else's situation seems slightly different from one's own. Each spot on the hierarchy has its privileges and implied power over those below it, and its requirements of subordination to those above. This social fragmentation is all the more alienating because it occurs within the context of a supposed social equality. There is a pretense of friendliness among all office employees regardless of their rank. This "nice'' atmosphere works conveniently to legitimate the hierarchy. If it seems that everyone is equal and has an equal chance to climb the ladder, the ladder itself appears as the emblem of this "equal opportunity.'' All this makes for an extremely subtle set of power relations.

Rather than through raw confrontation, power is reinforced by imbuing the entire office terrain with its symbols through things like dress, the size of one's desk or workspace, and "perks.'' In such a setting, people may try to reduce their powerlessness by playing the game of privilege or forming alliances with those more powerful than themselves. Indeed, this type of behavior is almost required for survival in a typical office.

In addition to these implicit power relations, many offices (especially the larger corporations) have formalized procedures to handle open conflict when it occurs. Most of these companies have personnel departments that try to mediate between managers and their underlings. While most people recognize these substitutes for unions as biased at best, there is often no alternative, especially when collective action doesn't seem possible. This process of taking complaints up the hierarchy is the reflection of power cliques and manipulation that hold sway on the more informal level. As such, it indicates the conscious attempt on the part of management to undermine any workers' initiatives to organize autonomously, reinforcing the hierarchy as the only legitimate framework for work, conflict, in short, for all aspects of social life.

Office Culture vs. Office Hierarchy

Given the stifling atmosphere of office life it is easy to see why white collar workers have rarely developed organizational forms (like unions) but have relied on different techniques and strategies to oppose both the reorganization of their work and the introduction of new technology. Despite the constraints imposed by bureaucracy, an informal office work culture subverts the "normal'' office order. Activities common to this culture often encourage a feeling of comraderie and collusion. For example, many clericals have become adept in manipulating the superficial friendliness and can get away with what might otherwise be considered insubordination. I recently worked with a woman who regularly called one of the managers "der Fuhrer.'' Since she was known around the offfice for her abrasive personality her behavior was accepted. While this type of "joking'' does not really undermine the basis of a manager's power it creates a potentially subversive community of those who are amused at seeing a bureaucrat insulted to his face.

Other normal daily activities in the office also contribute to the subversion of office order, e.g. making free use of xerox machines, telephones, word processors, etc., for personal uses rather than company needs. "Time-theft,'' too, is a widespread form of normal anti-productivity behavior--extended breaks and lunch hours, arriving late, leaving early, reading the paper on the job, etc.

Pranks can also be disruptive to the normal routine. For example, at Blue Cross of Northern California where I worked as a temp in 1974, there were a few hundred VDT operators. Each operator had a set of procedures to follow to bring her terminal "up,'' after which the words "Good morning, happiness is a sunny day!'' would appear on the screen. No key entry clerk is in the mood to see that at 7:30 AM. One morning someone in the notoriously weird claims input department figured out how to change the program that ran the start-up procedure. When the 250 or so terminal workers powered on their machines that morning they were greeted with the more pleasing "Good morning, happiness is a good fuck!'' On top of being good for a laugh, it caused management to shut the computer down until a systems analyst came in and fixed the program.

White-collar Opposition: Theft, Sabotage and Strikes

Beyond the daily "fun and games,'' there are some serious forms of resistance to the office routine. Theft is perhaps the most well known. However, it is often not recognized as such, largely because the media dwell almost exclusively on executive embezzlement schemes. Shaped by the nature of the work itself (the large flows of money that many clericals deal with daily), the breakdown of the close relationship between clerk and boss that formerly existed, and the rip-offs that the use of computers has made possible, white collar pilfering is another response office workers have developed to compensate themselves for lousy wages and bad working conditions. It is responsible for an estimated $30 to $40 billion in losses per year with computer crime amounting to about 10 percent of that total.

White collar crime is usually associated with a more highly skilled stratum but, in fact, access to a firm's databases motivates even those who possess minimal technical knowledge to dabble in "creative computing.'' A teller at a New York savings bank was able to steal money from depositors' accounts and then cover his tracks by shifting money among several other accounts with phony computer entries. Perhaps what is most interesting about this example is that it demonstrates the ease with which clerks and others who have access to on-line systems can destroy or alter information. In fact, "info-vandalism,'' whether committed by disgruntled employees, high school pranksters or left-wing direct action groups is increasing at a rapid pace.

Computer industry journals are filled with articles and ads dealing with the stability and security of information stored electronically. Legislation has recently been introduced that would make tampering with such data a federal crime. And, in a frantic scramble to protect their digital blips, businesses have come up with a whole range of precautionary measures. They range from physically protecting the hardware against magnet-waving maniacs to encoding devices and password functions that shield the data.

So far, these efforts have not been adequate. There have been several cases of employees vindictively erasing important accounting data. In one instance, an overworked computer operator destroyed two million dollars of billing information that he didn't have time to enter into the computer. In France, a programmer who was irate about having been dismissed, wrote a "time-release'' program that erased all the company's records two years after his dismissal date. Others who have been terminated by their companies have entered information to give themselves large severance or pension payments.

Perhaps more threatening than isolated instances of thievery and pranksterism to companies using data processing equipment is the possibility of strikes or occupations by office, communications and computer workers. While destruction and theft are more common, the more classic forms of "labor problems'' do occur among this sector of the workforce. In February of 1981 the workers of British Columbia Telephone occupied their workplace in a unionizing drive. For six days "Co-op'' Tel operated under no management. Technical workers and operators cross-trained each other in order to maintain telephone service during the action. In England last spring, computer programmers in the civil service struck for higher wages and completely stopped the flow of the government bureaucracy's life-blood (i.e. documents, memos, vouchers, data). While these acts of collective sabotage do not take place very frequently, they demonstrate the possibility of using computers against their intended function.

Business Priorities: Automated Irrationality

One might wonder why government and business are pursuing computerization with such fervor, especially if the technology is so vulnerable. Speed and efficiency (read: increased productivity) are some of the standard reasons given in response to this question. Certainly more irrational elements also come into play. There seems to be an absolute mania for this technology regardless of whether it pays off in higher profits or productivity. Many business execs assume it will even though there have been no thorough investigations into this question.

Whatever individual corporate execs think they're doing, on the level of society as a whole it is clear that a vast restructuring is taking place. Whole segments of the economy are being shifted from older unprofitable industries (i.g. auto, steel) to the dazzling information sector. This necessarily changes the details of our daily lives. Robots, word processors and communication networks are only a few of the new machines that are part of the modern information-based society.

According to liberal businessmen, futurists and computer enthusiasts a new office will emerge from the use of the new technology that will reduce regimentation at work. Remote terminals, they argue, will allow people to do their work in their own homes at their own speeds. While this vision has serious flaws in itself, it is unlikely that management will relinquish control over the work process. In fact, rather than freeing clerks from the gaze of their supervisors, the management statistics programs that many new systems provide will allow the careful scrutiny of each worker's output regardless of where the work is done. Decentralization, assuming it happens at all, will more likely bring about the reintroduction of piece work, while breaking down the type of work cultures discussed above that contribute to the low productivity of office workers.

Outside the workplace, such things as video games, videotext, cable TV and automatic tellers, seemingly benign objects in themselves, increasingly define our leisure time activities (watching various types of television screens for the most part). The individual "freedoms'' that are created by the technological wonders of tele-shopping and home banking are illusory. At most they are conveniences that allow for the more efficient ordering of modern life. The basis of social life is not touched by the "revolution.'' As in the office it remains hierarchical. In fact, the power of those in control is enhanced because there is an illusion of increased freedom. The inhabitants of this electronic village may be allowed total autonomy within their personal "user ID's,'' but they are systematically excluded from taking part in "programming'' the "operating system.''

These visions of computer utopia have come about in response to the widespread bad attitude that many people have toward the "smart'' machines. When computers were first introduced for such things as billings and phone lists, people's immediate response was one of resentment at what they perceived as a loss in power. Who hasn't had the experience of battling an "infallible'' computer that kept charging you for the same shirt, lost all your college records or disconnected your phone call for the fourth time? The point here is not that computers don't work but that this new technology provides authorities with a shield for their power. The frustration and powerlessness that people feel can conveniently be blamed on computer error.

Computers used to automate social life have also been made the objects of sabotage. Everyone has probably heard a version of the story about the irate housewife storming into the nearest PG&E office to do summary justice to a guilty computer with a shotgun. Incidents of sabotage that contain a "social critique'' have also taken place. In 1970 an anti-war group calling itself BEAVER 55 "invaded'' a Hewlett Packard installation in Minnesota and did extensive damage to hardware, tapes and data. More recently (April, 1980), a group in France (CLODO--The Committee to Liquidate or Divert Computers) raided a computer software firm in Toulouse, destorying programs, tapes and punch cards.

In the first case attacking a centralizing source of information was a way to both protest and sabotage U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. The French group, which had many computer workers as members, went further, condemning computers for warping cultural priorities as well as for being the preferred tools of the police and other repressive institutions. The implications of the repressive and socially negative ways in which computers are used need to be explored. However, in their emphasis on massive destruction, groups such as the above direct themselves too much against the technology itself (not to mention those groups' authoritarian internal structure). They do not pursue the positive aim of subverting computers, of exploring the relationship between a given technology and the use to which it is put. In this sense, pranks and theft, often carried out spontaneously and almost always individually, are more radical than the actions of those who group themselves around a specific political ideology.

All of these tendencies, the pranks, stealing and destruction in offices, strikes and occupations by computer workers, and spectacular bombing and arson attacks by left-wing groups imply a common desire to resist changes that are being introduced without our consent. The technology that has been developed to maintain profits and existing institutions of social control is extremely vulnerable to sabotage and subversion, especially in this transition period. If we are to avoid an alienated electronic version of capitalism, in which control is subtle but absolute, we will need to extend the subversion of machines and work process to an all out attack on the social relations that make them possible.

by Gidget Digit

Customer Service, Michael Speaking, May I Help You?

[SCENE: Michael, a ""temployee'' with San Francisco's infamous White Slavery Temporary Agency, is riding the elevator to the 16th floor of 525 Market Street where his phone system, a computer screen and microfiche reader await his arrival. He is tired and irritated today because he was awake all night writing this play. He overhears two other temployees, a young man wearing faded jeans and a girl with chopped hair, discussing their employment with Wells Fargo's credit card customer service department. They are also headed for the 16th floor.]

Sue: I talked with this one bitch yesterday, she said her reputation was ruined when her charge was declined at Gumps. I said, ""What reputation?,'' and released her.

Ted: That's a good one Sue. I had this old guy call up from San Jose, a physician, and he wasn't satisfied with Wells Fargo's policy so he told me that he could buy and sell me. Can you imagine? ""Young man, I have enough money to buy and sell you,'' he said. I told him that I wasn't the kind of ""man'' he was accustomed to buying and selling. I also told him that when the revolution comes I was going to drive to San Jose so he could be the first one I shoot. Then I released him.

[Note: Release means hang up in Wells Fargon.]

[The other elevator riders--a man wearing an expensive suit and holding a sheaf of declined loan applications, a woman in her early thirties wearing a gray business outfit and carrying a pot of coffee and five cups, and a security guard with a loaded .38-- all look at the two blasphemous temployees with dismay, then stare vacantly at the blinking numbers. Michael, Sue and Ted get off on the sixteenth floor.]

Michael: You could have been shot in there! They don't take kindly to dissidence. Especially when you work with computers.

Sue: We're both getting terminated today, I overhead my supervisor talking to her boss yesterday. They're getting reports that we're being rude on the phone.

Michael: Are you?

Ted: Only when people start gibbering about their precious credit being jeopardized.

Sue: Or when their accounts are closed because they didn't make their payment in time.

Ted: Or when they want immediate action even if it takes every bank employee in the whole building.

Right. Or when they call up and demand to speak to a supervisor first thing...

Ted:...and if you can't handle it yourself--in other words, lie and get them off the line--then your supervisor resents you for the remainder of your employment.

Sue: Actually, I'm rude only about 82 percent of the time. The other 18 percent of the time the folks are bearable. At least they realize that banks hire temporary employees to answer customer service phones because they're cheap labor and they are an effective information block when the bank screws up and steals the customer's money.

[A supervisor approaches the group.]

Supervisor: You should have been on the phones two minutes ago!

[The temployees scatter like beetles. Michael goes to his cubicle. The CRT screen reads: THE APPLICATON WAS REJECTED BECAUSE OF A FAILURE IN THE SYSTEM.]

Michael: Shit, the computers are down again. [he signs onto the phone system and puts the star unit over his ear] I love this. [He makes himself available for incoming calls. The gate opens and a call comes in.] Customer service. Michael speaking. May I help you?

Customer: Yes, my number is 5.. 4.. 1.. 0.. 3.. 7...

Michael: Excuse me Ma'am, before you give me your number, I should tell you that our computers are down...

Customer: Which means?

Michael: Which means that I can't help you right now.

Customer: I've been on hold for fifteen minutes, mister, and I want something done about my statement right now!

Michael: I can appreciate that you've been on hold but there's nothing I can do. I can't even tell you your owing balance.

Customer: I want to speak to your supervisor.

Michael: I'm sorry Ma'am, my supervisor is going to tell you the same thing that I'm telling you. She's on her break right now anyway.

Customer: Then I want to talk to your supervisor's supervisor! I want to speak to the head of the department!!

Michael: I'm sorry Ma'am, he's in a meeting...

Customer: I don't want ""sorry from some snotty-nosed asshole with no brains, I want to speak...

Michael: Goodbye, Ma'am.

[Michael releases the customer. He is depressed by this first encounter. The day has begun badly.]

Michael:[Crossing to Ted in the cubicle next to his.] She called me a snotty-nosed asshole with no brains.

Ted: [He holds up his hand to indicate that he is talking to a cardholder].... Yes... I understand that Ma'am, that's why they're called double charges. You've been charged twice for the same item due to a computer error. All you have to do is write us a letter asking us to remove the double charge, otherwise it will show up again on your next statement... No, we can't just do it over the phone... I'm sorry... Yes, I understand that your time is very valuable... That's right, a signed letter... O.K., thanks for calling.

[Michael gets a drink of water. He sees a supervisor ask to see Ted and Sue in her office.]

Supervisor: The seasonal overflow of customer calls has receded according to our call-counting computer so I'm afraid that you will have to be terminated as of this afternoon.

[Ted and Sue laugh in her face. Sue goes to the womens' room to smoke a joint. Ted erases several cardholder's addresses in the computer, then starts a small fire in his wastebasket. Suddenly there is an announcement over the highrise loudspeaker.]

Announcement: Please evacuate the building. This is an emergency. Please leave via the exit nearest you. [The lights fade as Michael follows Sue and Ted through the emergency exit. Michael smirks.]

Michael: You really shouldn't have pulled that alarm Sue. You'll probably be fired for this.

Sue: Heavens.

[An apparition arises our of the corner of the now vacant office. It is HUSBY, GOD OF CREDIT.]

Husby, God of Credit: I can see you all, cowering at your desks, issuing bad checks, writing stupid letters about how you've lost your jobs, sold your junky cars, borrowed money from your goofy brothers in Toledo. Don't think I'm fooled by this chicanery... You there, Bob McDonald in San Diego. I saw your wife buy that dinette set yesterday. You know damn well that now you're way over your limit. We're not a charity, buster, that'll be one over limit charge, thank you very much... And you, Helen Troy from Grand Island, Nebraska. I don't care if it is 10 degrees below zero, you can't afford that new fur coat. Just clean the ratty pullover that's sitting on the floor in your closet. After all, you're only a vapid secretary... What's this I see, an application here from a certain Billy Dong in New York City. Look fella, I realize that they told you before you left Cambodia that this is the Land of Opportunity, but we don't issue VISA cards to dishwashers. If you want it badly enough, I suggest you either go back to school and study computers or send that knockout wife of yours over to 14th and Broadway for some quick cash. [The apparition takes on a reddish tinge and becomes more adamant.] Now let's get to the hardcore... Miss Collins, I see here that you've moved a total of twelve times without leaving a forwarding address. Not nice, Miss Collins. I guess it's time to attach the ol' wages. You'll be hearing from our tribe of bloodthirsty lawyers... All right, what's this crap with Mr. W.S. Grinder from Spokane? He has seven accounts for his salesmen but he still refuses to pay the business fee?.. Hmmm.. Can you say ""Jail,'' Mr. Grinder?... How about ""unusual experiments?'' Can you say ""untold beatings,'' Mr. Grinder? What? Oh, so those business fees don't seem so bad now, Mr. Grinder? Good, we'll expect a check in tomorrow's mail... [The apparition begins to fade].. I'm sorry Mrs. Flinder, but now that your husband is dead we're going to have to close your account... I don't care if you've been with us for thirty-five years, that's THE POLICY... and Joel Smith, I'm afraid we won't be able to replace that card for at least three to thirteen weeks. I know it's getting close to Christmas, but... [Husby, God of Credit fades away.]

--Michael Anderson

Processed World #6

Issue 6: Fall 1982 from

processedworld06proc.pdf5.95 MB

Table of Contents

Talking Heads


Confidential Correspondences

Buy 'Em and Sell 'Em at Solem



Inside the Childcare Factory


Roots of Disillusionment

Talking Heads


As issue #6 of Processed World goes to press, nearly half of the active participants in PW are unemployed or living on marginal and sporadic income. Some of us (who don't have children to support) are used to living quite cheaply and appreciate not working and finally having enough time for our own projects. However, everyone is more concerned about that perpetually unpleasant question of economic survival. So where does all this leave PW and others with our "bad work attitude?"

At a recent discussion of the future of PW, several participants expressed hopes of broadening the range and focus of our activities. Up till now, aside from the publication of the magazine, we have attempted to create a space and context for informal exchanges of ideas, information and experiences at biweekly gatherings and a couple of picnics. Distributing the magazine to passers-by in the Financial District, and "scandalizing" industry-sponsored events with costume picket lines and leaflets (see "Duelling For Dollars" on p. 38) are other ways we have attempted to overcome our isolation. While we all agree that PW should continue its public experiments in creating a community based on opposition to the values, images and language of those in power (see e.g., Chris Winks' article on office-ese), there is a wide range of opinion on other directions PW might eventually take.

The question of the relationship of PW as a group /collective /project to the growing number of rebels we have met sparked a long debate. Some people think we could actively seek ways to develop and coordinate our resources and contacts with an eye towards intervening in support of office workers (or others) who are taking a stand against management. This could include soliciting and providing information and advice (e.g., some PWers considered producing a pamphlet on how to deal with unemployment bureaucracy), or more direct participation in conflicts (e.g. blockades, disruptions, and sympathy strikes). Furthest along these lines was the suggestion that, if conditions were favorable for instigating organized job actions at a particular workplace, a group of troublemakers could try to get jobs there. Others feel that, in the absence of more generalized opposition, it is premature to foresee or prepare for collective confrontations. Still others disagree entirely with this strategic approach. They believe PW should not play a direct role in organizing office workers. They fear that if people come to PW looking for answers or directions, this might encourage their dependence and impede self-organization.

Many office workers in SF are temporaries (officially or not), unemployed, or isolated in small offices, so that their connection to co-workers is limited. Moreover, while work is a setting where we experience capitalism's control over our daily lives tangibly and directly, it is by no means the only context for opposition to the ways things are. In this issue, Penny O'Reilly analyzes the current state of childcare and suggests seeking solutions that would maximize autonomy from state or corporate power.

Some PWers spoke of emphasizing symbolic protests in the streets of the Financial District to strengthen solidarity and temporarily dis-alienate the environment. W.R.'s letter suggests some possible actions of this sort.

Questions were raised about further attempts to define our project and goals in relation to past oppositional movements, including the political experiences of individuals in the group. In this issue, Roots of Disillusionment takes a broad look at ways in which socio-economic conditions and cultural practices shaped the experience of the post WWII baby boom generation. The article examines the growth of "information handling" work against the background of the social movements of the past decades, and calls for a reassertion, broader, deeper and more lucid, of the most advanced moments of the "sixties" revolt.

Hatred for conformism and phoniness, along with a renewed respect for dream and fantasy, were primary values for the rebels of fifteen years ago. Ana Kellia Ramares' story, "Greys, " expresses these values powerfully in an OfficeLand context. In this issue's Tales of Toil, "Buy 'Em and Sell 'Em at Solem," the private relations of a notorious San Francisco PR firm, Solem & Associates, are held up to deserved ridicule. And "Them," which could be called a "Tale of Toilsome Leisure," penetrates beyond the hoopla surrounding the recent US Festival to reveal it as just another pseudo-event with computerized trappings.

Enjoy! And keep those letters coming...


Dear PW,

Thank you for the copy of Processed World that arrived while I was on vacation. Since then there have been about three crises at a time, including the landlord suddenly selling our apartment from under us and the like.

There is a story I've started [which] is based on my time as a Personnel Management Analyst Trainee for the State of Tennessee. The courts had ordered the state to make job definitions for each of the 3,200 classifications then in use. To stand up in Civil Service proceedings the definitions had to be broken down into hundreds of minute actions. The interviews to get the information had to be taken from employees scattered around the state, and then the information had to go through all sorts of computer analyses. Each job definition was to be about 300 pages. When I arrived at the office, the eight PMAs had been working on this about two years and hadn't completed one of the 3,200. Even if they completed one it would legally expire in three years since it might not reflect current job requirements. The then-governor of Tennessee was against the whole thing and just funded it to satisfy the court. A new election was coming up in a few months that might change the whole policy and method of definition. Etc. My job was terrific and just what your magazine is about. I had to work toward writing job definitions that would never be finished, and if finished never used. Despite this the boss, a one-legged man on crutches known to the staff as Tripod, prowled the halls to make sure we were working. Good story material, Beckett-world.

D.F. — Lincoln, NE

Dear PW,

I've been an office worker for a long time now — since I left home at fifteen and lied about my age to start as a secy in a temp agency. Along the way have picked up skills — been an admin. asst., word processor, and all-around-peon as well as gained some real insights into the mechanics of Big Business and our capitalist society. Over the years I've accumulated my share of "Tales of Toil" and have become increasingly fed up with the whole system. What an integral part of this society are we lowly office workers! What a void has been filled by PW! I'm so proud and happy that you all have labored and loved to create this much needed forum for us. At last — a place where we can communicate, exchange ideas, and discover that we are not alone. The letter from L.S. in PW4 and Maxine's response really touched me deeply. It is the people like L.S. and Maxine in my life who have kept me going when the going got rough and who have inspired me to take the chance and quit working to become a full time student.

Right now I've got a year to go towards my B.A., and then I hope to study law (no — I do not plan to be a corporate lawyer!). In the meantime I'm working part-time as a secy on campus to survive. Check it out — students aren't allowed to make more than minimum wage here. Thus, I am the most experienced worker in the office but have the lowest salary — with no fringe. Also, since "boss" discovered that I write better than he does (which isn't hard), I now write most of his correspondence and edit his reports. C'est la vie. At least I get an inside look at the workings of this madhouse...

Although I don't call myself a socialist (haven't really read enuf about it) I know and believe in the slogan "workers of the world unite!" As office workers we fuel the very brain of the industrial monster. I truly believe that we have the potential for enormous power — we could bring Wall Street to its knees, we could halt Pentagon operations — if we wanted to and if we were united and organized. The articles in PW on office workers' strikes and the science fiction "could happen" stories all reveal this truth. How far we want to realize our potential is wide open for discussion — and PW gives us a place where we can explore these ideas. The comic relief helps too!

Keep strong, stay healthy,

L.G. — New Paltz, NY

Dear Processed World,

I read with interest the Talking Heads column in issue #5. I think the questions being raised about future directions for Processed World are important. As I read the article a variety of thoughts occurred to me and I would like to share some of them.

Too many groups in the past have been unable to move past the point PW is at now. Instead they've ended up liberal or doctrinaire or just burned-out. All the activism of the '60s and '70s has ended in apathy and disappointment with political movements that have assimilated to the mainstream.

This apathy, even though an obstacle to the goals of PW, is a valid feeling and we should accept it. Within the apathy is a potential for a genuinely radical position. That is, people are apathetic because they realize how much is wrong with society. Old political formulas aren't good enough anymore. The potential is for this feeling to become a willingness to consider new alternatives, to question one's stake in the system.

PW has done a good job of tapping into this feeling among office workers. But can this alienation be translated into a desire to resist social control and to work for something better? The issue of how to relate to the labor movement and unionism is a good example. Can unions address the alienation office workers feel today?

I don't think so. Unions always assume that we accept our roles as workers. But we don't! And that's what PW has been pointing out. Even if the wages were better, we'd still hate office work.

But unions, by definition, limit their scope to the workplace and issues of workers. For those of us who'd like to see work itself redefined, to unionize is almost a contradiction in terms.

Is there an alternative? A way to move beyond the worker role, to address the socio-economic control that jobs exercise over our daily lives?

I emphasize the idea of daily life because I think we've been asked too often to give energy to movements on the basis of abstract or theoretical goals. We're always talking about the "workplace" or the "voting booths" or even the "streets". But these are abstract metaphors for political processes and not concrete situations in our daily lives. We may demonstrate for the human rights of people in a country we've never been to. But we often don't even know the people who live in the apartment next door. This contradiction ultimately tends to negate our political work.

My point is that these abstract political arenas can never help us achieve our goals. Processes based on the use of power (that is, coercion), from the marketplace to the halls of Congress, are what creates alienation. We can't use them to end alienation!

That's not the only reason to question our relationship to these arenas. We've seen how past movements that have used these political processes have ended up thinking and acting like the very institutions they wanted to change. There are many examples of this phenomena — from women managers to Black Republicans to unions that cooperate with management to increase productivity and lower wages (like the auto unions).

We need to think about political change in a whole new way. We can't accept issues in the terms that corporations define them. They want to talk about productivity and wages. But we're concerned about the value of work and the quality of life. They want us to define our needs in terms of salaries and benefits. We want to meet human needs without money.

Our concerns today are not as workers or producers (which has always been the basic premise of the labor movement). We want freedom from work that is useless and alienating. But what forces us to remain workers is our role as consumers. Despite all the abundance and over-production of our economic system, we're still forced to pay money for basic survival needs, as if these things were scarce. And as long as we need money to survive, we're forced to sell our labor.

Organizing us in our capacity as producers only further entrenches us in the world of wage labor. It is as consumers that we exercise what choice we do have as participants in the economy. The choice we can exercise now: not to participate at all. So by organizing ourselves as consumers, we can free ourselves from the economic system, especially our dependence on jobs for survival. And I believe that anything that lessens that dependence moves us towards the freedom from work that we are seeking.

The underground economy is the arena where this struggle for freedom is being conducted. This counter-economy is as important to the '80s as the counter-culture was to the '60s. It's an arena that does have a concrete basis in our daily lives. It's where our political ideals can be integrated with our own day-to-day actions and behavior.

The possibilities suggested by this approach are numerous. Any project that promotes economic and psychological freedom from the workplace can be considered. The following are ideas that occurred to me:

Information: Office workers have a real need for an information resource or network that isn't sold out to corporate interests. We need to exchange information to help us survive in the office world, such as: comparisons of salaries, benefits, corporate policies and similar information about various companies, the reputations of corporations for discrimination, employee relations, etc., experiences with various temporary employment agencies, our legal rights on the job, health hazards in office environments, and strategies for dealing with employers, unemployment insurance, job-hunting, etc., etc.

Resources: Instead of waiting for the corporation to provide us with benefits to meet our needs is it possible to provide for some of them ourselves, cooperatively? Some workers, especially temporaries, have a real need for health insurance. A lot of people take a permanent job simply because they need the health benefits offered. Another area might be child care...

Co-ops and Exchange Networks: Having to pay for goods not only forces us to work — routine shopping takes up a terrific amount of what little free time we have. A network for trading and bartering goods and services could help. So could cooperative foodbuying, especially if the distribution outlet was near our jobs or home...

Support and Community: Contact with other office workers in similar situations helps us find support. It's also a key way that people develop an awareness about their situations. Informal gatherings, like PW has already been doing, are good as well as formal events. I like the idea of an annual "Secretaries Ball" — sort of a counter-part to the annual Hooker's Ball in San Francisco.

By these suggestions I don't mean projects organized like human services. I mean projects organized by people to benefit themselves. Some may not consider this to be valid political work. But today, the corporations are determined to co-opt all our needs into the cash economy. If we don't address these needs ourselves, they will soon have a price tag on them and we will be all the more dependent on the economy. Dropping out of the cash economy, its laws and its values, is a genuine act of resistance.

This is where official, formal, legal organizations — the kind most groups seem to think they have to be — are actually a disadvantage. By working informally, without a platform or manifesto or even a name, it's possible to promote the underground economy and advocate resistance with less risk of becoming a legal target.

Then, unlike unions, we can really challenge the whole system of corporate values and the absurdity of our jobs. For example, we could hold a press conference on the steps of the Pacific Stock Exchange to announce awards to companies based on categories like "Lowest Salaries," "Most Paternalistic," "Most Incompetent Management," "Most Sexist," etc. Or we could start a Corporate Crime Secret Witness Program and offer rewards to employees who anonymously leak information about their corporation's crimes and boondoggles.

Once we get over old ideas about revolution being led by united, mass fronts, we can open ourselves to creative thinking about our political work. We can learn to be comfortable with a variety of opinions and a diversity of actions — not everyone has to agree with us or do what we do to be a friend.

As for developing our own processes for decision-making, there are a couple of ideas worth considering. One is the process of consensus, where the group acts on something as long as no member has a strong objection. If there is an objection it is discussed and if the objection still remains then the particular action is not taken. Consensus requires more time initially, but it ensures the participation of all group members and requires the majority to consider the opinions of independent or minority voices within the group. A corollary to this is the use of direct representation. Representatives appointed by the group serve only to convey positions the group has agreed to in consensus. They can't change that position (like politicians do) unless they return to the group for a new consensus.

Having said all this, there is still the question of what to do about the jobs we still have to have. Workplace organizing can be worthwhile depending on its goals. To make us increase our keystroke rates in return for a higher tax bracket? Or to win us freedom, piece by piece, from the alienation of the workplace? It can do this, for example, if the union seeks fewer hours for workers.

But for a goal like this to be practical, we still have to address our dependence on the cash economy. That's why I put the idea of cooperative projects first. If we can meet our material needs in other ways, we can seek a goal like a shorter work week.

The purpose of my ideas here has been to help PW find ways to address this challenge: not only to find the direction to move in, but to overcome the apathy at the same time, to find alternatives to past mistakes of political movements and to show office workers that change is possible, starting with the concrete reality of our daily lives.

W.R. — Los Angeles

P.S. I just saw the news that Blue Shield is pulling its office out of San Francisco in a clear attempt to break the union there, one of the first unions of office workers in S.F. [See past coverage of the fights at Blue Shield.] This only underscores the futility of the union approach. Corporations today are national and international in scope — they can move anywhere, while we, as individuals, always remain local. It is the local level, and our daily lives, that offer us the best opportunities for organizing today.

Dear Will,

Thanks for your thoughtful letter. So far [i]PW has focused on workplace issues and though this will probably remain true for some time, we welcome discussion and articles on other aspects of our daily lives. In any case, I don't believe that the sphere of consumption can be divorced from the sphere of production as you seem to propose. Organizing as "consumers" no more guarantees freedom from the coercion of the marketplace than does organizing as "workers". Both these roles need to be redefined, or better still, abolished as such.[/i]

Finding new ways to circumvent the money economy is a crucial step in doing away with it altogether. But the purpose of co-ops and collectives is defeated if they don't actually spare people from alienated labor, and few such experiments have succeeded. As long as the market rules, "dropping out" of the cash economy tends to take the form of self-imposed poverty. Witness the burn-out rate of communes and collectives in the sixties and seventies. [The counter-economy was, in fact, an important part of the counter-culture, see "Roots of Disillusionment" in this issue].

The workplace and the streets are not just "abstract political metaphors for political processes," they are very concrete arenas of social activity. Wresting control of neighborhood space from landlords, banks and police officers certainly concerns our daily lives, as does taking control of work places, whether to destroy them or transform them.

Nevertheless, some of your suggestions for ways we can immediately help each other are well-taken. Some people working on [i]PW are interested in contributing to such an information exchange. If anyone wants to send in comments, reports, recommendations, etc., on companies, bosses, etc., we can begin putting it together for publication. If other people would like to co-ordinate childcare co-ops or take up other ideas for projects, we can help put people in touch with each other, if so desired.[/i]

Maxine Holz

Dear comrades-in-arms,

A friend who is highly skilled in office sabotage gave me issues #4 and 5, and Christ on a bicycle, I don't think I've been this grateful since I was first taught to read! Having just lived through a year-long horror story that I'll send to you someday, I was particularly enchanted by "Sabotage: The Ultimate Video Game" (although Gidget neglected to mention the financial power incarnate in the shit-job of mail clerk — how sweet it is to whisk away to the washroom and fIush checks!).

Me, I'm a secretary with some word processing. Till the beginning of this month I worked in a "permanent" job with a computer consulting company — then after many attempts to force me to resign, my old management gave up and fired me for BAD ATTITUDE. Yippee! Now I'm doing temp for a university. The only bad thing is, now that I know the most effective ways to fight back, I'm working for a good employer, dammit.

In real life, though, I'm a writer.

Just wait until I'm well paid and I'll send you lots of bucks. This is better than the Cancer Fund. (Also, considering VDT risks, potentially more effective. Let us attack all problems at their source.)

May your cog be ever toothless,

J.M. — Ottawa

Dear Processed World,

I've hesitated subscribing until now because I thought you would probably be another one of those little radical magazines that folded after two issues. But enclosed please find my check for $10 to cover one year's subscription. This is as much a vote of confidence and encouragement as anything else.

Your magazine is becoming more and more relevant to my life. I started at my present job at a large bank as a part-time student assistant while I studied Art History at SFSU. When I graduated, I was offered the position of "Data Base Manager." This job entailed lots of responsibility coupled with lots of shit work. I have an ambitious boss who is getting ahead with the help of a lot of my (unacknowledged) creativity. I don't mind too much because she leaves me alone and I have the chance to learn a lot about all the new office equipment that the bank puts at my disposal. I will soon have the distinction of having two VDT's at my desk ( ... ) The point is that I have found myself relating to, and in some ways fascinated by, a technology that two years ago I dismissed in favor of gothic cathedrals.

I would like to make personal and political connections with people who share my concerns and experiences ( ... ) It would be nice to connect with some people who have also thought and worked around [this situation].

In solidarity,
M.L. — SF

Dear Processed World,

Just what do these guys do anyway?

I mean these fat ones, wandering around the office with their vests unbuttoned and sleeves rolled up, making sick jokes with the secretaries (like, "Did you hear the one about the stenographer who goes into her boss' office and says, 'Boss, I've found a new position,' and the Boss says, 'Great, let's try it!'"). And they stand around all day talking about their children, their cars, their patio cement that's cracking, or the card games they play sitting in their Winnebagos.

Once or twice a day they disappear into their cubicles. Three hours later they waddle out belly first with a notepad clenched in their fists. The results of their hours of managerial productivity: a three paragraph memo ready for typing.

Deciphering is what we really do. We take their child-like scrawls and correct the spelling, make verbs agree with subjects, create paragraphs, interpret various arrows and inserts, and make something out of it you could actually read (if you wanted to).

We return the masterpiece for approval and they spend another happy hour "reviewing." The door opens again and out they come, the memo finally ready for "distribution."

That means a score of xeroxes distributed to files, binders, CC's, and personal scrapbooks, stuffed in envelopes, drawers, and in-boxes on three floors.

Just about when we're finished they suddenly appear again, an apparition hovering around our desk, clearing its throat... could they make one small change on the memo? And off we go again, retyping, re-xeroxing, re-filing.

One or two of these executive documents a day seems to be the limit of most managers. But our job helping them maintain this extraordinary level of productivity can leave us exhausted at the end of the day.

Obviously they don't want to admit how important our role is in making their attempts at communication legible. What I want to know is... what do they do? I mean, what are managers supposed to know that we don't?

It doesn't include spelling or basic writing skills. Remember those spelling tests they give you at employment agencies and Personnel Offices? Good thing they don't give tests like that to managers!

I, for one, think it's time to stop covering for the Boss, using skills we aren't paid for. Correcting grammar and spelling is editing and that's the job of a "communications specialist." Laying out letters and creating formats for reports is the job of "graphic artists" and "forms control officers." And those jobs all pay a lot more than ours do.

I'm suggesting that we simply stop making all these corrections for them. I did at my job and I was surprised to discover that my manager didn't even notice! Now I regularly send memos out system-wide with sentences like "Thank you for your patients," and "Newer contruction are listed for rent," and "Local environs are well appearing."

If more of us do this we can clog the corporate communications system with their own gobbledygook. Then, sooner or later, someone "higher up" like the president, will notice that all the memos he receives are written in sixth grade English. He'll throw an executive fit, call an executive meeting, issue an executive bulletin... and look for a consultant.

And that's where we can be the recipients of corporate misappropriation and extravagance for a change. We can market the skills we've stopped using on the job in the lucrative world of consulting. Processed World could form a subsidiary corporation to give us part-time employment consulting corporations who don't understand why their communications are proto-illiterate. It's just taking advantage of an old principle, "create a need and fill it." (Of course, our corporation will have to pay us so much in salaries that it never makes a profit and we can all use the loss as a tax shelter...)

No more free rides! Let the Boss dot his own i's... if he can. A 1,000 office workers who know the secret of a 1,000 incompetent managers can be a powerful force. Corporate communications are already meaningless. Let's make them illiterate, too, and help cut the final ties of the corporate world to reality! Let them drown in their own words!

K.L. — Los Angeles

Dear Comrades,

My companion and I have just moved from Philadelphia to Endicott N.Y. If you don't know of Endicott you should — not only is it the "home" of Endicott Johnson Shoes (bad enough!) but also the home of IBM! Imagine our disgust moving from Philadelphia — home of murderous pigs, foul water and hot pavement ("home" is the wrong word — my description is too broad — it could fit anytown USA — no, make that the world!).

Endicott is for all practical purpose a company town with IBM being "the company."

Since unions are not tolerated — we've heard the rumored existence of IBM Workers United but can find no signs outside. You can't imagine how annoying it is to try and cash our food stamps at lunchtime when they come out to fill the streets. Or how last year we found out the company "spilled" some toxic wastes by "accident" and the whole mess was covered up by village authorities so as not to get IBM upset. Since we've only been here several months we're still orienting ourselves about local customs and politics. When the Japanese computer theft story broke we thought about spray painting "I'm Turning Japanese" on one of the ugly buildings that so ruin a rather pleasant landscape, but thought it too ambiguous and perhaps racist in its meaning.

We are slowly at work on the local history of agriculture in this county (from self-reliance to corporate control) and have met some local farmers who still hold out and feel very good about sharing information and skills with "anarchists" — we'll see what happens, maybe Processed Dirt — "the magazine of the modern farm worker."

So let this be a lesson to all who contemplate the "simpler life" — while it's true we'd rather be here than Philadelphia (who wouldn't) — the "problems" (and their solutions!) become just as great — there is no "escape."

For a World without Toil,

R.S. — Endicott, NY

PW5 is a winner. Thanks for sending it to me. As always it reinforced my sense of community. Although I work in spiritual isolation I have no physical privacy. My telephone calls must be made in full hearing, papers on my desk are public property, and the nearness of others as bored or drugged as I is a further irritant. No community here, friends.

Like Gidget I am involved with the questions of subversion, self-definition, and powerlessness. Of course, computers don't work, people do. Of course, too, computers increase productivity, but the potential for abuse of the technology is great. Counting keystrokes is an inadequate measure of productivity, although an electronic overseer is a nice touch on the word-processing plantations. In fact, the technology defines the extent of the subversion. It's less risky, more fun, and definitely more profitable to program or key in misinformation than to hold up a bank at gunpoint. Creative programmers, Captain Crunch, et al., are acting in the tradition of Jesse James, not Joe Hill. The outlaw has always been the American Hero. The current infatuation with "man-against-machine" in the media is no different from the idealization of the gangster in the movies of the 1930s. Had Gidget's article appeared in the pages of the Wall Street Journal or New York Times (the private Western Union of the elite), it could have been used to reinforce paranoia and interest in anti-intrusion systems and computer security. They don't advertise electronic briefcases with "voice stress analysis to detect lying" for nothing.

It is my duty to subvert authority. The problem is that, like Gidget and so many others, I have convinced myself of the absurdity of management. I've forgotten they can't take jokes. It's sort of like forgetting that dope is illegal. I've had to forgive myself for these occasional lapses, even if they've meant getting fired, trusting a co-worker, being terrified, or feeling alone. The only way not to feel alone is to trust a co-worker (and if trust leads to conspiracy, so what?). Office friendships are subversive, too, and IBM, among others, has corporate fiats forbidding them. It's not only "dissension" that management tries to control through its personnel department agents.

Incidentally, the ultimate video game isn't sabotage — it's pulling the plug. The nuclear holocaust is the end of the game, all the games.

B.C. — SF

Dear PW,

Gidget Digit's "firing" does reveal a lot about her. When she was suspended, I was waiting for her to act. Surely a copy of the Sabotage article would appear on every co-worker's desk! Tied with red/white/& blue, maybe. And when the time was up, surely she would walk into the VP's office with a colorful "letter of resignation," informing him that a copy of that letter was being circulated in every BofA branch in the Bay Area! As Saul Alinsky says, this "blunder" was the true opportunity when looked at in a clear light! But all she did was scurry around for another job, which she got (something she omits in her confessional letter... along with her real name). What a disappointment this letter was, coming before the well-written Sabotage article!!!

I remember well one member of the BEAVER 55 group Gidget Digit mentions. "X" was an honor grad student in physics at the U. of Chicago when they invaded the Hewlett Packard installation. Even though she was brilliant, she was subsequently blacklisted from every lab in the country. She took a job close to science — teaching it. But she found that painful because she itched to get into a real lab. So she changed careers, got married, ending up (last I heard) in, of all places, an ad agency! She had many a bout with her conscience... many times we had talks about whether she should've played it safe. She accompanied Jane Kennedy when Jane turned herself in; she sobbed when she read the obit of another "friend" who had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. "That's the third, one," she said. "They are getting us all." Was this "social critique worth it? Who knows. It would be interesting to find out.

Your Supporter Despite Poor Editing,

Shirley Garzotto — SF

P.S, It is OK if you reveal my name and address. I think you should be consistent about this: I may not agree with Mr. Wallis, but I think you treated him unfairly by printing his name and address. Boo! Hiss! Otherwise, #5 was a good read, as usual.

Ed. Note: Wally is a self-employed engineer. Revealing his identity does not threaten him or his job security. This is in contrast to most writers and contributors to PW whose jobs might be jeopardized if their real name were printed in PW.

Dear PW:

In the preface to her article in PW #5, Gidgit Digit waxes ironic at the expense both of PW and herself. It's not clear how seriously she intends her self-description as a "professional anti-authoritarian revolutionary" pursuing a "shadow career" in PW while working as a systems analyst for the Bank of America. But certainly she seems intent on tarring PW with the same brush: like Gidget herself, PW's regulars stand accused of dishonesty, for not revealing our "definite political backgrounds that stretch back for years" and implicitly therefore of manipulation. She admonishes us to analyze "our relationship as marginals, radicals and revolutionaries to the people we are approaching."

The core of truth in Gidget's attack is that some of us developed fairly extreme and well-thought-out criticisms of the existing society in contexts other than office work — as students, as other kinds of workers and/or as activists against nuclear power, war, male domination and so on. Several of us, for that matter, are still sneakily active in such "outside" causes. Worse, one or two of us are not even currently office workers! How dishonest can you get?

All of this, of course, misses the point. Processed World was not conceived by missionary leftists, "professional revolutionaries" who marched into the Financial District to educate the white-collar masses. Instead, a handful of people who had got into office work as one of the few ways open to them to make a living, got fed up with their isolation and with the silence around them concerning all the important questions. They set out to produce a vehicle of communication for others working in financial districts with similar attitudes to their jobs and the world at large.

A general skepticism, even hostility, toward authority and an intense frustration with boring work are characteristic of many in our generation. The only thing different about the initiators of i is that unlike most people, they have articulated these attitudes into a relatively coherent critique of the modern world and some (rather sketchier) visions of how it might be transformed. Some of PW's subsequent associates, like me, share most of their outlook. Others share much less of it.

In developing this critique and these visions, PW's founders very naturally drew on past radical traditions. Possibly they might be criticized for not discussing these further or referring readers to them (I would like to see, for instance, a series on great Utopians of the past, such as Charles Fourier and William Morris. And a long article or even a special issue on the history of workers' movements, already seriously discussed in the group, ought to be produced). But PW has been anxious to avoid any association with the 57 varieties of boring leftism, from Tom Hayden to the Sparticist League or the RCP, that pollute the radical working class tradition with their authoritarianism, opportunism and hysteria. In the pages of a magazine that wants to be open to people without any "political" background, it is very difficult to discuss this tradition without creating such associations. A cursory treatment is likely to be confusing, and a lengthy one would take up too much of an already crowded magazine. Besides — and here's the rub — we vary widely in our interpretation of the tradition anyway, and the last thing we want is to fill PW's pages with endless debate about who was right or wrong in 1870 or 1921. Declarations of our beliefs couched in the specialized terminology of past revolutionary tendencies, however bold and honest they might make us feel, are more likely to confuse than clarify in most people's eyes.

As to whether Gidget should have revealed more of her "politics" sooner to her co-workers, I'm not in a position to say. I suspect that she's being too hard on herself. Certainly it seems only prudent to sound out one's workmates carefully before letting on too much, a prudence which has always been part of the agitator's and the organizer's task. Why get fired, or worse, merely for the sake of "honesty?" If she moved too slowly this was only a tactical mistake.

We will all make further and bigger mistakes, and, I hope, learn from them. Once again, PW's purpose is not to recruit or convert to a pre-existent ideology or organization. The core group of Processed World has never made any secret of its views and aims, but neither has it imposed them on other contributors. The immediate goal of PW is to make possible the sharing of ideas, emotions and perceptions, and to further debate about strategy and tactics among rebels in the workaday world. I hope to see this debate continue, not only in PW's pages but in the cafeterias, restrooms and elevators of downtown, beyond our immediate contact or influence. I am only too aware of how vague and flawed are our visions of change, and I know that only the experience and creativity of countless others can give them clearer and more tangible form.

Yours objectionably,
Louis Michaelson

Dear Staff:

FANTASTIC! In the midst of uniformity and digital death, art survives! I read my first issue of PW (#4) at the June 12th peace rally, and I was impressed. I really liked the creative xerox art the most (did you know that "xerox" is the greek word for "draw"??), and also the information on office uprisings. The healthy weight and thickness of the booklet itself proves something about audience response.

I know. I work for a major minicomputer company in Embarcadero IV, doing field repair work, and I see the firsthand results of digitalized society every day, from the endless parade on Market street to the poor file clerks holed up in the giant glass prisons that line the streets of our fair, postcard-perfect city. Anyway. Keep up the good work.

Jose's Son — SF

Confidential Correspondencences

"You have certainly observed the curious fact that a given word which is perfectly clear when you hear it or use it in everyday language, and which does not give rise to any difficulty when it is engaged in the rapid movement of an ordinary sentence becomes magically embarrassing, introduces a strange resistance, frustrates any effort at definition as soon as you take it out of circulation to examine it separately and look for its meaning after taking away its instantaneous function.''

Paul Valery, from Variet V.

Paul Valery has summarized the critical approach to existing society, not with reference to specific institutions, but to the most fundamental expression of social being—language. We know that there is more to language than "words, words, words.'' What holds these words together is not just a given grammatical or syntactical structure, but an entire complex of social traditions that give meaning to the combinations of sounds we use in our daily life, the hidden order behind the "rapid movements of ordinary sentences.''

Valery's observations can be expressed more briefly and colloquially as "All words are loaded.'' Loaded in the sense that dice are loaded by an unscrupulous gambler who, much to his opponents' consternation, manages to win every time. In such circumstances, a casual onlooker would say that the loser's first and worst mistake was to allow the hustler to supply his own dice. And so it is with language. Since the categories and concepts on which we rely to make ourselves understood have been transmitted to us from birth, we become entangled in a tradition so all-pervasive that even our attempts to name and thus understand our situation tend to be accommodated to the ruling definitions which, as ever, are those of the ruling classes.

Imagine (or recall) a subordinate who comes into conflict with her boss, or a group of workers taking a grievance to their supervisor. By speaking for themselves, they become aware of the radical discrepancy between their interests and those of management. The everyday fog of polite banalities is beginning to lift. However, once the die is cast, it turns out—unexpectedly— to be loaded. The boss rises, perhaps with a supercilious smile on his face, and motions his interlocutor(s) to the door, saying, "It's obvious that we don't speak the same language.''

At this juncture, the most common reaction for the momentarily unruly employee(s) is to back off in the fear that nothing will be salvaged from this confrontation. "Well, that's not true, it's all a misunderstanding, really. . .'' and then the search for mutual comprehensibility begins. Regardless of the outcome, it will always favor the boss, simply because proclaiming his monopoly on definition has enabled him to regain effective control—over the use of his own loaded dice.

But what if our rebellious worker(s) had retorted, "Damn right we don't speak the same language, and a good thing too!''? The workers and students of Poland have shown us the radical consequences of such an attitude. Since 1956, the popular opposition to the successive Stalinist, neo-Stalinist, and military regimes in Poland has been directed as much against the ossified, constipated language of the ruling bureaucracy's propaganda as against material injustice. During the Polish Autumn of 1980, the intoxication of uninhibited dialogue led to an explosion of underground publications which not even military rule could suppress.

In company with rebels throughout history, the Polish insurgents grasped the intimate relation between the liberation of society from the state and the reclaiming of language from its bureaucratic proprietors. The demand for the abolition of the Communist Party's system of nomenklatura—where obtaining positions depends on official protection—is equally a fight against a broader structure of nomenclature: the power to arrogate exclusive control over social meanings and thereby deny (rewrite) the history across which words evolve in search of their hidden truths. Is it any wonder that literary and poetic experimentation flourish during periods of popular social upheaval? Whether ideas improve or degenerate, the meaning of words participates in the process.

All words, then, are not just loaded; they are live ammunition in a social war. The same words that buttress Power can be used to undermine it, but only if such concepts or keywords are examined for their multiple meanings. Each word must first be removed from its customary context, or borrowing Valery's phraseology, taken out of circulation and deprived of its instantaneous function. (Sabotage is a similar technique applied to objects or social relationships.) Without the magic cloak of daily routine to render its meaning invisible, the word begins to assert that embarrassing power to which Valery refers. How is it that we persist in allowing certain words to dominate our lives, even though we can't explain how they worked their way into our speech?

Certainly, the dictionary explains word origins, but only as components of static definitions, arranged numerically on an arbitrary scale of importance. Yet language is above all dynamic. The multitude of popular grammars, vocabularies, and speech patterns—abusively termed "slang'' by linguistic authorities— shows that for all the trends toward increasing uniformity of thought and expression, language preserves its playful qualities. In the end, we ourselves are the alchemists of the words we use.

It follows that we need not respect the supposed finality of any definition. The decomposition of language in the grip of bureaucratic reason calls for irreverent new counter-practices, where influential keywords can be actively de-composed and recomposed according to imaginative whim. From such a perspective, words that have been particularly abused reveal surprising implications, especially when viewed in the light of older, seemingly outmoded definitions.

I have chosen to play with seven such words. Each has its own history. Far from being buzzwords, they are all relentlessly banal, integral threads in the texture of the processed world, and thus all the more diverting to unravel. In order of consideration they are: CORPORATION, OFFICE, CLERICAL, SECRETARY, MANAGER, PROFESSIONAL, CAREER.

Roman law is the source of the word "corporation,'' which came to mean an entity, formed for a specific purpose, that was considered to have a legal existence over and above the individuals who comprised it. Once rules and regulations became institutionalized, the individual became of less consequence than the structure that incorporated him into its functions. A corporate officer is judged according to his ability to personify the qualities associated with the company's mission, the better to pass himself off as a servant rather than a shaper of policy. If challenged on a specific arbitrary procedure, he will invariably seek refuge in the clich, "That's the way we do things here.''

This domination of concrete activity by a fictitious—lifeless— representation, which Karl Marx saw as characteristic of alienated labor, is hinted at in the root word of "corporation,'' corpus, with its evocation of inertia and death. Indeed, the deadly silence that pervades the corridors of power can only be compared to a morgue. And judging from organizational charts—those bizarre convolutions of boxes connected by solid or broken lines—the body has become somewhat swollen. In 18th century England, a fat stomach was jestingly called a "corporation.'' This comparison retains its accuracy, for corporations create nothing, they only feed off others and excrete the results.

Offices are the limbs of the corporate corpse. Originally, the word "office'' referred not to the physical backdrop for the performance of work, but to the particular array of tasks entrusted to an individual. Any kind of service carried out regularly for someone else was deemed an "office,'' and a certain amount of prestige accrued to anyone who discharged the duties of his office properly. That the scope of the term should eventually encompass the workplace is a testimony to the growing depersonalization and interchangeability of functions. Ultimately, the content of what one does pales in comparison to the necessity of blending it into the overall environment. Our office becomes. . .the office. While it may be impossible to take pride in one's job (jobbe, the Middle English word meaning "lump''), we are supposed to draw comfort from efficiently fitting into a smooth operation, and forget that the whole process reduces us to insensate lumps. Fortunately for our sense of black humor, another definition of "office'' is "toilet,'' and in fact some of the office worker's rare moments of privacy are spent in the privy offices. How much more healthful and conducive to contemplation are these cramped stalls than the assorted departments, sections, and units that empty tons of waste into an already saturated world!

Corporations yoke large numbers of people to their team by means of stiff clerical collars. Medieval clerks were scholars who usually toiled away at some level of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. With the gradual secularization of European society, the word came to include anyone who kept records and accounts for somebody else. Nowadays, we know that clerks don't have to be scholars, particularly when all it takes to carry out most jobs are a few motor functions. Through the irony of history, however, many so-called educated people, the clerks of an earlier era, have over the past several years joined the modern clerical orders. Although the work ethic has displaced the crucified Christ, the religious illusion maintains its essential continuity; clerks now sacrifice themselves for God & Co. The spell can only be broken by a revived anti-clerical movement to crush the infamy of wage labor.

Like "clerk,'' the evolution of the word "secretary'' illustrates the decline of a once-privileged social role into a subservient position. The key to its meaning lies in the first five letters—secret—implying an element of personal contact and service. In the world of Renaissance political intrigue, a secretary was usually an aide-de-camp to powerful men; although clearly subordinate to his nobly-born master, the secretary, in his capacities as scribe and guardian of the secrets, was still in a position to exercise influence. Even up to the nineteenth century, secretaries were their bosses' right-hand men.

Following the introduction of "scientific management'' techniques into the workplace and the resultant growth of centralized bureaucracies, women entered the labor force in large numbers and the position of secretary took on new meaning. Women's enforced submissiveness in the home was duplicated in the relationship of the female secretary to her male boss. Some degree of secrecy and confidence remained, as the secretary knew almost everything that had to do with her boss's job. Unlike her male predecessors, though, she exerted little real influence over the boss's decisions, and was deemed worthy of notice only to the extent of her ability to carry out—and preferably anticipate—her boss's wishes. She became indispensable only if she stayed in the same place all her life. These days, most secretaries keep secrets less for their bosses than from themselves. They can't talk about how much money they earn. Many still try to endow their jobs with a long-vanished aura of prestige, and are encouraged to see things through their boss's eyes.

Managers benefit from their secretaries' activity. So assiduously do they guard their puny shares of authority and so vigorously do they proclaim it, they should be reminded of ménage, a root word of "manager'' which means "housekeeping.'' In a sense, managers are housekeepers for capital: witness the anal- retentiveness of the typical manager who, like a housekeeper, is applauded for his "attention to detail.'' The active sense of the word "manager'' originates in the process of training horses for a show, which even today is still called a manège. "Management training'' is therefore a redundancy. The implications are there for all to see: taming, bridling, and controlling. A manager's success is gauged by how well he is able to put his troops through their intricately-choreographed paces.

If these human horses are to fulfill their potential as a team, they will each have to be professionals in their jobs. Often, the label of "professional'' gains quasi-mystical significance in the eyes of its disciples: "We have to approach the problem professionally,'' "My professional opinion is blah-blah-blah.'' How appropriate that such an article of faith should be. . .professed. Like their religious forebears who earnestly studied dogma, today's professionals must pass thorugh various stages of initiation—MBA's, systems analysis, management courses—before they can be professed in the corporate credo. Centuries ago, theology, law, and medicine were termed the "three professions,'' and the latter two fields continue to enjoy at least financial prestige. Theology, it is true, has fallen on bad days, but possibly computer programming, with its convoluted language, peculiar incantations, and the devotional fervor of its practitioners, might fill the gap.

Within the confines of their vocations, professionals follow an individual trajectory called a "career.'' Careers are described in the terminology of a footrace—goals are striven for, hurdles are encountered along the path, and newly-minted careerists note with satisfaction that they are "off and running'' or "on track'' towards the fulfillment of their ambition. But the word "career'' actually implies a race far removed from jogging. The root of "career'' is a word meaning "chariot,'' and its associations evoke a chariot careening down a steep path in full career. A rat race, perhaps? Indeed, most careers are headlong dashes into an uncertain future fraught with the perils of ulcers and heart disease. There are always new procedures to learn, new courses to take, new political configurations to adjust to, unexpected reversals—and through it all loom, tantalizingly out of reach, those ever-elusive "goals.'' For many, the promises of a career, with its connotations of movement and progress, are preferable to those of a job, with its overtones of inertia and lumpishness. However, at the end of a career, very often another meaning emerges—the fixed paths of celestial bodies, which when transplanted into human existence turn out to be ruts.

In his epic poem Altazor, the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro proclaimed: "All the languages are dead/Dead in the hands of the tragic neighbor/We must revive the languages/With wagons of giggles/With short-circuits in the sentences/And cataclysm in the grammar.'' His exhortation strikes a sympathetic note in all of us who are stuck in workplaces and forced to shoulder a burden of processed words. We have the power to breathe life into the endless procession of meaninglessness, artificial phrases, simply by unloading our wagons of giggles and shortcircuiting sentences at their weakest link—the individual word. We can employ the tactic of the deliberate Freudian slip; if a letter or two is altered in a word, numerous disturbing affinities appear. Corporation becomes coporation; anti-trust metamorphoses into anti-tryst. With the addition of a prefix, personnel becomes impersonnel, and the mere deletion of an "i'' reveals an ominous aspect of policies—polices. Homonyms are dangerous as well— whence come the strange sonic symbiosis between supervisor and snoopervisor? Or memorandum and memorondumb?

Anti-lexicons of de-composed keywords can be prepared and folded into the vest-pocket-sized Basic Secretarial Terms that clutters up so many desks. Against the ignorant mystification of manufactured speech and computer "languages,'' the technique of words in freedom must be practiced. Sound poems and abstract patterns of letters and words can be easily constructed and printed on word processing equipment and clandestinely distributed along with scandalous xero-graphic collages, with results undreamed of by the old Dadaists. Language can thereby start to regain its function not just as a means of communication, but as a means of revelation. Huidobro's demand for "a beautiful madness in the life of the word'' needs only the addition of a "l'' to the last "word'' to become an articulation of our desire for a new life, and of the intimate bond between our words and our world.

"And since we must live and not kill ourselves/As long as we live let us play/The simple game of words/Of the pure word and nothing more.''

-Vicente Huidobro from Altazor, Canto III

Christopher Winks

From Boom To Bust: Roots of Disillusionment

How do I fill my days? A force called "Hard Cash" moves my feet
—Gang of Four, 1982, "Call Me Up"

From the vantage point of the "Raw Deal" eighties it's hard even to imagine the expectations people in their teens and twenties had in the decade after World War II. The U.S. was unchallenged ruler of half the world, wages were rising rapidly if not steadily, and after 1947 inflation was a minor annoyance. Buying a home and starting a family were easier than they had ever been before.

The prosperity of the post WWII era coincided with the birth of 76 million people between 1947 and 1964—the biggest "baby boom" in U.S. history. New consumer goods and the suburbanization of a large part of the working class provided the basis for a much-touted "upward mobility." Capitalism's ideologues announced an era of unlimited economic growth in which all good citizens could expect to participate.

The new generation grew up amid ubiquitous encouragement from radio, TV, magazines and newspapers to define success and happiness in terms of material commodities. In exchange for accepting the responsibilities of work and family life, anyone, it was thought, could attain "middle class" status. "Upward mobility" generally meant getting out of the blue collar and into the white collar, out of the city and into the suburbs, off the bus or train and into the private car, etc.

Parents who saw only marginal improvements in their own living standards focused their aspirations on their kids' futures. For millions of American workers, the only way to participate in the glories of an expanding capitalist economy was to ensure a better job for their children. Being the father or mother of a lawyer was somehow considered a just reward for parents who spent their own working lives as auto workers or seamstresses. It was widely accepted that a college education guaranteed a good job with steadily increasing income, status and responsibilities. As living standards improved and fears of economic depression receded, many parents were able to set aside money to help send their kids to college.

Governments at all levels helped establish a college education as a status elevator and meal ticket by building many public universities and creating demand for colleges via grants, loans, G.I. bill, etc. This in turn presented job opportunities for college graduates in government and universities. By 1969 higher education had become an industry employing more workers than either auto or steel.

Unlike past generations, a large minority of the 76 million baby boomers attended college. The proportion of students to non-students peaked in 1969 when one-half of all college-age white males were enrolled. This was the first generation in which many considered it normal to stay at home until age 18 or 19 and then go on to some kind of higher education. For some, the university experience itself was the "fruit of the American Dream." Most schools were endowed with an array of facilities, structures, and equipment beyond the reach of the average citizen. These "luxuries" were added to the luxury of the students' several years of relative freedom prior to donning the responsibilities of job and family (though it is true that most students had to work at lousy, low-paying jobs in order to help fund their training for "something better").

But in spite of efforts to inculcate blind nationalism and conformism at an early age with daily recitations of Pledges of Allegiance and Star Spangled Banners, complemented by regimented leisure activities like Boy and Girl Scouts, in spite of the proliferation of role models like Barbie and Ken and G.I. Joe, somewhere along the Great White American Way the socialization process broke down. The very generation brought up to enjoy the fruits of the new consumer society began rejecting it in earnest as they watched the American Dream fade into a Nightmare of boredom and banality.

Promises of the Joys of new dishwashing liquids and of the freedom provided by modern conveniences were countered with the poverty of spiritual and emotional life in the new suburban ghettoes. The revolt coalesced into a social movement that left few areas of daily life unchallenged as people experimented with ideas and lifestyles that escaped (at least temporarily) the mold of the "buy-or-die" economy.

An important impetus for this breakdown came from far beyond the world of suburban tract homes and spanking new campuses. It came from the Black revolt which, beginning in Alabama and Mississippi, flared through the Southern states and across the Mason-Dixon Line to the industrial ghettoes of the North. Hundreds of young whites shared as Freedom Riders the experience of Black solidarity, dignity and courage against the brutality of police and vigilantes. Not only did they participate in a community different from anything they had ever known but they were abruptly compelled to view the "forces of order" as guardians of an unjust, exploitative and routinely violent system.

This encounter with the Civil Rights movement—whose aspirations ranged from social revolution to a mere equal incorporation of Blacks into "consumer society"—pushed huge numbers of white youth to revolt against the generally subtler constraints and repressions of their own lives. "Do not bend, fold, spindle or mutilate me, " cried the partisans of Berkeley's 1964 Free Speech Movement, while Students for a Democratic Society, founded two years earlier, shifted from mild, left-liberalism to increasingly radical critiques of the whole social order and a commitment to mass participatory democracy in its own activities (though it's true they didn't always carry out these principles).

Alongside and within the Black, student and "counterculture" revolts grew mass opposition to the Vietnam War. Awareness of the atrocities committed by the U.S. military opened up a whole series of related issues: the imperialist nature of U.S. foreign policy, the inhuman misery and poverty associated with corporate America's exploitation of the Third World, the government's complicity in bolstering repressive regimes that facilitated multinational corporate profits, and the destructive uses of modern technology both in its military and its industrial applications.

As ghetto after ghetto exploded in the wake of Martin Luther King's assassination, white youth fought in the streets against the war and the way of life which gave rise to it. An unstable community developed based on common values and symbols that were articulated in a flurry of underground publications as well as in rock-songs and movies. These new cultural activities were themselves a lively critique of the commercialization and homogenization of "leisure time".

In the rag-tag laboratories of the East Village, the Haight-Ashbury and a few other such centers the experimenters, many of whom became known as "hippies," broke with all the established goals and norms they could think of. Using drugs, music and visionary art, they tried to purge themselves of their parents' obsession with work, money and possessions.

Already the more radical hippies had denounced marriage and the nuclear family as breeding-grounds for neurosis and repression. Now small groups of feminists criticized the masculine privilege built into hippie "free-love" ethos and the macho, authoritarian behavior of many male activists. Thousands more girls and women soon began rejecting sex roles in all kinds of ways—from insisting on wearing pants to school and refusing to take "home ec'' classes, to attacking beauty contests and forming "consciousness raising" groups where they could throw off the age-old domination of "their" men and discover their own power and creativity. At about the same time, many homosexuals refused to conceal their orientation any longer and rebelled violently against discrimination and police harassment in the famous Stonewall riot of 1969.

Together these youth created temporary and partial alternatives to wage-labor, the life-blood of capitalist society. Collectives, cooperatives, and communal farms provided many "dropouts" with a way of eking out a living on the margins of the commodity economy. While small networks of such groups still exist in the U.S. today, many have been broken by the tribulations of the money economy, or have had to tighten up and become more "business-like" so that they now differ little from "straight" business operations. Still others have collapsed under the weight of isolation or in-fighting, undoubtedly exacerbated by lack of money, time, and space. An "alternative" business loses its appeal when it ends up requiring more energy and effort to sustain than a regular job in a corporate office or shop floor.

The impossibility of preserving an alternative society within the capitalist economy contributed to the disintegration of the '60s movements. The end of the Vietnam War and the Watergate purges also defused political opposition, by removing favorite targets of the protest movements.

Once separated from the multi-faceted critique of daily life, the cultural creations of the movement became commodities like any other. rock promoters, drug-pushers, hip New Age entrepreneurs and Self-Help merchants all profited from the co-optation of the counter-culture. The language and symbols of the disintegrating community of "drop-outs" were absorbed by the mainstream where their subversive meanings were neutralized. "Feminism" came to be represented in the media by the image of a dressed-for-success woman executive. At the same time, channeled through anti-war activism into a fight on behalf of others, and lacking an adequate theory of its own, the political wing of the movement fell an easy prey to authoritarian Old Leftist ideologies like Maoism and Trotskyism.

Aspirations for a complete transformation of society gave way to a quest for novelty and vague desires to be "different." Pop-psychologists, "Me-Decade" hacks and other propagandists of the status quo rationalized the demise of radicalism as the sober reaction of mature individuals to the "excesses" of their youthful "idealism". They prescribed pseudophilosophies of "Positive Thinking" to help obliterate social consciousness and alleviate prevalent feelings of anger, frustration and failure. The common social problems faced by everyone were supposedly "solvable" by "changing your lifestyle". In an ironic parallel with the politicos, the spiritual seekers likewise succumbed to authoritarianism and dogma. A whole crop of gurus and spiritual leaders cashed in on the self-sacrificial ideology of anti-consumerism., and the widespread spiritual poverty, turning thousands of confused, disoriented young people into their zombie slaves.

Despite the co-optation of the '60s movements, it is undeniable that they left an imprint on popular consciousness, especially among still younger people who were not directly involved in the events themselves. This is particularly clear in the gut-level distrust for authority and government that millions still feel.

The post-war economic boom gave way in the seventies to inflation and depression. Alternatives to the regular job-market dried up, just when millions of college-educated babyboomers began entering it. Reductions in student grants further closed off opportunities for even temporary respite from wage-work, and job opportunities in the government and academic worlds—traditional employers of college grads—have been on the decline for years.

Where have these millions of new economic draftees gone to seek employment? Those who responded to seventies' economic projections by specializing in business, computers, and sciences, have usually found jobs in those fields. But what of the millions who resisted the dictates of the market? It has become something of a cliché to refer to the cab-driver with a Master's Degree in English literature, but it is true that the expansion of employment has mostly occurred in the so-called "service" sector of the economy.

Within the service sector, by far the greatest growth has come in "information services" within and between businesses and government. The number of people working at white-collar jobs has more than doubled in the past twenty-five years, now comprising over 53 % of the workforce. The largest increases have been in the clerical realm, where there are now 18 1/2 million people working, and "professional and technical work" where there are now nearly 17 million workers (this latter category includes occupations as varied in income and status as computer programmer, health worker, technician, lawyer, school teacher). Coincidentally, the primary "skill" learned from a contemporary university education has been at least a rudimentary ability to "handle information"—a skill one needs simply to get through the educational bureaucracy.


In the post-WWII era, big U.S. companies were growing by leaps and bounds. To take advantage of the geographically large U.S. market, many companies built facilities all across the country. Often this led to greater and more complex flows of raw materials, semi-finished, and finished products. Similarly, many companies began moving their plants to Europe, Asia, and Latin America to take advantage of those markets, as well as of the lower wages and the absence of governmental. regulation. Dispersion of a corporation's production and distribution facilities throughout the world complicates record-keeping at all levels, creating ever greater needs for "administrative support" (read, office work).

Along with expanding markets came the need to publicize new products. Advertising, which first came into its own in the 1920s, really grew in the '50s and '60s along with TV and other new media. Entertainment, constantly interrupted by advertisements, glamorized ever newer and fancier consumer goods. Industries like film, recording, publishing and advertising, geared to the production and dissemination of "information" hired thousands of workers to design products and publicity, and to buy and sell these information commodities.

Innumerable disputes and conflicts evolved from the complex relationships within and between different businesses and business sectors. These, plus the ever-growing load of governmental regulation and constantly changing tax laws, led to the extraordinary growth of legal work and its millions of lawyers, researchers, clerks, reporters, examiners, etc. The vast majority of litigation involve corporations and government agencies, and focuses on their control of markets, products, and profits. Partly to protect themselves in court, all companies now produce and maintain at least duplicate records of everything (triplicate and quadruplicate records are common in accounting and legal firms). Memos and contracts have become the final proof of what is "real." All of this calls for millions of workers to write, type, copy, file, and retrieve the information.

Another participant in the litigation merry-go-round has been the insurance industry. The increasingly complex economy has created more possibilities for things to go wrong, which in turn has caused the insurance industry to boom. Since everything that goes wrong implies a financial liability for someone, it isn't surprising that everyone wants to buy protection from potentially catastrophic losses due to accident (or due to the consequences of deliberately cutting corners in the scramble to get an advantage over competitors—see for example Love Canal or the Ford Pinto). Nor is it surprising that insurance companies have spent a good deal of money on lawsuits to avoid paying even more money to beneficiaries and/or victims. Insurance companies now employ millions of office workers and wield enormous power in investment decisions through their control of premium money. Because of their importance as money managers, the insurance and banking industries have begun to converge.

One of the much-publicized features of the past 35 years has been the astounding growth of government of bureaucracies at every level—municipal, county, state, and federal. In spite of the current attempts to curb governmental growth this sector of the economy still employs more than 6 million information workers.

Yet another contributing factor to the growth of office employment has been 15 years of merger-mania—the remarkable rise of conglomerates, or large holding companies which own numerous manufacturing, distribution and/or financial subsidiaries. Bureaucracy grows as each subsidiary has to devote time and money to comply with the information needs of its parent. Meanwhile parent companies become pure bureaucracies, interested only in the flow of data coming in from the subsidiaries.

The last and most important sector of "information work" is banking. This primarily used to consist of taking in corporate and individual deposits and loaning it out on interest. But recently, fiercer competition for scarce investment funds has made possible higher returns than banking has traditionally offered. Higher earnings for investments have led to an inflow of funds and this, in turn, has stimulated the beginnings of the capitalist concentration process—the big companies absorb the small and begin fighting each other for market shares. The government is taking its first steps towards the gradual national de-regulation of banking.

The trend toward concentration in consumer investment services is exemplified in the recent acquisitions and mergers between big banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, stock brokerages, real estate firms, commodities brokerages, and even retail giants like Sears. We are now seeing the creation of the ostensibly broader category, "financial services," which includes not just demand deposit banking and consumer and corporate credit, but also data processing and computer services, speculative investment in real estate, stock markets, money markets, commodities, etc., and such consumer services as insurance, credit cards, retirement accounts, and travelers' checks.

Remarkably, in spite of the more than 5 million workers already involved in finance, insurance, and real estate and in spite of the advent of office automation, most projections of future employment possibilities continue to stress the field of financial services. They urge computer literacy as the primary prerequisite. This assumes that as these new financial service conglomerates begin to battle for the consumers' dollar there will be an unprecedented expansion in ways to shuffle all the money around. In other words, IRA's, All-Savers Certificates of Deposit, money markets, etc. are only the beginning, and the "financial services" industry will need thousands, if not millions, more workers to handle all this additional "information." In line with these projections, the Reagan administration's Labor Department recently offered for public comment before adoption some new rules regarding child labor. Fourteen and fifteen year olds will be allowed to work as data entry clerks (among other jobs) after school for four hours a day, probably at less than minimum wage.


For years, people from poor and working class backgrounds, especially women, have struggled to get white collar jobs as a step up in social status (if not income) . The system's ideologues have encouraged this effort, saluting the rise of white collar work as the expansion of the "middle class." But the reality of office work makes the illusion of white-collar professionalism hard to maintain.

The vast majority of white collar workers have inherited a workaday life consisting of repetitive, meaningless tasks, subordination to petty, coercive authority and grinding anxiety. Creativity has been systematically eliminated from most jobs through years of scientific management, speed-up and automation. The relentless assembly-line logic of productivity is riding automation into its new frontiers of low-to-middle management and professional and technical workers. It is not hard to imagine that in the very near future most people will carry out their jobs in front of TV screens.

Beyond these generalizations, though, the office workforce is divided into variegated, complex and overlapping hierarchies of pay, status and function. Lowest on the totem-pole from almost every point of view are the "information processors"—data entry and file clerks in particular. Career ladders out of this layer are virtually nonexistent, the pay is often appalling and the work rivals the assembly-line for sheer monotony, anxiety and exhaustion. Not surprisingly, most key entry and data processing rooms are filled with younger women, especially Blacks, Chicanas and immigrants from Asia and Latin America.

On the other side of the hierarchy are the trainee-junior and middle managers. The lowest of this group are typically products of night-school courses or in-house training and despite their often ferocious ambition are unlikely to rise much further, since they lack either the general education or the connections required. The Bachelors in business administration, most of whom these days are working in dead-end lower management positions, often plan to go back to school for their MBAs.

Management aspirants come from all layers of the workforce, having in common only ambition, authoritarianism, and the other rather twisted attitudes toward life and the living required for the role. John Lennon summed it up in "Working Class Hero": "There's room at the top, They are telling you still, But first you must learn, To smile as you kill."

Between the sterile ghetto of "information processing" and the rat-maze of management are the secretaries and "support staff." The older generation of secretaries are mostly white women, well-schooled in the traditional secretarial role, which combines aspects of wife, mother and military aide-de-camp. This old-style secretary typically has to know every aspect of her boss' job that relates to the office itself. She has not only to answer the phones, take dictation and type letters and memoranda, but to organize her boss' entire working life and provide crucial emotional support as well.

As automation clicks and chirps its way up from the key entry room into the managerial suites, secretarial work is being downgraded. Admittedly, some former secretaries become NCO's of the clerical army word processing, supervisors, data base administrators, and other fancy sounding occupations. These low-level supervisory jobs are just as controlled and watched as the positions they supervise, and don't represent any real control, although they do indicate a certain compliance with the status quo on the part of the person holding the job. Non-supervisory secretaries, meanwhile, are being gradually reduced in status as their old tasks of memory and organization are taken on by microprocessors.

All the same, in most offices the secretary or administrative assistant still has rather more variety and more pay and rather less direct supervision, than her number-crunching colleagues downstairs. And it is in these secretarial and "support" jobs that a large proportion of "sixties rebels" have settled (the ones who have learned to type anyway—others have found their way into less automated clerical niches like the mail room). Lacking the drive to manage, but educated and versatile enough to avoid the data processing departments, they have become the new breed of secretarial worker—restless and mobile, if not officially "temporary," and far less identified with the job than their traditional counterparts. If Processed World has a typical reader s/he is one of these.

As the depression takes hold, the situation for all of these groups is deteriorating. The "information processors" are forced to accept ever larger workloads which are monitored impersonally by keystroke-counters built into their machines. Aspiring executive-types find the corporate career ladders increasingly "clogged," as the Wall Street Journal puts it. This year, college grads are being offered 19% fewer jobs than last. The most adventurous climbers try to move up by diagonal hops between companies; a risky business. Many others can expect at best stagnation, at worst a fast ride down to the street as their functions are taken over by a terminal in the suite upstairs.

The new-style secretaries are feeling the crunch in their own way. Often cynical about their jobs, they have illusions of a different sort. Many are artists, musicians or actors looking for the Big Break, which is now increasingly unlikely to arrive as the cultural markets too have turned bearish. The most rebellious, the habitual absentees and job-hoppers, are finding that work takes longer to find and are correspondingly cleaning up their acts. Once-choosy temps are more reluctant to turn assignments down.

In the short term it looks as if at least outward conformity is going to sweep OfficeLand as people get frightened about survival. Certainly the single biggest response of U.S. workers to the economic crisis so far has been increasing caution and privatism. Grin and bear it at work, then seek pleasure and self-fulfillment in free time. But it takes an immense effort to overcome the fatigue and numbness that sets in at the end of the work/day week. People end up flopped in front of the TV or other forms of passive consumption trying to muster the strength for the next go-round.

In this context, creative thought about one's predicament is very difficult. Public space is colonized by the entertainment industry, which profits from our need to forget, to escape. In the cinemas and concert-halls where we consume its products, we are "alone together," isolated from each other even as we occupy the same space. The few scenes where some genuine community exists can't really compensate for the dreariness of the working week.

It's no wonder so many people feel their lives are being wasted by countless hours of boring, uncreative toil. Office workers are in a particularly good position to recognize this. Most office labor is "useful" only for realizing the political and economic priorities of governments and corporations. One need only consider how few people ever benefit from the millions of money transactions that occupy millions of workers daily in brokerage companies, banks, law firms and other corporate offices. The "services" provided by these institutions are "needed" because of the insecurity and scarcity that the money system creates in the first place.

The wastefulness of information work is only the latest development of a social system that has made waste its primary product for most of this century. The ecological and psychological problems attendant to an automobile/suburban "throw-away" society are well documented, as is the planned obsolescence of many allegedly useful goods and tools. Likewise, the vast military-related industries use billions of hours of potentially creative human labor for the production of means of mass destruction, misery, and terror. Even where this system has produced incredible abundance, as it has in food (though often of dubious nutritional value and at the expense of the planet's ecology), significant amounts are systematically destroyed to preserve the present system.

A great many people will readily agree to all this, and many will even agree that the problem lies at the core of the existing set-up. But most can't really envision any other way of doing things. On the one hand, they view state-dominated societies like the USSR with understandable distaste and dread. On the other, the idea of a freely, genuinely cooperative and communal world, in which the individual would be realized rather than suppressed, is totally alien to their experience. How to imagine collective, equal responsibility for social decision-making in a world of universal hierarchy and irrational violence, hatred and fear? How to take seriously a vision of creatively satisfying work, directly controlled by those who do it, when people now must be driven to work by the cattleprod of the wage system?

In the movements of the sixties, such ideas, confused as they may have been, were partly naive idealism. More important, though, they grew out of the actual experience of the movement itself—out of organizing demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts and strikes, as well as communal households, food co-ops, free music gigs and so on. Some of these experiences were disillusioning too—a good many former activists and communards turned sourly conservative after concluding that free collectivity was impossible. But others still remember the successes, partial as they were, the moments when people felt they had the power together to make their own history, to become anything they might desire to be. They carry with them a blurred snapshot of utopia.

Today the sixties survivors, along with younger people who have developed similar feelings and attitudes in response to this society, are being pressured to knuckle down and forget even the remnants of their dreams, preserved by some through work avoidance and the "artist" and "activist" roles. But this pressure will probably increase their dissatisfaction. They are likely to be joined in this dissatisfaction by many from the key entry rooms, the data centers, and even the lower-level management offices, as all levels of the office-worker hierarchy find their work harder and duller, their pay poorer and their aspirations thwarted. Here is common ground on which to begin questioning in earnest the life we are forced to share and the fight for a better one. Perhaps, after all, the muddled and sometimes easily co-opted hopes of the Baby Boom generation will not simply be lost in the corporate machinery. Perhaps they will reappear, immeasurably strengthened and clarified out of a new social movement both broad and coherent enough to realize them.

by Lucius Cabins, Maxine Holz, and Louis Michaelson

Processed World #7

Issue 7: Spring 1983 from

processedworld07proc.pdf6.29 MB

Table of Contents

Talking Heads


Sex Roles / Social Control

Toiling Tails: "It's A Business Doing Pleasure With You"

WOMAN OF THE YEAR ("Centerfold")

Hot Flashes!

Porn: Turn On or Put Down?... Some Thoughts On Sexuality

Bad Girl

The Dead-End Game of Corporate Feminism

Just One More Day

Tales of Toil: Stuck In Stocks


Through The Tinted Glass

Talking Heads


This, the seventh issue of Processed World, is the first to be created in our new home—a basement in a Victorian in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. Previously PW's production facilities were housed in one of the staff's apartment, but roommate hassles and the need for a more accessible location has put us out on our own, with an additional $275 monthly overhead to worry about. A number of PWers, with the invaluable aid of skilled friends, renovated a run-down basement, and a January 16 Open House christened our delightful new HQ. Thanks to all who helped, made donations toward the $1,500 cost of the move, and came and had a good time at the Open House. We will probably be having another one soon.

As indicated on the cover, this is our Special Sex Issue, with the themes of sexuality, sex roles, and the sex/work connection appearing in a number of articles. (Also check out Issue #18) The opening article by Stephen Marks, "Sex Roles/Social Control" details the changing relationship between sex role mythology and work roles, how sexual insecurity is used to control us, and shows how the advent of the gay male clerical worker and the female manager has actually validated the traditional patriarchal hierarchy in the office. Michelle La Place's article, "The Dead-End Game of Corporate Feminism," discusses how capitalist values have absorbed and distorted a once radical opposition movement, and punctures the myth of women's liberation through career advancement.

Going right to the heart of the sex/work connection, one of our regulars, Linda Thomas, "bares" her past in "Toiling Tails: "It's A Business Doing Pleasure With You." In a poignant, often humorous style, Linda makes the link between her eight and half years as a nude model, hooker, and stripper, and her more recent past in the S.F. office world, concluding that in most respects she was robbed of the same things by the ostensibly different experiences.

Maxine Holz, in her article "Porn: Turn On or Put Down?...Some Ideas on Sexuality, " recounts her inquiry into the controversy surrounding pornography and rejects the politics of both the "left" Women Against Violence and Pornography in Media and the "right" Moral Majority-types. Critically examining the claims of WAVPM activists in literature and the film "Not A Love Story, " Maxine counters the emotionally-charged arguments in favor of repression but continues beyond the constricted borders of that debate to analyze the sexual poverty and sexual commodification that permeates modern society. She condemns a sexuality bound in by the "pole-in-hole" banality of pornography, and calls for one which is not categorized and separated from the myriad of daily human experiences, and a life in which we are free to experiment, to fantasize, and to play with sexual and emotional desires.

The short story "Through The Tinted Glass, " loosely inspired by Linda Wiens' cover graphic, and Sally A. Frye's "Tales of Toil: Stuck in Stocks" round out this issue, an issue we hope will satisfy both our regular readers who appreciate our unique emphasis on the office/ work-a-day world, and those critics who insist we break out of that "narrow" focus. As always, we have a large Letters section following this introduction, in which several discussions are continued and some new ones broached.

Now that we have finished the arduous task of moving and renovation, our attention is once again turning toward strategic questions of how we can raise the stakes. We hope to convene an open assembly to air different ideas, tactics, and goals in the relatively near future if you're interested please write to us. As always we are anxious for your comments, criticisms, and contributions to Processed World. Our mailing address remains: Processed World, 41 Sutter Street, #1829, San Francisco, CA 94104, USA. Let us hear from you!


Dear PW,

You sure fill a slot for me. I'm 52 now, been working since I was 10, about 90% of the time in offices and this is the first time I've seen somebody tackle head-on the real nitty-gritty of life in these paper factories from viewpoints I can empathize with, though I should qualify that a bit since for the past few years I've been working freelance, a peculiar shadow-land betwixt and between the normal categories. It has its own, often horrendous disadvantages and problems but I've decided I much prefer it to the 9-to-5 office wage slavery.

I gathered that I missed a lot of discussion on one of my favorite uh — topics, Sabotage but wot the hell. At the risk of possible repetition: Generally speaking, everybody who works for wages is being fucked over. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, leaving out all questions of "ethics" (we know who promulgated them, don't we? ), it makes simple common-sense to get back from the employer whatever you can. He's still going to come up winner, but you can even things at least partially if you have a creative mind. The main advice I can offer is the old saw: "Don't get mad , get even." The key here is keep your cool; allowing your natural rage to take control means mistakes and mistakes mean you get caught. Once you get on the inside of any office work situation, you will begin to see the holes in the system and how you can profit by them. And when you've exhausted all those possibilities, it's time to turn to creative monkey-wrenching. I will leave it for the theoreticians to argue about the dialectical nuances of sabotage. Basically, there is one overwhelming reason to do it: it makes you FEEL GOOD. "Igor like Sabotage — make Igor sweat." And I'd love to see a good detailed hardline how-to booklet on the subject. Matter of sharing information no?

On the question of unions, I've found that often you can counter the (very natural) distrust most people have — particularly those in offices — of unions by simply going back to basics. Instead of insisting on affiliation with some Big Union, start your own. Admittedly you won't have the power of big organization behind you but you won't have to put up with all the shit either. If there's crap, you will have created it yourselves. This is particularly true in small shops where you can sometimes operate in total solidarity without ever forming any kind of formal organization. This also frustrates the boss when he tries to ring in NLRB and other bureaucratic, delaying, organization-busting appendages on you. Again, small shops have advantages. One boss confronted with six people in an office who have secretly agreed to back each other up and down the line is in a rough position since he has nothing concrete to counterattack. It's also a hell of a lot easier to engage in some of the more necessary forms of warfare with The Man such as blackmail, working purposely in a stupid manner (the original meaning of Sabotage, incidentally, though the meaning has been changed by common usage), etc. Not that you can't get chawed up even so. That, to me, was the real "message" of the very interesting film Blue Collar.

Let's face it, that's where it all starts — with YOU trusting one other person where you work, then the two of you agreeing, after careful consideration, to trust a third... and so on until, with any luck and a little patience, the yous are at least a majority, by which time solidarity should have extended to helping each other in ripoffs, covering for each other whenever necessary and cooperating to nullify the activities of company finks and supervisors. Mainly, you have to start somewhere.

Got to go (freelancing means, among other things, that you always have either not enough work or too much work — I've yet to figure out which is worse).

D.E. — Oakland

Dear PW:

The article by Cabins, et al, failed to emphasize a couple of important points. The first is based on a presumption that all growth is beneficial. What else did the baby boom generation have going for it except its numbers and its correspondingly inflated expectations? Even the self-definition "boom" reveals a fallacious belief in the ideology of unlimited growth. The boom generation contributed bodies, 58,000 of which were killed in Vietnam, millions of which are now just another market.

The second is that the frustrations of the many have not been shared by all. How about Wozniak and his expectations? I am a white secretary who has worked longer than most of the boomers have lived. I have suffered as much at the hands of those half my age who are still working on their expectations. At the end of three decades of going downtown I have — guess what? three decades of going downtown. We all live with our disappointments. Besides these disappointments we have something in common. We are all consumers in the process of being consumed. And hard cash moves everything.

About the editorial comment that offering services and information may encourage dependency: do you really believe this is true? History offers so many examples to the contrary, underdeveloped countries and welfare recipients being but two. And just how is this supposed to happen? What legitimacy does PW claim? Are hordes of braindamaged ("I guess I'll have a lobotomy and be a secretary," said the frustrated boomer mentioned above) office workers going to become "dependent" on PW? How? The only way I could become dependent on PW is if you send me a check twice a month, enough for rent, food and the occasional movie. I think you're failing for the myth of individualism, which doesn't work. Individual gains are too much like the promise of the charismatic leader. When one goes, the other goes. In fact, trying to do it alone is fighting impossible odds. And that's what the odds mean — you can't win. In the old, tired days we called it solidarity. Nowadays it's community, or maybe not.

When I finish reading PW I pass it along to someone else. Does this encourage dependency? The thought never crossed my mind. But other thoughts do, and at this point I am conscious of the differences between PW and me. Most of you are at the beginning of your working lives. I'm nearly at the end. It's been a long prison sentence, years of solitary confinement, decades of longing for the city across the bay and the friends thousands of miles away and the stranger at the next desk.

I'm unemployed now and should be typing my resume. Typing a resume becomes more and more like typing a suicide note, and yet choosing not to work is a kamikaze mission. When I wake up knowing I won't have to work for one more day I am filled with joy. Habits of three decades die hard. Without food I will be brain-damaged. And joy's easy to get rid of. It goes all by itself while I wait for the 14 Mission. From the freeway I can see the hideous megaliths of the financial district. And no Rasta feels more hatred at the sight of the towers of Mammon. We both must call down destruction, flames, purification by fire. He in his tin shack, I on the stinking bus, we share this vision. But quietly, quietly I go to my desk.

B.C. — SF

Dear Ms. Highwater,

Well, dear, you have really hit low-tide now! You have revealed yourself to be the lazy good-for-nothing I always knew you were when you worked with that fine firm, Sodom Associates.

I am none other than she you so maligned in your rag, Processed Worms. However, when the fine firm referred to above folded, I was forced to leave my home, S.F., and come east.

My name, as you dubbed me, so ineloquently, is Chatty Kathy.

Too bad, our fine president was unable to impress upon the Amerikan people the need to tax unemployment benefits. Lazy people like you would be forced back to work, off the role, and off the backs of hard-working Amerikans like me!

Someone has to do the dirty deeds! Why do you resent whistleblowers?

Your time will come! Keep looking over your shoulder at the next place of work, there are many more like me (tee-hee... she who laughs last, laughs best!).

Chatty Kathy — NYC

Dear Processed World,

Re the generally excellent response by Louis Michaelson to a moronic letter by a Mr. Wallis in #5. Louis erred somewhat when he stated that Western European youth prefer "to fight directly for money, free time, and the space to enjoy both." They are fighting for free time and free space, but are frequently fighting against money.

Their actions include tactics such as squatting, self-reduction (which means organizing in large groups for the purpose of obtaining goods and services at prices lower than demanded by stores, buses, utility companies), rate strikes, and occasionally, expropriation and redistribution of goods (what the media calls looting). These are all attempts at freeing human needs from the grip of the money system.

The system's abolition will be necessary for workers to completely challenge "the state and the wages system" and begin "taking over social power and running production and distribution for their own purposes — without a bureaucracy." Office work is dominated by the task of keeping track of money. I would like to see more on the role office workers could play in a social re-ordering whose aim is a new, freely cooperative and communal society.

J.S. — Berkeley

To Processed World,

Within the context of leftist analysis modern society is riddled with annoying paradoxes. At times it seems that the PW editorial group is aware of this as when you take a stand against unionism for, among other reasons, reducing rebellion to structural goals. But yet you wish, somehow, to organize workers.

Or to take another example, you state your desire to create a society beyond the logic of Capital but yet you appear to hanker for the good old days of social activism that a depressed economy will supposedly usher in ("Roots of Disillusionment", PW#6), as if succumbing to the illusion of immiseration misery as the motor of revolt.

When you had an opportunity to take on these paradoxes by at least outlining a clear criticism of leftist practice, and defining your relationship to this "tradition" as Louis Michaelson refers to it in his reply to Gidget's imputation of bad faith (in PW #5), you let it pass. And when W.R. of LA writes of the "revolt against work" Maxine's reply concentrates on a few obvious confusions instead of dealing with, head-on, W.R.'s substantive paradox: That as the fragmentation and regimentation of society increases people lose interest in improving their dead-end jobs.

I would say that the vision of a truly free society cannot be maintained by PW's graphics and fiction alone. Is it not time to give your vision some more substance?

C.S. — SF

Dear PW:

If I may stand in the line of fire between Gidget Digit and Louis Michaelson for just a minute, I would like to offer my criticisms of Processed World.

GD's remarks about PW's "honesty," despite their guilt-ridden, abstract, and undialectical nature, obviously touched a sensitive nerve, hence LM's disingenuous, ad hominem response. LM's protestations of "honesty" won't arrest PW's decomposition — the editorial "we" is in an advanced state of schizophrenia ("some of this think this while others think that").

I would venture to say that the problem of defining who you are and what you want is not resolved by the submission of resumes of past political affiliations — it's not so much a matter of origins as of present relations and projects. Your present is more obscure than your pasts, and its clarification (along with an analysis of your resistance to this clarification) would be more interesting.

Differences within PW can only sharpen as PWers are compelled not by me but by real developments — to confront their own activity. If PWers seem confused about their project and their expectations for it, this confusion seems less and less "innocent" and more like a flight from consciousness. Otherwise, how to explain the stagnation of PW's critique and PW's complete lack of criticality about itself?

In fact, PW's critique of work and authority doesn't go beyond the ambitious worker who's against "bosses" and "shit work" (and for self-management or self-employment in an "interesting" occupation). I think this may be the key to PW's relative popularity — it's a "satisfying" representation of its readers' interests rather than a dialectical critique of them workerism with a human face. (And this is in line with PWers' self-conception as being just a bunch of regular folks who happened to start a magazine that happened to have an anti-authoritarian attitude.)

Implicit in much of what is and isn't said in PW is the notion that theory can somehow be left for later or that its readers aren't sophisticated enough to appreciate it — that is, they can't think for themselves. Well, practice minus theory equals pragmatism: the magazine gets published. The question remains: why publish Processed World?

J.B. — Berkeley

Dear J. B.,

To respond to your concluding question first, we publish Processed World because it is an intrinsically satisfying creative experience. Beyond that, the magazine attempts to address and illuminate the situation of the majority of the work force, i.e. information handlers. This focus is not derived from the view that information handlers, office workers, are more likely than other types of workers (or non-workers for that matter) to move toward revolutionary activity. Rather, we wanted to end the silence surrounding an aspect of daily life on which we, among millions of others, spend all too much time. And it is true that office workers as a sub-group of the working class do have enormous potential power to disrupt the flow of information which is vital to the maintenance of the present order.

I agree with you that an assessment of our current relations and projects is crucial to our project. I think we have tried to do this in the "Talking Heads" introduction columns in PW's #5 and #6, where subjects like "organization, " "sabotage," "direct action," etc. were described as a source of contention in the group, and different viewpoints were outlined. You seem to think our inability to agree upon a single point of view is a sign of "decomposition" or "schizophrenia ". I think it is wrong to imagine that we as a group should necessarily reconcile our differences in order to continue. If a basically cooperative spirit is preserved the magazine can become (and hopefully has been) a sounding board, where different ideas can be expressed and responded to.

You criticize the magazine and its creators for "fleeing from consciousness" because we are confused about our project and where it's going. Is there something wrong with admitting to not having answers, or even comprehensive explanations? As has often been said, different people in the group have different reasons for participating in PW at different times. We have neither "Principles of Unity" nor a basic operating credo. We are all anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian, but what that translates into in terms of practical activity is quite divergent, and so it should be. I think diversity and disagreement is a great thing, provided that it takes place in a respectful atmosphere (which unfortunately isn't always the case).

Let's face it, no one knows what it's going to take to overturn the current mode of living. We can and should have extensive inquiry into how such change could happen and what we can do as small groups (if anything) to help bring it about. We know that earlier theories of revolution have proven bankrupt or inadequate, even if we can learn from them, and that everyone everywhere (or even in most places) is not going to change all of a sudden, as if by religious transformation. We need to learn how radical transformations do happen. We can try to facilitate discussion and activity among ourselves and others, with an eye toward developing a practical sense of what it takes to bring about the kind of changes we desire.

For you, our "critique" has stagnated at a point where it doesn't go beyond "the ambitious worker who's against "bosses" and "shit-work" (and for self-management or selfemployment in an "interesting" occupation)". Considering that a pretty straight-forward critique of wage-labor, the money system, the state, and unions has appeared in at least one article in every issue, I really think you are not reading what's there. We have repeatedly called for a complete transformation of the whole of daily life, most especially the reality of "work. " Although as yet no article in PW has been devoted to a critique of self-management, we have never advocated self-management, especially for office workers.

If we have stagnated, it is as much at the level of action as it might be at the level of theory. In fact, an adequate synthesis of radical critique and practical activity is a highly elusive goal, as you yourself well know. I hope more deliberate consideration and action is dedicated to achieving such a synthesis, not just within the group, but among radicals and "regular folks" everywhere. Clearly, we all have a lot to learn.

Thanks for your comments,
Lucius Cabins

Dear PW:

I thought that #6 was the best issue since #1 or 2. 1 particularly liked "Roots of Disillusionment." It was clear, well developed, comprehensive and still had an element of optimism about what happened in the sixties in spite of all of the recuperation and sellout that happened.

I like PW because it does attempt to deal with work from an "existential" perspective, that is, PWers realize that above all work must be lived in all its frustrations, boredom, anxieties and contradictions. There are very few jobs that can actually be "liked," yet if one hates their job then they can only end up hating themselves.

Yet if one likes their job on some level or other one still sees all that one is giving up so just below that level of liking there is an element of self-hatred. Yet as you so clearly expressed, what can we post marginals do? The socio-political, but above all economic basis for marginal survival is gone. In Canada, in terms of constant dollars, there is 40% less money being put into unemployment expressed as the amount spent on the average claim. We as conscious marginals survived on that 40%.

But we can't go back and we don't want to go ahead. With no ambition to even strive to rise in the ranks, not to mention that there is not much room at the top any more, what does one do when one finds oneself marking time on the job? One develops a lot of cynicism, apathy, and anger to which there is no outlet. The dreams of escape, standard proletariat thought that I won't be here in thirty years like these others around me, are often the only escape. How long can one use "political activism" as a psychological escape, as a means of validating our existence, of differentiating ourselves from the "mass worker" to whom we have so many contradictory feelings?

Keep up the good work. There is so little material that speaks to our concerns as workers as opposed to simply trying to develop a theory about the working class.

J C. — Toronto

Dear PW:

I liked Marcy's article about the "Them" festival a whole lot. It's nice to read about the spectacle without that word being used. In general, it gets better and better and worse and better. It's great that y'all have decided to give letters all the space they need and you have been getting some good ones. And the increasing PERSONALNESS is not just great, in the sense of "politically/ ultraleftycorrect" but INTERESTING, and consistently so. In other (less) words, I loved Talking Heads and Louis' letter.

Now, most of what I want to respond to is the child care piece by Penney O'Reilly. Although it SEEMS LIKE I'd like to find myself working in a center with her, especially compared to my generally horrible experience of your run of the mill 11 child care woiker", I have serious problems with both her analysis and "Alternatives".

The Ideal: Happy children and sympathetic teachers

Shit, Penney, are you able to "express your thoughts and feelings simply and clearly"? I think maybe I've met one or two people in my life who I felt could claim that. I can't. Now of course, there are differences in how unclear most adults are. The clearer the better. You say "Once a relationship of trust is established between child and teacher, the child can develop the self-confidence to enjoy his/her surroundings." My experience of most kids, inside and outside of institutional settings, is that they have self-confidence and that it is adults, almost all of whom hate themselves to some degree, that quickly (in infancy) destroy the little person's ability to enjoy his/her surroundings.

I guess that's my major point. That you refuse, or fail, to talk about what I call "adultism" (shitty word, but ... ) You don't talk about how, even in the most utopian centers, there are huge amounts of coercion. Part of it is relatively unavoidable in the real and nightmarish world: i.e. you gotta keep them from getting run over crossing the street. But there's lots that obtains from the fact that they are forced to go to the center, live in usually nuclear families, etc. I think in a human world there wouldn't be such a thing as a day care center. If big people didn't have to do huge amounts of alienated worthless work helping crapital reproduce itself, they could choose to spend lots of time with their kids, IF THEIR KIDS WANTED THEM TO? -or they could choose not to have kids at all. I think children, from a very early age, can take care of themselves to an incredibly greater degree than is "allowed" in our society or your article. There's lots of "anthropological evidence" for this. What necessitates the crazy domination of children is among other things the fact that there is no community, people live in tiny isolated units and it's not like the kid (at the age of two or so) can wander out of the house, apartment, yurt, teepee and be safe, make friends, be in a human world where they are respected and protected and appreciated.

Of course, adults who want to be with children could and would choose to do so and that is not only desirable but necessary. BUT IT WOULDN'T AND SHOULDN'T BE A FUCKING JOB, and a poorly paid, basically oppressive one that fosters the repression of the kids so you can save your own sanity. I've clobbered a kid who hurt me physically because I didn't have the time to work it out with him (like why he had fastened his teeth on my leg when I asked him his name) because there was another kid freaking out and a few more trying to run away. (I always am vaguely gratified when children try to escape.)

I agree that parent co-ops are a bit better, more than a bit if they make "workers'" lives better (so was Carter, sort of, maybe not who cares that much).

Actually I've worked a whole lot of what little I've worked in co-ops and yes they were much smaller (very important and good) and better staffed numerically (ditto) and often semimore creative in terms of equipment, more and better field trips (what a joyous concept, that you have to make an event out of leaving your institution, neighborhood, area) BUT BUT BUT I hate the nuclear family I think we're doomed as long as that remains the basic unit of our society along with its glorious variation, the even more lonely and impoverished single parent family. I hate the way most parents treat their kids and most of them shouldn't have had any or at least not as many given how much time and energy they are able to put out given other responsibilities. I think most "adults" haven't the vaguest idea of what they want to do with children (especially groups thereof) or what children like to do. They're uptight. They don't play in their own lives and don't really want to play with the kids. They want to usually talk to the other adults and/or "instruct" children.

Of course I'm one of these adults. I hope I'm dealing with sex roles better than 99% of all parents I've met including co-ops and small groups. Of course I'm righteous. Of course I want it all. The article brought up a lot of pain for me. I "love kids" and have been fired several times from day care jobs, for my politics, atheism, long hair, militance, etc. etc. I want to be with them and the only friend I have who parents — well, I don't get along with his kid. took me years to realize that I don't like all children or they me etc. etc. I want to be around children but don't "want a job" tho' I need one and am looking. I'd like to hear from anyone who wants to talk about this if anyone of you has kids, I babysit for free.

J. — SF

Dear J.,

Your letter made me think about the conflicts and doubts I had and still have when I began taking early childhood education classes and working with kids. Rarely before in my life had I been in a position of authority. I had always been either a student or an employee, and my response to teachers, bosses, lawyers, landlords, doctors... was to convulse in rebellion. Suddenly I found myself responsible for "enforcing limits," "supervising activities" and (the most horrible of all) socializing children.

I most emphatically did not want to police kids, but was ambivalent about how to express the authority implicit in my role. What about my anti-authoritarian beliefs? Should I let the kids do whatever they want? I quickly began to suspect that children are not miniature adults. They are unsocialized; born without the realization that they can't always have their own way (a realization which many adults never assimilate). I decided that what I most wanted to do as a teacher was to help kids find ways to co-operate with one another. It was obvious to me that they were eager to learn this skill because the more practiced they became at it, the better time they had playing with other kids. Of course, I could encourage children to be responsible and co-operative only in so far as I was responsible and co-operative with them. Once I thought that we had established a respectful relationship, I did not feel so bad about thwarting some of their activity.

My own teachers in the early childhood education program helped me to clarify my attitudes toward authority. These teachers were, as we say in the trade, very good "models." Although possessing much more experience and knowledge than I, they did not make me feel inferior in intelligence or ability. I could learn easily from them because they were able to learn from my opinions and observations.

I think socialization a sad but inevitable process. When I was working with toddlers, I often pondered the tragedy of toilet training in which one must give up the freedom to shit and piss where and whenever one wants and accept the restrictions surrounding elimination in our society. But not even parents will want to change their children's diapers forever. And most children want to learn to take care of themselves. Children are not born nor can they live in a vacuum. For better or worse, children learn from adults how to survive in the world they inhabit. Hopefully the dynamic between child and adult is characterized by mutual respect. All too often it is not. I agree with you. Many of the parents and childcare workers with whom I have worked have treated children with little appreciation for their individuality and dignity. Probably these adults were treated in such a way when they were young.

Now that I have worked with babies, I am convinced that human beings have powerful social drives. It seems the paradox of our existence that society, which in many ways has ensured our survival as a species, is proving to be our prison and, perhaps, our gallows. I, too, dream of an institutionless community where both children and adults can freely live with, play with, love and learn from whomever they wish. But everyday I confront the monolithic reality of the society in which the children I know must grow. Those moments of honest, supportive and co-operative exchange between the people with whom I'm directly involved are the most authentic manifestations of my dream. It is on those moments I depend for my sanity.

Thanks for your letter,
Penney O'Reilly

(Also see "Processed Kids" issue, #14)

Dear PW,

I've just finished reading PW #6, the first one I've ever seen, and I just wanted to send you my congratulations and support. I had hoped some intelligent workers' journal existed, especially for those of us in the outlands of radical America (although you'd be surprised how many socialists scoot around Louisiana).

I also wanted to lend my two cents to K.L.'s call for an end to managerial free rides. Over the past few years I've corrected hundreds of supposedly copy-ready articles for both newspapers and journals, but I've yet to get any real recognition, either vocally or monetarily, from my bosses. So lately I've been letting these boobs stew in their own juices. God only knows how many times I've seen "thank you for your patients" on a "corrected" manuscript. If people want me to type up their papers and articles in as perfect a form as possible, they damn well better pay me for my editorial skills also. Sadly, more managers are illiterate these days, and mistakes go unnoticed. Perhaps we can create enough havoc in the meantime, though, to force some positive change. Right on, K.L.! no more free rides!

T.A. — Baton Rouge, LA

Dear Processed World,

In PW #6, there are calls for a new social movement" and also general questions regarding PW's potential role in organizing activities ties, while hints Of such activity are suggested throughout #6.

The "Roots of Disillusionment" provides a vivid history which explains the decline in youthful idealism. The article suggests by its references to military build-up and the proposed new child labor laws that the ascendancy of the New Right is a direct impetus to the current disillusionment.

It seems to me that neo-conservative policies have severely exacerbated a troubled capitalist economy, while these same policies intensify hardship on low-income people and the unemployed, thereby compelling them to tolerate deteriorating wages and working conditions. The current crisis is not merely the result of the inexorable advancement of capitalism, but rather is additionally the direct effect of neo-conservative federal government policies.

As the Cabins article aptly points out, it is time for "idealistic" radicals and disgruntled workers to join forces in an all-out offensive against neo-conservative politics and ideology. A "new social movement" could be forged which would simultaneously exert electoral pressures to revolutionize American politics.

This movement would penetrate unemployment lines, welfare offices, and workers' hangouts through immersion in voter registration drives. Citizens would be urged to register or risk losing unemployment benefits, jobs, or risk continually lowered real wages. The movement would be legal yet semi-disruptive.

If successful the movement would register low-income people, office workers, and the unemployed who generally disfavor conservative policies, but ordinarily fail to vote. As voter registrations rise, politicians will be alerted and take more popular stands or new politicians will rise up. Either way, the conservative position would be severely threatened. Newer, more populist policies would eventually be generated. Once the "fire" of the new movement is fanned, there is no telling how fast it will spread or what other progressive flames it might spark.

Yet the immediate task is to publicize the viability and powerful potential of this movement and to get to work organizing and registering. The beauty of this movement to me is its offer of tangible action that addresses the immediate wants and needs of workers.


Hopeful and eager,
T. M. — Santa Cruz

Dear T. M.,

We sympathize with your desire to get into action, but can't agree that the way to go is registering the poor and unemployed to vote (a strategy, by the way, recently adopted by a group around left-wing sociologists Frances Piven and Richard Cloward, so we'll see what happens).

You write: "The current crisis is not merely the result of the inexorable advancement of capitalism, but rather is additionally the direct result of neo-conservative policies." True enough. But the current crisis is worldwide in scope, and includes not only "socialist" mixed economies like West Germany and France, but the "Communist" nations as well. Reaganomics (which is also Thatchernomics) only aggravates the crisis locally by damaging exports, starving potentially-competitive businesses of capital and increasing the tendency to speculate rather than invest productively.

A "rational" capitalist response would be: re-channel major investments on a nationwide scale via a government-run holding company; clamp down on speculation; upgrade technical and scientific education and retraining; establish a basic minimum survival income for those that can't be employed in the new high-tech industries. The workers and poor would still have to be squeezed for fresh investment capital, though, and the "re-industrialization" would only generate large numbers of new jobs if wages sank significantly below the cost of laborsaving machinery. In other words, if you want "full employment," prepare for low pay. The ideological banner under which all this is done — liberal, socialist, fascist matters little. So long as the present world economic order persists, whoever drives the sleigh will have to throw many of us to the wolves.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't fight. A movement capable of dealing with the problem at its root can only emerge from mass social self-defense against the demands of capital. But voting is generally of little use. The real masters of the economy and of society are not elected — they merely allow us to help them choose a governing team from among their internal factions. If we ever came close to electing a team that refused to play it their way, they would change the rules, as in Chile in 1973.

The problem runs deeper still. The market and the wage system exist because people don't attend directly and collectively to satisfying their needs. The state and every other separate power over social life exists because people don't take direct and collective control of social life themselves. A movement, initially "defensive," which practices direct action and direct democracy (all essential decisions made by popular assembly, co-ordination carried out by mandated, recallable delegates and not by "representatives") in itself begins to challenge this state of affairs. When the movement additionally starts seizing and redistributing goods, housing, etc., it goes a long step further. It remains for the movements' assemblies to impose their own "plan" of collective tasks in the areas of their control, shutting down operations that are now useless, establishing completely different relationships between the remaining useful ones, sharing and rotating any necessary drudgery among everyone capable of doing it.

During this process the forces of the old order have to be subverted, disorganized, paralyzed. Iran in 1978 provides a fairly good example. The best-equipped army in the Middle East collapsed in a few weeks when faced with a worker-jammed industry, snipers and bombings, and wave after wave of unarmed demonstrators filling the streets daily, refusing to go about their normal routines. For a time, the workers and poor of Iran had social power at their fingertips. That they did not grasp it testifies to how deeply imprinted are the circuits of authoritarian control. Only a movement that creates a "culture" of autonomy, self-responsibility, solidarity and free imagination can circumvent this trap.

Placing any serious reliance on electoral activity — let alone making it the axis of our strategy ultimately reinforces reliance on leaders. The radical, communal, empowering push of direct action is diffused in the solitary passivity of pulling levers in a curtained booth. Our real tasks are elsewhere.

Louis Michaelson

Dear Processed World:

Work has been work lately and I've resorted to the use of expensive drugs to liberate my mind and soul. Thus, no money to subscribe to the World.

I would also like to share a word processing observation. "Technology" is cursed by "enlightened" protestors; computers are denigrated by oppressed workers. In all honesty, I generally prefer my NBI machine to the political, self-righteous, egotistical peeple around this busyness world. It's the one thing in this joint that I control and that behaves in an understandable way.

Pre-word processor, supervisors hunted through my garbage can at the end of the day to find out how many errors I had made. My annoyance with the little blinking cursor doesn't compare to my fear of carbons!

I work for money whether I push, produce, process or collect garbage/paper. The insanity I deal with isn't caused by technology but by the black-hearted little peeple trying to disguise, manipulate and maneuver neuroses.

T.C — SF

Dear PW:

Yes, as you keep saying, the way people deal with each other on a daily basis is important; and so is "enunciating new visions." If, however, a prankster wants to destroy some of my work in the office, I hope he or she will be polite and ask me first. About half of it I wouldn't mind a bit.

I take it from your last issue, that PW has become a fully fledged anarchist publication, and is put out by the most highly inspired of hydrogen and nitrogen inflated idealists. Half the world's best people sleep under the stars, and the other half are anarchists. If only the Communist fantasies of the last 100 years or the American fantasies had satisfied expectations, the last ten decades wouldn't have been so depressing. The anarchists tried to get people to forget about government as salvation altogether, and it's sad they never succeeded.

Don't soldiers ever get bored or tired of their jobs like the rest of us? A third world publication said recently that during the last thirty years, there have been more than 75 military coups — not one of which has ever "returned power to the people's representatives." I find this increasingly depressing. I hope PW will continue to provide sustained laughter and a bit more sophistication so that wage slaves can believe somebody knows better. If we deserve an improved world, it will be because we are less sure of ourselves, have deeper respect for each other, and are more thankful than the slide-rule military jerkoffs who are running things now.

C.R. — Silicon Valley

P.S. For the whole week after I read one of your issues, I find I have to puke a lot less...

Toiling Tails: "It's A Business Doing Pleasure With You"

Eight and a half of my twelve years working experience were in the sex-for-money market. The last three and a half I have worked in the so-called "straight" sector. I've never really been able to separate the two working experiences. Though they are vastly different, they are both firmly rooted in the same money market.

My first job was after school in a drugstore in Walsenburg, a small town in Colorado. My mother was a known prostitute. I lived openly with my boyfriend, which earned me a "bad reputation." Girls from school asked me to get birth control pills for them, but I refused because I hate their hypocrisy. The job was not too bad—I took advantage of whatever fringe benefits I could create. The handyman took advantage of every opportunity he could create to trap me against the wall and cop a feel. He intimidated me, but I always managed to get away, and I quit soon after graduation anyway.

I "developed" early, and had a regulation "nudie" magazine type body. Since I had a "bad rep," men were always after me. Even my brother couldn't resist. When he came back home from his stint in the army and found me all grown-up and openhearted, he raped me at my other brother's house. I had gone there because he wanted to talk about my future and the possibility of going to college.

Some friends of mine lived in the mountains near Redwing, Colorado. I visited them and decided to accompany them to NYC. After arriving there, my friends and I managed to acquire funds, so I didn't think about working. One day while out walking on the lower east side, I saw a place called the Pink Orchid. I love orchids, so I went inside and met the owner, Danny. He was the cutest red-headed boy I've ever seen. With him were several young, pretty women. They explained to me that it was a nude modeling studio, and that I could be paid for being photographed in the nude. The women further explained to me that I could make tips by having sex with the customers. Excluding the relationship I'd had with my boyfriend, my sexual experiences thus far indicated that my sexuality was going to be taken advantage of anyway, so getting paid for sex was a form of vindication. I immediately doubled the house prices at the Pink Orchid. The other women followed suit, and we were all happy about that. I still remember one of the men who frequented the place. He had a twisted penis and ejaculated from the side. Most of my friends were involved in various forms of the underground economy. I didn't ask them what they did for money, and they didn't ask me. When I returned to Colorado, however, friends in Denver were horrified when I told them what I was doing. They persuaded me to get a straight job and I was hired by a chiropractor. I didn't have the skills for office work, but he gave me lots of time to do the paperwork. He had big plans for me to become a chiropractor and gave me free treatments for a back injury. The rest of his time he spent chasing me around the table. Soon it seemed ridiculous to receive minimum wage for what he had in mind, so I gave up my future as a chiropractor and went back to "The Life" as it's called by those who live it.

The Adult Literary Guild All-Girl-ShoeShine-Parlour, Pornographic Book Store and Nude Modeling Studio was my next employer. We shined shoes for 50 cents plus tips. We wore short skirts, and a mirror behind us allowed the customers to see what we had to offer. Often, the shoe shine would entice them into a "modeling" session with one of us. Between the modeling and the shoe shines, I made big bucks. I had a few tricks of my own as well, like Maurice, who refused to take out his false teeth when he gave me head. I nearly died laughing at those teeth clicking between my legs. Once someone arranged a "date" for me who turned out to be one of my sister's high school boyfriends. As far as the transaction was concerned, it didn't matter that we had practically grown up together—he paid his money, and he got his goods. Back in New York, I tried selling hot dogs on Wall St. People would come to stare at the novelty of a woman selling hot dogs but took their business to the man up the street who resented the "competition. " (He actually chased me down the street once. It's hard to run fast while pushing a hot dog cart.)

Undaunted, I got another job in the Wall St. district, at a place called Maiden Lane Massage. While working there, I acquired my first and only pimp. At first, I didn't think of it that way. Certainly, he never assumed the role of procurer, but did encourage me to make more money. So I went to work for Caesar's Retreat, a posh midtown massage parlour where I made up to $700.00 per day. I shared the money freely with Lee because I am a generous person. In my line of work, I felt a "real relationship" was impossible since it couldn't fit the "you and only you" category, which to me defined a "real relationship." Besides, I didn't have the time. Lee understood that. He held me at night sometimes, when I needed that. When I became ill and was hospitalized, he took all the money I had and disappeared. I heal quickly though, and in two weeks I was back at Caesar's Retreat and began my own private practice.

Private practice is risky; you have only yourself to rely on. There is a network of tricks who use call girls, and soon my name and number got around. One of my regulars was a rabbi who liked to be whipped. I started getting calls from a man who threatened he "knew all about me," and gave me the option of spending the weekend with him or in jail. Around the same time, my landlord alerted me that a couple of detectives had been looking for me.

I conferred with my friend Kathy and we decided to head for Las Vegas and the big time. Neither of us had experience at picking up people because we were used to having them come to us. The massage parlour scene was dismal, and there were places nearby where it was legal and cheap. We packed everything in Kathy's old Cadillac and drove to L.A. where we hired on with an "outcall Escort Service." We decided to work in pairs for safety, so when I got a call to join Kathy at the Hyatt Hotel, I figured the guy wanted two girls or something. When I arrived there, I was immediately arrested. My friend Kathy was on probation, and had talked the cops into letting me take the bust instead. I got bailed out and went to stay with friends. Kathy disappeared.

By this time, I was exhausted and my body felt like it was falling apart. I decided that I had to get out of the business. To make it easy on myself, I got a job as a receptionist in a massage parlour. I knew that no one would give me a hard time. no typing was involved, and I could share my life with like-minded people. A man who often came in recommended that I be a masseuse. I told him the truth, that I was happily involved with someone, and four months pregnant. He didn't care— he wanted me, and one night on the late shift, he came in with a long knife and got what he wanted. He was very brutal, and complications set in with my pregnancy. I lost the baby shortly afterward. (See “Your Knife in My Life” from issue #18)

My next attempt to make a living was as a stripper. I worked at the Coronet on La Cienega Boulevard. I transferred to San Francisco for two weeks, and worked at what used to be the Follies Theatre on 16th St. It was winter, and there was no heat. The basement dressing room walls were cold and damp. I contracted a mild case of pleurisy and told the manager that I wanted to go back to L.A. He warned me that if I broke my contract, I would never work for them again. I left anyway and got a job at the Ivar Theater which I eventually ended up managing. Actually, we all managed the place, interchanging jobs and otherwise supporting one another.

The manager didn't object because our self-management freed him from responsibility. When he argued with our decisions (like hiring a black woman as comedienne-MC, or hiring a 50-yr. old stripper) we voted him down. When someone in the audience started jerking off, the dancer would signal the projection booth and whoever was running the spotlight would focus it on him.

I became acquainted with a tour guide who brought groups in. Plying me with the familiar argument: "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?", he introduced me to a gift shop owner who gave me a job in his office. It was a Japanese-run shop, and as such, the working environment was characterized by teamwork and co-operation. None of the men ever hit on me, and we all worked hard together. I began to feel that perhaps I could make it in the straight world after all. I learned to be a bookkeeper by trial and error. Then my boss got married and his wife took my place.

Armed with my new skills, I went to work for an insurance brokerage. My grasp of the work to be done was very rudimentary. I struggled along, trying to cope with this new environment: typewriters clicking, computers beeping and humming. I cried nearly every day for the first month. I finally got the hang of it though, and I did my work and tried to look happy about it. (A man who had graciously undertaken to train me as whore extraordinaire had informed me that it was most important to appear to enjoy what I was doing. ) I tried to be an exemplary worker, but could not reconcile this to the rage that was growing inside me. I constantly suffered from migraines and I felt very self-destructive, feeling that no matter how hard I tried, I wasn't good enough. I gave notice and began feeling better.

After a vacation from the work world, I joined the temporary workforce. During this time, I went to Ascot Personnel Services and met Leslie, who was eager to find the "right position" for me. When asked what I really wanted to do, I answered "Write poetry." She reacted by giving me a typing test. Looking me up and down, she asked me if I would be willing to spend $300.00 on an "interviewing costume." I envisioned a sequined G-string and fringed bra and went home and cried.

Without Leslie's help, I got hired at another insurance brokerage. While working there, I noticed that one of the men who used to sit in the front row of the Palace hung out on the corner. He clearly recognized me, and though we never spoke, the encounter was an intense one. His presence reminded me that I had never fit in anywhere—neither in the crowd rushing down Kearny St., nor on stage.

The working world is an alien one, whether exchanging sex for money or time for money. Life itself becomes a commodity. I've tried to acquire the work ethic. I've devoted myself to my work, done overtime without pay, furiously entered data, cooperated until I was drained.

Despite my efforts, I grew alienated and withdrawn, in the same way that I "withdrew" sensation from my body when I was in The Life. The toll extracted from my body, my heart and my mind has been the same alienation, rage, shame. When I hawk Processed World on the streets, people often angrily ask what alternative I have to Wage Slavery. I always tell the truth (honest politics) that I don't know of any. This is America, where we can all grow up to be what we want to be. We've all heard the story about so-and-so, who started out shining shoes and is now a millionaire ... well-meaning, charitable types suggest doing "something you really like" for money.

Step right up folks, she's spinning gossamer webs of poetry right out of her very being, be the first on the block, get 'em while they're hot ........

by Linda Thomas, with thanks to the Processed World staff, for their Truly Human Contact (With me).

Will The Real Rapist please Stand Up?

It's not you, blue-eyed brother.
It's not you, long-knived one.
Nor You, tender, sweetly parting my thighs.
I am spread eagled, bound.
Slave to the almighty dollar—Capital Punishment.
(The condition in which the whip
becomes an extension of the arm
swinging innocently by your side as
you walk to work.)

—by Linda Thomas

Processed World #8

Issue 8: June 1983 from

processedworld08proc.pdf6.33 MB

Table of Contents

Talking Heads

from our readers

Bad Girl
by shirley garzotto

short items from here and there

Get Hot!
tale of toil by zoe noe

Poetry in Motion
a geography primer by zoe noe

Blue Shield & the Union: A Post-Mortem
article by debra wittley

First Steps
fiction by steve abbott

World Processing: Technology & Instability
article by tom athanasiou, con amigos

Talking Heads


Welcome to the 8th issue of Processed World. We hope that this issue will continue to incite your interest and sense of controversy.
PW #7, the "Special Sex Issue", nearly sold out in three months (proving once again that "sex sells"). Regrettably PW #7 is almost unavailable. Due to increasing demand, we printed 4,000 copies of #8, instead of last issue's 3,000.

To you readers sitting on hot stories for fear of losing your anonymity, fear no more! The Blue Shield article was sent to us anonymously. We're always interested in whistle-blowers, dirty laundry, articles, exposes, and stories from the work-a-day world — So send 'em in!

In our letters section JG criticizes PW for its narrow focus on single, white office office workers. While certainly not the first reader to insist that PW encompass a broader view, JG goes further by suggesting that PW actively seek out material on racism and its application in the modern day clerical world. In fact, racism is touched on more in this issue than in the past. Both Debra Wittley's Blue Shield piece, and Steve Abbott's story "First Steps" address racism in the office, illustrating in particular the "communication problem" and how it is exploited by management hierarchy.

In our "DOWNTIME!" section, we have reprinted a copy of a leaflet, "Workers' Representation: New Carrot/Old Stick," which some PWers circulated at a microelectronics conference at UC Santa Cruz, followed by an opposing view from a member of both the PW and Motley collectives.

For those who revel in dynamic satire, Shirley Garzotto's ''Bad Girl'' has increased from one to seven pages in this issue. The bike messenger "underclass" of the Financial District is humorously portrayed in ''Tale of Toil'' and poem by Zoe Noe. Chris Winks' review leads this issue, exploring the role of intellectuals in (or against) power, while Tom Athanasiou's ''World Processing'' concludes it with an analysis of the impact of microelectronic technology, breaking down existing divisions of labor, and changing social stratification. And there are a number of excellent poems in this issue.

We present these articles as a springboard for further debate. We invite controversial comments and responses from our readers, so don't be shy! Our mailing address remains: "Processed World, 41 Sutter St., #1829, San Francisco, CA 94104, USA."

Get Hot!

tale of toil by zoe noe

I picked up my last paycheck on Friday. Afterwards I passed by the usual crowd of bike messengers hanging outside Harvey's 5th Street Market, buying beers on credit and shooting the shit at the end of a working day. I turned the corner and entered an alley, where I ran into a young black woman, unkempt and shabbily dressed. She practically grabbed me for a handout, and someone to spill to:

"I was a good biker. I could fly—do 40 tags a day. And then they fired me—they fired me! I went in this afternoon, but they wouldn't hire me back. Nobody will hire me, and here I am in this alley now, reduced to. . .to. .PANHANDLING!'' She screamed the last word, and went on. "I need a job! I'm going back to that motherfucker and say, "I'll kill you motherfucker if you don't hire me back—I'll kill you!''' She raved on with spite, kicking and screaming. It was useless for me to stand there with her longer. There was nothing I could do for her.

I myself could fly on occasion, and make pretty good money at it when I wanted to. Yet when I was working, I felt oppressed by a different kind of poverty—a poverty of spirit, of time trapped. I worked over 40 hours a week, with plenty of unpaid duties. I would get home after dark with no energy left for anything else. It was life on the run, without medical coverage, expendable, unprotected, easy prey to any maniac behind the wheel of a Cadillac or MUNI bus—any driver who doesn't believe in turn signals or decides to open his car door at the wrong moment. I was vulnerable to horizontal showers in rainy season, and ticket- happy cops who hate bike messengers. I endured the hatred of men in 3-piece suits who depend on bike messengers and yet look upon them as something less than human. I challenge any of them to try being a bike messenger for even one day!

I had never seen bike messengers before I had my first job in San Francisco, as a legal file clerk/part-time secretary in the Financial District. I was fascinated and inspired by crazy long- hairs in propellered baseball caps, howling loud and long as they hurtled down hills. I saw a subculture in action as they zipped about the city on their one-speeds. I wanted to be a bike messenger!

I landed a job with Fly By Night Messenger Service in June. There were days it was such fun that it hardly seemed like work, but after half a year and months into the rainy season, I lost most of my enthusiasm. I felt I was wasting my days, chained to a dangerous dead-end job, and I knew I could do a lot more creative things with my time.

The comforting delusion that I was at least making an honest living was amusingly shattered for me one day in November when I was dispatched to a law office in 1 Embarcadero Center for a return trip going to a copy service and back. A matronly secretary handed me a manila envelope marked with strident instructions for the copy service: that this was a third try, to color-xerox it, and could they please get it right this time. She also handed me a five dollar bill. I arrived at the copy service in the basement of a building on California Street and perused through magazines while waiting. I overheard snatches of conversation from the back room—that these were transcripts, so both sides needed to be registered perfectly. That seemed odd, and I asked the woman behind the counter why transcripts would need to be color-xeroxed. She confided to me that they were the lady's daughter's high school transcripts, and a couple of grades needed to be "changed,'' and that color-xerox was the only way to duplicate it to look authentic.

"In other words it's called cheating,'' I said.

"She keeps sending it back to us, bugging us to get it right. We're making money off it, so why should we complain?'' she answered.

I felt like a partner in crime. I got the completed transcripts, had the tag signed, and was off with the return. In the elevator, to satisfy my own curiosity, I opened the unsealed envelope and had myself a look. Sure enough, two tiny "C''s were pasted on the original transcript. The copy looked perfect, as if it had been printed that way. I peeled the C's off, revealing two "F''s underneath. For a moment, I thought of aborting the mission, but realized I couldn't be that moralistic either. I was part of the scam, and had an extra five dollar bill in my pocket. It was such a mild scam, but symptomatic nonetheless, and I was thinking, "I don't even want to know what's inside the rest of the innocuous-looking manila envelopes I deliver!''

Like most delivery services, Fly By Night did not pay its bikers an hourly wage. Pay was based on a strict commission—a percentage of the delivery cost. That meant having to bust your ass to make any kind of livable wage. When you tried your bloody best to go fast and make money, everything and everybody seemed to be doing their best to slow you down. In such situations I occasionally lost my temper (and perhaps supported certain people's assumptions that bike messengers are indeed something other than human.)

For instance, I have the distinction of having been banned from the Pacific Telephone Company building at 666 Folsom Street. PT&T offices are a bike messenger's nightmare. Each "room'' is like a labyrinth: a whole floor of partitions, each bearing a different room number. Room 500-F might be next to room 512-G, but nobody can tell you where any of the other room numbers are. I was in a hurried mood on a busy afternoon, and I had to pick up a super- hot payroll delivery on the 8th floor at 666 Folsom, nonstop. Most phone company buildings make you sign in and out; a cumbersome process if one is in a hurry. I signed in and out at 666, flew, and was back at 666 in 5 minutes with the return, and refused to sign in again. The lobby guard, a short, grouchy man with a pencil-moustache, was furious that I actually just walked right by him, completely disregarding the rules.

"Come back here! You have to sign into the building!''

"I just signed in 5 minutes ago, and I'm not going to sign in again. This is a super-rush that has to get there yesterday!''

"Well if you signed out last time, you have to sign in again!'' I was struck with the absurd logic that if I had not signed out the last time, I would not have to sign in again this time. I ignored him and boarded the elevator, and he immediately gave chase, stopping the elevator before it could move. Another bouncer-type appeared out of nowhere to assist him in removing me from the elevator, where I stood defiant and a few secretaries stood surprised, their routine interrupted. The guard led me back to his station, towards the door, and said, "You're never allowed back in this building again!''

I laughed back at him. "That's fine—I hate this building anyway, and I would never come here if I didn't have to!''

"By your conduct,'' he stormed, "you're showing that you have no respect for the phone company and its employees!"

"You're damn right. I have no respect for the phone company at all!'' How I had always wanted to say that! I thrust the package at him and said, "Since you won't let me upstairs, you'll have to do the delivery yourself. They`re in room 880. Get hot!— They're dying on it!''

On another day, truth serum ran deep when I went into Crank Litho, one of Fly By Night's biggest accounts. Crank got anything it wanted: till 5:15 p.m. to call in overtimes, instead of 5:00, and a handsome price break of $1.25 per delivery instead of the $2.00 we normally charged. They generated enough business so that Fly By Night could turn a tidy profit, but we messengers were the ones getting screwed. We even had to chronicle our own oppression by adding the price of the delivery to the tag, which we never had to do for anyone else. Most of us bikers resented this insult—I remember that one guy, whenever dispatched to Crank, would always emit an obnoxious foghornish "Rog!'' over the radio, instead of the customary "10-4.''

One day I showed up to work wearing a large button I had fashioned, that read "I (heart) Crank Litho's Prices!'' and managed to cause quite an uproar in their office without even saying a word. Later that day when I was back, the president of the company pulled me aside and said, "I would appreciate it if you don't wear that button anymore.'' I smiled, and calmly removed the button.

On the return trip, I encountered the man next in charge (who handled the business end of the account with Fly By Night), and he shit a brick when he saw the delivery cost—$11.25 for an overtime rush—and at first refused to sign the tag. He called up my office and bitched for a few minutes, then hung up and turned to me. "I'll sign it, but I'm going to take it up with your boss in the morning. How do you figure your price for overtime deliveries? Your regular price is $1.25...''

I cut him off, sensing the opportunity. "Our regular price is $2.00. You guys are getting a break at $1.25 which I think is scandalous, but that's from my point of view as a biker.'' He looked surprised, yet surprised me by saying that he could understand it from my point of view. Of course, not another word was ever said about the matter.

Around that same time I knew my days as a bike messenger were numbered. My attitude was garnering numerous complaints from miffed customers, and I started taking days off to refund my sanity. The taste of life off the treadmill just made me more dissatisfied. The rainy season was becoming endless, and my favorite dispatcher was now out on bike; obviously the result of a power-struggle. The boss had frequently complained that he was being much too close with the bikers, telling us things about the company and about our paychecks that we weren't supposed to know. I had fond memories of late evenings when he was behind the boards, when a few of us would have our own little "proletarian office parties,'' when the office was ours and we spent hours bitching about the bosses, or got crazy and sent me out with bike and radio, and dispatched me out for coffee and donuts. Somebody had to pull the plug soon. My boss got to it before I did, and I was fired.

About a week before I got the jerk to the big desk in the back office and the axe came down, I had taken an unsolicited day off—it was storming and I felt miserable. The next day, a rare sunny one, I arrived early, feeling better and ready to roll. The boss, trying to put the fear of authority into me, said, "I'm not ready to let you roll. I haven't decided what I'm going to do with you! Come back tomorrow.'' (It was too obvious to me what he would have done with me had it been raining as usual.) I figured myself fired, and wasted no time getting out of there. Walking up Kearny Street that same morning, with a spring in my step, enjoying the sun without having to "get hot;'' I felt like somebody had unlocked the door of my jail cell, woke me gently and said, "You're free to go.''

Zoe Noe

Author's note: Some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty. But it's not that I wanted to single anybody out or hide the truth—that they're all Fly By Night.

Poetry in Motion

a geography primer by zoe noe

POETRY IN MOTION (a geography primer)

I got off the bike.

    I took a journey up Kearny,

        got weary by Geary,

            drank a beer on Spear,

                smoked a joint on North Point,

                    and lost my way on Clay.

I'm looking handsome on Sansome

    and feeling wholesome on Folsom.

I met a coward on Howard

    who lives in a garrison on Harrison,

        and a sailor on Taylor

            who lives in a gutter on Sutter.

We drank tonics on Masonic,

    met the Hulk on Polk,

        who was straight on Haight

            but turned gay on Bay.

We met a witch on Ritch

    who reads the Tarot on DeHaro —

        and tried to save us on Davis.

I saw a politician on Mission

    who made a speech on Beach

        about a welfare cheat on Treat

            who uses food stamps to buy wine on Pine.

I saw a Giant on Bryant

    who teamed up with a 49er on Steiner,

        and went around beating up Dodgers on Rodgers

            and Raiders on Shrader

                (not to mention Lakers on Baker

                    and A's on Hayes).

You met a whore on Dore

    who tried to rent'cha on Valencia;

        I used to ball her on Waller,

            & we'd fuck some on Bluxome,

                & she would give great moans on Jones,

                    & would always come on Drumm.

I remember you well — you drove a bus on Russ

    until it lost a wheel on Beale,

        & then you used to park it on Market.

“Did I get your package to you quick enough, sir?”
“Thanks, Zoe Noe, you're humble and lovable.”
“Fuck you, sir!”

— by Zoe Noe

Blue Shield and the union: A post-mortem - Debra Wittley

Debra Wittley analyses the strike action at Blue Shield insurance from 1980-81 for Processed World.

Blue Shield and the Union: Post-Mortem II

Being a temporary office worker occasionally gives me interesting opportunities to learn about the inner workings of the corporate world. I recently finished a temporary assignment at Blue Shield of California where I had the opportunity to learn some very interesting things indeed.

From December, 1980 to April, 1981, the OPEIU led a strike against Blue Shield. In September, 1982, Blue Shield announced plans to move operations out of San Francisco and, in the process, fire its entire clerical staff and break the union. Based on files I saw, memos I typed and conversations I overheard, I can offer the following confirmation and elaboration of PW's critique of the OPEIU approach.

Overt and Covert Reasons for the Relocation

Blue Shield is in some ways unique among service sector industries. Technically, it is a non-profit organization. That fact, combined with the competitiveness of the health insurance industry, means that Blue Shield has little opportunity to create "working capital" which can be invested in long-range plans or operational improvements. "Doing it as cheap as possible" is the corporate philosophy. This is typical of the non-profit management mentality. No matter how liberal their programs may be, non-profits provide notoriously bad wages and working conditions. So Blue Shield grew, and data processing and clerical functions become increasingly complex, the various clerical departments multiplied without rationalization or planning. The whole realm of "management support" functions is nearly absent at Blue Shield--training, operations standards, work-flow monitoring, etc. The clerical jobs themselves are so complex as to defy belief. Blue Shield seems to have finally recognized this by allowing for more than three months of training for the employees to be hired at the new location. The current clerical staff never received training this extensive and if they had their jobs would have been more tolerable.

As a result of this spontaneous, unplanned growth, Blue Shield management literally did not know what was going on within their own bureaucracy. The knowledge of how to process claims and all the other paperwork was in the heads of the workers, undocumented in any other form. A good number of these workers are Asian and Black women and from Blue Shield's point of view, they have a "communication problem," either because English is not their native language or because they speak a different dialect. So the critical storehouse of operational information that Blue Shield workers had was even more inaccessible to management.

Blue Shield finally appreciated this vulnerability at the time of the strike in 1981. Consequently, the motivation behind the relocation has to be seen as not merely to break the union. It is also part of a concerted effort to establish full management control over clerical production and thereby end the dependence of management on worker knowledge. One part of this involves more training, supervision, and standardization of procedures. A second part, of course, involves getting rid of the current workers.

But in this light, the relocation has to be looked at more closely. Gaining control over clerical functions means that the "communication problem" has to be overcome. That is, of course, communication FROM Blue Shield TO workers. Blue Shield needs workers who will receive and conform to management controls, who will follow management's standardized procedures, and not their own. Not only unfamiliar with specialized corporate jargon, the workers may be equally unequally unfamiliar with corporate thinking patterns. That is, the skills of abstract, objective thinking--what is involved in translating years of job experience into standard procedural language--may not come easily to those who have not spent 16 years in the American system of education. A Third World clerical worker may know very well how to do a job, but not have the particular language skills to put it into words or writing.

So addressing the "communication problem" boils down to getting rid of workers who cannot conform to this use of the English language. Which of course means minority workers. Blue Shield wouldn't necessarily have to fire all minority workers if it was willing to pay higher wages to attract non-white workers who've been through the American public education system. But Blue Shield wants to retain its "cheap as possible" philosophy and so has addressed the language problem without paying higher wages.

To do that, Blue Shield had to find a white labor market willing to accept its wages. This is why Lakeport, a resort town on Clear Lake, has been chosen as the site of the relocation. Blue Shield's intent is clear. While there are bigger California cities with a largely white work force (say, Sacramento or Redding), only a small town could provide both white workers AND a depressed level of wages.

Blue Shield's relocation is not only motivated by an anti-union ideology, it is clearly racist as well. I found this conclusion continually reinforced during my time at Blue Shield by managers who made references like "THE Filipinos" and told bald jokes based on mimicking Asian accents.

How the Union Helped Blue Shield Bust the Union

"We learned a lot during the strike" is the comment I heard Blue Shield managers make.

What Blue Shield learned was all the detailed job descriptions that had previously been "in the heads" of the workers. Blue Shield used the four months of the strike to begin developing a management system to end this dependence. Without the strike, Blue Shield would never have been able to fire its workers and move out of San Francisco because until the strike Blue Shield managers had no idea how to run their business.

The OPEIU never seemed to appreciate this source of worker leverage, nor did it understand how the introduction of rationalized management controls would undermine the workers' position. In fact, the union's own bureaucratic approach contributed to the standardization process. Unionization provided both the incentive and the means for Blue Shield to rid itself of its SF workers.

Even after the relocation was announced the union might have been able to obtain concessions by adopting a stand of "non- cooperation" that would have made it more difficult for Blue Shield management to extract all the infomration needed to effectively set up operations in the new location. But, needless to say, it did not do so. Nevertheless, some workers on their own are apparently engaging in uncoordinated forms of non- cooperation--records and data are being intentionally "fouled up." Blue Shield managers blame the union, of course, but that's not only unfair to the union--which has never endorsed such tactics--but unfair to the workers as well, who have undertaken these activities on their own creative initiative, in defiance of both management and union authorities.

The Taboo Issue

Another source of worker leverage was also left unexplored by the OPEIU. The same poor management (by corporate standards) that allows workers at Blue Shield to consolidate operations knowledge, also results in fiscal losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars every year (according to estimates I overheard). In the absence of adequate controls, losses due to errors and fraud are rampant.

For most corporations today, controlling quality, costs and losses is the "profit edge." One would think that Blue Shield's penny-pinching mangers would shudder at these losses. But in fact, their own "cheap as possible" philosophy is the cause of these losses.

The union might have been able to do something with this issue, by taking advantage of the unique position that workers had because of their knowledge of operations. Today, many companies are using the Japanese "quality circle" programs to tap the knowledge of their workers by teaching them a few basic management techniques that they can use to solve on-the-job problems. What if the Blue Shield union took this initiative themselves, retaining worker control of job knowledge by introducing quality circle concepts itself? The concession from management would have to be the distribution of recovered losses in the form of wages and benefits to workers, and possibly, worker representation on Blue Shield's board of directors.

That, of course, raises the debate over worker self-management. Rather than delve into that here, I will just point out the one way the issue of Blue Shield mis-management could have been used by the OPEIU that circumvents the self-management issue.

Normally consumers could care less whether a company is well managed or not when they decide to buy one of its products. But in the case of health insurance, consumers are aware that the cost of their coverage is based on risk tables which are pretty much standard for the insurance industry. PLUS the cost of administrative overhead. This suggests that Blue Shield customers would have just as big a stake in seeing losses controlled as do the underpaid workers of Blue Shield. If the union addressed this issue, it would be aligning itself directly with consumer interests and raise the possibility of a new alliance that increased worker leverage.

But of course, the OPEIU took a typically short-sighted stand in regards to the whole area of quality control and management productivity plans. That is, they simply opposed them outright. This position pretty much eliminates workers from playing a role in this crucial area of their jobs--it falls, by default, into the prerogatives of management. And inevitably management will find ways of preventing losses, and keep the profits for themselves, leaving workers with the yoke of ever increasing supervision and productivity standards over which they have no control


The real nature of corporate "communications"--the jargon, policies, procedures, manuals and training programs--needs to be understood as a means of subverting worker power by instituting a form of language control--which is to say, thought control. When this occurs in the context of culturally diverse office workers, this has to be understood as inherently racist. Management preoccupation with the "language barrier" translates into the "race barrier" and "communication problems" mean "race problems." If racism were not involved, corporations might deal with cultural diversity by hiring more minority managers and supervisors and increasing language capabilities throughout their organizations, "covering all the bases" as it were. But racism is, in fact, a clear motivation behind the enforcement of language and communications standards in the corporate world. Fighting these forms of social control on the job is not just a matter of liberal civil rights ideals. Language control not only discriminates against minority workers, it directly undermines worker power. Unions could fight racism and build worker leverage at the same time by putting the "language" issue on their agenda.

The possibility of alliances between consumers and service sector workers deserves consideration. People consider things like health insurance, checking accounts, insurance, drivers' licenses, and telephones to be necessities. But there's little "freedom of choice" in obtaining these services. They're typically provided by massive, unresponsive bureaucracies. And these same bureaucratic organizations create alienating and exploitative job conditions for clerical workers.

Above all, the case of Blue Shield reveals the need for a new approach to organizing office workers. The strike tool is no longer effective when modern communications make it possible for companies to locate clerical operations anywhere.

A brief postscript from Lucius Cabins, author of past Blue Shield coverage:

There are a few important differences between the analysis the author makes here and the one I made in PW #'s 1 and 2. First of all, I think that offering strategic advice to the unions is hopeless (especially to OPEIU which has been unusually myopic with respect to this case). The author is right when he says "a new kind of worker leverage within the corporate world must be found--and used," but PW has featured a number of articles in different issues which attempted to describe the role of unions in bolstering the status quo and preventing new forms of leverage from being developed. I don't expect unions to be of much help to any office workers interested in seriously undermining the domination we experience daily. What's more, as the Blue Shield case amply demonstrates, most unions cannot even guarantee "the basics" like protecting jobs and improving work conditions.

The author also suggests that self-management through employee representation on the Board of Directors and the establishment of Quality Circles might have improved working life for Blue Shield workers. Although putting an end to the authoritarianism of managers is a real need, the fact remains that the actual work they do is inherently useless (the processing of health insurance data) and no kind of self-management can change the purpose of Blue Shield in society.

Finally, the author dismisses the strike weapon categorically, but there's more than one kind of strike. There is an important distinction between legal strikes, which disempower workers by taking them outside on picket lines and separating them from the production they otherwise control, and the extra-legal possibilities of wildcat and occupational strikes, under the control of the workers themselves.

Nevertheless, this article is an excellent expose of the all-too- typical, racist practices of corporate management. Thanks for sending it in.

World Processing: Technology & Instability

article by tom athanasiou, con amigos

Sometime in the 1970s, the public image of the computer was detached from past phobias. No longer the symbol of technocratic dehumanization, it was glorified as the harbinger of a new way of life. The popular futurism of Alvin Toffler (The Third Wave), the never-ending self-congratulations of the industry press, the advent of the "personal computer" and the high-tech fantasies of worried managers combined into a crescendo of hype usually heard only at Christmas or during a good war.

With computers, as with the rest of modern life, the marketing fantasy has more appeal than the real thing. The hope for a better future shrivels in the harsh glare of the present. Here we find computers pressed into the routine service of those who rule making war, keeping tabs on dissidents, strengthening the hand of management against workers, helping the megacorporations to coordinate their global franchises.

The development and application of any new technology is itself a lesson in the exercise of power. The use of computers in the current worldwide restructuring is a better example than most. It reveals the elements in the social order that are able to produce and direct the new technology, and to what ends. In so doing it exposes the real structures and priorities of the dominant social system.


"Everyone always talks about undocumented labor, but nobody ever talks about undocumented capital." —unattributed wisecrack

First off, information technology is being used to strengthen the international "integrated circuit" of power. Like transportation technology, another crucial underpinning of the global marketplace, it provides the possibility of large scale systems of production and control.

Computers have become vital in holding together an ever-more internationalized economic system perhaps best characterized by the emergence of what Business Week called "stateless money:" ... ..."a vast integrated global money and capital system, almost totally outside all governmental regulation, that can send Eurodollars, Euromarks and other stateless currencies hurtling around the world 24 hours a day." This is capital more "liquid" than anything seen before. It is capital that can, and does, flow wherever profits are highest; capital that prefers speculation to productive investment, and is more than willing to abandon the U.S. for the Third World (or vice versa) if new conditions render such a move profitable.

Such a degree of internationalization would not be possible without the development of sophisticated information retrieval and communications systems. As Herb Schiller puts it in Who Knows: Information In The Age Of The Fortune 500:

"The capability of the Trans-National Corporation to utilize productive facilities where the costs are lowest.... to penetrate markets with massive advertising campaigns, to avoid or minimize taxes by shifting production, and to take advantage of fluctuating currencies by transferring funds from one center to another, is almost totally dependent on secure and instantaneous global communication."

The driving force behind all these rapid changes is, as usual, various sorts of competition. What's different today is that this competition takes place in a world where corporations have become co-actors with the largest and most powerful nations. Japanese/American competition drives the development of computer technology and American/Soviet competition the technology of war.

With this integration of markets, the political dramas of the modem world become supra-national in character. Moreover, they take place within the context of a long-term decline in the power of the nation-state relative to business. As a Vice-President of Citibank (with over 3,000 local branches, Citibank has the largest private communications system in the world) recently put it; "what this all adds up to is another profound challenge to the unlimited sovereign power of nation-states brought about by the technical realities of global communications." Or, in more concrete terms, 30-40% of world trade is accounted for by internal transfers within multinationals.

This is not necessarily good news. As the power of the nation-state's economic and social clout weakens, it tends more and more to define its power in military terms. The Falklands fiasco is a good example. And certainly the Soviet/American nuclear standoff is driven in part by militaristic ways of maintaining national identity—ways which are running afoul of the economic and political realities of a tightly interconnected planetary society. Central among these realities is the disaster now overtaking the Third World.


Before the advent of the great recession in the '70s the official literature on Third World development was infused with optimism. The specter of ecological collapse was easily exorcised by a glorious vision—U.S. entry into the information age would go hand-in-hand with the transfer of most manufacturing to the low-labor-cost part of the world. In this bright delirium everyone was to win. While the developed world shifted to an information-based economy, the Third World would become the nexus of heavy industry, and thus continue to have a major stake in the stability of the world system. The industrial "miracle" countries like Brazil and South Korea were supposed to show the way for the rest of the "underdeveloped" nations.

Back then many liberal economists argued that the economic growth of the Third World was crucial to the health of the global system—that it should be regarded not only as a supplier of materials and labor and a consumer of finished goods, but as a producer of surpluses of its own (e.g. the Brandt Report of the late '70s). The managers had an opportunity to act as if they believed in a really international economy, since it was in their interests to do so. They shifted a lot of their "runaway" shops to lands of cheap labor, and so gained a powerful weapon against workers at home. They established high-technology enclaves in Southeast Asia, some few of which (Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc.) seem to have made it permanently into the ranks of the developed nations. They fought against "national liberation" movements that resisted their tender mercies. For a short while, they were able to project the image of a world in which, eventually, there would be room at the top for at least the elites from the peripheral countries.

But the happy harmony between the logic of profit and the ideology of liberal internationalism was shortlived. Protectionism is already the order of the day, and the adjustments are just beginning.

The old international division of labor depended upon developed countries supplying technology while the Third World supplied unskilled labor and raw materials. Already there is a radically declining need for this labor within the international economy, just as there is within the U.S. When there is no longer any great need for it at all, what will happen?

A recent study by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in Sussex, England indicates that we won't have to wait for the perfection of automated production systems, to see the answer to this one. Already micro-computers have undermined the competitive advantage of Third-World-based production. They have significantly increased the flexibility of assembly lines and reduced the amounts of both labor and materials needed in production—and they have improved product quality in the bargain. Soon real automation—robotics—will enter the economic calculus in a far more pervasive way than it has to date. In the Asian sweatshops where the microchips themselves are assembled, robots are arriving by the hundreds. Over 250 companies in Singapore imported Japanese robots in the past year, and Signetics Korea will be halving its 2300-person production force in the next three or four years with robot-based automation. The Malaysian electrical workers union expects a "blowout" caused by automation within five years "when a single production line requires only 50 workers instead of the 500 now" this is the second largest Malaysian industry. (ASIA 2000 — June/July 1982)

The overall tendency, according to IDS and others, is to reduce the incentive for the Transnationals to invest in Third-World-based production—especially now that high unemployment here at home has American unions clamoring for trade barriers against imports. With the introduction of robotics, the economics become even clearer. Labor costs must be very low to keep labor intensive production systems competitive.

Over the last few years the Japanese have shifted many of their semiconductor assembly lines to the cheapest free-trade zones of all those in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. But now it is just as cheap to automate and keep assembly in Japan. Likewise, Motorola and Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corp. have both recently moved some production lines back to the U.S. from Southeast Asia. With automated assembly offshore production offers no cost advantage. And, with the Third World becoming ever more unstable, offshore production can seem politically unattractive, even in sectors of the economy where some economic advantage remains. This is demonstrated by Control Data's recent decision to pull out of South Korea, a decision prompted not by shifting economies but by the instability of the local work force. (Last year, 120 young Korean women employees of Control Data held two American executives hostage for 9 hours. The execs had come to resolve a labor dispute.)

Offshore production will certainly continue to some extent. But the bulk of manufacturing will not shift to the Third World. As the production process becomes more strongly rooted in the new high technologies, it is more likely to take place not in the Third World, but in the industrialized regions.


Multinational business may find it inconvenient to continue on the "development" paths laid down during the post-war boom. But this doesn't mean that they can simply be forgotten. The exportled economies thrust upon the periphery during that brief flourish of neo-colonialism were largely financed by U.S. and Western European banks. According to a source quoted in the N.Y. Times, 3/15/83 ("What's the bottom line in Third World debt?"), by 1982 the Third World owed the nine largest U.S. banks a sum equal to more than double their real assets. This $600 billion debt links the fate of the international banking system inextricably to the tottering economies of the periphery. The financial collapse of Mexico, to give only one particularly dramatic example, would certainly take down the Bank of America with it. Well over half of the B of A's assets are tied up in Mexican loans.

The hustle run on the Third World continues, too, in the conditions suffered by the millions whose lives always fell outside the development plan; in the desertification of lands stripped of foliage by desperate peasants, in jam-packed cities, where formerly agrarian people scramble for a toehold in the money economy; in the misery of wars eagerly fostered by the U.S. and Soviet military machines and the international arms merchants.


Not that life will be so wonderful here in fortress America. Employment in the once "guaranteed" sectors like auto will never recover from the shakeout of the last three years. Nor will the service sector expand far or fast enough to absorb the millions displaced by the new "mechanization of work." Secure employment will become the privilege of an elite of technicians and professionals who design, implement and oversee the new systems.

The latest waves of layoffs have already produced immense demoralizations expressed as rising rates of suicide, alcoholism and domestic violence. Despite recent and much-publicized erosion of the "work ethic," most U.S. workers still seem to experience joblessness as a catastrophe. And although the restructuring (disguised as "Reaganomics") has met with sporadic working-class protest, the main response is still passive despair.

The longer-term consequences are harder to foresee. The growing numbers of "marginal" people both here and in the Third World will present major difficulties for capitalism. Much as the pacification of the Third World is an ongoing concern for whole covens of bureaucrats and military men, the pacification of the U.S. will again become a standing line-item on corporate and governmental agendas.

When sociologists say "marginal," they mostly mean: on the margins of the wage system, of work. Work serves two basic purposes. It is, of course, the main means of access to that great "necessity" of life, money. But it's also vital to the systems of "secondary control" which supplement the primary systems of state force (the police, the army) and programmed leisure time. It provides the single most important opportunity for participation in "normal" life, and therefore for the construction of a "normal" identity. More concretely, it fills the empty hours that would otherwise breed unrest and imparts the discipline of hierarchical power a discipline that can never be allowed to lapse.

With more and more people becoming permanently unemployed, or else employed only marginally in ways that do not provide them with "career opportunities," the system loses much of its ability to integrate restless groups. A result is the growth of what one British writer called "the impossible class" in places as culturally and geographically divergent as Brixton, England and Santo-Andrade, Brazil.

Brixton is a mostly Black London neighborhood whose collective counterattack against the police triggered nationwide youth riots in 1981. Santo-Andrade, a vast slum on the outskirts of Sao Paulo, was likewise the flashpoint for massive riots just this April. Both areas teem with the jobless, the penniless and the restless—people who have lost, or have never had, the usual ties to the economic system. Instead they survive by various combinations of part-time work, welfare, street-hustling, squatting, shoplifting, scavenging and robbery.

Here some important differences emerge. While the British rioters of 1981 were quite successfully isolated from the rest of the working-class population, this will be less easily done in Brazil. Santo-Andrade, for instance, was also the detonator for the big auto workers' strike of 1980-81. In general, Third World "marginals'' have much closer social and cultural ties to the regularly employed workers than do their European and U.S. counterparts. This, however, is mostly because Third World workers have never enjoyed even the relative security and comfort afforded the majority in the central countries during the last two decades.

One doesn't have to accept a scenario of simple mass unemployment to foresee analogous problems developing here. Just as likely is what some analysts are calling ''the feminization of work.'' In other words, most jobs reduced to the traditional status of ''women's work,"— underpaid, part-time, insecure. Also, like "women's work,'' many of these jobs may be done at home, with "telecommuting" replacing the office for millions by the end of the century. Workers would be paid piece-work, have little contact with other company employees, and (the managers doubtless hope) be totally unorganized.

While this prospect is predictably touted by industry flacks as a "liberation," it is actually more like a return to the conditions preceeding the industrial revolution. But it is worth remembering that a major reason workers were originally brought together in factories two hundred years ago was to discipline them. Today, it is hoped, the computer will be able to monitor the worker so closely that other forms of oversight can be dispensed with.

The essence of marginalization is not the lack of wage-work per se, but the lack of the identification with it that comes with sharing its rewards. Along with this lack of identification comes an inner abandonment of the "work ethic" and attendant success fantasies—executive suite, house in the suburbs, whatever.

Not that there will be any shortage of candidates for the Technical/Professional elite. Millions are willing to be good if it will keep them in Porsches and chocolate. For millions more religion and alcohol will fulfill their traditional roles. For others though, different means are called for, and the managers hope that microchip-based technologies will help provide these means.


"Dealing with contradictions and conflicts is a tricky business." —David Rockefeller

With the world ever more brutal and unstable, and with the system unable to offer everyone a place, the marginals are becoming the "surplus population" of a Malthusian capitalism. War seems ever more attractive as a means of social control. Let's call this the 1984 scenario. In Orwell's Oceania, the basic problem was that society had become too productive, and military waste production had to be maintained to keep the population amenable to government manipulation. There are, incidentally, 45 countries at war at this moment, and at least one of those wars—the Iran/Iraq conflict—is just the sort of slow-burning, labor-intensive operation that invites interpretation as a deliberate population control measure.

But even in 1984, warfare wasn't enough. It was supplemented by the telescreen, a device that also has its parallels in the modern world. TV and home video are obvious examples, since they provide a surrogate image-based participation in the life of society. And the development of corporate TV, the computerized information utility, the fifty-seven variety cable pacification box, computer-targeted advertisement, teleshopping, 3-D video games and other trinkets too wonderful even to imagine will certainly help.

And, since it is so easy to "talk back to your TV," other, less subtle applications will also be deployed. Developments in computerized surveillance technology are truly mindboggling. Already, devices that can take the place of the prison are being tested. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle (4/26/83) tells of a microchip anklet that notifies the central computer if the prisoner strays more than 200 feet from the phone. Like many developments, this one was anticipated in science fiction usually used by an evil society against the hero.


Nobody, including the top managers, really knows how much of all this will come true, or how fast. Computerization in general is proceeding at a breakneck pace. But the rate of microelectronic investment in the workplace itself, the primary source of all these contradictions, is currently much slower than anyone expected. The market for factory automation products and services in the U.S. this year is about $4 billion, and while some industry analysts envision an explosion of the market to as much as $30 billion by 1990, this is uncertain. There simply isn't much incentive to buy new plants and equipment these days. The Wall Street Journal (10/11/82) commented that while the the automated "factory of the future" may eventually become standard, right now "there are practically no new factories being built."

Even if a real economic recovery arrives, the incentives to automate production in the industrialized regions of the world may not turn out to be so compelling after all. Some Third World countries (Singapore, South Korea, etc.) have "developed" far enough to support automated production, and perhaps to support it more cheaply than the American economy can. Besides, the TransNational corporations (TNC's) are already heavily committed to these areas. And, in many cases, the TNCs' only access to foreign markets otherwise protected by import curbs will be by building the factories where the markets are. Finally, there will be products and processes which resist automation enough to remain competitive even when done labor-intensively—providing that labor is cheap enough.

Automation is the fruit of capital's drive to cut costs and reduce its dependence on workers. This is the result of no unified plan, but rather a byproduct of the competitive need to survive. During the last wave of automation, in the '50s, the economy, and especially the service sector, were rapidly expanding. This time around automation is based on far more flexible devices, and is taking place in the context of increased international competition, choked world markets and decrepit infrastructure.

All these variables make predictions difficult. A few things are clear nonetheless. First, unless the new technologies turn out not to work at all, further mechanization of work is inevitable sooner or later. Second, this means that unemployment and "underemployment" (low-paid, part time, insecure work) will continue to grow. Third, wage-work linked to programmed consumption has been the primary means of social control in the developed countries since 1945. As this means breaks down, cash strapped elites are likely to resort to some brutal alternatives.

In this context, even the most sophisticated strategies for "full-employment," like the idea of converting war-related industries to peaceful use, fall very short indeed. Reasonable though they may seem, they are unachievable without major social upheaval, upheaval that their proponents refuse to welcome.

A better approach is to honestly confront the complexity and depth of the current restructuring and to try to find a politics that can match it. A successful fight for the development and use of technology must focus on the issue of control, and it is not only technology but work itself that is used to control the population. It will have to grapple with the profoundly contradictory implications of the new automation, implications which this article has only gestured at. We can take a lesson here from Alvin Tamer and his ilk, who have shown just how many millions of people, suspecting the scale of the coming changes, are straining to understand the "big picture'.'

One point of leverage in dealing with the reality of economic immiseration may be in taking the hype at its word—turning the promise of liberation from work into a political demand. Workers and marginals in Italy and elsewhere have already pioneered the fight for the separation of work and income—for the "right to live" rather than the "right to work". (It should go without saying that welfare as it currently exists does not qualify as "living".) Others, most recently Northern European youth, have bypassed "income" altogether by simply taking what they need, squatting houses and jumping public transit gates.

These sorts of tactics are, of course, limited. They are cited only in the hope that they might evoke a sense of politics as an assertion of the right to live. With work becoming the focus of life for only a privileged elite, and a meaningless agony for the rest, such an assertion, long overdue, may be a real possibility. The only other choice is a more or less uncritical defense of the society of wage-work and its "ethic".

by Tom Athanasiou, con Amigos

Processed World #9

Issue 9: November 1983

processedworld09proc.pdf6.54 MB

Table of Contents

from our readers

article by jonathan peake

Walling of Awareness
article by bradley rose

short items from here & there

That Office!
tale of toil by roberta werdinger

The Line You Have Reached... Disconnect It!
article by Lucius Cabins

Orange Blossom Special
a "memo from bechtel"

Piece Work
fiction by penny skillman

Bad Girl
by shirley garzotto

Against "Fairness" & Fares
article by Lucius Cabins

TECHNO-FASCInationS with war gaMes
article by melquiades

Check 'Em Out!
recommended magazines

Walling of Awareness

article by bradley rose


Three years ago I spent a few days in a mountain wilderness with two friends. We wanted to "do a sweat" and so we set to work at building a sweat hut. After choosing a flat site along a stream, we began to collect boughs for supports, wood for a fire, rocks for heating, and so on. We used the renewable resources at hand and a sheet of plastic we brought from home. We bent and tied boughs to form a dome-shaped ribcage over which we stretched a plastic skin.

At each stage of construction, we had to make choices. What should we do first? How many ribs did we need? What kind of rocks were best to use? Who would get wood for the fire? We sensed or came to agreement on all issues and we had several rejuvenating sweats during our stay in the mountains.

The days were mild, broken by afternoon showers. Inside our sweat hut, seated around a small pit of red hot, steaming rocks, sitting close on grass which we had sprinkled with sage, we talked and chanted and hushed to hear the thunder. We had combined our architectural prowesses into something that was mutually satisfying. Moreover, our sweat hut didn't impose upon others since it was only a provisional reorganization of time and space. It was acceptably "rough around the corners," richly sensual, and celebratory — like us.

As that experience settled into my memory, I began to examine how the space surrounding me was shaped and defined, who made such decisions, and with what intentions.


I define architecture as behavior (i.e., thinking, acting, building, choosing, burning, etc.) by which space and time are structured for future use. This definition is deliberately broad in that it recognizes that all people, not just a professional elite, are capable of structuring space. If we remove a door within our home, if we use space on the office desk to grow herbs or display photos of loved ones, if we make a garbage can of the street, or if we simply leave a space and time untouched — we are making architectural choices.

How such choices are made is a political as well as architectural matter. The architect, professional or not, limits possibilities, channels tendencies, concentrates resources to facilitate certain kinds of activities (and not others). Architecture, to a large extent determines how people will interact with each other and their environment. The predominant role of professionals in architecture — as in most other spheres of life — is a recent development. Until the Industrial Revolution, only royalty and organized religion needed or could afford the services of professional architects. Most people met their architectural needs by drawing on communally held science and tradition.

When I returned to San Francisco from my mountain experience, the professional, modern architecture in my day to day life seemed even more miserable and inadequate than it did before. I labored in offices permanently sealed against fresh air and sunlight, rain, animal life and all the other "snares and snakepits" of nature. I ventured into streets made cold and windy by highrise aerodynamics. I was hoisted up to work in 'elevators' as one of the human units which measured an elevator's capacity. Phone booths for single people, restaurants with parking lots and family accommodations, "men's rooms" and "ladies' rooms," public parking garages, hallways — even doors (glass, locked, automatic, front and back)— all presupposed and attempted to facilitate and perpetuate certain planned human relationships.

San Francisco's corporate architecture institutionalizes the most unimaginative uses of form, color, texture, taste, smell and other sensory qualities. It is designed to be unappreciable to human taste, hearing, smell and touch. It shows a bias toward what can be mass-produced, for high-tech precision and engineering, for mirrory smooth surface, for metal, concrete and glass, and for uncompromising uniformity or regularity. Environments based on sensory deprivation result.

With my wilderness trip still fresh in my memory, I asked myself: what is the value system behind modern design and what are its underlying messages? I began to pay more attention to the effect of architecture on my own life. From the architecture itself emerged a pattern of messages and values shaped by the consciousness of industrialized people.

In San Francisco, new buildings are meant to be as permanent as possible. They are erected without regard either for people who live and work in the vicinity or for future generations. Through these buildings, developers attempt to colonize the future. Although this has characterized monumental architecture in all ages, only in modern times has the secular corporate world utilized the symbolism of monumental architecture. Right up to modern times, civilizations symbolically established their own permanence in stone. By its sheer size and timelessness, such architecture seemed to convey the impression that the status quo would last through eternity. Corporate modern architecture seeks to do the same.

Modern building materials are largely made of non-renewable resources in limited supply from the far parts of the world — steel, aluminum, copper and petroleum. Oil and gas are used to perfect other raw materials into building — quality glass, steel and concrete. Oil and gas are also used to hoist, weld, press, fit, bore and otherwise erect San Francisco's buildings. I used to eat my bag lunches on the windy and cold terraces of 3 Embarcadero Center, watching resources from all over the world concentrated into 4 Embarcadero Center across the street.


Through the 19th century the machines created to mine, traverse, smelt, and manufacture affected the way reality was perceived. People could not ignore the sudden and overwhelming presence of machinery. With railroads, canals, bridges and the telegraph, people broke through spatial and temporal barriers. New materials — such as steel and rubber — and new technical aids to production — such as control of electric and steam power — seemed to make many traditions obsolete. Many philosophers who were born to that world were inspired by the power of contemporary machinery. Machine operation metaphorized their experience and convinced them that 'civilized man' could master nature. He had learned to release and harness the power stored in oil, gas and coal; with nitroglycerin (1847) and dynamite (1866) he blasted his way through mountains. Amid so much progress, industrial men showed an unprecedented self-confidence. They no longer felt bound to hold sacred what Nature through her "wiles" had created. Men leveled forests, bred meatier cattle and sturdier corn, and 'reclaimed' wilderness and wasteland. To them the 20th century represented a new era, not only man-centered and man-bound, but man-controlled.

"The era of the great mechanized individuals has begun and all the rest is palaeontology." —Urnberto Boccioni, 1912

Radical artists and architects, such as the Futurist Boccioni, were among those who dreamed of a world restructured by industry. Architecture became more and more a subject for conversation, discussion, debate, diatribe . . . and manifesto. The supporters of industrialism confronted the old traditions. Fantastic and unprecedented architectures and radical theorems were published during the early 20th century. Adolf Loos, an Austrian architect, equated ornament with crime. Bruno Taut, an Expressionist, pictured dazzling, jeweled cities in watercolor. Antonio Sant'Elia, a Futurist architect whose work rarely got beyond the drawing board, apotheosized grand dams, monumental train stations, colossal power factories and megalithic apartment blocks. On the surface, these fantasies seem various and fundamentally personal, but they all shared a vision of a wholly new world, built and controlled by industrial Man.

New schools of modern design were established in Austria, Germany, Italy, Holland and Russia. Many of the "architects" in these schools had little to show of their work other than manifestos, sketches, and slogans, but over these they attacked and counter-attacked each other and formed alliances. These architects equated the value of their visions with their appropriateness to an industrially restructured world.

As Theo van Doesburg, a radical modernist from the Dutch de Stijl school, asserted with millenarian bravado in 1922:

"All that we used to designate as magic, spirit, love, etc. will now be efficiently accomplished. The idea of the miraculous, that primitive man made so free with, will now be realized simply through electric current, mechanical control of light and water, the technological conquest of space and time."


"The individual is losing significance; his destiny is no longer what interests us." —Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1932

The radical architects, like so many other people of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were possessed with the promise of social-isms. In many of these social-ist schemes, the heinous extreme between the plight of the poor and the luxury of the wealthy was attributed to individual excess. Many of the social-ist architects of the early 20th century — and in Europe nearly all the formative modern architects referred to themselves as socialists — assumed the task of designing an urban, worker-oriented world which reflected and reinforced their anti-individualist attitude.

Around 1920, for example, the Swiss-born architect and painter Le Corbusier designed "A Contemporary City for 3 Million Inhabitants." The inhabitants were to be housed in rows of identical highrises conveniently connected to their places of work. He did not have any particular 3 million individuals in mind; he designed his city for a co-conscious, worker-identified society. The influential German architect Muthesius in 1911 also echoed the principles of popular social-isms:

"In modern social and economic organization there is a sharp tendency to conformity under dominant view points, a strict uniformity of individual elements, a depreciation of the inessential in favor of immediate essentials. And these social and economic tendencies have a spiritual affinity with the formal tendencies of our aesthetic movement."

Guided by such "formal tendencies" the fantastic sketches of the early 20th century looked more alike and less fantastic by the mid 1920s. Elements of design which could be labeled individual or eccentric were ridiculed by the cliques of architects and designers who had banded together under the flag of industrialism.

The history of the "State Bauhaus" school in Weimar shows how modernist architecture was shaped by conformist pressures. After the devastation of WWI, Germans hoped to rebuild Germany through industrial production. To meet the need for industrial designers, Walter Gropius's Bauhaus opened in 1919. A unique feature of the early Bauhaus was its liberating preliminary course, conceived and elaborated by Johannes Itten. In this course, apprentices were encouraged "to start from zero" and to express their "inner voice." But in 1923 Gropius scrapped the preliminary course and yielded to industrialist-socialist dogma. In order to finance the Bauhaus he needed to appease government and private enterprise, and leaders in both groups pushed for social-ist industrialization.

Gropius's Bauhaus had been criticized by Le Corbusier and van Doesburg who were seen by many as the leading Art formulators of the day. In 1922-23, Theo van Doesburg himself settled in Weimar near the Bauhaus. He took credit for turning the Bauhaus curriculum away from handicrafts and individualism. "At Weimar I have overturned everything . . . " he wrote. "I have talked to the pupils every evening and I have infused the poison of the new spirit everywhere . . . . I have mountains of strength and I know that our notions will be victorious over everyone and everything." At the same time, Le Corbusier was working (that is, writing) out of France. Le Corbusier had formulated the "scientific laws" of industrial expression:

"Nothing justifies us in supposing there should be any incompatibility between science and art. The one and the other have the common aim of reducing the universe to equations .... The work of art must not be accidental, exceptional, impressionistic ... but on the contrary, generalized, static, expressive of the invariant."

To him, the dominance of simple rectangularity characterized the industrial style:

"If we go indoors to work... the office is square, the desk is square and cubic, and everything on it is at right angles [the paper, the envelopes, the correspondence baskets with their geometrical weave, the files, the folders, the registers, etc.] ... the hours of our day are spent amid a geometrical spectacle, our eyes are subject to a constant commerce with forms that are almost all geometry."

Gropius planned a Bauhaus exhibition in response to criticism and industrial pressure. The theme of the exhibition was "Art and Technology — A New Unity," in which the influences of van Doesburg and Le Corbusier were obvious. At the same time, Gropius suggested that artists should wear conventional clothing — that is, business dress. The Bauhaus opened a department of worker architecture and Bauhaus students produced volumes of genre drawings which imitated the many other impersonal drawings then circulating around Europe.

Before the Bauhaus closed in 1933 the new industrial style had become well established in Europe. It was characterized by a rational, impersonal, systematic approach to architecture in which standardized "worker needs" were met with mass-production technology. Efficient hierarchical social organization was its basic goal. Emotional expression and ornament — which purportedly interfered with efficiency — gave way to simple geometries in black and white. This modern style was also characterized by what seemed (to any Westerner) to be its international base; after all, it had developed simultaneously and under similar conditions throughout industrial Europe. And so, in 1932, when H.R. Hitchcock and Philip Johnson arranged the first exhibition of this style in the U.S. at the New York Museum of Modern Art — they called it the 'International Style', a label which persists to this day. Through the International Style Exhibition, Americans saw that the principles by which their cars and factories were designed would also shape their homes, shops and schools.

In the late '30s many of Europe's modern architects (Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer) emigrated to the U.S. where they further influenced the development of modern architecture. Gropius, for example, was asked to teach at Harvard in 1937 and the following year, he became chairman of its architecture department. By then it was obvious that the new style was no mere fad. American capital financed its development in the U.S. By the end of WWII, modern architectural style emerged pre-eminent.

The socialist principles which shaped the development of modern architecture — the suppression of individual expression, domination over Nature, time-efficiency, and massproduction — served American capitalism as well as it had served the socialists in Europe. Mies van der Rohe, for example, welcomed a commission to design a 'communist' monument, but when he became director of the Bauhaus he expelled communist students because it was expedient under the Nazis to do so; he designed a Reichsbank for Hitler (whose personal tastes thwarted the advance of Bauhaus-type architecture in Nazi Germany) and then designed school buildings, apartment towers, and corporate highrises for American business. Gropius asserted the international quality of modern architecture in the '20s, designed Nazi exhibition structures in the '30s, and tried to persuade Goebbels that modern architecture was not anti-Nazi (but failed — again because of Hitler's personal stance). Whether under the state socialists or the capitalists, the social reorganization necessitated by industrial production was facilitated by modernist, social-ist architecture.


Not surprisingly, a body of professional criticism has developed in response to modern architecture, but very little of it penetrates to the deeper flaws. Most critics examine modern architecture as one would examine an exhibit of paintings in a museum: they write about the "articulation of light" and the "thingness of the brick" and they ignore the hostile reality of the modern design in which human beings live, work, buy and die.

Some critics have rejected the visual austerity of "Manhattanization" — the concentration of megalithic office slabs in urban financial centers. Responding to such criticism, some architects began in the 1970s to design highrises with 'old-fashioned' decorations; condos with 'Victorian' ornament; and buildings with unusual shapes. This trend has been promoted as a new, visually stimulating style, called Post-Modernism. But the Post-Modernist call to bygone traditions is superficial. The fancy wooden scrollwork of new 'Victorians' no longer reflects the pride and talent of craftsmen. It is the soulless imitation of the craftsman's art, turned on factory lathes. In fact, the spirit of Post-Modernism is that of modernism itself. It incorporates the same biases as modernism — biases toward the same building materials and methods ... toward asensuality ... colonization of space and time ... 'monetization' of nature ... coercive preplanning of human activities and relationships ... and professionalization. Modernism also prevails over architectural "preservation." When civic groups demand the preservation of an older and noteworthy building in cities such as San Francisco, nothing more than the facade gets preserved. Behind the facade, both literally and figuratively, modernism holds its ground.

A meaningful criticism of architecture therefore must rise from something more substantial than "what it looks like." modern architecture, for instance, has had many notable technical failures. Peter Blake, in Form Follows Fiasco, cites a number of the technical shortcomings of modern buildings — such as Boston's John Hancock Tower which dropped 10,000 of its windows into the streets below. Gross technical failures are inherent to modern architecture. When building materials are mass-produced, so also are their flaws. The same is true of construction methods.

A radical analysis of modern architecture examines the inherent messages and values from which modern architecture is formulated and which it perpetuates. modern architecture reveals itself as a censoring expression, as a message of social control. Every modern building says: "You are not qualified to build for yourself. Your individual feelings have no significance in the structuring of common space. Your needs have been decided for you. The scope of your existence is circumscribed by professional pre-planning. You are accommodated as shopper flow, floor usage, occupant, worker, etc. Your sensitivity and sensuality have no bearing on architectural concerns. "Whether we live in a condo, use a men's room, or adapt to the office, we experience modern architecture as a subliminal lesson in industrialism.

The "modern" architecture of the near future is likely to look extremely different than what we're used to. As supplies of cheap oil run dry, professional technoarchitects are looking to new building materials and methods. Transnational corporations are financing research into bio-engineering — the manipulation of genetic material in order to "manufacture" new, "living" materials, fuels, and processors. The modern architects have a passion for "dead" building materials — concrete, glass, steel, and they control them with intimidating effect. But with the technology of bioengineering, the future architects can shape living as well as dead matter. Under such circumstances, the final distinction between life and manipulable matter may well be obliterated. Bio-engineered architecture may look substantially different than that of today, but social control will likely remain its predominant function.


The modern architects designed clean and inexpensive dwellings for a mass-produced world. In so doing, they provided a more healthful alternative to tenement living. They developed an architectural ethos and aesthetic in which the common worker received particular care and attention. But the spirit of modern architecture has run its course. We recognize that modern architecture does not promote individual, subjective worth; that its monumental aspects intimidate more than they inspire; that social control — and not free and willful cooperation — is its underlying motive; and that it is ecologically unsound. These characterizations expose values by which we can examine the appropriateness of various architectural schemes to a free society. An architecture of the richness and scale of human being need not be limited to small structures. The range of human sensitivity includes an appreciation of grandeur, of monumental symbolism, of awesomeness. Today's corporate architecture is, ironically, as close as modern architecture comes to such expression.
I once saw a graffito on the rear wall of a San Francisco supermarket which read: THE WALLS HAVE EARS. It was a redefinition of that wall — of the idea of the wall — as common space for social uses — in this case, an exchange of information. Walls are not just walls: they are functions. They retain hills, obstruct passage, contain space, suggest the containment of space, invite the curious, support color, etc. We can begin to think in these terms — not of what architecture is, but what it does; to see architecture as behavior and as consciousness made manifest.

—by Bradley Rose

The Line You Have Reached... Disconnect It!

Lucius Cabins writes on the 22 day nationwide strike of 700,000 telecoms workers at AT&T in 1983.

The 22 day nationwide strike by 700,000 telephone workers provided a window on the relative strength of capital and labor in the current era. In classic style, both management and unions are claiming victory, since neither side was able to push through its most aggressive bargaining goals.

The union successfully resisted the "takebacks'' that management demanded. Nationally, AT&T sought a restructuring of medical insurance payments that would transfer up to 25% of basic costs to workers, but surrendered in the face of union intransigence. In California, Pacific Telephone workers won two important issues when they resisted the imposition of split shifts in all depatments, and maintained the 7 1/2 hour work day for clericals in spite of PacTel demands for an 8 hour day.

On the other hand, AT&T and the soon-to-be-divested regional basic operating companies (BOC's) overcame union demands for guaranteed job security, establishing instead a miniscule $31 million "retraining fund'' for workers whose jobs become obsolete and an incentive-bonus program for early retirement. No specific job protection guarantees were made, the company thereby reserving its "right'' to lay off and transfer workers according to market conditions. Given the forthcoming deregulation of the communications industry, phone service employment will significantly diminish over the course of the three year agreement. The severance payment plans do represent a concession by management to cushion workers from layoffs, but for a corporate giant with $7.2 billion in profits last year, and $1.9 billion in the first quarter of this year, it is a small price to pay in exchange for control over workforce levels and the labor itself.

Both sides have expressed satisfaction with the wage settlement, 5.5% in the first year, 1.5% + COLA in second and third years (estimated total for the three year contract is 16.4%). For the company the settlement looks good because it is less than each of the last two national contracts; it is substantially less than the 28.5% granted to GTE telecommunication workers in bargaining last year; and most importantly, the BOC's are blessed with very low built-in labor cost increases for the first two years of their marketplace independence ('84 & '85). The unions, for their part, can point to the total increase of 16.4% as an improvement over widespread wage freezes and wage cuts agreed to by other big unions.

AT&T: Strengths and Weaknesses

The media has made much of the 97% automation of basic phone service that made it possible for 700,000 people to strike without much affect on the public. Of course, this high level of automation did hurt workers' power to affect phone service from outside the workplace. The company could also rely on a built-in force of 250,000 strikebreakers--its vast bureaucracy of "managers,'' most of whom usually perform routine information processing and have only narrowly-defined decision-making functions.

The Bell System assumes it has a basically uncooperative and "lazy'' workforce. Thus, it exercises rigid control over all its operatives via close surveillance and evaluation of workers and managers alike, and more recently through computerized tracking of work performance. Now that the machines are able to take on much of this work, Bell is saddled with a redundant, costly middle-management bureaucracy. During the strike, most middle managers were in a sense re-proletarianized, as they went back to being operators, linemen, sales clerks, and secretaries, commonly working 12-hour days and 6-day weeks. In the Bay Area there were grumblings about starting a "managers' union'' for future protection from these conditions. This strike experience could be a hint ot what's to come for managers with further industry automation and rationalization.

There was significant discord among the management bargainers during this strike. Marketplace competition is only a few months away, and different prospects for profits are facing different BOC's and AT&T itself. PacTel in California and several units in the new Bell Atlantic region (around Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C.), fearing that deregulation and divestiture would aggravate their already weak financial conditions, pushed for substantial takebacks in this contract--this hard-line position prevailed in the early stages of the strike. Eventually, however, AT&T and other regional bargainers, wanting to ensure relative peace and stability during the break-up process, reached a compromise contract agreement.

The greatest weakness of the Bell System in this strike, ironically, proved to be the divestiture process itself. Because so much managerial and marketing time is being spent gearing up for "1-1-84,'' the actual date of the breakup, there is a great deal of clerical work to be done--work which, while invisible to the public, is nonetheless crucial to the current and future profitability of the phone companies. The hundreds of thousands of striking word processors, data processors, key punchers, typists, secretaries, file clerks, etc. crippled the phone company's ability to continue vial information processing.

AT&T needs to get the divestiture over with as soon as possible. They are getting out of basic phone service just in time for the fast-moving technological upheaval in the communications industry. The phone system needs to upgrade its technology and overhaul its operations if it is to maintain a slowly falling share of the total communications market. By divesting itself now, AT&T is taking half its total assets, plus its most innovative and competitive divisions, into the competitive and profitable communications marketplace.

The divested BOC's will have to modernize their technology and decrease their workforces. Had they remained part of AT&T they conceivably could have tapped its enormous capital resources to finance this restructuring. Instead, they will have to obtain the needed capital by doubling basic phone service costs--thereby lowering the basic standard of living (10-42% of present phone holders are projected to give up having a phone at home as basic costs double) while AT&T uses its retained capital to dominate the communications market. Labor: Strengths and Weaknesses

The strike caught the unions unprepared. The smallest union's president, John Shaughnessy of the Telecommunications International Union (TIU), claimed that management forced the strike. The largest union, representing 525,000 phone workers, was the Communication Workers of America (CWA). The CWA didn't expect a strike until it was almost underway. Also, the CWA's small strike fund couldn't sustain a long strike.

In spite of the union leadership's flatfootedness, the important trade-union principle of solidarity was reaffirmed in this strike (constrast the predicament of the Machinists on strike against now-"bankrupt'' Continental Airlines without support from other airline unions until the bankruptcy scheme--the same Machinists who crossed PATCO picket lines 2 years ago). The three unions in the phone strike (CWA, TIU and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers -- IBEW) promised to respect each others' picket lines, and with few exceptions did in fact stay off the job while others were still negotiating. At its last national convention the CWA had the foresight to pledge national solidarity among locals so that everyone stayed out until all local issues were "resolved.''

In spite of these positive steps, the phone strike was definitely "under control.'' For information strikers depended on daily bulletins issued by the union, which offered the same platitudes dished up to the press about progess in negotiations. Negotations were carried on at all levels in secret meetings, and the negotiators were primarily union officials. Strikers do have the right to vote on ratification, but that ballot took place over a month after the back-to-work order.

The structure of the strike reinforced a passive role for the actual strikers, whose primary function was to stand at isolated picket posts for a few hours a day. The structure of U.S. labor conflict is based on "experts'' on both union and management sides defining what is "negotiable'' and then proceeding to arrive at a "settlement.'' That arrangement, in which strikers are spectators of their own battle, is an important element in defusing the common (but difficult to "negotiate'' or "settle'') frustration and anger stemming from alienation, boredom, work quotas, and management. The humiliation of submitting to the discipline of a phone company job is well known (it's not uncommon to have to raise one's hand to go to the bathroom). Less clear is how that humilation, and the anger at it, is used by the union for its own narrow economic goals. Since "management's right to manage'' and capital's right to exist aren't rejected by the unions it follows that they cannot address problems about the qualitiative nature of work, or life in general.

Even what solidarity there was was a mere shadow of a real class solidarity. For example, AT&T's vulnerability as a result of the divestiture process could have been exploited to better advantage. Instead of accepting the constraints of "acceptable demands,'' such as wages and working conditions, the strikers could have demanded that AT&T put up the money to modernize local phone systems, and thwarted its scheme to double the customers' costs. Such a demand would have created a natural unity between all phone users (most people) and the strikers against company and union negotiators who were trying to limit the issues, and against the courts and government bureaucrats who have set up the great "divestiture'' scam.

Widely considered "progressive,'' unions are themselves capitalist institutions, having the function of bargaining over the sale of human beings. Collective bargaining is inherently oppressive since it always implies the continuation of wage-slavery and never allows for the termination of the selling of human beings, for any time or price under any conditions. Trade unionism, especially in its narrowest and most widely practiced form, is a vital support for capitalism, since it contains workers' conflicts within the logic of the system of buying and selling.

In the phone strike, the workers did partially break out of that logic through widespread sabotage, albeit sporadically and unlinked to any radical demands or goals. There were perhaps a thousand incidents nationwide, many of which demonstrated great skill and good sense about targets. In New Jersey there were 25 acts of sabotage reported in the first three days of the strike. The most dramatic was a severed cable which cut off phone service to a New Jersey state police barracks and Fort Dix, a major army base. In the Chicago area there were 47 acts in the first week, one of which consisted of throwing a lit highway flare into a switching box, thereby cutting off service to the Du Page County Sheriff's Department. In California, Pacific Telephone reported there were 227 incidents of sabotage, for an average of over ten per day during the 22 day strike. Damage was done in most parts of the country, including Miami, Dallas, Detroit, Reno, Philadelphia, and many other places.

This remarkable outbreak of direct action undoubtedly steered management negotiators toward conciliation. Beyond that, it kept the scab workforce in a state of "crisis management,'' where in addition to handling the ever-increasing backlog of routine repair and installation, they constantly had to attend to emergencies.

In several areas the picket lines were militant. In Providence, Rhode Island pickets skirmished with mounted police, and in Brooklyn, New York a scuffle took place between strikers and cops, injuring three police and leading to the arrest of 3 strikers. In Dorchester, Massachusetts (a suburb of Boston) strikers surrounded three scabbing phone company trucks until they were dispersed by police.

In spite of this direct action, union control and direction prevented strikers from resorting to a much stronger form of leverage: the occupation. Two years ago, in a strike against British Columbia Telephone (Canada), which is owned by GTE (U.S.), 11,000 phone workers occupied 20 installations over an area as large as California, Oregon, and Washington combined. At the height of their occupation, they controlled all telephone, radiophone, satellites, and cable in British Columbia, and provided free phone service to people during the six days. Similarly according to a recent report from Australia, phone workers were giving citizens free long distance phone calls from specific phone booths in major cities. What characterizes these tactics is the suspension of the business part of phones while maintaining their use value for the general population.

In the U.S. phone strike, workers gained significant leverage by thoroughly disrupting basic information processing. The bulk of phone company information is generally only of use in billing or keeping track of ownership, etc., so disrupting it halts the smooth circulation of capital. The phone strike thus reinforced the power of clerical workers to hurt capital, though we probably won't hear much about it from most commentators.

The fact remains, however, that an occupation would have totally halted information processing, and also information gathering, as workers could have tampered with or destroyed vast amounts of data needed for billing. In fact, the power to destroy vital data is growing. With computerization there is less paper or "hard copy'' evidence of what is "correct,'' so it is possible for workers to creatively intervene at each link of the infoprocessing chain.

Phone workers are also uniquely positioned to exert tremendous leverage in solidarity with other workers. The selective cutting off of phone service to intransigent owners (or arsonist landlords or brutal cops for that matter) can be a powerful weapon in an increasingly hot class conflict. It isn't the new technology as an outside force which has disempowered workers, as Time and other establishment press claim. Capital has continually restructured work to expand its control, and new technology has always been a key to its strategies. The problems lie more with workers who don't grasp the power at their fingertips, instead relying on moribund and obsolete strategies imposed by a decaying trade union movement in its death throes. By taking direct control over worksites and labor processes, workers can make dramatic immediate improvements and begin to open the possibilities for a free future.

--Lucius Cabins and friends

Processed World #10

Issue 10: February 1984 from

processedworld10proc.pdf7.79 MB

Table of Contents

Talking Heads

On Finding the Word 'Night' in a Legal Document
poem by n.m. hoffman

Sil.Val: The Chips of our Lives
article by melquiades

CLODO Speaks
interview with french saboteurs


Nein to Personnel Information Systems: Don't PIS on Me!
article on west german resistance

poem by adam cornford

Grumbles Down Below
fiction by paxa lourde

The Ugly Truth About VDTs
information by pandora pennyroyal

Computer Strikes in England
article by henri simon

Bad Girl
by shirley garzotto

Why Work?
review by helen highwater


Dear PW,

The laST FEW months I've experimented with the temporary work scene. What struck me most about it was the sickening sweet etiquette that all agencies employ; from the lilting voice of the receptionist to the saccharin interviewer who politely impresses how valuable you the employee are to the agency, and how very much they care about you (or worse yet they use a videotape machine to tell you the same; to the bloodless purges when they whisk you off a job without ever telling you you're being fired - - less brutal than the loud knock on the door by midnight thugs, but no less effective in making sure that you disappear without a trace.

In my journeys through the temp world, I managed to drop loose journal entries, like a trail to retrace my steps back through the labyrinth. Of the three excerpted here, the first two are unretouched spilling during practice time for typing test at interviews; the third entry was composed without benefit of a typewriter.


(1) What am I diing here,

taking a typing test when I hardly even know how to type -- I'm up here on the 13th floor with my misspleed words. Can you spell "authority," "management," success"? Can you pour coffee into the xerox machine till it cooks? What is the true nature of success? Is it taking a dive from the 13th floor to a trampoline below and then parachuting back up again/?

Here I go.....remember a coulpe of weeks ago. Working at Macy the kind of terminal boredom that seeps into your bones the way zero cold does, 5:30 pm came,and as soon as I hit the ground floor I start ed running for the exits--emerged onto the street, gave a whoop and yelled `I'm human Again!", and all the passersby looked at me and smiled, as if they kniew, "he's been working at Macy's today." Iwent to Telfords to pick up some clove cigarettes before they tured into pumkins, was walking fast up Kearny street, encountered a womanat one corner who looked like someone I know, and she gave an enthusiastic hello and I responded with an equally enthusiastic hello, and she said, "NO, not you!"


(2) Another fuckin; Ibm selectric! I thought of using this machine to type my resume, but I don't think I habe time, plus by aboninable ytyping accuracy1/21/2I ought to at least by able to start training myself to use bh little fingers more, just like I'm tying to do on the bass guitar.

i like this machine a lot -- wish I could steal it I could use the practice. What? Practice stealing or typing? Well, if I stole it, I could get practice doing both%! Such miserable weather outside -- Ikept dodhing people's umbrellas -- why can't these financial district types just learn to wal inthe rain? It might actually soften up some of that head0processing that's become hardened in there since day 1. Is this a comedy/in how many unnatura; acts -- that this is where I get all my practice typing, here in the life0forsaken fanancial district where i gert to use the typewriters for free. Is anything else in the financial district free? writers for Well. walking is cheap, Idon't know if I'd call it free. Gos, this receptionist! (I'm at Volt)Did she learn to talk off aof the t.v.? She's like a characature of a syrupy rece[1/2[ionst, though I bet she can type better than me -- better than that--Ishouldn't complain- like this morning in the living room, unemployed MIchael, and unemployed me just coming back from Food Stamps, while hippie dope-dealer roommate walks in, sits plops on the couch, & starts counting his hundred dollar bills, right under our noses -- I found it a tad bit insulting, like driving past those Bank of America "We got the money!" billboards thsi summer -- why don;t you rub our faces in poverty a little bit0, but just a little bit -- I'm not really complaining, just observing -- on this, another one of ny typing test/loose journal entries--call me the Herb Caen of the financial district underfround.


(3People don't like the word "fuck." It's unprofessional, or so my agency counsleor told me after I used it while being hassled by a security guard when I showed up for my new job this morning. So I became the first job casualty of '84, pulled off the job less than two hours into the first working day fo the new year. Temporary agencies remind me of the old style Chinese marriages, where it's possible for a husband to lose face by any wrong thing his wife says or does. In this case, I can cause my agency to lose face simply by opening my mouth at a given moment, and leave the agency scrambling on the phone to save face and arrange a quickie divorce.

G.B. - San Francisco

The Chips Of Our Lives

article by melquiades

The Chips Of Our Lives

As we walked along a ridge high above Death Valley, the desert heat rose and filled our pores. We were technical workers from Silicon Valley in search of quiet desolation. Suddenly, a boom filled the sky. A dark blue ("Navy"), unmarked ("experimental"), F-11-like craft ("Sure, the China Basin Naval Weapons Center is due west of here") flew directly overhead at about 1,000 feet. Gaining altitude above the Valley, the craft dipped and spun, performing center stage for us all the amazing things its computer-driven, aluminum-alloyed geometry could do.

We took turns fixing this blue angel in our sights, countering its supersonic roar with the tight pop and lingering echo of our .357. Our bullets fell short of their target, heaving and gliding several miles across the Valley. The craft returned and buzzed us, but our smiles glistened in the late autumn midday sun. Secretly, we toyed with a force far more powerful than ourselves.

What we found at Death Valley was a noisy reminder of the death we thought we left behind in Silicon Valley: the nuclear missiles, the command and control devices, the big brother office automation systems, and the simulated battlefields that technical workers create there. In the solitude above Death Valley that day, we had confronted one of their products on its own terms. How might we really confront the technological Leviathan in Silicon Valley -- on our terms?

Rush hour. A heavy metal San Jose radio station airs "career" slots for Valley corporations. An alluring voice describes the "unique ROLM culture" where "the future is now." ROLM workers design guidance systems for cruise missiles and office communication systems with surveillance features. Rush-hour-paced traffic signals inject more workers from San Jose's sprawling FMC Corp. into the queue of late model vehicles. FMC workers design and construct tanks, personnel carriers, and Pershing II launch vehicles.

At IBM, engineers joke uneasily about the next fatality on blood alley, an evil stretch of the U.S. 101 commute south of San Jose. They gripe about roving squads of security guards who randomly enter unoccupied offices to check for papers left on desktops. Too many "finds" get IBM engineers in trouble. IBM has recently contracted with the Air Force to streamline communications at the "Blue Cube," the U.S.A.F. Satellite Control Facility headquarters alongside Moffett Field near Mountain View. The Blue Cube commands and controls virtually every U.S. military intelligence and space navigation satellite as well as listening outposts from Greenland to Turkey.

Business is brisk at a Valley watering hole that discounts drinks to patrons sporting polo player logos on their shirts. Lockheed Space and Missile workers awkwardly avoid being overheard talking shop. They bitch about waves of security guards, elaborate screening devices, and fatal accidents in Lockheed's massive parking lots. Lockheed makes missiles to order. Most of the orders issue from the Lawrence Livermore Labs (LLLabs). The LLLabs house plutonium triggers and are nestled on a web of active earthquake faults a few miles inland from the Valley. Technical workers at the LLLabs, which is funded by the Dept. of Defense and managed by U.C. Berkeley Board of Regents, have designed virtually every U.S. nuclear weapons device since the Manhattan Project.

At the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Pale Alto, researchers speak cryptically about new computers they will requisition to fulfill defense contracts. SRI workers do pure military R&D on VLSI (very large scale integration) computers for missile guidance applications; they also design tedious plans to load maximum firepower into C-130 transport planes for rapid U.S. troop deployment.

At 800 feet and lower over (unaware?) Valley residents, submarine-hunting, nuclear-depth-charge-equipped P-3 Orion aircraft cruise ominously, landing and taking off from Moffett Field every few minutes. At least twice in recent months, huge runway fires have gone unreported. Moffett Field is the Navy's western theater air operations headquarters and a NASA research center site.

The once fertile lands along U.S. 101 from Palo Alto south to San Jose absorb more R&D funding than any-where else in the world. Silicon Valley is also perhaps the most military-dependent economy in the country. Additional billions from banks, insurance conglomerates, and real estate speculators fuel the technology engine. The engine fans the practical fascination of technical workers who build today's office-accounting, intelligence-gathering , and war-making technology.

The worklife revolves around an exchange, In exchange for relatively fat paychecks, skilled people design and develop new (or revolutionize old) technology that less skilled and less well-paid people manufacture and ship. For the corporate keepers of the exchange, the profits are immense, the competition often overwhelming, and the less said about poisoned water, clogged freeways, and military applications, the better. The technology produced by the exchange is some of the most sophisticated and hostile imaginable.

The exchange generates horrible consequences: a mutant culture, a toxic physical environment, and a contradiction: workers produce technologies that threaten their loved ones, and the rest of us, with imminent danger. Management is responsible for creating the contradiction, for making the "decisions." But the responsibility is shared by technical workers who, after all, design and produce the technology and often collaborate intimately with management in the process.

Technical workers here create useful adaptable technologies, too, but as a rule, only if corporate executives see a clear and sizable profit. Individuals who can afford these technologies -- like home computers -- may take amusement or benefit from them. But in design and application, most Silicon Valley technologies reflect corporate and military "needs." And why not? Corporations and the Pentagon are by far the largest consumers of local technology. Its board-room-and-war-room conception intimately influences how all of us can use and are used by it.

The logic of this arrangement depends upon the loyalty of the technical workers who make corporate and military pipedreams into practical technologies. The engineers, scientists, and specialists (i.e., technical workers) are the key to understanding the ferment in Silicon Valley. Their labor is in most demand and least expendable to employers. Technical workers are the weak link. Rarely have so few held such enormous potential subversive power.

There are three categories of workers in Silicon Valley: "offshore" production workers, local production and office workers, and at the high end, the technical workers who design and support Valley technology. Locally, nearly 200,000 people work for high technology firms. The largest employers are the military electronics firms, like Lockheed Space and Missile in Sunnyvale, and semiconductor corporations, like giant chipmaker Intel in Santa Clara. Lockheed alone employs about 21,000 people at its Sunnyvale complex.

Holding It All Together By Keeping Everyone Divided

The working conditions for most local production workers are among the most dangerous anywhere; it is appallingly worse for offshore workers, and generally safer for the engineers, scientists, and specialists like me (I'm a technical writer).

Worst off among Valley workers are the unseen offshore workers -- the single women who assemble and package chips for Silicon Valley semiconductor firms in Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia, South Korea, and Taiwan. Most semiconductor firms employ roughly half of their workforce offshore. In exchange for 7-8 years of labor, these women receive as little as 30 cents an hour and a lifetime supply of occupational diseases.

Tragically, most local Valley workers are simply ignorant of their unseen offshore fellow workers. Off-shore Valley employers, abetted by a virtual local media blackout on the topic, are tight-lipped on the details of their foreign operations: "loose lips, sink chips." (For background information on the untold story of Silicon Valley's offshore production workers see "Delicate Bonds: The Global Semiconductor Industry," Pacific Research, 867 West Dana St., Mountain View, CA 94041).

The division of labor among local workers reflects the Valley's status quo sexism and racism as well as the ferment peculiar to high technology companies. Production workers tend to be female, Chicano, Filipino, and Indochinese; entry-level pay varies from minimum wage to $6-7 an hour. Office workers, until recently, were overwhelmingly female and white; now somewhat less white.

Engineers, scientists, and specialists tend to be male and white (including anti-Soviet eastern bloc refugees) with a sprinkling of Japanese, Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern graduates of U.S. technical schools. Entry-level salaries vary from $22,000 to over $30,000.

Perhaps the most conscious division between Valley workers is how they are paid; production and office workers are hourly wage workers -- engineers, scientists, and specialists are salaried workers (many of whom sign their own time cards). The basic division is known in Valleyspeak as "non-exempt" and "exempt" status. Salaried workers are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act provisions regulating the amount of overtime people can be forced to work. Their salaries theoretically reflect unpaid overtime. Wage workers are "non-exempt" from the overtime statutes. Their wage rates, generally half or less of salaries, climb to time and one-half for overtime.

The tendency is to lump high-salaried, exempt-status "professionals" together with sales and management types. But there is a trade-off. Management exploits technical workers' exempt status, often ruthlessly. At a medium-sized company that I worked at for a year, management suddenly announced one day that it was now expecting exempt workers to put in ten hour days for the next six months. Many of us simply ignored the dictum, but others unquestioningly obeyed -- initially.

At Intel, exempt salaried workers are informally coerced by management into working over 8 hours daily and on weekends. IBM and Hewlett-Packard boast about job security, and a formal no-layoff policy. But IBM and HP demand regular intervals of overtime from their employees.

Self-Destructive Production: Why?

Why do technical workers often eagerly consent to design and produce the hostile and dangerous technology conceived by their corporate and government employers?

Part of the answer lies in the isolation that corporations build in to the exempt technical workers' environment. Pay, benefits, expandability, and exposure to physical danger divide hardware and software engineers, technicians, and technical writers from production and office workers. Many medium to large Valley firms maintain one set of buildings, lunchrooms, washrooms and recreation facilities for exempt technical workers and another, less desirable, set for production workers. ROLM maintains its "MILSPEC" division at one site, and its office automation division and headquarters at another site .

The hierarchy created by the division of labor adds to the isolation. Salaried workers have access to scarce technical knowledge; they design the commodities that make production workers' jobs an empty, alien process -- deciphering blueprints, fitting mysterious chips onto mysterious green boards. This contributes to a subconscious relationship between production and design workers that takes familiar forms: out on the line, women's jobs depend upon higher-paid men who deliver the work.

The separation of a product's application from the workers who design the product imposes another crucial isolation. More and more, electronic and mechanical engineers and computer programmers are genuinely ignorant of the precise application of the products that they design.

It is now standard practice to divide design work on a task by task basis; hardware designers work on one board, or often one chip, at a time, unmindful of the application. A new, "structured" approach to programming formalizes a similar practice in computer software. Programmers write "slave" modules of code that perform relatively simple tasks, like counting transactions and storing the total in a certain file. Project leaders Can assign an entire computer program design without explicitly mentioning that, for example, the Pentagon will use the software to refine an experimental missile. A project team can thus fully derive satisfaction from the intellectual challenge of successfully designing a product, yet not know what it will be used for. This way, all applications appear equal; there is no need -- or desire on the part of management - for more than a handful of project leaders and marketing types to know about a final application.

Management benefits directly from this separation. Many people may not enjoy creating office automation technology and weapons systems that enslave and destroy life. But if the work appears as harmless as a game of chess and offers high pay, stock options, etc., well, so much the better for management. With clever deception, all of us are held hostage to the intimate division .and manipulation of scarce skills.

Salaried technical workers are also often deeply divided amongst themselves. Everywhere I have worked, they have been unaware, for example, of each other's salary, since salaries are negotiated individually. At some firms, I have heard that discussing salaries is grounds for dismissal. This makes it easier for management to hide pay differentials for women, minorities, dissidents, and those who are generally unaware of how high a salary they can plausibly negotiate. The mystery is celebrated in the myth of corporate "professionalism" that likens technical workers to lawyers and doctors -- competing professional entrepreneurs with secrets to keep.

As a pre-Thanksgiving surprise in 1982, the illusion of "professionalism" was revealed when many of my fellow workers were greeted at their cubicles by grim security guards one morning. In a scene played over and over again in the Valley, the guards announced the employee's "termination," scrutinized the removal of personal property from desks and benches, and escorted astounded workers directly to the door, where final paychecks were waiting. This way, laid-off workers are informally held incommunicado until safely outside the workplace. That corporations relieve their highly paid technical workers in such a manner suggests that power such workers have to inflict immediate disruption and destruction. Before it was all over, 10% of the workforce had been "disappeared."

Strange Fruit

Many production workers are the daughters of migrant farm laborers who once planted, harvested and canned Valley fruit and vegetables. Today most of the fields are paved and the canneries torn down or auctioned off, reminders of the sweeping, destructive power of the new technology. A new generation of production laborers works inside fluorescent hothouses amid gases and with chemicals that poison themselves and the water supply that once nourished the fruit and vegetables.

The chemicals deployed by the semiconductor industry are dangerous and persistent. Hydrofluoric and hydrochloric acids are used to etch chips; arsine and phosphine gases are used to give chips electrical properties; trichloroethylene (TCE) and 1,1,1 trichloroethane solvents are used to clean the chips. Other workplace chemicals here include benzene, chloroform and vinyl chloride. These have made the occupational illness rate for semiconductor workers three times that of manufacturing workers in general; all electronics workers experience a job-related illness rate twice that of the general manufacturing rate. Valley corporations and private clinics notoriously understate the extent of human and environmental poisoning. In June, the California Department of Industrial Relations refused to accept occupational illness data submitted by several Valley firms. The state plausibly suggested that National Semiconductor, Signetics, Siliconix, and Fairchild were disguising the effects of toxic chemical exposure on their workers, explaining absentee rates as flu, colds, and non-work-related ailments. This summer, angry workers demonstrated at a local private clinic, claiming the clinic's doctors routinely ordered workers back to work the same day they checked in with on-the-job illnesses or accidents. The clinic collects its fees from local industry. It is standard for many Valley employers to "process" injured or ill employees at such clinics first, before sending workers to the hospitals covered by their fringe benefits.

The very substances that bring the processed sand called silicon to electrical life are destroying a delicate Valley environment and threatening workers at their workplace and in their homes with cancer and genetic mutation. The toll on the once rich Valley soil and environment is probably irreversible.

The Valley floor consists of intricate layers of gravel, sand, and clay that hold a precious water supply in underground aquifer. Before the post-WWII electronics binge, the aquifer and rich soil deposits combined to make the "Fruit Bowl of America," where half the world's prunes and a bounty of apricots, cherries and walnuts were produced. Today, underneath the suburbs, Shopping centers, freeways, and industrial "parks," waste chemicals percolate through the porous upper layers like water through coffee grounds. Dangerous chemicals have been discovered at no less than 56 sites in Santa Clara Valley. By its own admission, the state lacks the resources and obviously the will to make more discoveries.

Valley water is now an ongoing source of gallows humor. Many people no longer drink untreated Valley tap water, at home or at work. Others have learned the hard way. Miscarriages -- and only time will tell what else -- appeared in the vicinity of a major ground water contamination by Fairchild in San Jose last year. Recently, a private water supply company announced that it would no longer bother to drill new wells in a heavily populated San Jose area, so bad were the results of ongoing tests at existing and proposed well sites. Santa Clara county's outrageous ban on public disclosure of industrial chemical information reinforces the deadly habits of industries here.

Like L.A., many future and existing population centers in the Valley will have their water piped in. Local media and government units react to the news of poisonings by wringing their hands -- and by approving vast new parcels of wilderness and agricultural areas south of San Jose for industrial development. (For confidential information on chemicals at your workplace, call the SCCOSH -- Santa Clara Center for Occupational Safety and Health -- hotline number: 408-998-4050.)

Corporate Culture

Paradoxes are plentiful in Silicon Valley. In the heart of technological affluence, the largest engineering school in the Valley (San Jose State) has announced it will probably close its doors indefinitely. The school's comparatively low teaching salaries are not attractive to Valley engineers. In 1983, the Valley's unified county school district was able to successfully claim bankruptcy (a first in post-WWII California) and deny a raise won by district employees.

In recent months, shakeouts in the home computer industry (shortly after IBM and Japanese firms entered the market) caused huge and ongoing layoffs at Atari (1,700), Victor (1,650), Osborne (almost everyone) and elsewhere; in general, the slump in most non-military electronics companies caused nearly Valley-wide cuts in pay and benefits and layoffs. So tenuous are the good times here that a recent Association of Bay Area Governments study, citing crumbling roads, clogged sewers, contaminated water supplies and growing competition from Japan and Europe -- warned of a collapse of Silicon Valley by the year 2000. Strange developments in a Valley that is showcased as proof that free enterprise and high technology promise future prosperity.

Today, the stage is set for many semiconductor workers' jobs to go the way of agricultural Valley jobs. State of the art wafer fabrication and assembly technology is rapidly approaching a point where entirely new automated labor processes are now financially and technologically feasible. Many production workers already experience the eerie feeling of wondering if the chip they package, the board they stuff, or the parcel they ship will be used in a missile, or a nuclear-powered submarine. Now semiconductor workers can legitimately wonder if the silicon they process will transform their job into a lower paycheck, an even more boring routine, or a job search.

The housing situation is literally impossible for tens of thousands of Valley commuters who dangerously clog local highways from mutant bedroom plots that sprout up in outlying lowlands or foothills. You must either inherit wealth or pool together two salaries to seriously entertain the idea of purchasing a home. Homes average over $100,000 in most Valley "communities." Many two-income couples who buy homes instantly become poor homeowners.

Rental "units" in Santa Clara Valley range from $450-$575 for bachelor and 1-bedroom apartments and even these are scarce. What you get is a relatively new, uninsulated set of paper walls tucked unimaginatively into a multi-unit slab. The units are as a rule cold, damp and mildew-infested during the winter, and unpleasant to come home to. Amid the presumed Valley affluence, people crowd into apartments and hand others down to friends and relatives to avoid the leaps in rent that accompany new leases. Landlord associations successfully defeated two recent rent control measures that made the ballot in Mountain View and Sunnyvale. As it is, rents increase 15-24% annually at my complex.

Thanks to the housing situation, Valley commutes are growing longer and slower at all times of the day. Forty minutes to navigate 6 miles of traffic is common. It is an hour or more for residents of bedroom communities, one way! One of the reasons employers offer flex-time to salaried technical workers is simply to ensure that they will arrive at work. The Valley does have mass transit facilities -- a thinly spread bus system and a workhorse train line between San Francisco and San Jose that has been in receivership for the last decade. Generally, a bike is dangerously out of the question. A car is a necessity.

The high fixed costs of housing and transportation in the Valley reinforce the attachment to paycheck. The result is tiers of wage and salary slavery; high-salaried workers, for example, who can afford their own home but little else. Valley residents pay dearly for pieces of the prosperity denied many others these days, but which were once within reach of most smokestack industry workers.

Well-to-do Valley youth cruise the streets in 4-Wheel drive vehicles; Chicano youth bounce alongside in low-riders. Shopping malls, apartment units, duplex and single family ranch style homes... there is not much variety to relieve the senses in the Valley. There is little or no sense of community where one lives or shops. Even if you have money, there simply are not very many interesting things to do with it.

Quite naturally, drugs tend to fill the vacuum. Drugs for work, home, and play. During a recent holiday evening, authorities expected approximately 1,300 dangerously drunk drivers on the road in the Valley. In $300,000-home foothill communities like Saratoga, cocaine and Quaaludes are discreetly sold in steak and ale houses. In plant parking lots, "crank" of every variety circulates among production workers. In the Santa Cruz Mountains that abut the Valley, approximately $100 million in marijuana is harvested twice yearly.

Against a drab cultural and social life, "perks" like corporate-sponsored Friday-night "beer busts" and pastries and coffee every morning create a semblance of warmth and friendliness. More than a few corporations are building country club facilities on premises. At ROLM, you can play racquetball, tennis, basketball, volleyball, Swim laps, lift weights, enjoy a steam bath, sauna, and shower, without ever having to leave work. For recent émigrés, and there are many, a corporation can become something of an oasis from a hostile and racist Valley culture. The desired effect here is a company lifestyle that sinks a hook into technical workers whose scarce skills are indispensable to meet the competition. ROLM's is a calculated investment, and its executives are probably onto something: Valley job turnover rates are a notoriously high 29% to 35% annually.

It's Friday night. Four exempt technical workers have gathered in (I motel-style apartment with computer terminal, a modem, and the acquired instincts and phone numbers we could muster. On similar occasions, we have "owned" computers at universities in California and New York. My friends recently had their way with a small computer at a giant Valley chipmaker, finally trashing it just the other evening. Some of us also have lines to the computers at our own workplaces.

Tonight is special. We have just successfully connected to a huge computer belonging to a software lab of the world's largest corporation. I watch while professionals acquire privileged status, probe, and write several backdoors for future access. No trashing tonight.

Like most people, Valley technical workers grew up with little, if any, immediate exposure to collective rebellion against established authority. They are accustomed to taking risks -- like drinking the water at their workplace -- and to occasional individual rebellion - like quitting a job because of an unreasonable workload or boss. But they are largely unaware of the far more effective tactics of collective rebellion -- tactics which generally reduce individual risks.

There is much truth to the stereotyping of engineers as conservative nerds with little or no social consciousness or overt human feeling. During the anti-Vietnam war movement, many of today's Valley engineers were cloistered in technical institutes or mathematics and engineering departments of universities. Others willingly accepted draft deferments in exchange for a classified job at Lockheed or Boeing. Today, many of these people are electrical mechanical engineers who design anti-social technology and honestly believe in a strong American defense against a heartless communist evil. After all, engineering grads have been conditioned to accept government technology requirements as their bread and butter since their school days.

There are also workers here who actively rebelled culturally and politically during the ferment of the late 60's/early 70's. Many were student radicals in high school or in university liberal arts curriculums who have since found a living in computer jobs through retraining or self-training. Today these people tend to cluster in occupations such as computer operators and programmers, graphic artists and technical writers, and are generally open to subversive ideas. Then there is a whole new generation of youth, once again subject to draft registration, who are suspect of any kind of authority. It is from these latter groups that sparks of rebellion have begun to fly.

Hacking and raiding -- illegal probing and sabotage by computer hobbyists -- is a revealing phenomenon. Computer managers cringe at the thought of raiders breaking in. But there is generally no defense against it. The people who write computer software -- including security protocols -- are a deviant lot. Most programmers that I know either learn a system they've worked on well enough to break in at will, or install backdoors -- private entrances -- to systems. And the comraderies that develop naturally among programmers at work spill over into play. It is commonplace for programmers to exchange the telephone numbers, passwords, and if necessary, backdoors to one or more of their corporation's computers. Often such gifts are in exchange for an illegally gotten source code to an operating system or some new program under development. Thus, on and off the job, many programmers have secret access to each other's systems -- a kind of underground network.

The thought of high-tech sabotage repels some people because it can take anti-social directions that are terrifying. But the responsibility for hacking lies firmly within the system. Corporations who condemn the social irresponsibility of hacking but manufacture nuclear missile guidance systems richly deserve what hackers often give them: trashed disks, tapeworms, nightmares, and migraine headaches. Hostile technology is breeding strange rebellion, of which hacking is one obvious form. It is not the open, constructive activity that social rebellion can be, but it is an accessible form of rebellion around which a kind of counter-culture may emerge. That counter-culture can create a needed independence from the sterile and dangerous corporate culture that dominates the Valley.

It would be wrong to characterize all Valley technical workers as a complacent lot. The large and growing corporations that employ them tend to impose an increasingly irrational and rigid division of labor that makes even intellectually challenging work boring. The long, military-like corporate chains of command are natural breeding grounds for discontent.

Technical workers, especially exempt technical workers, have been spoiled by the many benefits and high salaries that they can individually negotiate due to the current high demand for their scarce skills. Technical workers may not give up these spoils easily when a greater supply of engineers and programmers makes today's favorable labor market less so. They may even begin to discover their collective power. As it is, small, collective rebellions are already an unpleasant fact of life for Valley management. Increasing technical worker militance could clear the blurred line that currently divides and overlaps many technical workers and management here. But the prospects for battles between employed and employer cannot be confined to such one-dimensional workplace issues as salaries and benefits.

Another dimension is how conscious technical workers can become of the real social impact of their technology -- not the glossy fairy tales depicted in trade and business magazines. For it is the technology here that makes the social power of dissident Valley technical workers potentially explosive.

If technical workers' loyalties continue as they are, there may be little hope for much of the rest of the world, so concentrated has the control of technical knowledge become in so few brains. The technology itself has become so powerful that control over technical knowledge is crucial to the outcome of any sweeping social change. After all, who is better qualified to safely dismantle a missile silo, a breeder reactor, a chemical waste dump, or a Pentagon supercomputer than the people who design, build and maintain such technology?

Society has endowed technical workers with concentrated power to liberate technology from the logic that currently dominates it. There are cities to rebuild and lives to remake. We have the power and practical imaginations to make lasting contributions to a new society of less work and more play for all; or we can play a tremendously destructive role in stacking the deck against these opportunities. This is not Death Valley -- or doesn't have to be. Not if we begin to take responsibility for it -- not if we begin to challenge the logic.

-- Melquiades

CLODO Speaks

Interview with French saboteurs of a nuclear power project.

Sporadic acts of sabotage against companies involved in nuclear plant construction began to take place in the region of Toulouse, France in mid-1979. This occurred at the height of vigorous, broad-based regional opposition to the construction of the GOLFECH nuclear power plant on the Garonne River. But the local anti-nuke movement reached an impasse in early 1981, when it became clear that GOLFECH would continue unabated. Despite, or because of this impasse, sabotage became more frequent and the targets more diverse.

In June, 1983, a stolen bust of Jean Jaures, famous socialist of the 1900s, appeared hanging by the neck from a tree in front of city hall. A "suicide note,'' signed by Jaures and "edited'' by the "Association of Mischief Makers,'' denounced the current socialist government [of Francois Mitterand] for repressive, authoritarian policies. According to the note, Jaures regretted a life wasted on the futile path of advancing the social-democratic cause, which had come to such an ignominious end.

In the following months, several attacks on Catholic bookstores and religious statues (including the bust of Pontius Pilate near the famous religious shrine at Lourdes), signed by a "Stop the Priests'' campaign, protested the visit of the Pope and the "Vatican Multinational Corporation.'' That same summer a number of companies and governmental offices that were directly or indirectly involved in the GOLFECH construction suffered serious damage by explosion or fire.

While different groups, often with humorous names ("A Heretofore Unknown Group'') and punning acronyms, have claimed responsibility for these actions, the tone and content of their communiques reflect a common perspective. The "Committee for the Liquidation and Subversion of Computers,'' known by its French acronym CLODO (an untranslatable slang term which means something like "bum'') has claimed responsibility for six actions over the past three years, most of them involving torching or otherwise destroying computer centers. The most recent action occurred in October 1983 when the offices of SPERRY--a U.S.-owned computer manufacturer--went up in flames. Nearby, graffiti read "Reagan attacks Grenada, SPERRY multinational is an accomplice.''

Though CLODO's emphasis on computer technology reflects a specific area of expertise and interest, they are ideologically close to the other saboteurs of the region: they claim to work as an ad hoc grouping, associating around particular actions and interests, and eschew the notion of themselves as a formal organization. They have no rigid rules and principles and tolerate considerable diversity among individual participants; they distinguish themselves from traditional left groups by their rejection of a "vanguard'' role, their explicitly anti- authoritarian playfulness and a sense of humor that they wield as an ideological weapon.

One French newspaper described the saboteurs as part of an "anarcho-libertarian'' movement that is based in Toulouse. In another "interview'' with a group that conducted simultaneous "fireworks'' at two sites of nuclear-related production in August 1983, "Groucho'' explains:

"People talk a lot about the silent majority and it gets a lot of press. But there is also a muzzled minority that can only express itself through political and social rejection, because it rejects the sham of democracy. It doesn't demand the right to free speech, the right to justice, the rights of man--it takes these rights, or at least it tries to. This minority exists, be it organized or disorganized, atomized in the social fabric, revolutionary or deviant. In our practice, we affirm its specific character. We have no illusions about the propaganda of ideas, but we support everyone who can no longer stand injustices and contributes their little recipes to subvert a capitalized daily life.''

French authorities denounce the saboteurs as deranged and inhuman, always pretending that it's only by chance that no one gets injured. In fact, the obvious caution demonstrated by this particular brand of sabotage (there have been no human casualties in the acts described here) is clearly distinct from the bombs in trains and other public places worldwide that continue to claim innocent lives in the name of this or that "liberation organization.''

The following "interview'' was sent to the French magazine, Terminal 19/84 and appeared in the October 1983 issue.

Why did you accept this interview?

We've always felt that acts speak for themselves, and we decided to write a communique only because a (presumed?) member of a so-called armed, and in any case ephemeral, organization tried to pass off our acts as something they aren't. In the face of the propaganda of Power, which is particularly stupefying when it is about computers, and to end some myths about us, we felt some explanations have become necessary.

Why do you do computer sabotage?

To challenge everyone, programmers and non-programmers, so that we can reflect a little more on this world we live in and which we create, and on the way computerization transforms this society.

The truth about computerization should be revealed from time to time. It should be said that a computer is just a bunch of metal that severs only to do what one wants it to do, that in our world it's just one more tool, a particularly powerful one, that's at the service of the dominators.

We are essentially attacking what these tools lead to: files, surveillance by means of badges and cards, instrument of profit maximization for the bosses and of acclerated pauperization for those who are rejected. . .

The dominant ideology has clearly understood that, as a simple tool, the computer didn't serve its interests very well. So the computer became a parahuman entity (cf. the discussion on artificial intelligence), a demon or an angel--but capable of domestification (computer games and telecommunications were supposed to persuade us of this)--anything but a zealous servant of the system we live in. In this way, they hope to transform the values of the system into a system of values.

By our actions we have wanted to underline the material nature of the computer-tools on the one hand, and on the other, the destiny of domination which has been conferred on it. Finally, though what we do is primarily propaganda through action, we also know that the damage we cause leads to setbacks and and substantial delays.

Doesn't the spectacular, radical aspect of the destruction you cause seem a bit outrageous?

These actions are only the visible tip of the iceberg! We ourselves and others fight daily in a less ostensible way. With computers, like with the army, police or politics, in fact, like with all privileged instruments of power, errors are the rule, and working them out takes up the majority of programmers' time! We take advantage of this, which undoubtedly costs our employers more than the material damage we cause. We'll only say that the art consists of creating bugs that will only appear later on, little time-bombs.

To get back to your question--what could be more ordinary than throwing a match on a package of magnetic tapes? Anybody can do it! The act appears excessive only for those who don't know, or who don't want to know, what most computer systems are used for.

Then how do you explain the fact that others haven't done similar things?

To tell the truth, it's hard to explain. We are in a good position to know that most computer workers really participate with their "work tools'' and rarely use their gray matter to reflect on what they do (they generally would rather not know about it!). As for those who don't work with computers, they are unconcerned or they passively accept the dominant propaganda. But that doesn't explain everything, and even those who do resist the soporifics of power are still scared of police uniforms!

Aren't you really a bit retro, like the machine breakers of the 19th Century?

Faced with the tools of those in power, dominated people have always used sabotage or subversion. It's neither retrograde nor novel. Looking at the past, we see only slavery and dehumanization, unless we go back to certain so-called primitive societies. And though we may not all share the same "social project,'' we know that it's stupid to try and turn back the clock.

Computer tools are undoubtedly perverted at their very origin (the abuse of the quantitative and the reduction to the binary are proof of this) but they could be used for other ends than the ones they now serve. When we recognize that the most computerized sector is the army, and that 94% of civilian computer-time is used for management and accounting, we don't feel like the loom-breakers of the 19th century (even though they fought against dehumanization in their jobs). Nor are we defenders of the computer-created unemployed. . . if microprocessors create unemployment, instead of reducing everyone's working-time, it's because we live in a brutal society, and this is by no means a reason to destroy microprocessors.

How do you situate your actions in the context of France and the rest of the world?

Computerization is world-wide. In the Third World, it helps to reinforce the ideological and economic domination of the West, especially the U.S., and to a lesser extent, of local power. We therefore consider that our struggle is global, even if that sounds exaggerated given the pin pricks we actually accomplish.

What are your projects for the future?

Little by little the theory of computerization that we have been developing for several years is getting fleshed out. On the whole, though, it remains unchanged since computers are still basically being used by the same people for the same things. So there is no reason not to continue in the same direction. With more imagination, and at our own pace, even if the result is less spectacular than our previous actions. The rapid pace of automation and the forthcoming explosion of telecommunications opens a wider field of action and revolt. We will try to fight in these areas, knowing that our efforts are partial. There's room for all rebels!

What are your chances of success? Aren't you afraid of getting caught?

Our chances are fine, thank you. We've got the motives and the ideas, and among the blind, the one-eyed are kings. For more than three years a security court of the State (may it rest in peace) and several dozen mercenaries have been looking for us: their material resources are sophisticated but pretty insufficient and our last action against the information center of the Haute Garonne municipality must have shown them we know more about them than they know about us! We are nonetheless conscious of the risks we run and the scope of the arsenal we are running up against. May our next interview not be with a police magistrate!

--Toulouse, August 1983

--translated and introduced by Maxine Holz

Processed World #11

Issue 11: August 1984 from

processedworld11proc.pdf6.61 MB

Table of Contents

from our readers

The Tyranny of Time
article by med-o

It Takes A Janitor To Tell This Tale
anonymous tale of toil

Home Movies
photos from silicon valley tour & End of the World's Fair

robots unionized!, stopping london, computer sabotage advice

For Women, The Chips Are Down
article by b. berch

A Deluge of Grandeur
fiction by thomas burchfield

Drugs: A Corrosive Social Cement
article by lucius cabins

The Tyranny of Time

article by med-o

Every moment is a chore

when you're nagging time

and pursuing every second

with a will to conquer.

Yet the hardest task is this:

to be neither hunter nor hunted

boss nor slave

but outside the warp

of time woven by work.

Time is money. So intimate is this knowledge, one of our most popular activities is "spending time." Rather than ‘wasting time’ reading this ‘on your own time,’ let's hope you are doing so on ‘company time.’ One fun way of ‘stealing time’ on the job is creating ‘downtime’ which could leave you with a lot of ‘time on your hands.’ In this case, ‘killing time’ sounds more active than merely ‘biding your time,’ but then you could end up ‘doing hard time’ instead of working ‘overtime.’ Now, I'm seldom ‘on time’ but then I'd rather be on drugs than a ‘prisoner of time.’ When the ‘time crunch’ is so severe you are running ‘doubletime’ to ‘make time,’ instead, I'd suggest ruffling some feathers by ‘blowing some time’ to make it with a lover—the real ‘prime time.’

People have not always perceived time in such peculiar ways. In Europe throughout the Middle Ages the very notion of a secular time, of owning and dividing it into measured units, was considered sacrilegious. The developing merchant class was criticized for "mortgaging' time which was supposed to be eternal and belonging to God alone. In the 14th century a lector-general of the Franciscan order remarked:

"To the question: Is a merchant entitled to demand a greater payment from one who cannot settle his account immediately than from one who can? No, because in doing so he would be selling time and would be committing usury by selling what does not belong to him.’

The battle for domination over time wasn't only between religious and merchant interests. In tandem with the public application of mechanical clocks, workers began to fight for a shortening of the work day and, consequently, a more precise measurement of time. Until the end of the 14th century, the fundamental unit of labor time had been the day! The struggle against this is quite evident in the ordinance of the provost of Paris of May 12, 1395:

Whereas several men of crafts such as weavers of linen or cotton, fullers, washers, masons, carpenters, and several others kinds of workers in Paris have wanted and do want to start and stop work at certain hours while they are being paid by the day as thought they were on the job the whole day long, the provost reminds them that "the working day is fixed from the hour of sunrise until the hour of sunset, with meals to be taken at reasonable times."

Despite the efforts of merchants and workers (although for opposing reasons) the social application of standardized time lagged behind its technological development. While mechanical clocks and large clocktowers became widespread in urban areas, they were less a tool of daily life than an ornament of status for cities. Even though the 60-minute hour became firmly established, it was completely unsynchronized from one city to another. In what seems like a Chaplinesque absurdity today, the zero hours of clock varied widely and could begin at noon, midnight, sunrise, or sunset.

Modern culture, however, strives to measure out a meticulous metronome of human activity. The common term, clockwork, reveals the insidious degree to which metered time meshes with the American work ethic to fed a subtle, yet powerful form of social control. In one way or another, most days, most of us punch in at our job, school, or domestic worksite, rather than punching out the clocks that help channel our behavior. Long before the institution of school bells, timed tests, and homework deadlines American children are programmed with a doctrine that "'there is a proper time and place for everything." Partly this is the socialization necessary to participate in cooperative group endeavors. Mostly, it reflects and perpetuates the mass conceptualization of time as something that must be compulsively filled with planned, structured activities.

Unworking The Work Myth

The relationship between the social conception of time, work, and identity is seldom put to public scrutiny. A recent book, Time Without Work (1983, South End Press, Boston MA), explores the experiences, feelings and values of those living outside wage work. While the editors did not include the unpaid labor of "housewives," parents, or volunteers in their definition of work, the book could just as aptly have been titled "Not Working' since it supplements Studs Terkel's Working by compiling first person accounts of the jobless. Two women, Walli Leff and Marilyn Haft, traveled across the U.S. interviewing 145 individuals from diverse situations. The good, bad, and ugly of life without an income-producing job is spilled out by fired clericals, laid-off construction workers, a millionaire, gamblers, the disabled, artists, welfare mothers, former executives, street people, and many more. All in all 73 oral histories were selected to illuminate the love hate, and often ambivalent feelings toward (not) working that pepper the American consciousness.

Leff and Haft's purpose and analysis are presented in four short chapters. The first, "The Myth of a Nation at Work," articulates their basic premise: "Everywhere we went we were struck by the fact that a growing number of people did not hold jobs. . . [but] how revealing it was that the very fact of not working and any description of what that experience was like were so closely concealed. The reason, we soon began to see, resulted from the prevailing social belief that everybody works."

That myth is thoroughly debunked. First, by ripping apart the standard manipulation of unemployment statistics, revealing how non-wage-workers become "disappeared,' and exposing the reality that nearly 40% of the adult population (64 million of the 168 million sixteen years of age and older) do not "officially" work. Additionally, they present a short history of "The Work Ethic's Checkered Past"—the title of the second chapter. Both pre-industrial and industrial struggles against work are detailed. In particular, they examine industrializing America, its peculiar development of "alienated labor,' and working peoples' various resistances against increasing cultural fragmentation. Excellent material is provided to support this chapter's conclusion that: "Even a regular salary, held out before people like a carrot before a donkey, was not foolproof enticement to join and remain in the industrial labor force. Once alienated labor was experienced, it clearly did not take so easily."

Leff and Haft's insights often provide a wealth of well-researched information and cogent analysis. However, the third chapter (Toward a Natural Way of Working) and the book's conclusion (A Future That Has Begun) are more hopeful than critical. For instance, they take the position that "Theoretically, the potential for great progress is prodigious" and ". . .new technology, managed wisely and humanely, could free an unprecedented amount of free time for challenging pursuits." True enough. But no critique is made of the prevalent ideologies that see "salvation through technology' and "progress as manifest destiny.' The editors make no mention of the complexity in developing new technology compatible with life-sustaining ecology. Nor do they mention the capitalist logic inherent in new technology.

The editors don't grapple with these complexities. But they also fail to challenge the institution of wage labor and this seriously faults their analysis. Despite their repeated acknowledgement of increasing structural unemployment and that some people find joblessness quite rewarding, they fail to attack the myth that full employment is desirable. Instead they lump together "massive unemployment, alienation and hardships" as "failures of our system." Maybe massive unemployment is not a failure, but a signal to dump modern capitalism. Perhaps the solution to material deprivation and social alienation fundamentally lies with eradicating all the buying and selling of human time.

Without confronting the ways in which the money system, forced labor, and the commodification of time perpetuate authoritarian control there is no hope for the big, "systemic changes" the editors call for. This leaves them in a kind of analytic schizophrenia—bound by and either/or schema. They conclude that either civilization might experience prodigious progress or the old exploitative, feudal-like practices will prevail, albeit in newly perverted forms. This is a very complex, dialectical process shaped by an ongoing history of struggle between the minority who wield power and the the majority who are victims of it. By omitting an analysis of this dialectic, the editors can only hope that the (necessary, but surely insufficient) dissemination of personal stories and social research will enable us to oppose the increasingly sophisticated corporate/governmental hold over our lives.

However, it is a theme beyond the vivid and often contradictory description of (not) working which makes Time Without Work so unique: how people deal with unstructured free time in a society bent on mass producing the opposite. Many of the stories reveal the submerged truces we form with a standardized, productivist-oriented construction of time that is against autonomy and personal fulfillment. One common truce is what I call the Busy Beaver Syndrome. It was graphically expressed by a laid-off chemistry professor:

"I am obsessed with filling up my time. Instead of preparing dinner in forty-five minutes, I'll invite people over and take two hours to prepare a feast. I feel I must do something constructive. It's hard for me to read a book; I keep thinking I should be out improving myself. When I'm doing something frivolous, I feel that I'm throwing my time away. I never felt that when I was working. . ."

Fundamental to American culture is the conviction that an income producing job is the correct way to dispose of time and avoid the anxiety of unscheduled time. The dread of being consumed by a vortex of squandered time is justified, for many, by the reality that work provides greater social possibilities than their non-work existence. A single mother related how work was tied to her need to feel active and social:

"I like to work. I don't like staying in one spot, just doing nothing. It makes you feel lonely or sad. I can't explain it, but I like to stay active. . . If I was working I'd socialize with people. You meet people and get to know different people, not the same friends all the time. I feel like time is wasting. I'm getting older and ain't got no job, can't get no job, ain't doing nothing."

The feeling of emptiness, of being trapped in an aimless void is a serious crisis for many who are unemployed. This can be particularly acute for ‘unrecognized’ workers such as women doing housework and caring for children. That wage work may be a preferred alternative is an indictment of the profound lack of meaningful community and social space that can truly meet our needs. For many, a straight job may be the best setting for several kinds of important social relations: cooperating in groups, relating to peers with similar interests, assessing how a specific goal can be realized, and negotiating for better conditions.

Even for the millions who find their job absolutely wretched, there is a powerful myth that work is the underlying structure for a satisfying life. Those who are not visibly engaged in productive functions are seen as non-entities, or worse, parasites leeching off others busily executing structured tasks. Time not filled with planned activities becomes a paradoxical prison whose doors are too wide open. That joblessness in this society tends to create and maintain such a time vacuum is evident for this fired clerical:

"The hours weigh on me. I don't have to do anything—to keep things clean or to keep myself up. I haven't exercised. It's almost a mental problem at this point. I'm just depressed. I realize that I don't like to do anything and that most of the time I don't like what I'm doing. . . The only time I like is when we're out visiting people and talking. But I don't get out enough. Most of my friends work and I can't get myself to visit because I always think I have to have a purpose when I do it."

In addition to having a sense of using time purposefully, another important desire is arranging your time to be synchronized with others. Rather than allowing this to be a flexible arrangement, contemporary western societies ahve organized isolated "time tracks' that rigidly compartmentalize leisure from work, education from application, persona feelings from your public persona, ad absurdum. The most common and perverse of these separations is the acceptance of life as an unavoidable schism between dreaded work and longed for free time. A laid off sheet metal worker saw it this way:

"You get up, you go to work, and you come home and forget what you did. You fill in the time idly until you have to get up and go to work the next day. You live for the weekend and try to cram as much enjoyment as you can into two day sbecause you know the next five are just a drag."

Winnebago Times Is Forever.

That most of our so-called free time is far from "free' is a fact few want to face. For the most part, a pervasive social amnesia blocks out the routine and stress that often makes off-the-job time just as constraining as working. For many, most of the time remaining after work is devoted to recovering from and preparing for the job. Grooming, commuting (usually during that inaccurately named Rush Hour), eating, shopping, childcare, domestic chores are essentials that are rarely integrated with time on the job. But since work is so awful, we desperately need to find meaning in our non-work time designated as autonomous, even if these activities are largely shaped by mass consumer culture.

In the age of alienation, consumer products are, for many, the closest approximation of satisfying our social, psychic, and erotic needs. In this way, the Happy Hour, eating out, entertainment and travel, fitness and spectator sports, all the various "Miller Times' of consuming culture have become the modern wages of alienated labor. Such wages exact a hefty price though. Not only are our real needs rarely met by the glorified goods and services pandered before us, huge chunks of time get consumed by the very process of selecting, and buying these commodities. Even with the advent of amnesia-inspiring plastic credit, few forget that along with the purchase of a commodity comes a commensurate expenditure of labor time. What often gets hunted aside are the secondary costs. "Modern' goods increasingly demand expensive and time-consuming maintenance. Coupled with planned obsolescence and the glut of new, "improved' products and services, a social realization has unfolded that sees consumption (much like housecleaning) as something never finished and done with. This feeds another rip-off, largely hidden to many—the volumes of time churned up standing in line, "on hold,' and waiting.

Queuing: Could You Please Hurry Up and Wait!

Whether at the bus stop, bank, post office, or that hot lunch spot very few escape queuing in line. Within a capitalist economy, all public services and private businesses strive to maximize their operational efficiency by minimizing their service costs, which often results in maximizing client waiting. The modern order, with its enlarged service sector and precariously complex organization, breeds endless opportunities for what seems to be unlimited periods of waiting.

Not surprisingly, the nature and length of waiting varies mostly with the wealth of the individual. For example, in "finer' clothing boutiques a customer is "waited on" by a salesperson who acts as an intimate guide in finding what perfectly suits the buyer's discriminating tastes. In department stores and establishments a grade below the best, customers may have difficulty finding someone to serve them during busy periods. However, once they get paired with a salesperson they are usually accompanied until the transaction is consummated. At the bottom of the run are the Salvation Army and similar type thrift stores which have very few servers. Here, you wait on yourself by hunting through racks of clothes (often in total chaos) and, if successful, line up behind others at a cashier counter.

Immunity from this kind of time drain is enjoyed only by those who possess the money, fame, and/or power to refuse to wait. The privileged can either afford to go elsewhere for faster service or make others, such as servants, secretaries, and other employees wait in their place.

Often, the rest of us are driven to accept even the most congested waiting lines. A whole host of institutions like banks, social services, and medical care produce long and, sometimes, extremely humiliating periods of waiting. Nowhere is this more excruciating than when you expend enormous amounts of waiting time with no assurance it will result in your desired goal.

Being processed for food stamps and unemployment insurance are two of the most degrading of such situations. Like most public-serving bureaucracies, they dish out heaping amounts of delay, uncertainty, and debasement. Adding up the time you travel to and from the processing centers, the extended waiting once "on line,' the petty paperwork and personal probing by the authorized dispensers of the services, and the lag between applying for and receiving benefits, it is no surprise that many eligible recipients balk at the potential waste of their time and dignity.

Subverting the Time Brokers

Our everyday activities will continue to be defined by cash/time relations unless we vigorously fight for free control of our time. While this can never be fully realized in a culture which systematically divides units of time into productive and monetary value, there exist small cracks in the mass clocking of life that can be pried open much further. One opening is the reclaiming of time structured by the cycles of nature. Another is the desire for more unstructured personal time. Both are points of resistance to oppose the frantic monotony and social sterility of an increasingly fluorescent, interior life.

Recreating natural time in a world that has largely killed, covered up, or segregated nature from people is hardly possible. What can be sought, when desired, is the integration of social life with naturally-determined cycles of activity and inactivity: day and night, phases of the moon, ocean tides, and the annual seasons. For instance, I like my work life to have a mixture of physical and intellectual tasks. How much of either depends mostly on my mood and the weather. On warm, sunny days my general preference is for outdoor, physically-oriented activities. But on those cold, rainy days in January—forget it! Such flexibility is exceedingly simple and practical. Yet few of us get to make such choices.

One person I know who does, found he could by living in the hinterlands of Alaska where he varies his waking hours from an average of 12 hours per day in the winter to a whopping 20 hours per day in the summer. As it is for the wild animals of that environ, outside temperatures and available daylight play a critical role in his level and type of activity. Such a lifestyle is incompatible with this system's standard modus operandi—a uniform 9-5 scheduled disrupted only by sickness, tragedy, and the yearly vacation.

Of course, many people might never choose to live so closely to the natural cycles. Still, there are many ways we might want to rejoin the natural ties severed by this system's ceaseless drive for time-efficient uniformity. For women, menstruation is an obvious biological force that is seldom considered in the social construction of time since it doesn't fit the relentlessly even-keeled mold. Similarly, very few of us can call into work and say "Hey, I'm not coming into work today—I'm simply feeling too emotionally vulnerable (or angry!)."

The absence of an external source structuring you into a "time track' is basic for those wanting to self-manage their time. The few people who internally direct their activity and feel good about their use of time invariably have little tolerance for authority or imposed structure. This doesn't mean they are incapable of scheduling time that is synchronized with others. Rather, their use of time arises from the merging of internal rhythms (social, psychological, and biological) and an open repertoire of responses to external factors. An artist interviewed in Time Without Work described his organic structuring of time this way:

"I've never been able to hold to the idea of self-imposed discipline. As soon as I stipulate that I must work three hours minimum at my painting, I'll spend the day meeting with friends and getting high. If I get out of bed early in the morning and the work goes down with a certain amount of clarity, then I'll do that for a couple of days until I hit two or three days in a row when it doesn't work. Then another system comes up. I don't take these systems of discipline very seriously."

Not taking the system seriously is central to taking charge of your time. One social expression of this is the rhythm of urban nightlife. Particularly for the young and single, late night/early morning hours have become a time to ‘get down’ and strip away the drab veneer of the daytime work world. Clubs, drugs, parties, dancing, and other pleasurable personal "indulgences' take center stage for many. Often a rich mix of people and counterculture come together for spontaneous, open enjoyment.

A more common daily experience presents a ripe opportunity for rebelling against the system—time theft on the job. There are a number of ways such theft manifests itself. Except for those strictly bound by a punch-card time clock, most workers have some potential to shrink work hours by arriving late, leaving early, and extending breaks and lunch hour to the fullest limit possible. If you work somewhat independently there exists the potential for the wholesale stealing of paid time. Then there is the normal lying about being sick on those days you would rather not go to work at all—oh so common on Mondays and Fridays.

Still, these are only small reprieves from the inordinate amount of time spent at the workplace. Since we are often stuck there, it is important to insert as much of your personal agenda as possible into paid work time. In an office setting, this could mean writing personal letters or generating lots of phone conversations with friends. If your workplace is mobile then you may be able to make social appointments or do personal errands during transit time. A tremendous time saver is stealing resources from the workplace (especially typewriters, phone equipment, computers) that you would otherwise buy through the sale of your labor time. As has been suggested before in PW, why not demand that lunch and commuting time be paid just like the rest of the time on the job?

In isolation, such small pinpricks can only provide temporary relief for those assertive individuals fortunate enough to be in a "loose' workplace. One example of a more collective response happened at a Silicon Valley firm. Due to market pressure, one day management demanded a 10-hour day from salaried employees to keep the corporation on its feet. For only one person to have flaunted this dictate would have resulted in a punitive measure against them. But when everyone refused to comply, management had no choice but to agree the extra hours were a bad idea. Similarly, the leverage in the previous examples of time theft would usually be strengthened as more people at the workplace act in collusion.

The alternative, refusing to work altogether, usually means an impoverished lifestyle that may or may not be better than submitting to forced labor. Unless you possess the personal resources (both monetary and psychological) to transcend the money system and the normal drift toward an external time structure, withdrawing from wage work will not necessarily be liberating.

Broad, systemic solutions to this bind are hard to see for the immediate future. Historically, the struggle for a generalized shortening of hours with no drop in pay has been indispensable for working people. In the 14th century, the fight was to utilize mechanical time to define the work day as something less than the sunrise to sunset. When the industrial revolution came of age, labor began to demand a 10-hour day/60-hour week which came to fruition in the early 1800's in England with the passage of the Factory Act Laws. In the U.S., as early as the Civil War, the intense, often violent fight for an 8-hour day began. By 1886 the 8-hour day movement organized the only nationwide General Strike in U.S. history. Over 400,000 workers truck across the U.S., and Chicago became the flashpoint of militancy with the infamous Haymarket Massacre. However, it wasn't until the 1930's that the 40-hour week became broadly established. Without success, the turn of the century Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) pushed a much wider and sharper vision with their "4 by 4' slogan: "4 hours a day, 4 days a week!"

Contemporary struggles are quite pale in comparison. One of the few, recent collective actions by workers to change time relations, quantitatively at least, started in May 1984. In West Germany a number of trade unions (metal workers, mass transit, printing, auto workers, etc.) initiated selective strikes in key industries for a generalized 35-hour work week at 40 hours' pay. Among several of the strike's shortcomings was the union leadership' ostensible goal—shorten the work week to increase employment. Key to undermining the clockworking of consciousness is the realization that high unemployment is here to stay and could be part of a desirable social policy. Only when we realize that the time brokers (whether bosses, bureaucrats, commodities, or union leaders) cannot be allowed to own any of our time will the possibility emerge for a truly free, humane time.


It Takes A Janitor To Tell This Tale

anonymous tale of toil

(tale of toil)

I'm a janitor in a downtown San Francisco Financial District building. I've been a janitor for about three years, since I was laid off my last job in industry. I have been a production worker most of my life, went to college for a year, but it just seemed like such a waste of time. I was older than the other students (the Vietnam era intervened in my life some) and they were mostly into getting a career and getting all set in some corporation. Today they are called Yuppies. Back then they were just hungry for money. I chose working in a shipyard over sitting in a classroom; nobody was counting on the industrial sector of the American working class being kicked out in the cold back in '74.

I've had occasion to regret not choosing a white collar profession, especially in the last couple of years. It's getting harder and harder to make a living as a janitor. The pay is a living wage if you don't mind living in an apartment for the price of a house with a yard, riding Muni to work crammed into a car full of strangers and eating a sandwich out of a brown paper bag to save money because you can't afford the prices of a decent restaurant or tolerate the stuff they turn out as food at McDonald's. It's the same story all over. Life in the City is disappointing and dreary, but there's no work in the outlying areas that pays enough to live.

The last place I worked paid less than scale ($10.24 an hour) because it wasn't covered by the Building Owners and Managers contract. Since I worked there less than the six months necessary to be considered "permanent'' personnel, I got laid off when they reorganized the night janitors to cut maintenance costs. The "reorganization'' involved adding work that was once the responsibility of "floaters'' to the already speeded-up schedule of the station janitors. As a floater, I had been assigned to scrubbing bathrooms (why they call a room where you go to smoke, shit, or wash your hands a bathroom, I do not know). Sometimes I vacuumed furniture or cleaned air convectors in offices. All of these jobs are more or less undesirable, but better than being unemployed. At least, more lucrative.

Sometimes, when a station janitor was sick I would have to do two complete floors. We all get sick a lot, probably because we're exposed to everybody's garbage and because they cut off the air conditioning at 6:30 p.m. to save money, meaning we breathe the stale, dust-laden air all night.

The Union

Everybody says the Union is gutless. The president of the local (Service Employees Union International, Local 87), Wray Jacobs, is perceived as a real adversary by the bosses. He promised to clean up the job-selling and favoritism in the local, but it still goes on. Used to be that the secretaries and assistants up at the union office were all related to the business agents; their wives, girlfriends, whatever. Union politics are perceived as the personal domain of those people on the "inside.'' If you try and talk about it, look into the recent history of the local, you get a lot of vague answers from everyone involved. Jacobs was removed from office once for squandering union funds on an expensive telephone system and a computer to keep track of dues. Dues doubled to pay for it.

There are a lot of immigrant janitors. Central Americans, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, they tend to stick together and are a big force in the union. The janitors from the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, North and South Yemen, Iran, Iraq stick together, too, because they speak a language almost nobody else can understand. They can talk about the Supervisor with him standing right there, call him names, insult his mother, whatever--he understands nothing. A supervisor that speaks Farsi tends to be a two-edged sword, he acts like a defender to the Arabs and ridicules them to the boss.

The other major group is the Chinese and US-born older immigrants, and new immigrants from Hong Kong. They also stick together, but they are a very conservative influence on the union. Only the new guys from Hong Kong, the Vietnamese or the other Southeast Asians are very rebellious. The old Chinese are scared for their jobs, and hardly ever say anything to anybody.

The smallest minorities are whites and blacks. Where I worked we had about twenty-five guys, two whites, two blacks, and the rest were Asian, Central American, or Arab. The other white guy used to tell me that now he knew what it was like to be black. The foremen were Spanish-speaking. They favored C.A.s from their own country (Nicaragua) and always saved the real shit work for the whites and the blacks.

The job market for janitors is so over-loaded with unemployed production workers that I have seen fistfights at the Union Hall for a place in line to get on the sign-up roster. They changed the rules so as to eliminate that competitive aspect of job assignment, but there is always a crowd of people with that desperate I-gotta-get-a-job look in their eyes.

I'm waiting in line to pay my dues. The phones in the office haven't stopped ringing since I arrived. The secretaries and assistants and business agents are apparently all gone somewhere. One young woman wearing a skirt and looking harrassed keeps answering them and saying "Local 87, hold please'' "Local 87, hold please.'' As soon as she puts the phone on hold, the light goes out as the caller immediately hangs up and begins to re- dial.

The woman running the dues computer looks like she sincerely wishes she had a job somewhere else. "Name and Social Security Number.'' I tell her. "Yah. You owe for January and February.'' I asked her if she would take a check. "Yah.'' I pay and go sign up on the roster. The young college kid behind the counter tells me that dispatching will be at 3:00 p.m. at the picket line at such-and-such a place, where the Union contractor was recently replaced by a scab outfit from Washington state that exclusively employs Korean immigrants. We look at each other.

"You run a buffer?"

"You bet."

"See ya at three."

I have an unspoken understanding. I run a floor maintainer machine. He needs an operator, maybe I'll get the job, maybe he's bullshitting me.

On the Job

When we start work at 5:00 p.m., usually there are still secretaries and executives in the offices. Some of the offices have people working a swing shift using computers or Wang word processors. Compared to ours, their jobs seems really free. They spend a lot of time talking on the phone and can drink coffee or a Coke whenever they feel like it. Day shift people are really condescending compared to swing shift office workers. They wear typical office clothes, little suits, heels, nylons. The night shift wears blue jeans and has less of a status-oriented attitude towards the janitors. I guess they figure we aren't all that much below a Wang operator when all is said and done. But there is still this attitude of geez-I'm-glad-I'm-not-scrubbing-commodes- for-a-living that sort of lets you know that they might go out for a beer with the boys from the mail room but there is a limit. Sometimes we get around to how-much-do-they-pay-you-guys-anyway and some are shocked to find out they make less "than a janitor, for god-sakes!'' But still and all, they are a hell of a lot nicer than even the most sympathetic executive types.

We can't use the phones at night--ten thousand phones and we have to go to the basement to make a phone call and race thirty other guys to be first. Personal emergencies have to wait--only hysterical calls with screaming children in the background get a foreman to take the elevator up to your floor and tell you to go down and call your old lady. And if you leave to take the kid to the hospital, they bitch.

If you got caught sitting down, you'd be fired. If you got caught talking on the phone, reading, looking out the window, you'd get suspended. Once, when we were buffing the hard floors in a transportation company, I opened a door to an office and caught two executives (one male, one female) making it on the desk. I just said excuse me and closed the door. They came out of there like a shot, staggering drunk and in disarray (she was patting her hair and murmuring over and over "You little bastard, you little bastard. . .''). I looked at the Central American guy with me and we both were thinking "Uh-oh, these guys are going to try and cover their asses by reporting us for something.'' The guy came back after a few minutes and tried to give us money. We wouldn't take it. The next day I expected to be fired for some bullshit story, but nothing happened. Of course, if anything like this had happened the other way around--Bam! We would have been fired in a heartbeat.

I used to have a set routine, every night. I had figured out how to make a job look like 7.5 hours of work when I could do it in a pinch in less than six. If I busted ass. If I did a crummy job. On a normal night I dumped trash for a couple of hours. It is one of the more disagreeable aspects of janitorial work, along with scrubbing shitters.

People put all kinds of horrible stuff in their trash cans. It really offends the janitors. "How can they put coffee in a trash can? Don't they realize it gets all over us when we empty the can?'' I hate those Cuppa Soup things and take-out Chinese the most. It's sticky and messy, and after four or five hours (or over a weekend), it stinks.

Trash tells a lot about people. Smokers are the worst, the can stinks like hell and it's real dirty and dusty. Our whole job would be easy and relatively clean without coffee or cigarettes in the office environment. Of course, without coffee and cigarettes, most offices couldn't even function. While I dump the trash, I use a feather duster on the desk to snap off the worst of the dust and cigarette ashes and little round punchouts from loose-leaf binders and computer print-outs.

After I dump the trash another janitor picks it up in a freight elevator and hauls it down to a collection point in the sub- basement where the garbage truck comes to get it via the sidewalk elevator. A foremen always supervises this so the garbage guy doesn't run off with a couple of Selectrics or something.

After dumping trash it's time to scrub the shitters. It's impossible to really ever accept this job. I've scrubbed a million of them, and I still find it distasteful. People smoke in the shitter, so there is a film of tobacco smoke all over the walls and mirrors. The foreman comes around and rubs a towel over all the vertical surfaces and if he finds grease, smoke or whatever you get a slip, or at least he bitches at you and you have to clean them again.

For some reason the women throw paper on the floor around the commodes. There is always water all over the place, too, and of course hair from hairbrushes thrown on the floor, make-up, etc. The little "sanitary'' boxes in the stalls are anything but, with all manner of junk in there besides sanitary napkins neatly wrapped in toilet paper. This means that the box has to be cleaned of mayonnaise, Coca-Cola or whatever else is spilled all over the inside. I can take Tampax, that's what the box is for, but I resent all the damned lunchroom garbage that requires extra time and effort to clean up. What kind of person eats their lunch in a toilet booth???

The men are not better. They piss on the floor around the urinals and it never enters their heads that it is their fault and they should bend down and wipe it up. Who trained these people in how to use a public restroom anyway? The last stall in line in every men's room is always the one with the Sports section of the Ex-Chron and usually the one with the sticky copy of Club magazine. How a grown man can masturbate in a public restroom during working hours is beyond me. I couldn't even do that as a kid, much less now. I always wonder who these guys are. Director of Marketing? Vice President in Charge of Bent Paperclips? The mail room kid? And of course, the butts. Always cigarette ashes and butts on the floor, sometimes booze bottles in the hand towel trash can. And why do men crap on the seat and fail to wipe it off? The women do, so what's wrong with the men?

Does this strike you as a gross subject? Well, hoss, I deal with it every night in the flesh, and I'M FUCKING TIRED of nasty, inconsiderate "superior'' people shitting on the seat and then acting like there is something wrong with the service people who clean up their little "accidents.'' Believe me, if I fail to clean up their little problem I definitely hear about it!

After lunch we usually vacuumed the rest of the night. You start in one corner of the office block and just pick a direction and start vacuuming. I vacuumed straight, two and a half or three hours a night. Every night, five days a week. My forearms got quite strong. Once I got tendonitis from it; my wrist hurt like the dickens, and I couldn't vacuum. They put me on garbage detail, hauling the heavy paper sacks of garbage thrown down to the pick-up area.

While you're vacuuming you can hardly hear anything; my ears would ring from the noise. Commercial vacuum cleaners are built without any noise reducing insulation. I understand that Hoover once marketed a soundless vacuum cleaner and it crashed because people associate power with noise and thought it was wimpy. Sometimes I used to turn around and find the foreman, watching me vacuum, with his arms crossed. I'd cut it off and ask him if I was doing a satisfactory job of running a damned vacuum and he'd just walk away.

Janitors where I worked were once prohibited from wearing Walkman-type radios. They said it was too distracting and slowed down the work. After a while though, everybody was wearing them anyway and the Foremen were having some fairly hostile conversations with people so they got off that trip. It was building towards some genuine militant union activity, so they dropped it. I was surprised. Guys who wouldn't even attend union meetings were willing to stab a foreman over a Walkman radio. Well, they were willing to threaten to stab a foreman over it anyway.

There is rarely any way to get a decent meal on the night shift. First we had a little coin-operated lunchroom, but it seems like the goddamn change machine was always out of order or there was nothing but sawdust sandwiches in the sandwich machine. Then there was the Ptomaine Truck. One of the best deals in town is the M & M Cafeteria that takes lunch orders by phone. If you really beat feet, you can get down to the M & M, wolf down your chow and get back within the lunch period. Dave lets you run a tab for meals and beer (he doesn't care if you drink your lunch).

About a quarter of the guys I worked with were alcoholic and they drank everywhere. The guys with passkeys to various "secured'' areas were the worst about stashing booze there or in telephone connection boxes. Most janitors had to make do with swilling down a six-pack on a thirty minute lunch period and then coasting until they could get off. I saw guys breaking out a pint on the way to their car, for crissake. The kids smoked dope. Stick your head out into the fire escape staircase anytime, and the fumes would dilate your eyes right there.

Out of high school, no money for college, the kid gets a "good job'' (i.e. one that pays a living wage) and when he looks up five years later he's locked in. It takes tremendous effort to go to school and work full-time as a janitor. Everybody was doing about three or four different things at the same time, trying to start their own business, going to City College part-time, going to Auto Mechanics School at John O'Connell, something.

People's personal lives were usually talked about only when someone had a baby or a death in the family. If the person was popular, a collection was always taken up. If nobody liked the person, no collection--no matter what disaster befell him. Sometimes I felt like personal lives were better left undiscussed.

We had a few janitors who used to "be somebody'' and were now sort of in "reduced circumstances.'' Some of the women janitors were divorcees who had been out of the office environment too long to be able to cut it, some just preferred to spend time during the day with their kids and left the rug-rats with their husband or their mother while they worked at night. They had a tough deal, mainly working with men, isolated most of the time. It gets spooky in those buildings at night. They were jumpy and I don't blame them. Almost everybody carried knives for "scraping carpet stains,'' and the supervisor used to bitch like hell. If he caught you wearing a buck knife in a belt pouch he'd make you take it off. He was scared of getting cut if he harrassed people too far and they went off on him.

I had a couple of daytime jobs. I was relieving some older guy who had a ton of seniority and had worked his way (at last!) to a daytime job with the contractor and was on vacation or something. You can't be a day janitor and maintain a bizarre appearance. Some places have uniforms for the janitors, some do not. If the employer requires uniforms he must provide them at no cost. He must also provide work gloves and some other clothing associated with the job. Try and get them! You'll immediately get laid off if you persist. Some places even frown on beards, or long hair or whatever.

I always kind of liked the bicycle messengers since they are a crazy element in a uniformly dull world. But I have a message for all bicycle messengers from the janitors: "Please stop writing graffitti where bosses can see it. We have to clean it up, and usually it's not even very interesting graffitti. If you must write things in the elevators or hallways, do it in indelible ink, so I won't have to scrub it. Pencil, crayon, and paint are no good. Use Marks-a-Lot. Thanks.Usually everybody ignores the bicycle messengers if at all possible, but when I work days we always have something to say, hello, howzit goin' or whatever. Occasionally I get a negative response, but most acknowledge our common oppression with a nod or a grin or something. Even if pierced noses do freak me out a little, I still have more in common with a sweaty bicyclist than I do with some asshole who makes his living manipulating other peoples' lives.

All of us, the Wang operator, the VDT jockey, the receptionist, file clerk, temp, janitor, engineer and even the bicycle messenger (Hey buddy, he's radio dispatched. Do you need a radio to stay in minute-by-minute communication with where you work?) are all victims of/vital components of/supporters of/plotters against the system of modern business life (if you can call this shit a life). I'm up for it. Unplug the fuckin' system.


A Deluge of Grandeur

fiction by thomas burchfield

The sun shone in love upon Me as I sprang from the bus, dietary sandwich in hand, lean, muscular shoulders back. My intense blue eyes frying away the early morning mist.

It was My last day under the employment of Crown Plumbing Supply. As I bravely walked the half-block to work, the wind whipping My red silk cape behind Me, I pondered over the deep significance of My Clerkship with Crown Supply. My keen, photographic memory returned to the end of My first day there, three days earlier.

"My God, what have you done!?'' Colin Lavage, My supervisor, had cried when he beheld My sublime accomplishment.

What I had accomplished was the total refiling of all Crown Company records into one single series of drawers; billing invoices, cash sales slips, receipts, freight bills, delivery tickets, Dun and Bradstreet credit ratings, shipping registers, miscellaneous scratchings, all in one simple A-Z series of file cabinets. With the New System (My name) I had saved space and unified the business of the whole Company in one Cosmic Expression of Universal Love. The only exception to this was the customer complaints, which I had displayed in a large open box, right next to the front entrance.

"Burchfield!'' Colin spluttered. "How are we supposed to find anything if You've put it all in one stack of drawers!?"

"That's your problem,'' I countered cleverly. "If you cannot see the Great Thing I have accomplished, then I must number you with the blind. . . oh, by the way, the name is Clerk. Clerk Kent."

"You won't get away with this!'' Colin bleated, moving towards Me in his puny threatening manner.

"Oh yes!?'' I retorted. "Remember Crane Iron Company?!''

I had outflanked Colin. He stiffened up like a plank, as two more inches of his receding hairline leaped to its death. He had heard how Crane Iron had burned to the ground after tampering with My filing system.

"Come on, Colin!'' I cried triumphantly. "Admit it! You've never had it so good!''

That and other great memories flashed through My brilliant, perceptive mind that day. Courageously, I burst through the front doors. Unfortunately, one of them snapped off its hinges, but such are the risks in hiring the Strong, the Brave and the True.

I benevolently gazed down upon the rumple-chested switchboard receptionist and intoned:

"Good morning, Ms. Fleshchest!''

"Good morning,'' she replied, just glancing over My handsome features. I knew it was hard for her to look at Me for too long.

"Nice day!'' she murmured in awe.

"Thank you!'' I returned graciously.

On My way to put My lunch in the refrigerator, I ran into Roger Largesse.

"Ah, Roger!'' I said loudly. "Good morning! Going to the bathroom!?''

My sharp probing question caught him off guard.

"Ah yeah. . . guess so. . . '' Roger was a little man with a moustache that collected mold in wet weather.

"Have a happy toilet!'' I cried, patting him indulgently on the head as he scurried away. When you're as wonderful as I am, you don't have to go to the bathroom!

My lunch stored away, I strode authoritatively back to the office to seek My replacement. Colin Lavage greeted Me with a curt "Good morning'' to cover his awe and adoration of Me. Reverently, he handed Me a stack of computer printouts to be filed in a place secret to all but Me.

"Tad--I mean Clerk! Please tell me where You filed these print-outs! I can't find them!"

"That's just the point,'' I said. "It's bad enough Me knowing where they are, without letting the whole world in on it,'' Colin sighed petulantly. "I've noticed, Colin,'' I continued, "that you are going totally bald. Have you considered wearing a wig?''

Colin whined, whirled and marched indignantly to the men's room. I pitied him. I knew he had come a long way down from assistant to the assistant manager at Woolworth's lingerie department. At one time he had been proud of his virility, until he discovered it was the result of a prostate infection.

His secretary, Elvira Mudd, waddled out to hand Me a batch of freight bills.

"You know, Elvira,'' I said confidentially, "if you didn't eat so much the others wouldn't call you a fat tub of guts behind your back!"

She burst into self-indulgent tears and lumbered to the ladies room. Some people just can't take the Truth! Whenever I give them a dose, they always hide in the bathroom!

I easily zapped the freight bills into the file and turned to see My replacement coming in the front door. It was eight-oh-five. By eight-thirty she reached my desk, twenty feet further on. By her posture, I could tell she was into bondage. She walked like a three-legged turtle and possessed the face that sank a thousand ships. She was so slow, she collected dust wherever she went.

"Don't bother telling Me your name,'' I said. "I can't be bothered with remembering it anyway. Mine's Clerk Kent. Don't forget that, now!''

She started out in her new position by filing My fingernails in one of the drawers. Not one to let such assaults go unnoticed, I subtly reached down the front of her turtleneck sweater, ripped out her bra and decoratively draped it around her neck. I then set her to filing away a few credit notices.

Knowing that would take her a few hours, I visited Lenore Drudge, Crown's token black typist. Our relationship was particularly intimate. I casually suggested some skin treatments she could look into.

"It would lighten you up!'' I said cheerfully, "Because you know dear, you don't match the office decor!''

"Honky,'' she said calmly, "why the hell d'Ya have a big "S' in the middle of Your chest?''

"Because I'm wonderful'' I replied.

"And those leotards. . . blue and red. . . are You gay?" "Lenore,'' I said gently, "if I told you anymore, I don't think you could take it."

The President of Crown Plumbing joined us. I do a fantastic impersonation of him and I performed it right there for the very first time. He got so mad, his teeth rattled right out on the floor. Wow! Hairlips are sensitive people!

Finally, it was time to go. I, in My Godly fashion, had done all I could to save Crown Plumbing Supply and now they were on their own. Sadly, tragically, it was over. By their granite faces, I could tell the others felt the same profound loss. I turned to bid a final adieu to them all. . . but there was a catch in My throat. My peanut butter and horseradish sandwich had been a bit dry. I just could not do it! And I knew they could not take it! When you have to say good-bye to Me, words are inadequate.

I lifted My head, squared My shoulders and, whistling an upbeat Burchfield Uber Alles, departed.

I go from clerk job to clerk job, each one different yet each one the same. But, in My big heart, there is still a soft spot for Crown Plumbing Supply. Walking along the city streets, kicking senior citizens and other weirdos who step on My cape, I often come upon freight trucks from the very shipping firms who, through Crown Plumbing Supply, I had saved from bankruptcy. When I see them, it is revealed to Me that Crown Plumbing Supply deeply misses Me and have sent the trucks out just to be sure that I am safe!

--Thomas Burchfield

Drugs: A Corrosive Social Cement

Lucius Cabins analyses drug use in contemporary society, and the relationship of the drug industry to the global economy.

"There are more junkies on Wall Street than most people realize,'' says Jack, a trader at a brokerage house who is on methadone to deal with his heroin habit. [New York Times May 20, 1984]

Businesses could not be profitable without constant and regular infusions of drugs, both legal and illegal, into their workforces. Drugs are a vital ingredient in the successful management of any workforce, even if management itself only provides access to coffee, candy and cigarettes.

The provision of illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin is a multi-billion dollar global industry which operates in a very flexible, efficient and decentralized fashion, in spite of strong central control at the syndicate level. Taken as a whole, the drug industry is a vital cement holding this society together.

The industries which produce drugs present many contradictions. The vast consumption of legal caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, and billions of doses of prescription drugs such as valium, librium, etc., fuel major above-ground industries. Simultaneously, the illegal drug trade in marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, and heroin provides economic activity for several million people otherwise classified as "unemployed'' or "unemployable''—in addition to producing a nouveau riche of gangster millionaires.

Drug use is probably more widespread today than ever before. In analyzing recent trends, a doctor who heads the largest private drug rehab program in the NYC area, said that "20 years ago less than 4% of the population had used an illicit drug. "Today, more than 35% of the population has used an illicit drug. It is no longer a phenomenon of the minority poor, the underclass. Over 20 years, there has been a de facto decriminalization of drug use. Our culture has said, you want to get high, then get high.'' [New York Times May 23, 1984]

Why Take Drugs?

It is difficult to generalize about drugs. One person might take a sedative to quiet inner anxiety, another takes "speed" to write an article or go dancing, while still another takes some mushroms to explore a relationship with a close friend. Meanwhile, a heavy cocaine user isn't having much fun with it anymore and has become increasingly nervous and paranoid, so he starts snorting heroin to calm down and mellow out. After a while the heroin becomes a habit, and the cocaine is used (unsuccessfully) to avoid "coming down.''

The most positive reason to take drugs is to expand one's mental processes to include other types of perceptions than merely those we are trained to see. At least initially, marijuana, hallucinogens, and the harder drugs can provide stimulating alterations of thought and perception. Especially in a materially and emotionally impoverished world, finding a realm of wonder and amazement inside one's own head is an exciting experience. It's also fun!

Taking pleasure in one's own thought processes, perceptions and feelings can be a genuinely subversive experience. The use of drugs in the face of prohibition is itself a mind-expanding experience vis a vis the state and the law. When you can be busted for a harmless act such as smoking a joint, a new awareness of authority and the law is gained. This in turn can produce a subversive consciousness if acceptance of authority and law is rejected because experience has delegitimized the system.

Drug use had this effect on me. Of course I used lots of prescription drugs for colds, asthma, etc., as I was growing up. Then I was taught to fear and despise illegal drugs in elementary and junior high school. Late to become interested in experimenting with drugs, I finally started smoking pot when I was almost 17. A high school English teacher encouraged me to read Herman Hesse's classic Steppenwolf, and the Carlos Castaneda books. These stimulated my desire to try LSD, mushrooms, and speed. I also read Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception which further encouraged my intellectual curiosity about hallucinogens:

"In the [hallucinogenic] experience . . . place and distance cease to be of much interest. The mind does its perceiving in terms of intensity of existence, profundity of significance, relationships within a pattern . . . Not that the category of space has been abolished. When I got up and walked about, I could do so quite normally, without misjudging the whereabouts of objects. Space was still there, but it had lost its predominance . . . And along with an indifference to space there went an even more complete indifference to time: 'There seems to be plenty of it,' was all I could [tell the investigator who asked me my feelings on 'time'].''—The Doors of Perception

Cultures in all times have employed drugs to explore consciousness. Peyote and psilocybin mushrooms have been commonly used in Native American religious rituals. Even alcohol had a largely religious application several centuries ago. Only in modern society have addiction and drug abuse become common phenomena. In each case (coffee, tea, opium, tobacco, chocolate, mushrooms, pot, coca, etc.) a foreign substance was removed from its native context and abused by modern society.

The problems we associate with drugs are not caused by the drugs themselves, but by the attitudes and intentions people bring to their use. Nearly any kind of drug can be useful and pleasurable if taken in full knowledge of the benefits and the drawbacks, and if the drug is consciously used for specific purposes and not as a mindless habit. For example, I've used hallucinogens to explore my brain, 'speed' to drive long distance and stay up late at night, pot to relax after work. Most people agree that a little alcohol on a semi-regular basis is not a bad thing. Many drugs can be used recreationally, e.g. I've danced on Percodan (synthetic narcotic pain killer) and had quite a good time.

People have plenty of good non-hedonistic reasons to want to "get high,'' too. The basic institutions and relationships of our society are based on authoritarian and hierarchical organization and the buying and selling of human time. People use drugs to numb themselves to the hypocrisy and stupidity of these basic facts.

It is the rare neighborhood or workplace where people are genuinely friends and offer each other support and pleasure. Loneliness is tragically common in the U.S. Drug use is a (frequently self-destructive) way to "get back'' at a world in which life has been belittling and painful. Drugs can seem to eliminate, at least temporarily, people's need for the social support and love which are not there. It is easier to assuage loneliness, anxiety and pain through drugs than it is to change the circumstances which produce those feelings.

In a world where "feeling good'' is for many a fleeting experience, drugs produce a variety of pleasurable, if short-term, euphorias. Unfortunately, too many people have so few "regular'' experiences that charge their mental sensibilities, that drugs become their only way to get "high.'' They lose contact with their own desires and no longer want to do much. Ultimately they replace the daily ups and downs of their lives with the cycle of buying and consuming drugs, getting high and coming down. Drug euphorias (from coke and heroin especially) come to replace the pleasures derived from social experiences. In tying users more closely to the drug network and the consumption cycle than to friends, family or neighbors, drugs reinforce the social atomization that produced so much misery in the first place.

The most important reason people use drugs is that they can see nothing better to do. A 42-year-old heroin addict, recently paroled: "When I got out of prison last October, three days after I got home I started using heroin again. I was bored. There was nothing to do and I couldn't resist it . . . I've been on methadone since December, and that takes care of my heroin problem. But I still need something, so I'm using coke. I'm shooting it. Coke allows me to escape momentarily . . . It's something to do, instead of sitting around, thinking of my miseries . . . '' [NYT May 20, 1984]

In an atomized urban society, drug contacts provide a ready-made circle of "friends'' with whom to socialize. But their socialization tends to revolve around the buying, selling and consuming of drugs. For those without close friends, or perhaps new in town and without any contacts, drug circles provide the form, without the content, of friendship. These superficial friendships are easily betrayed if a better deal is to be made. Still, being with warm bodies in front of the TV, even if they're conversational zombies, is preferable to a lonely night in a one- room with your own small set.

Illegal drug use also continues to enjoy a certain mystique and status, in which one is "cool'' for using drugs—the more conspicuously they are consumed, the "cooler'' the user. This mystique crosses all kinds of social and racial barriers. Just about any sub-group of the population has its own sub-group of regular illegal drug users. And this generally includes all types of drugs, for nearly any kind is readily available on the streets of North America.

Drugs and Jobs

We know how crucial are our little breaks to surviving the eight- hour day are. For most of us those little breaks are spent taking in some combination of legal and illegal drugs: coffee and cigarette to try to wake up from the tedium of the morning's tasks, or perhaps a joint followed by donut and coffee to put a little spark in the feelings and perceptions, or maybe a nice cup of tea and a valium to calm down after a bad morning at the copier, or a couple of lines of coke to get through 4 hours of overtime . . . Some even sneak out to an isolated spot where they can take a shot of heroin. And let's not forget the most ubiquitous and debilitating drug of all, alcohol—acceptably ingested in massive quantities near every worksite, especially downtown offices, at every lunch hour.

The extent to which drug use represents a "taking back'' of one's own time and thoughts and erodes the work ethic is corroborated by some statistics about drug use and job performance taken from a Newsweek cover story on August 22, 1983:

Joseph Lodge, a former Drug Enforcement Agency official, now running a drug counseling firm in Miami, has come up with a computer profile of a "typical recreational drug user in today's workforce'': He or she was born between 1948 and 1965, is late three times more often than fellow employees, requests early dismissal or time off during work 2.2 times more often, has 2.5 times as many absences of eight days or more, uses three times the normal level of sick benefits, is five times more likely to file a workmen's compensation claim. [emphasis added] They are also more likely to have accidents, since attention is not always focused on the boring work at hand. All of these methods of taking back time and money from employers are indicators of the willingness to take back mental space from the work itself, as well.

Not surprisingly, many companies think drugs are the cause of lost productivity and lost profits, with estimates ranging from $16-26 billion annually. Drug abuse counseling services within corporate Employee Assistance Programs (EAP's) are becoming common. The point of these programs is only incidentally humanistic—the primary reason is obviously to restore employees to a profitable status for the company.

Employee Assistance Programs fail because they can't even acknowledge one of the prime motivations for selling drugs in the first place: low wages. Messengers, mail clerks, VDT operators, and all the low-wage grunts of the Information Army can double and even triple their income, tax-free, by dealing pot and coke to their co-workers. The same holds true for factory workers.

Nor can these programs cope with the causes of the stress which drive people to drugs, namely intense work paces, boredom and bosses. The EAP's job is to fit the "maladjusted'' workers to the company's norms, not to campaign for lighter workloads or socially useful work. Even Newsweek, in its story on "Drugs in the Workplace,'' concluded that the real roots of drug abuse lie in the fact that "many jobs are. . . like torture. . . these people bring mind-altering drugs to ease the boredom, the tension and the stress of doing their job.'' Once an "abuser'' agrees to seek help for a substance problem, the usual "treatment'' is a new, legal drug, e.g. methadone, darvon, valium. Individuals are then coached in how to go on living with just the right amount of drug use, and are offered prescriptions for new drugs.

Mark, an investment counselor, and his wife, Louise, an executive for a public-relations company, both heroin addicts, arrive together twice a week for their methadone at the clinic on Wall Street. "I know I might have to use it for a long period, or the rest of my life, but that's just like medication for a heart disease,'' Louise said. "That's how I look at it.''

"Methadone offers me stability,'' her husband said. "I have so many pressures and worry that I can't kick it. I'm not afraid of the physical pain, but the emotional pain of being without it.'' [NYT May 23, 1984]

Methadone is one of the biggest legal drug rackets in the country. Federally funded, the program administers daily doses of methadone to tens of thousands of heroin addicts in most major cities. Heroin was originally introduced as a cough suppressent, then advertised as a "curative'' for morphine addiction around the turn of the century. Now methadone, another sickeningly addictive narcotic, is offered as the legal alternative to heroin. Instead of checking in with your dealer every day, you check in with the government bureaucracy. Methadone allows some addicts to stay drugged and still be socially functional, i.e. to keep working. But others simply add the methadone dose to their repertoire of possible drug deals, as they continue to use heroin and whatever else they're into.

Unfortunately, the existing methods of "rehabilitation'' are dubious at best. They are characterized by two basic kinds of "treatment'': a new drug to replace the illegal one, or going cold turkey in a halfway house. The regimen in the halfway program usually involves breaking the addict's individual spirit and reimposing respect for outside authority (we can imagine that there might be another type of halfway program in which people genuinely helped each other out and created a new community of affection and support, without the crutch of authority). Following these prerequisites the reformed junkie is trained to work (or look for work) instead of using drugs . . . unfortunately, most jobs lead one right back to a desire for drugs, and a desire for the big money to be made from selling drugs.

Hypocrisy and Repression

The differentiation between one drug's legality and another's illegality is arbitrary. The same government which keeps marijuana illegal by classifying it as a dangerous drug, continually allows violent carcinogens and mutagens to be used on our food and in routine industrial processes. Even when chemicals are banned, they are frequently exported to other countries and come right back to us in imported foodstuffs.

But the government doesn't keep drugs illegal for our own good. The real reasons for maintaining illegal drugs seem to be to guarantee big profit margins to the successful importers and dealers and to provide a pretext for social control. Since certain drugs have a negative effect on "good working attitudes'' the suppression is also partly motivated by a desire to control the workforce.

The gigantic criminal justice industry needs illegal drugs to exist. Otherwise it would have to cut its budget, and many powerful people with vested interests in the status quo would find themselves cut out of a lucrative arrangement. The Drug Enforcement Agency [DEA] and all government anti-drug forces are dependent on the drug agency to be the always-elusive foe—and of course the source of fat kickbacks, friendly real estate deals, and the graft that is part of importing drugs into the U.S. Most likely, the thousands employed in the spook bureaucracies are involved not in stopping drug imports, but in seeing to it that the right cocaine, heroin, and marijuana get in to the right people.

Recent newspaper reports indicate that record amounts of high- grade cocaine are flooding the nation's streets, and that the wholesale price of cocaine has dropped by 33% since the anti-drug programs were formed two years ago. Very efficient importing to meet the enormous demand must be part of the reason for this drop in price. In fact, the US has the biggest anti-drug bureaucracies in the world, and yet continues to the biggest illegal-drug-using country in the world. It doesn't take a great deal of imagination to see that there is a symbiotic relationship between the importers and the law. Even if we could assume the DEA is an honest organziation, it wouldn't be able to live up to its mandate. "To stop all the drugs coming into New York, I'd need a Marine division,'' says Bruce Jensen, head of DEA in NYC and suburbs.

As a pretext for hassling people, illegal drugs are popular excuses with authorities everywhere. Whether crossing borders or just sitting in "People's Park'' in Berkeley smoking a joint, ingesting or carrying any of a number of drugs invites conflict with the law. Most urban dwellers have observed a cop who took a dislike to someone's looks, race, clothes, whatever, searches them, and ends up busting him/her for carrying weed or pills.

More recently, the pursuit of illegal drug use in the workplace has provided a rationalization for totalitarian behavior on the part of employers: undercover investigations of workers, blood, urine and lie detector tests, dog searches, etc. The overall impact of this is to intimidate workers, and to deny even the most basic rights of privacy, reinforcing management's hand against workers' self-organization.

Illegal drug use is an ambiguous social adhesive. It does contribute to an expanded awareness for many, and can play an important role in stimulating the subversive spirit. But this society needs ways for people to be apparently against it, even when they are actually under control

Drug use is a regular indulgence in illegal behavior but is entirely consistent with the rest of daily life: consuming various types of food, entertainment, and travel commodities. The mystique of illegal drugs also reinforces the common advertising myth that one can find happiness and satisfaction through the consumption of merchandise. In spite of legal repression, the drug industry serves an important validating role in today's society.

The Drug Industries

Drug production is a dominant industry in many countries. A major part of the economies of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia is fueled by cocaine money. Pakistani, Iranian, Afghani, Mexican, Burmese and Thai peasants cultivate vast acres of poppy for processing into heroin. There are millions of acres of coca-, poppy-, and marijuana-producing fields and thousands of drug processing factories throughout the world, exporting vast quantities to lucrative urban markets.

Legal pharmaceuticals constitute a gigantic world-wide industry. In the U.S. alone, tranquilizers comprise 25% of the total $8 billion annual drug market. Many prescription drugs in the U.S. are sold over the counter in 3rd World countries (e.g. Darvon in Mexico), and produce enormous profits for a few giant drug multinationals: Ciba-Geigy, Hoffman-LaRoche, Eli Lilly, Sandoz, Smith Kline & French, etc.

If the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is right, the value of the 1983-84 pot crop in the U.S. was $13.9 billion—a figure it characterized as "conservative.'' That would put it ahead of corn as the number one U.S. cash crop.

Thousands of people have found marijuana farming an escape from wage-labor, and a way to be self-employed. In fact, marijuana farmng is so big in the U.S. that strides in botanical and genetic research are being compared to the "pioneer corn breeders [who] worked feverishly in the '30s to develop tougher, better-yielding hybrids.'' [S.F. Chronicle, April 4, 1984]

Thomas Byrne, head of DEA's cannabis investigation section is quoted in the paper: "we don't dispute that a large percentage of the population uses marijuana.— and there is a tremendous amount grown for home consumption.'' The DEA estimates that only about 10 to 15% of the annual national crop is seized. That leaves upward of 35 million pot plants being harvested and smoked each year.

With so much marijuana being grown and sold, it can only get into the hands of millions of consumers through an effective and flexible distribution network. Being a local marijuana merchant has become a common way for people to "start their own busienss'' with very little capital up front. Middlemen in dope deals can net upwards of $20,000-40,000 per year, as long as they don't squander their money on drugs! And best of all it's tax free — the only tax is the Anxiety Tax, which comes from the possibility of being ripped off or busted.

Significantly, neither the marijuana farmer, nor the marijuana dealer is engaged in dangerous behavior (for capitalism). Each is successfully avoiding wage-labor by having a small business. They are following the time-honored American tradition of free enterprise, in some cases even reviving an agrarian lifestyle. The illegality of the industry means they can enjoy a wide open, unregulated and untaxed market, without any formal government intervention beyond token efforts at suppression. It also means that there is no legal protection for the private property known as "the crop.''' As a result, heavily armed pot farmers often live through anxiety-ridden months of guarding their crop against thieves. The exception to bourgeois pot farming, which also prevails among some other illegal drugs such as mushrooms, is found in the "grow your own'' movement. No one knows how many people participate, but this is the only way for people to enjoy the mental explorations from drugs without having to engage in commodity relations.

Coke & Heroin

With the exception of alcohol, cocaine and heroin addiction produce more visible human casualties than any other drug. I had a close friend who went from being a charming, vibrant fellow (albeit insecure) to first a serious coke user (everyday for over a year). As he became more paranoid and insecure from the heavy coke use, he started snorting heroin recreationally. Within about 6-9 months, if not sooner (he may have hidden it for a while), he had increased his daily habit from $25 to $75. Then he converted to injections to increase the effectiveness of the dose and decrease his daily habit to about $50. Throughout this time he became wrapped up in the cycle of getting money, usually through selling coke and heroin to other users, and then squandering it on his own habits. By this time his former vibrancy was reduced to a superficial friendliness, as he withdrew into his room and his world of smack and speedballs. A Catholic child of the well- off Bay Area suburbs, he is a typical New Junkie of the late '70s and early '80s.

Coke and heroin have become readily available in any neighborhood. As many a mechanic or underwriter has discovered, drugs are more lucrative than any salaried or waged activity: "There is so much money to be made that average middle- class people are going into coke and heroin dealing,'' reports Sterling Johnson Jr., New York's Special Narcotics Prosecutor. "They know the odds are on their side, that most dealers who take care of friends and neighbors don't get caught.''

The illegal drug industry also provides a unique chance to cross class lines in the current range of economic "opportunities.'' Poor street kids can grow up to get a piece of multi-million dollar heroin and cocaine markets. The city of Oakland California has a population of 350,000, of which an estimated 20,000 are heroin addicts. Based on a $50 a day habit that works out to a $360 million a year heroin market in Oakland! Six gangs are shooting it out to control it. "Oakland dealers are now often in their teens, and their leaders are in their early 20s. . . many dealers employ youngsters as young as 12 or 13 to serve as lookouts and yell if they see cops or other enemies. Those jobs are in such demand that some gangs have waiting lists of youngsters eager to go to work. 'When you're 13 and somebody offers you $50 a day to hang out and watch a street corner, you're not going to get a paper route,' said an Oakland narcotics officer.'' [San Jose Mercury News, May 1, 1984]

The plain logic of this situation reveals the blatant hypocrisy of capitalist society. The successful entrepreneur, who "finds a need and fills it,'' is extolled as the role model. But in the midst of the squalor or urban ghettoes in every U.S. city are wildly successful practitioners of this credo who are thought of as criminals, "hardcore unemployed,'' and economically inactive.


The "drug scene'' is a violent, alienated and manipulative arena of life. But the scene is largely defined by its repression. Were illegal drugs decriminalized, and had we access to complete drug information, we could make intelligent decisions about what drugs to use and in what circumstances they might be useful or pleasurable. The free, moderate use of drugs in a supportive human environment could be a widely shared pleasure.

However, drugs are a commodity, uniquely capable of altering moods, thoughts, perceptions, but nevertheless a commodity. This means that the production and distribution of drugs is an alienated and money-coerced activity. The industry is producing both small businesspeople and millionaires. It is part of the cash economy, providing a buy-and-sell lifestyle for economically "marginalized'' people. Paying for drugs is also a continuing reason for people to work at useless and painful jobs. At the same time drugs are the means for making such work physically and emotionally tolerable. Although drugs are useful tools in self- exploration and psychic experimentation, the drug culture co-opts these pursuits into money-making activities.

Illegal drugs are a remarkably effective institution for turning poor communities against themselves and producing an atmosphere of isolation and terror. So long as drugs are kept illegal, people are impelled to prey on each other to be able to pay the high prices.

Illegal drug use also provides people with the illusion of being "outside the system'' even when they are reinforcing it through self-induced passivity, escapism, and consumerism. Ultimately the lawbreaking through drug use reduces rebellion against the law's authority to the consumption of commodities.

As for the real problem of widespread addiction, the only hope for most addicts is a genuine social upheaval, and even that may not be enough to break through the passivity and despair of many junkies. Anything short of a strong reassertion of human community and a newfound delight in social activity will fail to turn the junkie back on to the pleasures of social intercourse. The cure for addiction will not be a technical fix, a new drug, or the right program. It will come when life is too exciting to simply get high.

—Lucius Cabins

Processed World #12

Issue 12: December 1984 from

processedworld12proc.pdf6.62 MB

Table of Contents

Talking Heads

from our readers

Any Port In A Storm?
analysis of voting, by med-o, melquiades, & maxine

The Pits
fiction by susan packie

Them That's Not
tale of toil by peter wentworth

Hot Under The Collar
ibm workers united, block modeling, vdt propaganda & rebuttals

Let Them Eat Technology
reproduction of painting by paul pratchenko

b train
fiction by the kansas clerical conspiracy

We're #1!
article by lucius cabins

Down In The Valley
tale of toil by "doc"

Byting Into Books
book reviews by tom athanasiou

Talking Heads


As we go to press, we're not sure who won the election. But does it matter? For most of us, our daily lives remain the same.

The results of the election won't affect us as closely as our face-to-face encounters with police at the Democratic Convention last summer. Our choices on the street then were as limited as our choices in the voting booth.

The Convention was one of the summer's most spectacular events rivaled only by the Olympics (see "We're #l!" in this issue). San Francisco had been specially sanitized for the event. City agencies dumped one set of undesirables - street people and prostitutes - cashless in the suburbs or industrial outskirts of the city. The police were out to win their own gold medals with the other set - protestors. A solid wall of cops with a quick-arrest policy busted nearly 500; free speech and rights of assembly were a farce with people being snagged for "conspiring to block a sidewalk" or even for just looking like a protestor. Several of our own circle were arrested for pushing a peaceful Trojan "Peace Ass" (i ate money and shat missiles and conventional arms).

When the conventioneers had gone home and the cops had returned to their normal levels of hostility, everyone was still at work. Some who had taken to the streets with spirit were left with an unsettling question: was it worth it? Those who are still facing many months of agonizingly slow legal procedures may end up doing time in jail. But most would do it again. For them, Mistress Feinstein's enactment of a Democratic Party-controlled police state made it even more clear that we need to take to the streets, and often. Others felt the show of the macho vs. the powerless wasn't worth the beatings and arrests - they'd rather find alternatives in their everyday lives for expressing their dissatisfaction.

And the election season drags on. Some will vote, some won't. Some will sleep through it, some will get drunk ' (For further discussion on voting, see "Any Port in a Storm?" in this issue.) For those who rely on elections to make a difference in their lives, the prospect of one more term with the Gipper is depressing. Others feel despair as movements on the left lose momentum, lose touch with reality, or turn upon their own. The political situation, like the situation at work, arouses two related feelings, despair and outrage. Tension builds and wavers between sadness and fury. It releases into different kinds of political response with one unifying theme: we refuse to passively accept the limits imposed on our lives by the political system, by the government, by the job market, and by commodity culture. Two features in this issue focus on making changes. In his piece, "Down In The Valley,"

'Doc' discusses the resistance he encountered while working for Tandem Computers in Silicon Valley. Our new regular feature, "Hot Under The Collar," explores instances of office rebellion and issues against which to rebel. And as usual, we have an array of provocative graphics, poetry, and short fiction to take the imagination beyond the mundane. We crave your thoughtful letters. Air your thoughts in PW's Letters section! Write to: PW, 41 Sutter St. #1829, SF, CA 94104.

Any Port In A Storm?

analysis of voting, by med-o, melquiades, & maxine

... although the Devil be the Father of Lyes, he seems, like other great Inventors, to have lost much of his Reputation, by the continual Improvements that have been made upon him.

Jonathan Swift, 1710


If you didn't then you are an uncaring idiot who didn't do your part in trying to get rid of the most brutal President yet. If you did, well then you're a good dupe legitimizing a 2-Party monopoly whose left hand holds a .38, the right a .45.

Like all election years, U.S. citizens this year were bombarded with appeals to do their bit for democracy and get out'n'vote. The old rallying cry that 'this time voting will really make a difference' had great appeal. Orchestrated election hoopla was bigger and more expensive than ever before. But if millions were mesmerized by images of leaders, far fewer people bothered to cast their ballot.


For many, voting Reagan out was considered crucial to avoid escalation of U.S. intervention in Central America, to protect what remains of welfare and civil rights programs, and to prevent the appointment of more conservative judges to the Supreme Court.

At first glance, Mondate's position against covert aid to the contras in Nicaragua appeared to make him a "peace" alternative to the more obvious war posturing of the Reagan administration. But then Mondale said he would "quarantine" Nicaragua if the Sandinistas didn't fall in line behind U.S. foreign policy. An effective quarantine would mean placing U.S. troops and military resources around Nicaragua's borders, a strategy that would increase the likelihood of direct U.S. intervention in the region. Moreover, Mondale openly applauded aid to El Salvador and endorsed Reagan's invasion of Grenada. From Woodrow Wilson's explicit campaign promise of non- intervention in World War I to "peace candidate" Johnson's escalation of the Vietnam War, the Democrats' track record is dismal (see sidebar The Democrats' Long and Sleazy History of War and Militarism) .

The prospect for poor and minorities under Mondale was equally dismal. The Carter-Mondale administration championed underprivileged interests by proposing $27.6 billion in domestic cuts, including reductions in job training, Social Security and other programs. Four years later at the Democratic Convention, the Mondale-Ferraro faction rejected all but one of the (already tame) minority planks put forth by Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, leading one of his supporters to comment: "We were treated like song and dance men ... treated with arrogance by Mondale." Meanwhile, Mondale took great pains to embrace Bert Lance, a living symbol of corrupt, Southern monied interests.

The spectre of a Supreme Court stacked with anti-abortion, anti-civil rights, pro-prayer conservatives provided the most convincing reason to vote against Reagan. Such a realignment could threaten the few substantial civil liberties than can still be defended in U.S. courts. Mondale's choices for these positions of power would almost certainly be more moderate than Reagan's. But given the prevailing political climate, Mondale appointees would likely be more conservative than the two remaining liberals on the Court, Brennan, age 78 and Marshall, age 76. Election results aside, the overall injustice of the U.S. legal system would persist.

The attention given to presidential elections was ridiculously disproportionate to the real effect of ballot casting in our daily lives. Voting gives us some influence over who wins but no reassurance that the winner will serve our interests.

Politicians make all kinds of promises and projections during their campaigns that are left unfulfilled by the end of their terms. The most important issues are rarely voted on. This year, for example, voters cannot decide whether the government will authorize nationwide cobalt irradiation of fruit, vegetables and grain; whether U.S. Steel, G.M., Atari and other corporations can again shutdown major plants and ravage nearby communities by suddenly throwing thousands out of work; or whether computer chip-making is worthwhile as long as chlorine gas and other known cancer-causing toxics are necessary to produce them.

In 23 states the citizenry can raise pertinent questions through popular initiatives. This process has placed on the ballot issues that concretely affect people's lives (rent control, repeal of sales tax on food, gun control). In recent years, the initiatives have also included symbolic measures such as municipal declarations of nuclear free zones or opposition to federal military aid to Central America.
But what began as a mechanism to supercede party politics has largely been captured by monied interests. To place a measure on the ballot, proponents must secure petition signatures from the electorate, and this activity in itself has become a "big business". Political management firms now specialize in acquiring signatures for a price. The California Fair Practices commission reported that in 1979 sponsors of the Gann "Spirit of 13" proposition to roll back property taxes paid $537,000 or almost $1 per name to get the necessary signatures. And when a measure gets on the ballot the big money really starts rolling. In a record for campaign expenditures that still holds today, five tobacco companies and the Tobacco Institute spent $6 million (to their opponents' $0.5 million) in 1978 on a California measure limiting smoking in public places. Voters' information channels were flooded with advertising which turned around an initially favorable attitude toward the proposition.

Popular local initiatives are also threatened by tremendous financial support from outside special interests. This year, California's Proposition 37 for a state lottery saw in-state opponents (mostly race track interests and churches) raise $88,000 in total contributions. In one fell swoop, an out of state lottery ticket supplier, Scientific Games Inc. made a $1.5 million contribution in support of the proposition. Not surprisingly, as money becomes the crucial factor in posing and deciding initiatives, they become increasingly conservative, such as California's Proposition 41 that would immediately cut welfare benefits by 40%.

The emergence of a voting industry has turned voters into political "capital" for those who run the business of American democracy. For political machines, people are 'votes' to be bought, sold, and traded as the candidate's strategy and warchest dictate. Leaders of large organizations from the Moral Majority to the Nuclear Freeze Movement to the AFL-CIO, broker their members' votes as stock in exchange for campaign pledges and planks in party platforms. For pollsters and electoral analysts of all kinds, 'voting blocs' are vital data for determining the winning party 'ticket', how districts should be re-apportioned, which incumbents may be most vulnerable. The 'black vote,' Yuppie vote, farm vote, youth vote, Christian vote, labor vote, senior vote, peace vote have become so many chips
in a complex, multi-million dollar poker game. The recognition of our exchangevalue as voters calls into question the use-value of this alienating industry.


Office-holders are not guided by the humble concerns of most of their constituents, but instead are led by the huge non-elective state bureaucracies like the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, and Federal Reserve Board. For example, once the Pentagon begins a program like the B1 bomber, a Congressional member has little control over the scientific, technical, and military experts intimately involved. Rather, elected representatives must rely upon them for pertinent information in deciding defense budget allocations.

Campaign "donations" also have a unique impact upon a politician's perspective. And 1984 was yet another record year in the price of candidacy. Congressional campaign spending alone has gone well over $200 million dollars, over $50 million of which was contributed by Political Action Committees dominated by corporations and military-related unions.

The notion that politicians are accountable to their constituents is questionable considering the source of campaign funding. For instance in California legislators received over 90% of their funding from outside the districts they represent. Even in county and municipal elections, such "tainted" financial support is the rule. In San Francisco, city supervisors seeking
re-election received roughly two-thirds of their campaign contributions from the following "public-interest" groups: developers and real estate concerns, major corporations and banks, professional groups (such as law and accounting firms), and other businesses. "Returns on investment" for large campaign donors are the promises politicians do keep.


With so few options and so much corruption, it's a wonder voting enjoys the legitimacy it does. For tens of millions of Americans, what historian Charles Beard once called the "sound and fury" of election politics has dwindled to a whimper. Research indicates that voters and nonvoters alike increasingly share a common attitude skepticism over the government's ability to solve their problems. (see, e.g. "The Decline of Electoral Participation in America" in American Political Science Review No. 76).

The loss in enthusiasm for elected government parallels a steady and significant decline in voter turnnout. Since 1960 (when 63% of the adult population voted) the percentage of voter turnout has dropped to a low of 53% in 1982. Barely half of eligible voters voted in the 1980 presidential election; 78 million did not. If this trend continues, by 1990 more eligible voters will not vote than will.

Voter profiles suggest that the affluent are over-represented at election-time. Participation in the 1980 national elections confirmed a long term trend: 70% of those with annual incomes over $25,000 voted; only 25% of those with less than $10,000 did.

The more money one has, the greater is one's power over and stake in the narrow spectrum of policy changes candidates can be expected to make.

For example, the combined boards of directors and major stockholders of real estate, investment, law, insurance and banking corporations have the most to lose in the short run by even slight changes in tax and banking policies that politicians can and do change regularly. And if the choice between an MX or Cruise missile is a no-win proposition to most, to arms contractors and subcontractors with billions riding on one project or the other, and to the careers of Pentagon and intelligence agency factions, the controversy is one of substance.

But for the rest of us, the motivations for voting are more symbolic. In a culture marked with isolation and alienation, election day provides people with an opportunity to feel they are a part of a nationwide collectivity participating in vital public decisions. Like going to church every Sunday (and then acting with insensitivity and self-interest the rest of the week) voting every year or two provides a quick, easy way to do your duty. The cajoling and guilt-tripping of voter registration campaigners reinforce the sense that when we vote ' we really are doing something for ourselves and society.
Nonvoters are dismissed by the media as "uneducated," marginalized by sociologists as "alienated," explained away by voters as apathetic. But non-voters are part of a significant trend in American politics saying that voting makes no immediate difference in their lives. For them, and for many voters too, official politics has lost its vitality and relevance. But nonvotes don't count for much of anything. Without exercising other avenues of political expression, disaffected voters are little more than a reflection of malaise.


Voter apathy has presented a challenge that the media has taken up with gusto. The absence of substantive differences between candidates leaves ample room for the "media politics" of image-manipulation to transform some boring old farts into celebrities. As former Nixon speechwriter Ray Price succinctly put it in an interview with the Village Voice: "[the voters'] response is to the image, not to the man ... It's not the man we have to change, but rather the received impression."
The primaries are "previews of coming distractions" and psyche the electorate for a full season of entertainment before the big climax in November. Politicians are judged more on their
performance than on the soundness of their views and policies. The media coverage of the preelection debates focused more on style and appearance - Reagan's vocal inflections, Mondale's make-up job- than on the political content of the debates. After the second Mondale-Reagan debate, the bags under Mondale's eyes prompted. more commentary than his contradic
tory remarks on Central America and the arms race.

For many voters, candidates' records are far less important than their ability to project optimism for a bright and shiny future. Referring to the "art of controlled [media] access" with which Reagan screens his political moves from public scrutiny, New York Times White House correspondent Steven Weisman recently observed: "Reagan and his aides have understood and exploited
what they acknowledge to be the built-in tendency of television to emphasize appearances and impressions more than information." Hence, Reagan's reputation as a "Great Communicator" survived despite his rejection of informal press conference questioning, his refusal to disclose plans to manage a multi-billion-dollar budget deficit, and his muzzling of the press during the invasion of Grenada.


''The historical memory of the left is like that of a pillow: it changes shape when pounded by a fist. But it doesn't know how to avoid the blow, and it always peacefully regains its original shape, ready for the next pounding " (JeanFrancois Revel, 1976)

It is plainly a mark of desperation that many of today's loudest supporters of the ballot were yesterday's civil rights marchers, student radicals, draft resisters, and workplace rebels. Desperate for signs of hope, veterans of nonvoting politics saw in Reagan an easy mark, and in voting, an easy method. With near breathless unanimity, former activists not only enthusiastically supported anti-Reagan voting, but often did so with appeals to the good ol' days, as if, to paraphrase voting were merely the continuation of mass struggle carried out by other means.

This sentiment was taken to the parks this summer by the San Francisco Mime Troupe in the production 1985. A street - guerilla- musical theatre previously focusing mainly on strikes, occupations and confrontational politics, the Mime Troupe surprised us with a rousing pitch - and real live booths for voter registration.

The dismantling of the Great Society and War on Poverty programs fought for and won by 60's activists was a strong motivation for anti-Reagan voting. Ironically these very programs were not the fruit of voting, but came out of an unconventional political rebellion that, at the time, seemed practical. As Robert Brenner recently observed:

"It was quite clearly the deepening radicalization of the civil rights movement, marked by its growing opposition to the Vietnam War, and above all the explosion of urban rebellions in Detroit, Watts, Harlem, Newark and elsewhere, which concentrated Lyndon Johnson's mind on his 'Great Society. 'A suddenly reform-minded congress passed the civil rights acts and War on Poverty program from 1964-1965. " (Against The Current, Fall 1984).

These programs failed to challenge the sources of poverty and racism, were inadequately funded and administered in a way that further stigmatized recipients. Still, they have made a practical difference in the daily lives of many people. The gains also suggested the efficacy of a politics not based on voting or political parties.

Unfortunately, the 60's movement toward confrontational politics never cohered - its leaders assassinated, jailed, Reborn or appointed to teaching posts, its constituents in retreat to the respectable politics of lobbying and voting or to the increasingly marginal New Left. Confrontational politics steadily declined. The hard-won 60's programs and the token military restraint the anti-war movement could claim to have won have been dismantled by succeeding Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

Debate of social issues that enlivened previous elections -- such as critiques of the 2-party system and analyses of the limitations of voting as a means of social change -- were muffled in campaign bunting. In an unabashed call to walk precincts for the Party of Cruise and Pershing 2 missiles, Mother Jones editor Deidre English's "How to Beat Reagan" (MJ April, 1984) summarized the sober reflection of a conference of 60's and 70's movement activists:

''Our discussion took off from the assumption that this is no time to think about forming a third party, boycotting the elections, ignoring presidential politics or - in the long run - splitting the vote. It was clearftom the vety start that a consensus has developed at the leadership level of many progressive organizations that this is the year, if there ever was one, to get involved in the campaign in ways that will count in November. "

English concluded "the message is clear ... if Reagan gets us into war in Central America or the Middle East, we're the ones who are going to have to run the antiwar movement (again). So instead of spending the next five years protesting -- let's get our hands on some power. "

To claim that power, an anti-Reagan hysteria was whipped up that rarely engaged critical reasoning. Formerly engaged radicals were sucked into a voter registration strategy. The hope that if un-registered voters, especially poor and minorities, would turn out, then "we" would "get our hands on some power" backfired. For the first time in decades Republicans vigorously conducted successsful voter registration drives. In October,newly registered voters favored Reagan over Mondale by 53% to 40% (ABC-Washington Post) ' Hispanics from Texas to California registered the Republican way, and 18-24 year-olds claimed Republican affinity in droves.


With the possible exception of referenda, electoral politics tend to table aspirations for social change by making social change itself the preserve of 11 experts," i.e., professional politicians. With little recall available other than the next election, and with the dominance of media-sculpted image over critical political discussion, direct popular control over our lives will remain elusive.
Confrontational politics bypass the hardening artery of electoral politics and force the hands of "experts" far more effectively than the ballot.

It was only when housewives in Love Canal banded together and forcibly held an EPA official 'hostage' that action was taken to deal with the toxic pollution swamping the community. Part of their political confrontation was inward: women isolated in their homes broke down walls of alienation by talking to neighbors for the first time; mothers realized it wasn't their "inadequacy" that made their children sick; and everyone refused to stay passive and I I calm down" until EPA experts, scientists and government officials got around to helping them.

Similarly, the direct action of antinuclear activists (along with the declining profitability of the nuclear industry) played a role in slowing government licensing of new U.S. plants.

It is these kinds of disruptions that will help generate real alternatives to the stifling society we live in.

Confrontational politics, unlike electoral political culture, bring people into open and direct contact with one another, allowing people to discover a collective power that can stir dormant imaginations with the creative perspective of rebellion. Preoccupation with electoral politics inhibits this creative potential.

Until mass confrontational politics re-emerge, the hope that U.S. politics can transcend a spell-binding dependence on voting and political parties is, well, as good as a politician's promise. What Jonathan Swift called the "Guardian Spirit of a prevailing Party" - i.e., the "Goddess" of "Political Lying" - will "fl[y] with a huge Looking-glass in her Hands to dazzle the Crowd, and make them see, according as she turns it, their Ruin in their Interest, and their Interest in their Ruin."

- Melquiades, Med- 0, & Maxine


James Greenlee, former cook, Greyhound cashier, assembly line worker
and the youngest of 11 children from a South Carolina black family: "I'd love to vote if I thought it meant something... I am saying something by not voting. Hell, it may not be the right way. But it says something - like the sound of silence.

45 year old Enrique Mixco, a 21-year-old emigre from El Salvador advised his son (who strongly believed Reagan must be voted out because he is crazy and might get us into a war): "To me it makes no difference. Whoever gets in here, it's the same for you. The people running the city and the country don't care about the poor. So many people are hungry on the streets-people looking in trash cans for food. And the rich get richer...
[quotedfrom S.F. Chronicle]

Med-0, electrical worker and 2-year resident of S.F.: "Despite my desire to vote against some cruel and unjust state propositions, the trade-off simply wasn't worth it. My driver's license and other sources of ID are from another ~ate. Registering to vote would have given California authorities a way to race me. No thanks."

Be part of PW's post-election attitude all. Whether you voted or not, PW ould like to know why? Reasonable & unreasonable answers will not be discriminated against.

The Pits

by Susan Packie

I used to be a pitter for Land of Plenty Dates, and I probably still would be if I hadn't been fired for incompetence. Not true, I was far too competent.

I took the job on a dare. I had just graduated from high school. All my girl friends were humming wedding marches. My parents were beginning to wonder when I would start to date. Then I saw the ad:

WANTED: m-f date specialist - pits

Since I have always been the pits, I applied immediately. The interviewer was afraid I was overeducated, but I quickly disabused him of this illusion. I asked if the process was painful for the dates.

My first week at the job was uneventful. A machine did most of the work. I just had to oversee the operation - regulate the flow, make sure the contraption didn't jam, help out the boxer, Maggie.

She must have answered the wrong ad, too. She looked strong enough to take on Muhammad Ali. As the dates plunged at her, she would make up little poems about them.

After the second week, I began to get a little - fruity. Maggie's ditties about dropping crates of dates down grates and spitting pits were driving me up a date tree.

Finally, when I was just about to walk into the main office and tell everyone where their dates would fit, I hit upon the ideal solution. A pitted date has a hole in it, right? An empty space. Why couldn't I roll up little pieces of paper and stuff them inside? They would be
like Chinese fortune cookies! I could write all sorts of messages and send them throughout the fifty states plus Japan - our market area.

My first message was very innocuous - "Hi. I'm your pitter. Do you want to pitter-patter with me?" I didn't get an acceptance, but I didn't get a rejection either. I sent out about a thousand more of these date surprises. Then I lay low.

Three weeks later, I started inserting my name and phone number. I thought of adding my measurements, but 31-2837 doesn't excite many people. Maggie had been replaced by Hubert. He polished each date before boxing it. I didn't see a bright future for him at Land of Plenty.

Six weeks went by and I still hadn't heard anything from my note receivers. In despair, I switched tactics, cramming "STUFF IT!" into the ugly little monsters. I was busily working away when I heard through the partially open office door "Aaaggghhh!!!! " What had happened? No one ever ate the dates. They all knew better.


Poor Mr. Hardon had been so proud of his product. Wouldn't his mother like to try one? Just bite down and taste the sweet, crunchy pulp, and ... out came "STUFF IT!"

So I'm back in my bedroom reading help wanted ads. All my girl friends have been married and divorced since last June. Hubie is taking me out tonight. Mr. Hardon's mother also noticed the unusual shine on her date. So I couldn't have been all that incompetent if I ended up with what I was really after.

Them That's Not

tale of toil by peter wentworth

The clangor of the nine o'clock bell jerks me out of my seat in the warmth of the Teacher's Room and hurries me down the corridor and out into the playground. It is a raw, gusty November day. I clutch my mug of tea like a talisman as I approach the wobbly, wriggling line of kids back up behind the big white "20" painted on the worn asphalt. All down the length of the building, the other teachers are doing the same with their lines of kids.

"Good morning," I say, unconsciously slipping on the teacher's mask (impartial friendliness, enthusiasm, and firmness in equal part) and the teacher's voice (the same mix, pitched to carry without effort, pushed out by the belly muscles like an actor's). A couple of rather desultory "Hi's" and "Good morning, Mr. Wentworth's." Antennae up, I move down the line of kids like a politician, shaking hands, checking body temperatures. This is the toughest hour of the day. If we can get through this without any major incidents, it's all downhill until 3:15.

The typical day in Grades 1-3 kicks off with an hour for Reading. At Warren G. Harding Primary School (a pseudonym, as are all the other names associated with the school I'm writing about) we have "split reading." That is, about half the children in my second-grade class come in for reading and "Language Arts" at 9:00 and leave at 2:00 while the other half arrive and leave an hour later. Following the near-universal practice, my slower group is the one that comes in early. When the faster comes in we have roll call, "sharing time," and the baroque business of
collecting lunch money. This involves sorting through the change that flustered parents scrabble out of purses and pockets while the school bus mumbles and honks fretfully at the corner, and passing out the tickets (free, half rate, full rate, single, multiple, milk only). If a teacher is lucky, she/he has an aide to deal with this. If not, bang goes teacher's recess.

After recess, usually Math. After Math, lunch - a blessed forty-five minutes at Harding, most other places only allow half an hour. Then comes the loosest hour in the day - Science, Social Studies, Art, or whatever usually in half-hour chunks. At two o'clock, the early group packs up and heads for the bus while the late group gets ten minutes recess before struggling back in for its dose of Language Arts. After dispatching this last group at 3: 10, most teachers spend a couple more hours preparing lessons and materials for tomorrow, correcting children's work, and cleaning up the classroom. Depending on the complexity of the plan, one may be there as late as 4:45 to 6:00 pm. Bilingual teachers, who have to plan two sets of reading lessons routinely stay until 5:30.

As I walk down the line little Teresa Paganloc wraps herself around my hip with a joyful grin. Richard Guiton, handsome as an Ashanti warrior, shows me an elaborate paper airplane his dad helped him to make. Aminah Freeman, big and sassy, grabs my hand and tries to yank me next to her. Billy Erskine stands glowering, hands jammed in pockets, jacket hood up.

"Hey, Billy," I say. "Looks like somebody hit you with the grumpy stick." No response. "What's the trouble, Billy?" I insist.

"Ma-a--a-n," he growls softly, staring at the ground.

"Spit it out," I urge him.

"These two kids been teasin' me on the bus. I didn't say nothin' to 'in, but they won't leave me alone., Ma-a-a-n, after school I'm gonna kick their butts! " He smacks his fist into his palm two or three times, sealing his resolve.

"Relax," I say - a word I probably use with him more than any other. "During recess you tell me who those kids are and I'll talk to their teacher. Meanwhile, we've got work to do, OK?" Billy nods sullenly.

My heart sinks. If Jaharie and Angie are in the same kind of mood, the chain reaction will blow their reading group clean out of the water. It will also probably mean the Principal's office and parent call before the end of the day.

An increasing proportion of children in urban public schools are from what used to be called "broken homes." That is, they are being raised by their mothers, sometimes in tandem with grandparents and aunts. Father is (check where applicable, as they say on Welfare applications): separated; on the lam; in the joint; psychopathic; alcoholic or heavy drug user; and/all of the above.

Nowhere are the deeper consequences of "Reaganomics" (i.e. current capitalist reality, whoever's in charge) more visible than in public schools. The decrepit buildings, obsolete textbooks, and overworked, underpaid staff are trivial side-effects compared with the havoc the 80's corporate counterattack is wreaking on poor and working-class children in the home. 55% of Black children are born to single mothers, many in their teens; unemployment for Black men is officially around 20%; men are leaving the labor force at about the same rate as women are entering it; rape and child abuse are on the rise. In my classroom, these statistics take on a savage three dimensionality.

Billy is a case in point. Mrs. Erskine is a computer programmer in a downtown office, clinging to job and income
by the skin of her teeth, but at least making the same rate as her white female counterparts. Billy's father hasn't had regular work in four years. They separated two years ago, after a good deal of misery and some violence. Most of what I know about him comes from Billy, since Mrs. Erskine hardly speaks of him. I've met him once on the street, a soft-spoken, gentle-eyed man in worn slacks and watch-cap, taking Billy out for a cheese-steak sandwich on a Friday night. Billy introduces us, with surprising pride in both of us. My teacher. My Daddy.

"I know Billy got some problems in school, but we always tellin' him to study," Mr. Erskine said. We shook hands. Walking away, I thought about the millions of women working for five and six dollars an hour in offices while their men, workers who once pulled twelve hundred a month before tax, along with health, dental and retirement plan, mope in front of the TV or haunt the corner by the liquor store. Now the rage and humiliation accumulates - inside them, abruptly grounding its voltage through the bodies of the very women and children they have been trained to believe it is their masculine responsibility to "provide for." These are the actual human consequences of what economists call "the shift to a post -industrial, service-based economy.

The other children in line are getting restless and testy. "Hey, Mr. Wentworth, can we go inside? It's freezin' out here!" Thomas yells. There is a small chorus of agreement. "OK, let's go," I call. Behind me the line shuffles toward the door.

It takes three minutes to get everyone up two flights of stairs. Mrs. Atkins, my aide, lets in the first arrivals, while I break up the two quarrels that have developed at the rear. This is a worse morning than usual, but not an exceptional one.

Mrs. Atkins is fairly typical of the classroom aides in our district - a tough, shrewd, good-humored Black woman of about forty. I was an aide for about a year and a half before I became a teacher, so I know the group pretty well. Most got their jobs when the district was integrated in the mid-sixties. They were mothers of children in the same schools in which they now work, who came in (initially often as volunteers) to save White teachers who had not the faintest idea how to cope with working-class Black children.

The aides' miserable pay - $5.33-6.20 per hour for what are usually twenty-five or thirty-hour-a-week jobs - and low status is a result of this situation. While most aides have become literate enough to teach elementary school children, few have formal qualifications beyond a high-school diploma. Nevertheless, they are indispensible - and to a young, inexperienced teacher like me, invaluable. I learned more about managing young children from the aides in three months than I learned from my "master teacher" in a year.

When I was an aide, I once asked our Business Agent, a puffy, thirty-fivish little bureaucrat, why our pay was so bad. At first he took this a personal affront, but after a little he settled into a confidential, one-white-man-to-another knowingness. Without actually saying so, he implied that "these ladies". couldn't possibly earn more anywhere else, that after all they mostly weren't too bright, that besides, the fringes were good for part-time and that when you came right down to it, they were pretty lucky. I walked away cursing myself for being too cowardly to tell him what I really thought of him: but at the time I needed the job and knew he could screw me with the district if he took a disliking to me.

Mrs. A takes the most advanced subgroup to read a story out loud together from the reader. I assign the middlelevel kids some pages in their workbook and steel myself for the lowest group Billy, Jaharie, and Angie. I've tried some "Language Experience" when I've had time - getting Billy to dictate a sentence which I write down, then having him copy it over and read it out loud, then draw a picture of what it says, that kind of thing - but I can't work one-on-one very much of the time. So the Reading Specialist (who can't work with them himself until they've gone through the lengthy bureaucratic procedure of Referral to Special Ed) has prescribed a "linguistic reader. " This is a simple narrative that builds on "word families" (chub/cub/tub, hen/Jen/ men) via extensive repetition of a tiny vocabulary. The group has already read the story about three or four times and is crawling through the workbook an inch at a time; filling blanks, checking boxes, tracing letters.

I settle the three of them around me in one corner of the room.

Billy groans. " Oh man, not again! I don' wanna read this dumb book!"

Jaharie sees his chance to score off Billy." I do, Mr. Wentworth! I do! I wanna read it. I can read this book good!" Billy scrunches down in his chair with his arms folded tight across his chest, pouting, Angie makes a face at him and giggles sneakily.

"Be quiet, Angie!" Billy snarls. Angie grins triumphantly.

"OK, let's read," I say. "Jaharie, you start." I have long ago given up trying to get Billy to read when he refuses like this. Jaharie reads a page at a reasonable pace with few errors. At the end of the page he pauses triumphantly.

"I did good, hub, Mr. Wentworth?" Before I can say a word he goes on "Hey, Billy, you only doin' that 'cause you can't hardly read nothin! "

Billy does his fist-in-palm routine and throws his book on the floor.

"Knock it off, Jaharie!" I say, sharply. "Now Angie, you read a little." Angie, as usual, has not been paying attention. She divides most of her time between day dreaming and trying to get attention from the boys in the class - mostly by flirting and "love notes," sometimes, as with Billy, by provocation. Now she giggles again and starts reading, stumbling over every second word.

"Oooh, you readin' bad, Angie!" Jaharie coos, with a brilliant smile on his guilelessly beautiful face. "You almost as bad as Billy."

"Shut yo' mouth!" Angie snaps.

"Shut up yourself, faggot!" yells Jaharie, illogically. Angie begins to cry and kicks Jaharie. I send her back to her desk with her workbook, threaten Jaharie with being sent outside, and concentrate on Billy.

With me at his side, encouraging, giving total attention, Billy struggles through a sentence word by word, like someone crossing a river by leaping from one slippery, wobbly rock to the next, his whole body tense with the effort. Another sentence, the same way.

"Good, Billy, great!"

Billy shakes his head. "I don' wanna read this book no mo'! " He pulls his jacket over his head, which usually means he's going to cry. At her desk, Angie is sitting, eyes unfocussed, occasionally giving her head a little shake or giggling, otherwise doing nothing. Jaharie is actually writing in his workbook. In a few minutes, or tomorrow, I'll try again.

Every urban elementary classroom I've worked in has contained at least one or two "emotionally disturbed" children who "act out": in other words, angry, bitter, self-hating kids who can't get along with their peers, their teachers or themselves. Most I've met were Black or White, some Latino, very rarely Asian. Most also come from Billy's kind of home - raised by their mothers alone, by foster parents, or shuffled around between relatives. Many are also "learning disabled": that is, they have trouble learning to read. These three problems - damaged family, anger and self-hatred, and learning difficulties - interact in
complicated and destructive ways.

Declining test scores have forced a widespread recognition that the obviously "disturbed" and "disabled" children are only extreme cases of problems that afflict much larger numbers of children a lot more diffusely. In the recent flurry of anxiety over the decline in public education, the Blame Thrower has been trained in all directions - at teachers of course, at "permissive" curricula and parents, at TV, and so on. There are grains of truth to most of the accusations (except the idea, favored by Reaganoids, that the abolition of, school prayer is where everything went wrong) but none of them really get the whole picture.

It begins with parents - single or couples - under terrible economic and social pressures. Too much work or none at all, not enough money, isolation, frustration, boredom, despair. Children born into this set-up - often into a relationship that's already coming apart by the time they can talk - are chronically insecure. They depend for emotional sustenance on one or two adults who, worn out by survival, seldom have enough time and energy for them.

Mrs. Erskine, a handsome, welldressed woman in her mid-thirties, sits trembling at the corner of my desk for our twice quarterly conference, which we've had to schedule during recess.

"Often times when I get home I'm really exhausted," she tells me, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. "And, you know, Billy want to play, he's got, so much energy, but I'm just too beat, so he keep on at me and then I speak harsh to him... I just don't know what to do sometimes." She wants me to find some solution, some magic that will put Billy back on track. Every month or two a parent will unburden her or his soul to me as she/he never would to a psychiatrist ("I'm not sick!") and expect me as a "professional" to be able to sort it out. Even as teachers are denigrated in the mass media, workingclass parents are turning to them more and more as primary collaborators in the basic socialization of their children.

School is merely a continuation of the problem. Harassed teachers with classes of twenty-five to thirty children cannot possibly provide enough individual or small-group attention to make up for nurturing deficiencies in the home. Nor can they substitute for the home's crucial educational function. Children learn the essentials of language in the home, not at school. If the home lacks "complex verbal transactions" (i.e. real conversation) between its adult members, the child's early language learning may be critically impaired. Meanwhile, the child in the "language-poor" home usually winds up parked in front of the TV - a world of constant exciting violence, of flashy expensive toys dangled before her eyes, of reality chopped into three-minute segments. Children thus electronically weaned can only be infuriated by the relatively rigid collective structures of
the classroom, the static dullness of words on paper - and utterly unprepared for the complex tasks it requires of them.

By 11:45, Billy is in a bad way. He has thrown his books and pencils on the floor several times and is hiding under his jacket again. If I try to get him to do anything, he just shakes his head violently. Finally he mumbles: "Gimme a knife."

"A knife? What do you need a knife for? "

"I wanna cut myself."

In a horrified rush of understanding, I put my arm around his shoulders and speak very quietly in his ear. "Billy, it's not your fault. You've been trying hard, and when you don't get angry you do good work. You're a good guy, Billy, and I'm your friend."

In a moment his anger melts and he begins to cry, pulling the jacket over his head again. I stay with him for a while,
wishing I could just take him out of there - out of the noisy, chalky, faded room into the open air, and walk and talk with him. But I have twenty-seven other children I am paid to deal with . I get up and go back to the front of the classroom to line the children up for lunch.

Everything conspires to make children like Billy blame themselves for the disaster that is befalling them - the short tempers of exhausted, frustrated parents, the reproaches and punishments of exasperated teachers, the fact that the majority of their peers seem to be doing all right. When they see those peers outstripping them in reading, math, drawing - peers whose parents have time enough to talk to them, education enough to fill in for the teacher, money enough to stock the house with books and educational toys - they feel inferior. They are trapped
in a violent oscillation between selfhatred (manifested as depression, inability to concentrate, bitter contempt for every scrap of schoolwork they actually manage to do) and outbursts of rage (smashing things, verbal or physical attacks on other children). In between are more subtle symptoms compulsive lying and stealing. The fact that their parents often feel the same way about themselves slams the trap shut.

At 12:07, the Teachers' Room is already full of conversation, clattering plates and tobacco smoke. Most of my colleagues are women over 45, several only a few years from retirement. Since declining enrollments and slashed budgets resulted in a virtual hiring freeze throughout the late '70's, new teachers like me are still a relative rarity except in Bilingual, where the majority are young. As a result, there are cliques, pecking orders, unwritten rules that have evolved over decades of association. The same groups tend to sit at the same tables, day after day. I've long ago given up trying to spot the Invisible Shields around this or that chair, table, or conversation and simply plop down wherever I feet like it, ignoring snubs. Sometimes I'll select the most likely conversation, other times I'll seek out somebody who can give me advice on a particular student.

Most are glad to be asked. Teachers (like jazz musicians, field surgeons, and any number of other kinds of skilled workers) instinctively socialize their knowledge and experience, not out of ideological conviction but out of necessity. Standard openers over the Tupperware boxes of chicken salad and glistening mounds of Saran Wrap:

" What do you do with a child who ... ?"

"You know what Lamont did today?"

"How's your little Marina these days? Any further out of the zone?"

"How'd that egg-carton activity work out? "

Good teachers are obsessed. They trade advice, references, anecdotes about the children the way other people trade recipes and gossip. Mediocre teachers join in too, because it's easier than trying to go it alone. Yet in all this rich exchange of information, the amount of social reflection, of stepping back from the trees to look at the forest is generally negligible. Not that they can't make the connections if they get around to it. I once heard a group of aides and teachers go from the comings of the school lunch program, to increased military spending, to the risks of intervention in Central America, to the dismal future for their pupils, all in less than five minutes.

As a rule, though, primary teachers don't talk much about social questions. Nor do they think of themselves as workers, although some participate in union affairs. When a strike is called, they go along. Unlike high school and junior-high teachers, who tend to be militant, elementary teachers seem to regard teaching as simultaneously a profession (rather than a job) and as a duty, an extension of the mothering they have given their own children, part of their traditional role as women. For the most part, they do not question this role (nor the continuing grotesque sexism of many teaching materials, and, for that matter, of children's TV, books, etc.), any more than they question the content of schooling, the power relationships within the educational apparatus, or the class division of society which presents itself so painfully in the lives of many of their pupils. But also for the most part, and for some of the same reasons, they do their best within the terms of their situation.

I watch the "two-o'clockers" charging across the playground to where others are already lined up waiting for the buses. Billy, whose parents helplessly love him but can't live with each other. Jaharie, whose junkie father goes in and out of jail and in and out of marriage with Jaharie's mother. Angie, whose father from all the signs (extreme aversive reaction to adult male touch alternating with open sexual suggestiveness) molested her until her mother kicked him out. Brian and Jake, my two White working-class toughs, whose parents keep them awake screaming at each other. Aminah, bounced back and forth between an easygoing alcoholic father and an ultra- authoritarian Fundamentalist mother. Teresa, whose struggling immigrant parents punish her unmercifully every time her grades are less than perfect.

Then I turn back toward the room as the "Three-o'clockers" come in from recess - almost all of them cheerful, studious, cooperative kids. Kids who have at least one parent already there to welcome and talk and play with them when they get home at three-thirty. Kids who are read aloud to every night, who have their endless questions about the world patiently answered, who get to travel to faraway fascinating places, who are encouraged to dream, who are regularly celebrated as the center of attention. For them, the foundations of learning are so firmly established at home that the deficiencies of the schools - the insufficient individualization of learning, the dreariness of the classroom situation, the necessity for overrestrained and uniform behavior that is imposed by this situation - affect them relatively little. For them, the problems will come later when the kindly, luminous world of middle-class childhood starts to wither around sixth or seventh grade. Even then, for many, the pleasure they take in learning will survive the schools and everything else, though it may well be extinguished by the necessities of selling their lives away in order to survive.

Conversely, some of the "two-o'clockers" may find some emotional stability and some jump-start of motivation that will enable them to catch up with the others and escape the trap that has been prepared for them. But the fate of the majority has already been decided:

"Them that's got shall get,
Them that's not shall lose.
God bless the child
That's got its own."

Hot Under The Collar

ibm workers united, block modeling, vdt propaganda & rebuttals

VDT Eyes: Embossed L.A. Road Maps?

"I'm so light-headed when I walk out at night sometimes I'm afraid to drive home, confided Susan, a secretary.

"Since I've started working in front of the screen, I've become allergic to my hypoallergenic eye-makeup," bitched Jeri, a marketing secretary.

An optometrist prescribed glasses for Felix, a computer systems operator whose eyestrain (and migraine headaches) began after working in front of a Video Display Terminal (VDT).

Susan, Jeri, and Felix work for a large Silicon Valley microchip corporation with over 450 VDTS. Recently the company purchased over two dozen IBM workstations for secretaries and the publications department (where I work). The workstations include a printer, a dual floppy-disk drive, and a VDT. The workstations are called Displaywriters, a.k.a. "Dismaywriters. "

None of the inhouse training sessions or 13 volumes of manuals mentioned VDT dangers. Nor were such hazards generally known among secretaries, many of whom had negligible VDT experience.

One day a memo made its way through corporate offices nationwide. Addressed to Displaywriter users, the memo began "Do your eyes feel like embossed Los Angeles County Road Maps at the end of the day?" Attached was a VDT danger fact-sheet put out by a company selling conductive mesh, non-glare VDT screens (conductive mesh is said to screen low-level radiation as well as reduce glare.) The memo suggested a "collective pur chase" of VDT screens, gratis of the corporation.

The notion that headaches, irritability, eyestrain, allergies, back pains and the like might be linked to VDTs had a gutlevel plausibility. Nearly half responded positively to the memo. (Among those who didn't, several expressed concern over VDT dangers but said that they didn't use VDTs enough to warrant protection.) Concern over VDT dangers spread quickly workstation users passed the memo to other VDT workers who then expressed a desire for protective screens.

The manager in charge of hardware acquisitions was not reassuring. He responded to the requests for screens by announcing that there was a "purchasing freeze" and that no accounting procedure existed to accommodate a collective purchase across department lines (!).

A second memo circulated, this one informing workstation and other VDT users of this absurd, bureaucratic impasse. This time, the two-page "The Ugly Truth about VDTS" (PW #10, pp. 56-7) was attached. The memo noted that the price of the mesh screen was 1/2 of 1% of the cost of a workstation and suggested that "those of us in accounting ... find out ... how we might get around" the impasse.

Several days later, the memo's author was told to report to Accounting. There, a manager apologetically suggested
that a group purchase order could be arranged after all. Three weeks later, after consistent harassment, the manager cut a group purchase order for protective screens for everyone in the company!

It's not exactly clear how the manager was swayed in our favor, but rumor has it that a pregnant workstation operator in Accounting, her concern over VDT dangers to her fetus, and perhaps the perceived dissatisfaction of her workstation users, had something to do with it.

It remains to be seen how many VDT users will take advantage of the opportunity by participating in the group purchase. Nor will protective screens block the corporation's sales of chips to military contractors. But we learned something about the dangers of VDTS, and most importantly, won something that will make our jobs less

- Anonymous

IBM Workers United

For eight years now, a handful of workers at the IBM plant in Endicott, New Jersey, have been agitating among the coworkers, urging them to take action, make demands, and get organized to confront management on a variety of issues. In an early issue of their newsletter "IBM Speak Up, " IBM Workers United raised the demand that workers have "a voice of their own," separate and independent from management. "We find that the management-controlled grievance procedure no longer does the job, especially in the manufacturing plants where mandatory overtime and total management control over our lives exist." Other issues raised by IBMWU:

* Aside from making demands for better wages, seniority pay and daycare, IBMWU has sought to unite IBM workers and the surrounding community around health and safety issues. Through their newsletter, they exposed many incidents of hazards to workers and residents of the area resulting from use of toxic chemicals, irresponsible disposal of toxic wastes, and IBM's attempts to cover up information about dangerous substances. Rather than rely on company doctors and government agencies that almost invariably condone company policies, IBMWU calls on workers to organize their own safety and health committees, independent of management, to force IBM to come clean.

* In a letter distributed to stockholders in 1979 entitled "Would IBM have sold computers to Hitler?" IBMWU publicized and protested the sale of IBM computers to South Africa. The IBM computers were used in a registration system known as the "Book of Life" which requires everyone to carry a pass book with personal information. This system is obviously used to enforce apartheid. The letter pointed to the hypocrisy of IBM's claims that they would not bid any business where they believed products were going to be used to abridge human rights.

* In a recent issue of their newsletter, renamed "Resistor, " the group explains what kind of union they are: " So are we a union? By today's standards, no. Far too many unions/ leaders have neglected the average worker, have forgotten the principles of the early days and have become ,another boss.' But, if you take Webster's definition, 'confederation of individuals working for a common cause,' then yes we are. We are independent but we do work with other unions in coalitions to share information that is vital to workers.

For years, IBM Workers United was an underground organization to protect members' jobs. But in 1984 members took the risk of coming out into the open in the hopes of encouraging others to work with them. A sympathetic newspaper report on the 1st International IBM Workers Conference in Japan held in Tokyo in May (which was attended by IBMWU organizer Lee Conrad and representatives from five other countries' IBM workers) helped publicize their efforts. Despite management harassment, they have met with growing interest and support for the organization.

For more info, write: IBM Workers United, PO Box 634, Johnson City, NY 13790 or call: (607) 797-6911.

Personal Information System: Block Modeling

Universities and private firms are researching and (mostly secretly) implementing the most sophisticated and intrusive Personal Information System (PIS) yet. This technique, called Block Modeling (BM), is based on the vacuum-cleaning school of data gathering - it sucks up and analyzes everything. A lot of the information it needs is already in company personnel data banks - the schools employees attended, their age, race, gender, their career history, their neighborhood. Much is gathered more stealthily.

Communication channels are analyzed by compiling complete records of phone calls made, phone calls not returned, cc's at the bottom of memos, car pools, bowling club teams. The proliferation of all the new small computers expand the scope of the information that can be collected (Beware your computerized appointment calendar!).

The obvious use of this technique is to "X-ray" groups of workers to search and destroy troublemaking dissidents, find and reward obedient brown-nosers. Personnel planners across the globe are envisioning conflict-free worksites. Those workers most alike culturally and attitudinally are grouped together in ways that will supposedly reduce dis ruption of production.

Interestingly enough, one of the first users of BM was a Roman Catholic monastery. The technique identified three factions who later played a part in dismembering the monastery--loyalists, "Young Turks," and outcasts. Other institutions that have at least researched block modeling are Bell Laboratories, the American Broadcasting Companies, the Wharton School, and the Institute for Social Management in Bulgaria.

Is your boss playing with blocks, too?

- Paxa Lourde

Reality Chasm at B of A

Bank of America Corporation's "Personnel Relation Update" monitors higher management, labor legislation and union organizing activity. One recent article was "Health and Safety Aspects of Video Display Terminals."

In response to the VDT protection legislation introduced to the California Assembly, the article denies that VDT's are potentially harmful - on the basis of incomplete and misrepresentative information. The article mentions a National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report as evidence that radiation levels are safe. But it neglects to mention that the same NIOSH report found that VDT operators had higher stress levels than any other group of workers, and has since been discredited by outside research.

B of A's update routinely details preventative measures as if they themselves followed these measures. On the matter of 'mu sculo skeletal discomfort' (those severe body pains you get after being at the terminal a long time), the article says they can be averted by "rest periods, variety in work tasks, and proper workplace design and furnishings. " On damage to our eyes, the article says that "proper ergonomics [solves the problem], i.e. adjustable chairs, tiltable screens, detachable keyboards, contrast controls, and glare-free lighting." The article skirts around the issue of job stress, saying that "the level of stress depends on the nature of the work, the way it's used, individual preferences as well as management practices. "

Sounds good to us, Bank of America. But PW researchers working as temporary word processors have found that B of A isn't following its own advice. In most departments, the terminal is shunted off to the harshly-lit utility room. The same small room also contains the printer (usually without a hood) and a noisy photo-copier (love those toxic fumes and blinding lights). As for ergonomics, any old, too high desk will do for the Wang terminal with its non-adjustable screen and keyboard. And glare - few departments had protective shields (glass, definitely second rate), and none provided cleaning fluid and soft towels for the layers of finger smudges and dust.

The VDT legislation, if passed (unI kely), would not be stringently enforced. It's up to us to look after our own interests. Insist on taking your breaks. Go after management to buy screens and better work tables and chairs. Check into having them shut off the flickering fluorescents and providing you with a couple of adjustable, diffuse work lamps. Be a pest - it's your health

-Paxa Lourde


'Obstructionism,' a tactic and strategy used by the FIOM (Italian Metalworkers' Union) in August 1920 in Turin:

1. Do nothing you aren't trained to do.
2. Clean or repair no equipment until it is completely off.
3. Do no job if you don't have the right tools.
4. Don't volunteer-do only what you're told to do-nothing more.

From French underground during WWII:

1. Take as long as you can to repair anything that breaks (they recomended against sabotage-keep the factories running).
2. If a worker is fired other workers should continue to come to work anyway (active support workers).
3. If the bosses lock out, occupy the premises.

-Primitivo Morales

Processed World #13

Issue 13: April 1985

processedworld13proc.pdf6.78 MB

Sweet Relief

fiction by jake

In an extraordinary world, her day was the most ordinary possible. She walked to work, passing shops, offices, and galliers, each evenly-lit inside and restrained and symmetrical on the outside in the modern style. Her own work building said ""Gresham'' on the outside and the inside was made of white tile and wallboard and partitions. This was early morning in the city, when the light was golden and hesitant; it did not yet stretch curvaceously around tall buildings the way it did in late afternoon, the time of long shadows and, for office workers, stupor.

The thing is, she thought to herself while hanging up her coat and moving to the office coffee pot, you've got to get your mind more active--take a class or something, if you can bear sitting in a classroom for three hours after sitting for eight at a typewriter. She thought this often. Behind a fog, other secretaries were making their sporadic dull morning-talk. But what kind of class? She had never gotten past this question.

Limousines gliding down the avenue outside her window might have been strange black water birds, with an occasional white swan. . .but inside, the proud and the powerful sit, she thought, catching a glimpse of a hand holding a telephone receiver inside one of the murky windows. She smiled slightly, her attention drawn back to the swan image: there was nothing very angry or willful about her. She loved what could take her away from the world.

Rolling paper in the platen, she began to think idly: weight, weight, you've got to lose some weight. . .running it like a chant through her head. After typing lists of stock numbers and prices for an hour or so, she vaguely began to think about the thing, hoping it would not come over her but it did. This kind of antsyness in her stomach was not hunger, but it made her rise like a robot and walk to the vending machines down the hall. This urge is hopeless to fight, she thought, once it comes on. It blew in like a squall from the lonely spaces in her brain and while eating, in the hall or in the bathroom away from co-workers, she stared straight ahead, vacantly and it was pleasant.

Well, that's it, she thought, swallowing the last of the three candy bars and crumpling the wrappers. Now the argument-with-self would ensue: No, no, no, I told you not to eat that crap! But it's so awful here, no one even talks to me, and I'm wasting my life! How can you deny yourself this trifling pleasure when this room and your whole daytime existence is so sour? Well, isn't your nighttime existence a zero deal too? And do you know why? Because you're such a blimp! Oh c'mon! Is that a real reason or just an excuse?

During the argument, her face was smooth; she bit her lip the tiniest bit, but that could have indicated concentration over the paperwork which she was now taking to task.

Lunchtime was better; it was with Lucinda, a co-worker who had lots of children at home who wore her out. Oh, they throw themselves on me from the moment I get home till the time I fall asleep, she was saying as they sat on the park bench not 20 feet from the noisy avenue. Lucinda laughed a lot and her exhaustion was not evident. Her long black hair got into her sandwich and they both laughed. Then they had to go back inside for the next half of the day, which was always the worst.

She had forgotten about the other thing that happened sometimes when she felt in lighter spirits, like after a nice lunch. It drove her crazy. Surely it won't keep me from work, she thought, but then it started. A huge feeling of horniness leapt upon her. It made her feel her nipples against her blouse and the creases behind her knees. It made her want to laugh insanely at the office--the absurd, stultifying cubicles, alphabetical files, and all the silly people with pointy shoes and impeccable grooming.

If only to dash out the door and into the little park, she thought. If only to strike up a conversation with someone there, something simple about feeding pigeons! Someone out there who doesn't have a boring existence like this, someone who could tell me what daytime is really like!

Asking if anyone would like anything from the deli, she ran out quickly and brought back a soda pop for the receptionist and cookies for herself. She wolfed them down while shuffling through the papers. Afterwards, through the greasy, stuffed feeling, she felt the thick beating of her heart. The thing had returned, and she began to rock very slightly and slowly back and forth in her chair, one foot tucked under her, typing all the while. Sweat rose to her forehead; the rest of the office was a clicking machine far away behind a blue fog. She got up and went into the bathroom. But I don't have to go to the bathroom, she thought, sitting there.

Oh damn you! Why do you have to get so out of line! Why? What if somebody saw that? Then you're really gonna be in trouble. . .you'll have to quit! You're completely unhinged, you idiot! I can see it now. . .dropped out of the workforce at age 22 due to uncontrolled masturbation. . .oh god, what is wrong with you?

But as she argued with herself, her anxious fingers began tugging and digging and massaging. She was afraid someone would come in. If I could just get rid of this tension and get rid of it fast, she thought. Then work would be easier. . .to concentrate on. Each rising and falling breath was shortened and then the outlandish became the exciting: Do you know where you are and what you're doing? Oh, if those nags even knew! You're crazy you cunt, cunt. . .cunt!

For a full minute she dropped limply there on the toilet, then suddenly gasping as if she'd heard terrible news, she got up quickly and went to her cubicle.

Now it was 3:30 and there was no more stalling to do, no more change for the vending machines. You better do some exercising, you slob, she thought vaguely, feeling tired. Maybe I need a shrink. . .it's some kind of compulsive condition. No one had looked at her at all when she had come back into the room. Who cares what they think. ...why do I have these grotesque urges?

Outside, she could see shadows growing long and the sky began to glow purple and red behind dark cigar-shaped clouds. Dusk was coming and the city would churn away into the night. Somewhere out there, life was going on.

What should I have for dinner?


Table of Contents

from our readers

Kelly Call Girl
fiction by kelly girl

Sweet Relief
fiction by jake

The Way It Was
reminiscence by ana logue

The Oppressed Middle
review by lucius cabins

by henry calhoun jr, barbara schaffer, acteon blinkage & ligi

photo essay by zoe noe & acteon blinkage

Mind Games
article by tom athanasiou

Once More Unto the Bridge, Dear Friend
tale of toil by primitivo morales

Hot Under The Collar
high-tech workers, eradicating tv, good 'zines

The Way It Was

Ana Logue reminisces about being a temporary worker in New York in 1965.

Temping in the Office of the Past

Whenever I see "Carmen" I am reminded of the factory-like, New York office where I worked in the summer of 1965. Like Bizet's tobacco factory, it was hot (there was a drought and air conditioning usage was rationed to save water, the city's slogan was "Don't flush for everything"), the workers were all female, and life was startlingly real outside the doors we would rush through at 4:45 in the afternoon.

Johnson was president, the war in Vietnam was "escalating," and the Olin Mathiesson Chemical Corporation, a major gun powder producer, hired me, through the Olsten temp agency, to tear carbon papers from bills of lading and stuff envelopes seven hours a day, at $1.35 a hour ($.10 above the minimum wage).

I was 18 and had just finished my freshman year of college. In those days young women were called girls, and I was very much a girl. I was not in love, I do not think I thought about love. A stranger to passion, but not to the joys of making out in the back seats of big American cars, my disappointments were not deep, my faith in my future infinite.

Back then jobs were plentiful and rents were cheap. It took me one day to find work, one week to find a three-room, furnished apartment on West 20th Street, two subway stops from Greenwich Village, for $80.00 a month. I shared the apartment with Terry, another college girl in New York for the summer. Terry knew how to type and found a job as a secretary. She started in her office as a temp, but her boss decided to hire her full time without paying the agency fee. That meant she could not receive any phone calls at the office. One never knew when the agency would be calling to see if she was there.

Every morning, dressed in a skirt and blouse or dress and wearing nylons, despite the heat, I would take the subway to Columbus Circle and walk west on 57th Street to 10th Avenue to an immense four-story loft building where Olin had its billing department on the third floor. The first two floors were a Thom McAnn shoe warehouse.

The modular office had not yet been invented. I worked in a completely enclosed room in the middle of the floor that, except for its size, might have been a broom closet. I had never been in a room without windows before. It was something I never got used to. How often did I raise my eyes from my work and instinctively search the walls for sunlight!

As you entered this room you saw two rows of desks, all facing the door. On the right, where I sat at the last desk, were the five carbon-tearers. We were all between the ages of 18 and 20. Our job was to separate the carbons from a white original and three multi-colored copies. The blue copies went in one pile, the greens in another, and the yellows in a third. The whites we folded and stuffed into envelopes. When we had a respectable number of stacks of paper in front of us, we would bring them to baskets on a table near the supervisor's desk and pick up some more forms to be separated. I do not know what happened to them next.

The five desks in the left row supported comptometer machines which looked like a cross between an electric typewriter and a cash register. In those early days of office automation, they were a kind of "dedicated" bill processor. The women who operated these machines were the professionals to whom we unskilled carbon-tearers always deferred.

The supervisor's desk was on the wall next to the door, facing the workers, like a school teacher facing a classroom.

It seems incredible to me now, eleven women in one room, seven hours a day, five days a week, five of us doing totally mindless work, five of us having to concentrate on our work, and one watching. All in that closed space.

It seemed incredible to me then, too. I could tolerate the job because it was only for a few months, but what about the others? I don't remember anyone ever complaining. Three of the five carbon tearers lived at home, were engaged to be married or had serious boyfriends, and would, presumably, quit on marriage or childbirth. The fourth was a college-student temp like myself. The comptometer operators, on the other hand, were in their twenties and thirties and mostly married. (The husbands all worked in blue-collar jobs, which were common at the time but low status in those status-conscious years.)

New York is a profoundly ethnic city. Ethnic identity is as important there as public school affiliation is to the English upper-class. Ethnically, we were quite a mix. Our supervisor, Miss Glenda Briggs, was a very thin, white, southern lady of about 40. The comptometer operators: one Yugoslav, one German, a New York black, a Jamaican black, and a Puerto Rican. The carbon tearers: two Jews, two Germans, one Puerto Rican.

Socially, as a group, we had nothing in common. I had discovered "pot" that summer, and Terry and I spent most of our time hanging out in the Village. We both went to school in Michigan and friends from out-of-town were forever crashing in our apartment. Everybody played the guitar that year and real life started after 5pm. Monday mornings I would take a capsule of deximil before leaving the apartment. On speed, mindless, repetitive work can almost be satisfying. I never discussed my home life at the office.

But we talked a lot at work. Kelly, one of the comptrollers was pregnant. She had already had one miscarriage, so the talk had to do with her health and what the doctor had said. I listened hard to the secrets of womanhood.

Mostly the talk was about what each had cooked for dinner last night and what they would make this evening. Having no interest in food, this was very boring and depressing for me. Then it came about that I invited some friends for dinner, and I didn't know how to cook. I explained my problem to the women at work, and Marie, the Yugoslav, gave me a recipe for meatloaf (ground beef, bread crumbs, onions, eggs, and tomato sauce) that I still use.

The other major topic was television. Since we didn't have a TV, I couldn't participate in those conversations either.

The images come back, after twenty years, incompletely. But I remember these women better than any others I have worked with since. I remember that Janet, the Jamaican, always had a perfectly coiffed bouffant. One day I complimented her for it, and she laughed and said it was a wig. I remember that Gretchen, one of the Germanic carbon-tearers, was tall, pale, and flat, and had very thick ankles. She was also stupid and mean. Arrogance in her (in everybody?) was a display of a limited mind.

Marie called her 12-year-old son up every afternoon from the phone on the supervisor's desk. The conversation was always the same: what are you doing, what do you have for homework, I'll make chicken (or beef, or stew) for supper. How I pitied that child, how sad I was for the mother whose life revolved around him. (Now I, like Marie, call my son every afternoon, to affirm my existence, my real life, that has nothing to do with the work at hand.)

Karen, the other temp, was something of an enigma. She was the first person I had ever met who could only speak in clichés. She talked a lot, was friendly, but never said anything. Once I asked her what her agency was paying, and she answered, "I never discuss money." She had told us that she had been going to a college up-state but had had to move back home after her married sister had died. "But how did she die? " I finally asked. "Well," she drawled in her sing-song voice, "she went shopping for some panties at Gimbels, and she had just had a baby, and nobody knows what was going on in her mind, but she jumped in front of a BMT train."

Inez, the carbon-tearer with the most seniority, was my only real friend on the job. She was a 19-year-old Puerto Rican woman who didn't speak Spanish. She had suffered for this, she confided, because her teacher thought she was cheating by being in Spanish 1. Inez had gone to City College for one year and had majored in history. But she was now engaged to Robert, who was studying business administration, and she had dropped out to make some money so they could marry. But since she had taken an academic course in high school, she didn't have any marketable skills. We used to talk about what we read in the newspaper and play gin rummy during our breaks and lunch hours.

Glenda, our supervisor, sticks in my mind in her navy suits and white blouses and her prematurely white hair always perfectly curled. She had moved with the company from down South and lived with her mother, whom she had brought with her. In my eyes she had the strange power of tragic gentility and spinsterhood.

When a comptometer operator left her job, presumably for marriage or motherhood, the policy had been to train the carbon-tearer with the most seniority to replace her. The last woman to move up in the ranks this way was Carol a streetsmart black woman whose sharp tongue belied the women's sewing circle politeness that usually prevailed. But, as soon as she was trained, Carol gave notice. She was moving on to a better paying job with another firm.

Management's response to Carol's ingratitude was worthy of a modern, capitalist Soloman. Henceforth there would be no more on the job training; all future openings for comptometer operators would be filled from the outside. This was devastating for Inez who was next in line to be promoted, and everyone in the office, including Glenda, expressed their regrets.

Carol was replaced by Dorothy. Dorothy dressed like a beatnik--pierced ears, wide skirts--and was very unhappy with whatever it was that had fated her to this job. She bragged about her weekends at Cape Cod to women who had never heard of the place but knew she was bragging. She was extremely unpopular. Even I, who sympathized with her aspirations, was afraid to talk to her lest I became contaminated in the eyes of the others. Besides, I was the lowliest and youngest of temps, and she did not look to me for help.

Glenda, who was a very diplomatic boss who could act like one of the girls without ever forgetting who she was, also knew how to put people down. She had no use for Carol, or later Dorothy, the office rebels, and used sarcasm to turn everyone against them. It all seemed dreadfully unfair.

But the strongest image is of female comraderie and the giggling, the tensions, the occasional outburst of emotion. Normally we ate our sandwiches in the employees' cafeteria, but on paydays the 45-minute lunch break was extended to one hour, so we could cash our checks. Then (and also when it was someone's birthday) we would all go to lunch together at an Italian restaurant and even have a cocktail. How lovely it was to go out together in a group, laughing, taking up the whole sidewalk, in the sunshine!

--by Ana Logue

The Oppressed Middle

review by lucius cabins

SCENES FROM CORPORATE LIFE: The Politics of Middle Management by Earl Shorris, 1981, Penguin Books.

During my time as a temp in downtown San Francisco, I worked for many different managers. I never became particularly friendly with them, but I did find ways to "manage'' my managers. Mostly they left me alone as long as they got the work they wanted out of me.

Though I never was close to any managers, it was obvious that most of them suffered the same intimidation and hassles that I faced as their peon. But if bosses were as oppressed as I was, I reasoned, why were they so willing, even eager, to carry out the ridiculous dictates of the company? How had they turned into complacent embodiments of corporate policies? Why were they so ready to enforce completely arbitrary policies which oppressed them as much as me? It couldn't just be the money, or could it?

Scenes From Corporate Life, a detailed exploration of the corporate manager's life, is an attempt to answer these questions. The book, which originally had the same title as this review, depicts the duplicity, shallowness, manipulations, and general stupidity that prevail among managers. The portrait will be familiar to anyone who has labored in the office world. Earl Shorris (who was a long-time middle manager himself) argues convincingly that common business practices produce corporations which are essentially totalitarian institutions.

For Shorris, totalitarianism is the process of destroying autonomy. Corporate totalitarianism idolizes efficiency in its bureaucracies and takes its ideology from industrial psychology, management textbooks and classes. The result is a microworld where the autonomy of human beings is systematically thwarted.

Among his vignettes he describes techniques effective in intimidating and controlling both managers and knowledge workers. For example, the annual bonus system is used almost as a piece- rate kind of motivation for the middle-level employees. And yet, because of the company's need to keep people off guard and unsure of themselves the awarding of bonuses is often arbitrary and out of line with actual events. The ubiquitous "secret'' salary works to keep people separate and to compete more intently with what they think the other is getting, rather than banding together to get the same higher pay. "To make atoms of the mass, corporations have no more obvious device than keeping secret men's earnings.''

But "men do not merely acquiesce, they choose to live under totalitarian conditions. . . out of fear, mistaking its effect upon them because they do not think of the meaning of their actions.'' Managers have accepted an externally- imposed definition of happiness (i.e. material wealth, career advancement) provided by The Organization and its leaders. In so doing they have ceded their autonomy as free human beings to an abstract end and reduced themselves to mere means. In sacrifices "for the company'' Shorris identifies the essential ingredient of a totalitarian society: human beings actively, even willingly, participating in self-delusion and renunciation of their own freedom, in exchange for a false sense of security.

"In the modern world a delusion about work and happiness enables people not only to endure oppression but to seek it and to believe that they are happier because of the very work that oppresses them.''

A rather dry philosophical analysis of totalitarianism and corporate life prefaces the bulk of the book, which features 40- odd vignettes of typical managerial dilemmas, followed by Shorris' observations. Some of the scenes involve very high-level executives, others involve first-line supervisors. Together, they illustrate the pathetic dark side of a manager's worklife: isolation, loneliness, the "need'' to avoid seeing their oppression, the "desire'' to obey corporate mores. The author inadvertently reveals himself in many of his observations as an example of the very dynamics he criticizes.

• An executive who's working overtime to redo an error-filled report by a sales analyst, has an hysterical internal monologue of desperation and frustration. Shorris notes that loneliness has less to do with solitude than it does with social atomization. "The loneliness that destroys men by atomizing them comes when they are among the familiar faces of strangers. . . At the heart of the loneliness of business one finds the essence of the notion of property: competition. . . Loneliness, terrible, impenetrable, and as fearsome as death, incites men to cede themselves to some unifying force: the party, the state, the corporation. All lonely creatures are frightened; to be included provides the delusion of safety, to cede oneself masks the terror of loneliness, to abandon autonomy avoids the risk of beginnings.'' Aren't these the same reasons people join cults and various "extremist'' groups?

• A middle-class manager who grew up to stories of his mother bringing food to his father at the factory where he was in a sit-down strike. . . has come to blame unions for inflation, and the US's sagging position in the world market. During a strike he crosses a picket line to jeers of "Scab!!'' and has a crisis of will. He nearly becomes catatonic when he gets into his office. The point here is that the manager, unlike the striking workers, has no social support system. This manager knows it since he grew up in a militant union household.

• A public relations man and his friend, an engineer, have fights through the years about the way different processes or products are described to the public; the engineer wants more technically precise language, the PR man wants to make an impact by keeping things simple. The author notes the use Nazi Germany made of simplifications (and could also have put in some analysis of how Reagan and Co. do the same). What emerges is an insightful glimpse of language: "Simplifications are perfectly opaque. . . simplifications impose "one-track thinking' upon the listener; they cannot be considered. . . In its use as propaganda, language passes from the human sphere to that of technology. Like technology. . . it does not recognize the right to autonomous existence of any person but the speaker. To disagree with the language of the technological will is to disobey.'' But one can, and Shorris does, disagree with and disobey the language of the technological-propagandistic will.

The power of totalitarian thinking, according to Shorris, is a belief in the ultimate perfectability of the world, a resolution into certainty that will provide happiness for all forever. This pursuit of perfection reminds me of the engineer's pursuit of complete automation, or the biologist's pursuit of "better'' life forms through genetic engineering. The goal is to eliminate contingency, uncertainty, freedom. "Totalitarianism begins with a concept greater than man, and even though this concept is his perfection, the use of man as a means robs him of his dignity. To raise man up to perfection by debasing him is a contradiction: totalitarian goals of perfection are logically impossible.''

Against totalitarianism "stands the beckoning of human autonomy, with its promise of the joy of beginnings and the adventure of contingency. . . All rational men know that no matter how they choose they cannot eliminate unhappiness or achieve perfection in the world.'' One of Shorris' key points is that human society is inevitably imperfect because it is intrinsically complex, unpredictable, full of ambiguities. He rejects all systems or utopias, whether that of Rousseau, Plato, or Marx, on the grounds that such goals reduce human life to a means toward the abstract ends found in the philosophers' minds.

But Shorris, perhaps over-involved, exaggerates the power and control of the "system.'' For example, he thinks the totalitarian system has become so efficient and dominant that it no longer depends on hysteria, war, murder or hate to enforce its power. Yet he realizes that total efficiency is an impossible pursuit doomed to ultimate failure. In fact, totalitarian thinking is hysterical and does depend on hate, war and murder (look at the US campaign against Nicaragua). Totalitarian governments or executives depend on these emotional bulwarks. Without hate, war and fear, their power would erode rapidly.

Because he overestimates its power Shorris is too pessimistic about resistance to the system. His claims that "The sudden and apparently unprovoked dismissal of a few people or even of one person makes the rest docile. . .'' and "Only those who can put aside thought and misconstrue experience survive'' are obviously not always true. Otherwise how did Shorris survive? Many of us with experience in the corporate office world have despaired when co-workers go along with the most absurd demands and expectations with barely a peep, but we have also seen people question and revolt against what enslaves them. Individuals retain their autonomy, in spite of the best efforts of bosses to intimidate it out of existence.

The Manager's Bias

Shorris writes from a distinctly managerial perspective. For example, he thinks we live in a materially-glutted world. Although there is certainly a lot of waste and ostentatious wealth, there are many places in the world where there is "not enough'' for basic, intelligent survival. The real glut in most people's lives is one of twisted images and not goods.

Despite his narrow view of economic reality it leads Shorris to an important perception: ". . .economic necessity. . . demands the creation of Sisyphean tasks: nothing comes to have as much value as something. . .'' In particular, the "nothing' of value is information. Too many people are engaged in the production and circulation of utterly useless information. And from this perception, he draws conclusions about the general uselessness of most office work. The computer also stands naked: "The computer has not led to a revolution in any area but records retention and retrieval in a society that already suffers from the retention and retrieval of too much useless information. . . The major effect of these time-saving devices has been the necessity of finding ways to waste time.''

From within the decision making structures that have produced the rationalization of work processes, Shorris comments on the motivations of efficiency experts. Most workers assume management experts are consciously hostile to the workers' well-being, and there are certainly individuals who have been. But Shorris defends industrial psychologists and management theorists as being honest fellows trying to improve company operations, but inadvertently leading to oppressive conditions for workers. Evil or not, the hostility toward workers is built into their jobs. If you work for them, you realize their honesty or dishonesty isn't the point. It's what they do.

Being distant from the shop-floor realities of the factory, Shorris romanticizes the blue-collar worker's life and the reality of the modern trade union as well. Underlying this romanticization is his notion of "alienation.' Since he rejects materialist philosophy, he also rejects Marxist analysis of alienation. In Capital alienation stems from the division between the individual and the products of his or her labor, and from the chasm between the individual and the system of social reproduction. For Shorris, alienation is a feeling, the essential component of human consciousness: "It is man's capacity to feel alienated that makes him human. . . Alienation as part of man's consciousness always leads him toward freedom and improvement of the material conditions of his life. . . he enjoys the inevitable discontent of consciousness, for he can compare his life to his infinite imagination.''

Shorris contends that this feeling of alienation is precisely the autonomous subjectivity that the totalitarian corporation attacks. Since the 19th century, work has been rationalized repeatedly, but only in the white-collar world has that process been extended to workers themselves. Factory work has involved rationalization of the workers, too, but Shorris' roots in the office prevent his seeing this as clearly.

Shorris believes that, contrasted to office workers, blue collar workers are dignified and relatively free. He claims that trade unions have provided a buffer between factory workers and company goals for rationalizing work and ultimately the workers. For Shorris, unions are basically democratic, flexible institutions which have adapted very successfully to the modern capitalist economy. In so doing, they have insulated the factory worker from fear, which is the crucial element in the rationalization of men.

In his enthusiasm for his analysis of unions and alienation, Shorris goes overboard. For example, "Such business tactics as multinational manufacturing, "Sunbelt strategy,' mergers and acquisitions, or diversification have less and less effect on industrial plants and workers as unions learn to defend their members from the threats to wages and stability arising from new business situations.'' This is patently ridiculous. A brief look at the steel industry and the Rust Bowl of Ohio-Pennsylvania or the copper industry of Arizona belies this silly claim.

These assertions are reminiscent of the wistful longing for something better that is more typically associated with the frustrated low-level employee. In this case, however, it is the voice of an oppressed manager looking back down the social hierarchy for what seems to him to be a relatively idyllic life. It would be bad enough if he stopped at those comments, but he doesn't. Because so many factory workers with whom he has talked define their "real'' lives according to what they do outside the wage-labor arena, Shorris concludes the union worker is "a man very much like the creature dreamed of in Marx's German Ideology: he does one thing today and another tomorrow. . . he is human and free, paying but one fifth of his life to enjoy the rest of his days, and doing so for only twenty-five or thirty years until he retires. . . the life. . . for the worker in communism is beginning to be real for many blue collar workers. Leisure exists, and the blue collar worker enjoys his leisure without real or symbolic constraints.'' Huh?!! Sound like any blue collar workers you know?

Human Thought: Seed of Revolt?

Ultimately, Shorris pinpoints human oppression not in social institutions but in human nature itself, and concludes that ". . .the primary task of freedom is no less than for man to overcome his own nature, to do his business in a way befitting a creature capable of transcending himself.''

His strong point is the analysis of why people go along with the absurdity of modern corporate life. More than most, he has described the mechanisms of domination and control. But in typical liberal and "idealistic'' fashion, he sees the solution in simply thinking:

"Only in thinking can man recognize his own life. In that alienated moment he is the subject who knows his own subjectivity. . . Only the thinking subject, who cannot be a means, can know when he has been made a means in spite of himself. . .''

When it comes to solutions or recommendations, the only specific suggestion he makes is that managers should see their subordinates as equals in order to see themselves as the equals of their superiors. ". . .it requires that a man see himself and all others as subjects, creatures who began the world when they came into it and continue to be potential beginners.''

But no mention is made of the social system, part of which he has so assiduously taken apart during the book. It's as if he himself cannot identify his own oppressor: "Without knowledge of their oppressors, men cannot rebel; they float, unable to find anything against which to rebel, incapable of understanding that they are oppressed by the very organization that keeps them afloat.'' We hear nothing of capitalism, wage-labor, the state, or existing social institutions in general, as being at the root of the problems. Instead, he ultimately seeks to explain totalitarianism and corporate life in terms of individual psychology.

Shorris hopes for a world of subjects freely contesting among themselves. This "human condition'' is one of constant change and interpersonal conflict. While I agree that perfection in human society is an unattainable and oppressive goal, I think he takes far too fatalistic an attitude about human possibilities. Whereas we might be able to create a society of great material abundance and a lot more fun, with far less work and virtually no coercion, if we can get together enough to organize it, Shorris settles for the discontented, alienated thoughts of the lone thinker.

Changing minds is essential, but changing life takes collective action.

--Lucius Cabins

Mind Games

article by tom athanasiou

The world of artificial intelligence can be divided up a lot of different ways, but the most obvious split is between researchers interested in being god and researchers interested in being rich. The members of the first group, the AI "scientists,'' lend the discipline its special charm. They want to study intelligence, both human and "pure'' by simulating it on machines. But it's the ethos of the second group, the "engineers,'' that dominates today's AI establishment. It's their accomplishments that have allowed AI to shed its reputation as a "scientific con game'' (Business Week) and to become as it was recently described in Fortune magazine, the "biggest technology craze since genetic engineering.''

The engineers like to bask in the reflected glory of the AI scientists, but they tend to be practical men, well-schooled in the priorities of economic society. They too worship at the church of machine intelligence, but only on Sundays. During the week, they work the rich lodes of "expert systems'' technology, building systems without claims to consciousness, but able to simulate human skills in economically significant, knowledge-based occupations (The AI market is now expected to reach $2.8 billion by 1990. AI stocks are growing at an annual rate of 30@5).

"Expert Systems''

Occupying the attention of both AI engineers and profit-minded entrepreneurs are the so-called "expert systems.'' An expert is a person with a mature, practiced knowledge of some limited aspect of the world. Expert systems, computer programs with no social experience, cannot really be expert at anything; they can have no mature, practiced knowlege. But in the anthropomorphized language of AI, where words like "expert,'' "understanding,'' and "intelligence'' are used with astounding--and self-serving-- naivete, accuracy will not do. Mystification is good for business.

Expert systems typically consist of two parts: the "knowledge base'' or "rule base,'' which describes some little corner of the world--some "domain'' or "microworld''; and the "inference engine,'' which climbs around in the knowledge base looking for connections and correspondences. "The primary source of power. . .is informal reasoning based on extensive knowledge painstakingly culled from human experts,'' explained Doug Lenat in an article that appeared in Scientific American in September 1984. "In most of the programs the knowledge is encoded in the forms of hundreds of if-then rules of thumb, or heuristics. The rules constrain search by guiding the program's attention towards the most likely solutions. Moreover. . .expert sytems are able to explain all their inferences in terms a human will accept. The explanation can be provided because decisions are based on rules taught by human experts rather than the abstract rules of formal logic.''

The excitement about expert systems (and the venture capital) is rooted in the economic signficance of these "structural selection problems.'' Expert systems are creatures of microworlds, and the hope is that they'll soon negotiate these microworlds well enough to effectively replace human beings.

Some recent expert systems, and their areas of expertise, are CADUCEUS II (medical diagnosis), PROSPECTOR (geological analysis), CATS-1 (locomotive trouble shooting), DIPMETER adviser (sample oil well analysis), and R1/XCON-XSEL (computer system sales support and configuration.) Note that the kinds of things they do are all highly technical, involve lots of facts, and are clearly isolated from the ambiguities of the social world.

Such isolation is the key. If our sloppy social universe can be "rationalized'' into piles of predictable little microworlds, then it will be amenable to knowledge-based computerization. Like automated teller machines, expert systems may soon be everywhere:

@U5In financial services like personal financial planning, insurance underwriting, and investment portfolio analysis. (This is an area where yuppie jobs may soon be under direct threat.)

@U5In medicine, as doctors get used to using systems like HELP and CADUCEUS II as interactive encyclopedias and diagnostic aids. These systems will also be a great boon to lawyers specializing in malpractice suits.

@U5In equipment maintenance and diagnosis. "Expert [systems] are great at diagnosis,'' said one GE engineer. In addition to locomotives, susceptible systems include printed circuit boards, telephone cables, jet engines, and cars.

@U5In manufacturing. "Expert systems can help plan, schedule, and control the production process, monitor and replenish inventories. . ., diagnose malfunctions and alert proper parties about the problem.'' (Infosystems, Aug. '83).

@U5In military and counterintelligence, especially as aids for harried technicians trying to cope with information overload.

But Do They Work?

If these systems work, or if they can be made to work, then we might be willing to agree with the AI hype that the "second computer revolution'' may indeed be the "important one.'' But do they work, and, if so, in what sense?

Many expert sytems have turned out to be quite fallible. "The majority of AI programs existing today don't work,'' a Silicon Valley hacker told me flatly, "and the majority of people engaged in AI research are hucksters. They're not serious people. They've got a nice wagon and they're gonna ride it. They're not even seriously interested in the programs anymore.''

Fortune magazine is generally more supportive, though it troubles itself, in its latest AI article, published last August, to backpeddle on some of its own inflated claims of several years ago. Referring to PROSPECTOR, one of the six or so expert systems always cited as evidence that human expertise can be successfully codified in sets of rules, Fortune asserted that PROSPECTOR's achievements aren't all they've been cracked up to be: "In fact, the initial discovery of molybdenum [touted as PROSPECTOR's greatest feat] was made by humans, though PROSPECTOR later found more ore.''

Still, despite scattered discouraging words from expert critics, the AI engineers are steaming full speed ahead. Human Edge software in Palo Alto is already marketing "life-strategy'' aids for insecure moderns: NEGOTIATION EDGE to help you psyche out your opponent on the corporate battlefield, SALES EDGE to help you close that big deal, MANAGEMENT EDGE to help you manipulate your employees. All are based on something called "human factors analysis.''

And beyond the horizon, there's the blue sky. Listen to Ronald J. Brachman, head of knowledge representation and reasoning research at Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation "Wouldn't it be nice if. . . instead of writing ideas down I spoke into my little tape recorder. . .It thinks for a few minutes, then it realizes that I've had the same though a couple of times in the past few months. It says, "Maybe you're on to something.'<+P>'' One wonders what the head of knowledge engineering at one of the biggest military contractors in Silicon Valley might be on to. But I suppose that's besides the point, which is to show the dreams of AI "engineers'' fading off into the myths of the AI "scientists''--those who would be rich regarding those who would be god. Mr. Brachman's little assistant is no mere expert system; it not only speaks natural English, it understands that English well enough to recognize two utterances as being about the same thing even when spoken in different contexts. And it can classify and cross-classify new thoughts, thoughts which it can itself recognize as interesting and original. Perhaps, unlike Mr. Brachman, it'll someday wonder what it's doing at Fairchild.

Machines Can't Talk

The Artifical Intelligence program at UC Berkeley is trying to teach computers to do things like recognizing a face in a crowd, or carrying on a coherent conversation in a "natural'' language like English or Japanese. Without such everyday abilities so basic we take them completely for granted--how would we be said to be intelligent at all? Likewise machines?

The culture of AI encourages a firm, even snide, conviction that it's just a matter of time. It thrives on exaggeration, and refuses to examine its own failures. Yet there are plenty. Take the understanding of "natural languages'' (as opposed to formal languages like FORTRAN or PASCAL.) Humans do it effortlessly, but AI programs still can't--even after thirty years of hacking. Overconfident pronouncements that "natural language understanding is just around the corner'' were common in the '50s, but repeated failure led to declines in funding, accusations of fraud, and widespread disillusionment.

Machine translation floundered because natural language is essentially--not incidentally--ambiguous; meaning always depends on context. My favorite example is the classic, "I like her cooking,'' a statement likely to be understood differently if the speaker is a cannibal rather than a middle American. Everyday language is pervaded by unconscius metaphor, as when one says, "I lost two hours trying to get my meaning across.'' Virtually every word has an open-ended field of meanings that shade gradually from those that seem utterly literal to those that are clearly metaphorical. In order to translate a text, the computer must first "understand it.''

TA for Computers

Obviously AI scientists have a long way to go, but most see no intrinsic limits to machine understanding. UCB proceeds by giving programs "knowledge'' about situations which they can then use to "understand'' texts of various kinds.

Yale students have built a number of "story understanding systems,'' the most striking of which is "IPP,'' a system which uses knowledge of terrorism to read news stories, learn from them, and answer questions about them. It can even make generalizations: Italian terrorists tend to kidnap businessmen; IRA terrorists are more likely to send letter bombs.

How much can we expect a program like IPP to learn? How long will it be before its "understanding'' can be "generalized'' from the microworld of terrorism to human life as a whole? In what sense can it be said to understand terrorism at all, if it cannot also understand misery, violence, and frustration? If it isn't really understanding anything, then what exactly is it doing, and what would it mean for it to do it better? Difficult questions these.

The foundation stone of this "IPP'' school of AI is the "script.'' Remember the script? Remember that particularly mechanistic pop psychology called "Transactional Analysis''? It too was based upon the notion of scripts, and the similarity is more than metaphorical.

In TA, a "script'' is a series of habitual stereotyped responses that we unconsciously "run'' like tapes as we stumble through life. Thus if someone we know acts helpless and hurt, we might want to "rescue'' them because we have been "programmed'' by our life experience to do so.

In the AI universe the word "script'' is used in virtually the same way, to denote a standard set of expectations about a stereotyped situation that we use to guide our perceptions and responses. When we enter a restaurant we unconciously refer to a restaurant script, which tells us what to do--sit down and wait for a waiter, order, eat, pay before leaving, etc. The restaurant is treated as a microworld, and the script guides the interpretation of events within it, once a script has been locked in, then the context is known, and the ambiguity tamed.

But while behavior in a restaurant may be more or less a matter of routine, what about deciding which restaurant to go to? Or whether to go to a restaurant at all? Or recognizing a restaurant when you see one? These problems aren't always easy for humans, and their solution requires more than the use of scripts. In fact, the research going on at Berkeley is specifically aimed at going beyond script-bound systems, by constructing programs that have "goals'' and make "plans'' to achieve those goals. Grad students even torture their programs by giving them multiple conflicting goals, and hacking at them until they can satisfy them all.


The academic zone of AI is called "cognitive studies.'' At UC Berkeley, however, cognitive studies is not just AI; the program is interdisciplinary and includes philosophers, anthropologists, psychologists, and linguists. (The neurophysiologists, I was told, have their own problems.) Specifically, it includes Herbert Dreyfus and John Searle, two of the most persistent critics of the whole AI enterprise. If Cal hasn't yet made it onto the AI map (and it hasn't), it's probably fair to say that it's still the capital of the anti-AI forces, a status it first earned in 1972 with the publication of Dreyfus' What Computers Can't Do.

Dreyfus thinks he's winning. In the revised edition of his book, published in 1979, he claimed that "there is now general agreement that. . . intelligence requires understanding, and understanding requires giving the computer the background of common sense that adult human beings have by virtue of having bodies, interacting skillfully in the material world, and being trained into a culture.''

In the real world of AI, Dreyfus's notion of being "trained into a culture'' is so far beyond the horizon as to be inconceivable. Far from having societies, and thus learning from each other, today's AI programs rarely even learn from themselves.

Few AI scientists would accept Dreyfus' claim that real machine intelligence requires not only learning, but bodies and culture as well. Most of them agree, in principle if not in prose, with their high priest, MIT's Marvin Minsky. Minsky believes that the body is "a tele-operator for the brain,'' and the brain, in turn, a "meat machine.''

The Dark Side of AI

"Technical people rely upon their ties with power because it is access to that power, with its huge resources, that allows them to dream, the assumption of that power that encourages them to dream in an expansive fashion, and the reality of that power that brings their dreams to life.''

--David Noble, The Forces of Production

As fascinating as the debates within AI have become in recent years, one can't help but notice the small role they allocate to social considerations. Formal methods have come under attack, but generally in an abstract fashion. That the prestige of these methods might exemplify some imbalance in our relationship to science, some dark side of science itself, or even some large social malevolence--these are thoughts rarely heard even among the critics of scientific arroganace.

For that reason, we must now drop from the atmospherics of AI research to the charred fields of earth. The abruptness of the transition can't be avoided: science cloaks itself in wonder, indeed it provides its own mythology, yet behind that mythology are always the prosaic realities of social life.

When the first industrial revolution was still picking up steam, Fredrick Taylor invented "time/motion'' study, a discipline predicated on the realization that skill-based manufacturing could be redesigned to eliminate the skill--and with it the automony--of the worker. The current AI expert systems' insight that much of human skill can be extracted by knowledge engineers, codified into rules and heuristics, and immortalized on magnetic disks is essentially the same.

Once manufacturing could be "rationalized,'' automation became not only possible, but in the eyes of the faithful, necessary. It also turned out to be terrifically difficult, for reality was more complex than the visions of the engineers. Workers, it turned out, had lots of "implicit skills'' that the time/motion men hadn't taken into account. Think of these skills as the ones managers and engineers can't see. They're not in the formal job description, yet without them the wheels would grind to a halt. And they've constituted an important barrier to total automation: there must be a human machinist around to ease the pressure on the lathe when an anomalous cast comes down the line, to "work around'' the unevenness of nature; bosses must have secretaries, to correct their English, if for no other reason.

Today's latest automation craze, "adaptive control,'' is intended to continue the quest for the engineer's grail--the total elimination of human labor. To that end the designers of factory automation systems are trying to substitute delicate feedback mechanisms, sophisticated sensors, and even AI for the human skills that remain in the work process.

Looking back on industrial automation, David Nobel remarked that "men behaving like machines paved the way for machines without men.'' By that measure, we must assume ourselves well on the way to a highly automated society. By and large, work will resist total automation--in spite of the theological ideal of a totally automated factory, some humans will remain--but there's no good reason to doubt that the trend towards mechanization will continue. Among the professions, automation will sometimes be hard to see, hidden within the increasing sophistication of tools still nominally wielded by men and women. But paradoxically, the automation of mental labor may, in many cases, turn out to be easier than the automation of manual labor. Computers are, after all, ideally suited to the manipulation of symbols, far more suited than one of today's primitive robots to the manipulation of things. The top tier of our emerging two-tier society may eventually turn out to be a lot smaller than many imagine.

As AI comes to be the basis of a new wave of automation, a wave that will sweep the professionasl up with the manual workers, we're likely to see new kinds of resistance developing. We know that there's already been some, for DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation), a company with an active program of internal AI- based automation, has been strangely public about the problems it has encountered. Arnold Kraft, head of corporate AI marketing at DEC: "I fought resistance to our VAX-configuration project tooth and nail every day. Other individuals in the company will look at AI and be scared of it. They say, "AI is going to take my job. Where am I? I am not going to use this. Go Away!' Literally, they say "Go Away!'' [Computer Decisions, August 1984]

Professionals rarely have such foresight, though we may hope to see this change in the years ahead. Frederick Hayes-Roth, chief scientist at Teknowledge, a Palo Alto-based firm, with a reputation for preaching the true gospel of AI, put it this way: "The first sign of machine displacement of human professionals is standardization of the professional's methodology. Professional work generally resists standardization and integration. Over time, however, standard methods of adequate efficiency often emerge.'' More specifically: "Design, diagnosis, process control, and flying are tasks that seem most susceptible to the current capabilities of knowledge systems. They are composed largely of sensor interpretation (excepting design), of symbolic reasoning, and of heuristic planning--all within the purview of knowledge systems. The major obstacles to automation involving these jobs will probably be the lack of standardized notations and instrumentation, and, particularly, in the case of pilots, professional resistance.'' Hayes-Roth is, of course, paid to be optimistic, but still, he predicts "fully automated air-traffic control'' by 1990-2000. Too bad about PATCO.

Automating the Military

On October 28, 1983, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced the Strategic Computing Initiative (SCI), launching a five-year, $600 million program to harness AI to military purposes. The immediate goals of the program are "autonomous tanks'' (killer robots for the Army, a "pilot's associate'' for the Air Force, and "intelligent battle management systems'' for the Navy). If things go according to plan, all will be built with the new gallium arsenide technology, which, unlike silicon, is radiation resistant. The better to fight a protracted nuclear war with, my dear.

And these are just three tips of an expanding iceberg. Machine intelligence, were it ever to work, would allow the military to switch over to autonomous and semi-autonomous systems capable of managing the ever-increasing speed and complexity of "modern'' warfare. Defense Electronics recently quoted Robert Kahn, director of information processing technology at DARPA, as saying that "within five years, we will see the services start clamoring for AI.''

High on the list of military programs slated to benefit from the SCI is Reagan's proposed "Star Wars'' system, a ballistic missile "defense'' apparatus which would require highly automated, virtually autonomous military satellites able to act quickly enough to knock out Soviet missiles in their "boost'' phase, before they release their warheads. Such a system would be equivalent to automated launch-on-warning; its use would be an act of war.

Would the military boys be dumb enough to hand over control to a computer? Well, consider this excerpt from a congressional hearing on Star Wars, as quoted in the LA Times on April 26, 1984:

"Has anyone told the President that he's out of the decision- making process?'' Senator Paul Tsongas demanded.

"I certainly haven't,'' Kenworth (Reagan science advisor) said.

At that, Tsongas exploded: "Perhaps we should run R2-D2 for President in the 1990s. At least he'd be on line all the time.''

Senator Joseph Biden pressed the issue over whether an error might provoke the Soviets to launch a real attack. "Let's assume the President himself were to make a mistake. . .,'' he said.

"Why?'' interrupted Cooper (head of DARPA). "We might have the technology so he couldn't make a mistake.''

"OK,'' said Biden. "You've convinced me. You've convinced me that I don't want you running this program.''

But his replacement, were Cooper to lose his job, would more than likely worship at the same church. His faith in the perfectability of machine intelligence is a common canon of AI. This is not the hard-headed realism of sober military men, compelled by harsh reality to extreme measures. It is rather the dangerous fantasy of powerful men overcome by their own mythologies, mythologies which flourish in the super-heated rhetoric of the AI culture.

The military is a bureaucracy like any other, so it's not surprising to find that its top level planners suffer the same engineer's ideology of technical perfectability as do their civilian counterparts. Likewise, we can expect resistance to AI-based automation from military middle management. Already there are signs of it. Gary Martins, a military AI specialist, from an interview in Defense Electronics (Jan. '83): "Machines that appear to threaten the autonomy and integrity of commanders cannot expect easy acceptance; it would be disastrous to introduce them by fiat. We should be studying how to design military management systems that reinforce, rather than undermine, the status and functionality of their middle-level users.''

One noteworthy thing about some "user interfaces'': Each time the system refers to its knowledge-base it uses the idiom "you taught me'' to alert the operator. This device was developed for the MYCIN system, an expert on infectious diseases, in order to overcome resistance from doctors. It reappears unchanged, in a system designed for tank warfare management in Europe. A fine example of what political scientist Harold Laski had in mind when he noted that "in the new warfare the engineering factory is a unit of the Army, and the worker may be in uniform without being aware of it.''

Overdesigned and unreliable technologies, when used for manufacturing, can lead to serious social and economic problems. But such "baroque'' technologies, integrated into nuclear war fighting systems, would be absurdly dangerous. For this reason, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility has stressed the "inherent limits of computer reliability'' in its attacks on the SCI. The authors of Strategic Computing, an Assessment, assert, "In terms of their fundamental limitations, AI systems are no different than other computer systems. . . The hope that AI could cope with uncertainty is understandable, since there is no doubt that they are more flexible than traditional computer systems. It is understandable, but it is wrong.''

Unfortunately, all indications are that, given the narrowing time-frames of modern warfare, the interplay between technological and bureaucratic competition, and the penetration of the engineers' ideology into the military ranks, we can expect the Pentagon to increasingly rely on high technology, including AI, as a "force and intelligence multiplier.'' The TERCOM guidance system in cruise missiles, for example, is based directly on AI pattern matching techniques. The end result will likely be an incredibly complex, poorly tested, hair-trigger amalgamation of over-advertised computer technology and overkill nuclear arsenals. Unfortunately, the warheads themselves, unlike the systems within which they will be embedded, can be counted upon to work.

And the whole military AI program is only a subset of a truly massive thrust for military computation of all sorts: a study by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment found that in 1983 the Defense Department accounted for 69% of the basic research in electrical engineering and 54.8% of research in computer science. The DOD's dominance was even greater in applied research, in which it paid for 90.5% of research in electrical engineering and 86.7% of research in computer sciences.

Defensive Rationalizations

There are many liberals, even left-liberals, in the AI community, but few of them have rebelled against the SCI. Why? To some degree because of the Big Lie of "national defense,'' but there are other reasons given as well:

• Many of them don't really think this stuff will work anyway.

• Some of them will only do basic research, which "will be useful to civilians as well.''

• Most of them believe that the military will get whatever it wants anyway.

• All of them need jobs.

The first reason seems peculiar to AI, but perhaps I'm naive. Consider, though, the second. Bob Wilinsky, a professor at UC Berkeley: "DOD money comes in different flavors. I have 6.1 money. . . it's really pure research. It goes all the way up to 6.13, which is like, procurement for bombs. Now Strategic Computing is technically listed at a 6.2 activity [applied research], but what'll happen is, there'll be people in the business world that'll say "OK, killer robots, we don't care,' and there'll be people in industry that say, "OK, I want to make a LISP machine that's 100 times faster than the ones we have today. I'm not gonna make one special for tanks or anything.' So the work tends to get divided up.''

Actually, it sounds more like a cooperative effort. The liberal scientists draw the line at basic research; they won't work on tanks, but they're willing to help provide what the anti-military physicist Bruno Vitale calls a "rich technological menu,'' a menu immediately scanned by the iron men of the Pentagon.

Anti-military scientists have few choices. They can restrict themselves to basic research, and even indulge the illusion that they no longer contribute to the war machine. Or they can grasp for the straws of socially useful applications: AI-assisted medicine, space research, etc. Whatever they choose, they have not escaped the web that binds science to the military. The military fate of the space shuttle program demonstrates this well enough. In a time when the military has come to control so much of the resources of civil society, the only way for a scientist to opt out is by quitting the priesthood altogether, and this is no easy decision.

But let's assume, for the sake of conversation, that we don't have to worry about militarism, or unemployment, or industrial automation. Are we then free to return to our technological delirium?

Unfortunately, there's another problem for which AI itself is almost the best metaphor. Think of the images it invokes, of the blurring of the line between humanity and machinery from which the idea of AI derives its evocative power. Think of yourself as a machine. Or better, think of society as a machine--fixed, programmed, rigid. The problem is bureaucracy, the programmed society, the computer state, 1984.

Of course, not everyone's worried. The dystopia of 1984 is balanced, in the popular mind, by the utopia of flexible, decentralized, and now intelligent computers. The unexamined view that microcomputers will automatically lead to "electronic democracy'' is so common that it's hard to cross the street without stepping in it. And most computer scientists tend to agree, at least in principle. Bob Wilinsky, for example, believes that the old nightmare of the computer state is rooted in an archaic technology, and that "as computers get more intelligent we'll be able to have a more flexible bureaucracy as opposed to a more rigid bureaucracy. . .''

"Utopian'' may not be the right word for such attitudes. The utopians were well meaning and generally powerless; the spokesmen of progress are neither. Scientists like Wilinsky are well funded and often quoted, and if the Information Age has a dark side, they have a special responsibility to bring it out. It is through them that we encounter these new machines, and the stories they choose to tell us will deeply color our images of the future. Their optimism is too convenient; we have the right to ask for a deeper examination.

Machine Society

Imagine yourself at a bank, frustrated, up against some arbitrary rule or procedure. Told that "the computer can't do it,'' you will likely give up. "What's happened here is a shifting of the sense of who is responsible for policy, who is responsible for decisions, away from some person or group of people who actually are responsible in the social sense, to some inanimate object in which their decisions have been embodied.'' Or as Emerson put it, "things are in the saddle, and ride mankind.''

Now consider the bureaucracy of the future, where regulation books have been replaced by an integrated information system, a system that has been given language. Terry Winograd, an AI researcher, quotes from a letter he received:

"From my point of view natural language processing is unethical, for one main reason. It plays on the central position which language holds in human behavior. I suggest that the deep involvement Wiezenbaum found some people have with ELIZA [a program which imitates a Rogerian therapist] is due to the intensity with which most people react to language in any form. When a person receives a linguistic utterance in any form, the person reacts much as a dog reacts to an odor. We are creatures of language. Since this is so, it is my feeling that baiting people with strings of characters, clearly intended by someone to be interpreted as symbols, is as much a misrepresentation as would be your attempt to sell me property for which you had a false deed. In both cases an attempt is being made to encourage someone to believe that something is a thing other than what it is, and only one party in the interaction is aware of the deception. I will put it a lot stronger: from my point of view, encouraging people to regard machine-generated strings of tokens as linguistic utterances, is criminal, and should be treated as criminal activity.''

The threat of the computer state is usually seen as a threat to the liberty of the individual. Seen in this way, the threat is real enough, but it remains manageable. But Winograd's letter describes a deeper image of the threat. Think of it not as the vulnerability of individuals, but rather as a decisive shift in social power from individuals to institutions. The shift began long ago, with the rise of hierarchy and class. It was formalized with the establishment of the bureaucratic capitalist state, and now we can imagine its apotheosis. Bureaucracy has always been seen as machine society; soon the machine may find its voice.

We are fascinated by Artificial Intelligence because, like genetic engineering, it is a truly Promethean science. As such, it reveals the mythic side of science. And the myth, in being made explicit, reveals the dismal condition of the institution of science itself. Shamelessly displaying its pretensions, the artificial intelligentsia reveals as well a self-serving naivete, and an embarrassing entanglement with power.

On the surface, the myth of AI is about the joy of creation, but a deeper reading forces joy to the margins. The myth finally emerges as a myth of domination, in which we wake to find that our magnificent tools have built us an "iron cage,'' and that we are trapped.

Science is a flawed enterprise. It has brought us immense powers over the physical world, but is itself servile in the face of power. Wanting no limits on its freedom to dream, it shrouds itself in myth and ideology, and counsels us to use its powers unconsciously. It has not brought us wisdom.

Or perhaps the condition of science merely reflects the condition of humanity. Narrow-mindedness, arrogance, servility in the face of power--these are attributes of human beings, not of tools. And science is, after all, only a tool.

Many people, when confronted with Artificial Intelligence, are offended. They see its goal as an insult to their human dignity, a dignity they see as bound up with human uniqueness. In fact, intelligence can be found throughout nature, and is not unique to us at all. And perhaps someday, if we're around, we'll find it can emerge from semiconductors as well as from amino acids. In the meantime we'd best seek dignity elsewhere. Getting control of our tools, and the institutions which shape them, is a good place to start.

--Tom Athanasiou

Processed World #14

Issue 14: July 1985 from

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Table of Contents

Talking Heads

from our readers

Equal Opportunity Parents: Just How Equal Can We Be?
article by maxine holz

Motherhood & Politics?
article by monica slade

Computer Education = Processed Kids?
interview with herbert kohl

LEGO: A 'Play System' for Modular Thinking
article by imma harms

by maximin, lipshutz, barclay, derugeris, lifshin, schaffer & breiding

A Day In The Life of Employee #85292
tale of toil by jay clemens

International Loafers & Winos Union
fiction by jeff goldthorpe

Unwanted Guests
article by dennis hayes

A day in the life of employee #85292

A tale of toil by Hewlett-Packard manufacturing worker Jay Clemens in California, 1985.

The acrid aroma of warm ketchup and vinegar revives me as I step into the cool rose-hued early morning air. I crawl into my tin-plated subcompact and rev the engine into a dull roar. I'm gliding onto the Nimitz Freeway, past the ketchup factories and canneries, past the "outdated'' industrial plants, the factories and warehouses. Past the abandoned bus factory, where rusted engines and bus chassis lay strewn over the yard. Past the truck plant employee parking lot, once a dense concentration of pickups and chevys, now a desolate landscape of tumbleweeds and beer cans. I'm cruising over the San Mateo bridge and veering south, into the future. The signs say Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale but I'm reading Silicon Valley on each one. No more smokestacks, no more peaked tin roofs. Instead we have "university style buildings.'' Flat roofs. Rolling lawns. I pull into the parking lot of Hewlett- Packard's Santa Clara Division, slowing down to flash my badge to the guard on duty but not really bothering to stop. Why waste precious time? We receive a notice on this once a month. "All employees must come to a full stop and show the guard their badge.'' For our own safety and security of course.

I walk across the vast parking lot in the slanting morning sun clutching my paper bag of lunch. I remember my first days at HP being ridiculed for bringing my lunch in a tin bucket, like everyone did at the factory. HA HA, where do you come from? It reminded people of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble going to work at the stone quarry. Here we bring lunch in paper bags. That's progress.

I show my badge to the guard at the desk and walk into the stale conditioned air of building 2A. My building is only one of five at this division employing almost 2000 people. The building is a sea of modular partitions and workbenches. I mumble my hellos to the technicians at their benches hunched over their data books, catching up on a little sleep. I wave hello in the direction of the women assemblers, already perched over their chassis, trying to remember what goes where. I make my way to my bench, mechanical assembler position, a fifteen-foot-long bench with trays and trays of nuts, bolts, screws, washers, and hardware stretched out before me. A pile of tools at my elbows. I quickly take off my jacket and fumble my tools around, coughing and clearing my throat to announce my presence. There are no time clocks to punch here so you are clocked in by the several busybodies who make it their business to see when you come in. The eyes and ears of the supervisors. If your jacket is still on, it means that you just walked in the door.

I make a short trip to the main coffee dispenser in the main building. Got to start waking up. I stare at the skeleton of an instrument before me on my workbench. Where did I leave off? It starts coming back to me and I slowly start piecing the skeleton together, destined to become yet another Hewlett-Packard Fourier Analyzer. Nothing to look forward to until 9 o'clock break. The morning is a blur of humming flourescent lights and lukewarm coffee. I am lost in my work until, finally, the break trays are spotted rolling down the aisles. It's Tuesday, cookie day. I see the forewarned are already heading the cart off at the pass, grabbing the best cookies. The cart arrives and two pots of coffee and the tray of cookies are placed on our rack before rolling off to distribute to other break areas. A line is quickly formed and we grab our rations and join our respective social circles to talk and gossip. I edge into an assembler station and talk with some friends.

"Where's Ellen today?,'' I ask the group.

Marie perks up, "You didn't see her get the escort yesterday? She got canned yesterday about 2:30.''

"What!!,'' I shout in disbelief. I lower my voice instantly and everyone looks nervously around. "Why?''

"That bitch of a lead didn't like her. Prob'ly 'cause she's black. I talked to her last night. She's glad to be out of here, she was sick of this place.''

"She really needed this job though,'' says Becky. "It's hard to find work these days.''

Everyone nods.

"She'll find something,'' says Marie.

The conspiracy of the five of us talk quietly, making sure one of the supervisors, or their eyes or ears, aren't listening in. We all keep smiles on our faces. HP, you see, doesn't have layoffs. Never. There'll be no unemployment insurance for them to pay. Coincidentally, when the economy goes sour, there seems to be a rash of firings. In the afternoon, there'll be a tap on the back, a quick trip to personnel, and out the door without one chance to say "goodbye, I'm fired.'' Not one chance to tell your coworkers what's happening or exchange phone numbers. Spiriting people out the door like that makes most people feel they're to blame themselves. Most are too embarrassed to even come back for their belongings.

"I was just getting to know Ellen, too bad,'' I mutter to myself.

And then, much too soon, break's over. We all saunter back to our work stations. I'm up to my elbows in hardware. I'm assembling frames for instruments. Assembling the chassis, installing the transformer, the switch assembly, the fuseholders, the lights and LED's, the cardholders. I'm installing the mini box fan, to keep the instrument cool and calm. Me and these fans have a history. I got tired of watching the heavy solder smoke curl up the women's nostrils over in chassis wiring area.

"How can you stand breathing that stuff all day long?,'' I would ask.

"HMM, oh, you get used to it,'' Mae said. She ought to know, she's been working for HP for thirty years now. One of the few who still remember Bill and Dave handing out the Christmas checks.

"It's really bad to breathe that stuff you know.''

"Oh, everything is bad for your these days.''

Mae is a tough, loyal old-timer type. The other women on the line detested breathing fumes all day long, however. So, I started requisitioning extra box fans from the stock room, since my job enabled me to procure spare parts for repair work. I would wire the little fans and put them on the workbenches and they would at least blow the solder smoke away from the nostrils. Soon, everyone wanted a little fan of their own. I was having a hard time filling orders. All was well for several months when, boom, our breath of fresh air died. The management caught on to our poor judgement and misuse of company assets. Fans were for cool and breezy instruments, not for assemblers' faces. The fans were rounded up and herded back into the stockroom. No one, it seemed, really knew where those little fans came from all wired up like that though. Mysterious.

At one of our little department meetings, I requested ventilation for all the employees' benches. Sherry, our new supervisor, was horrified. Supes were rated on keeping department expenditures down. She smiled benevolently, after regaining her composure, and chided us little children for asking for exorbitant luxuries like ventilation. Sherry was a new hire fresh from Stanford who had never worked a day in her life before now, yet here she was telling the electronic facts of life to people who have been working in the industry for many years. No one, however, backed me up on my proposal after she ridiculed it like that.

Around a month later, Mae came back from a three week vacation, all tan and relaxed. Her second day back on the job she came in furious.

"Do you know, Sherry, that I've had blisters in my nostrils for as long as I can remember. They actually went away while I was on my vacation. I could actually breathe properly. Do you know that one day back on the job and they're back again! It's that damn solder smoke, I'm sure of it. We must have some vents in here!''

Sherry's face was a flustred pink while Mae continued her story to all the women in the area as they sat around the big table wiring chassis. Big festering sores in her nose for twenty-some odd years and never placed the cause.

On break time I wrote up a petition demanding ventilation and everyone quickly signed. I xeroxed it and left it on Sherry's desk. I told her I'm giving a copy to the area manager. She was in a panic. Letting rebellion spread is an unpardonable offense for a supervisor. Several days later, installation people were installing a central vent with individual air scoops for the work stations. Sherry's hatred of me stems from this day.

I'm installing a cable harness and a subassembly which comes from yet another area. Now it's ready for the chassis working. I put it on a shelf for the wiring people to take. It will take them about eight hours to wire just one of them. I go back to another chassis and repeat the same steps. I work automatically, grabbing the right crinkle washer, the right locknuts, screws, tinnermans. Working miniature little nuts in the tiny space between the transformer and the frame. What a pain. My hands fly from tweezers to screwdrivers, to needle nose pliers to wirecutters, solder irons, solder suckers, crescent wrenches, allen wrenches, bus wire, the tools of the trade. I'm like an automaton. I know this particular instrument well so I can daydream and still work.

I listen to the chatter of the technicians behind me. I catch snatches of their conversation: the 49ers, some asshole of a referee, Willy Nelson's concert, some blonde in a ferrari... I see Louie hunched over his work station. He's strapping a just tested laser on the vibration board. Straps it down with a big black rubber strap. Turns on the motor and it shakes, rattles and rolls with the sound of an outboard motor. They build these lasers tough. Louie shuts the motor off and prepares another one. Last week Louie was walking the line between getting fired or electrocuted. The company had been talking for months of the dangers of static electrical damage to delicate CMOS parts. Just think of it, miniature lightning bolts at our fingertips, this static electricity. They corraled us all into the conference room for a thirty minute film on the danger. We saw crashing F-111's all for the sake of a burnt out little CMOS chip. Sounded like a good idea to me. A little later we were all handed a big black mat that was electrically grounded to our workstations to protect these chips. No more coffee cups at our area since stryofoam harbors these dangerous electrical charges. Certain fabrics were not allowed to be worn to work. Then they handed us all little bracelets with straps to strap ourselves to the tables. To ground ourselves to not damage the chips. Amazingly enough most people did not want to be leashed like dogs to their work stations. To the assemblers it was an insulting thought, but to the technicians it was like telling them to stand in a puddle of water and stick their finger in an electrical socket.

Louie expressed his fears to me. "I spend my whole technical career trying to remember the old axiom of never grounding yourself and they ask me to do it voluntarily. I work with 10,000 volts on the power supply of this laser. One slip and I'm cooked meat with this grounding strap.''

Louie is a quiet guy. He agonized privately over this dilemma for several days, disturbed that all his coworkers saw no problem with the arrangement. One afternoon he exploded into a tirade against the grounding strap, pointing out the dangers to his coworkers. Seems no one had really thought about it. They all trusted the company's engineers to think it through and make a good decision. They all saw Louie's side and agreed unanimously to refuse to use the strap. They scheduled a meeting the next day with the big boss who also agreed it was a stupid idea. Seems the office people had been sold on all this stuff by the marketing group. Sounded reasonable to them as they never work on electronics. That was the end of the "Leash Law.'' Louie retreated back into his shy little corner again.

I see Mike and Pam winding their way through the burn-in area, coming to get me for lunch. We join the stream of the hungry in the aisle and walk up the stairs and through a long sunlit corridor to the cafeteria. We take our trays outside, for some fresh air. Some people are playing volleyball at the net stretched across the courtyard area outside the cafeteria. The famed silicon valley recreation area. This isn't a factory, it's a country club. Actually, you'd be a fool to use your thirty minute lunchbreak to bat a ball around. You eat, talk a little and it's back to work. The people who play volleyball are either on a diet or have no lunch money. I suppose the engineers could play volleyball in between designing new technology but I've never seen them. They go to their private health clubs that are scattered throughout silicon valley. We gossip and bullshit about who's been fired, how we managed to goof off today and who's been getting it on with who. We plan our upcoming weekend. Before we know it it's time to troop back down to our workstations. It was nice seeing the sun as there're no windows in the building downstairs. No distractions. Groups of us are drifting back to work, a parade of happy-faced clones. We all wear painted smiles. All one big family. Management wear shirts with the sleeves rolled up and no ties. That's their uniform. Most have no doors on their offices. They have the "open door policy'' here. We refer to that policy when they fire someone. "They open the door and throw them out.''

When I was first hired, at a different HP facility, my boss told me, "You don't come here to make money. You come here to make a contribution. We don't discuss wages here with each other, that's strictly personal.'' I remember my final interview with this guy, my original boss. With his pen he wrote these letters in capitals for me. M-E-R-I-T. "This is the key to your success here,'' he told me. "Merit--not seniority like union jobs or cost of living or stuff like that. That's the old days.'' I noticed he had a pack of Merit cigarettes sticking out of his breast pocket. "What a loser this guy is,'' I thought as I shook his hand happily and agreed on my future career with HP. I had lied about my work history. I knew I couldn't tell him that my last job, before I was laid off, was a lumper with the Teamsters Union making twice the wage I was to start out as at HP. Anyone with union background is tainted at HP.

I was sent to a big introduction to the company, to "see the garage'' as they say. It was a four-hour media extravaganza with a talk by some VIP, a slideshow, and a big presentation by personnel on "The HP Way.'' The garage was the highlight of the slide show, the garage being the place where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard built their first instrument, an oscillator for the Walt Disney production of "Fantasia.'' I was fully indoctrinated by the end of these four hours and found myself becoming an android for Bill and Dave.

I kept trying not to think about the time when Dave Packard was Undersecretary of Defense for Nixon during the Vietnam War and a group of us lit fire to the hotel he was speaking at. The flames were licking around the hotel and we could actually see Packard and his buddies at the top of the hotel. We all chanted "Pig Nixon, you're never gonna kill us all'' as we blocked the arrival of firetrucks. It took several squads of riot cops to break us loose and send us scattering into the balmy Palo Alto night. That was a long time ago, however.

My first place of employment at HP was phased out of existence as they moved to their Santa Rosa facility where the wages were cheaper. They started moving regular employees to other worksites and bringing temporaries in to take their places until production was halted for good. Almost every temporary was black. That was weird. There were one or two black employees out of several hundred in my area. HP claims its racial percentage is better than average. HP is a very large employer for the area and obviously hires very few blacks. This leaves a lopsided percentage to look for work as temporaries. My boss explained it to me at one "Beer Bust.'' This is where they roll out a few kegs of beer and some hot dogs to express their appreciation of us.

"Blacks aren't good workers,'' my boss explained to me, quickly looking around making sure no one was in earshot. He was quite delighted at sharing his little philosophy with me, an obviously sympathetic white man. "They're just troublemakers, we prefer orientals.'' The plant was full of Filipinos, Vietnamese, Mexicans and Latin Americans. HP ensures its workforce will be people who are not in a good position to make "selfish'' demands on the company.

I arrive back at my bench. It's time for "button up.'' I receive a finished instrument from the technician after it's been assembled, wired, and burned in, i.e. run in a hot box for several days. It's now ready to get the final covers on it. I bring it over to the button up area. I fill in the forms for shipping/receiving and check the instrument for damage or paint chips. I clean the unit up. Put it on a cart and I'm off wheeling this new machine to the stock room.

None of us assemblers really know what these things do. We only know it goes with a bunch of other instruments, a computer, a CRT screen and a keyboard and costs around 200,000 dollars. Occasionally we see who buys them. General Motors, Lockheed, the Swedish Air Force. They are Fourier Analyzers. That's not the only thing we make here though. Within these five buildings we produce hundreds of different instruments. From lasers to custom integrated circuits. I wheel my cart around into the stockroom and dump it on another table. Will comes and checks it off on his list. Will is a different breed of employee. Most of the workers here are young; Will is in his fifties, from the old school of electronics--electron tubes and military jargon. He's head of the HP garden club.

There is a several acre lot outside the building that has been plowed up and fenced in. It was divided into about 50 parcels of land. We could sign up for one of them and grow crops on it. I signed up as I love gardening and could use some free vegetables. Several days a week I would join scores of others filing out to the garden to hoe, plant, and water in the slanting afternoon sun, the HP monolith hovering in the background. The scene brought to mind a post-1984 nightmare, serfdom of the future. Working in the plant all day and growing your crops outside. It just lacked the barracks to sleep in. Our crops were coming along OK. At least I thought so. From the front of the garden, with the factory in the background my cucumbers and tomatoes were doing fine. Most of my plot went to corn though. I noticed that as I walked into the corn patch the closest rows were lush and green, but as I walked closer to the factory, the plants were sickly and yellow and the last third of them had not even come up at all. I thought at first that I was just lazy and not watering the rear as much as the front, but one day I took a sweeping look at the whole HP garden club and noticed that a giant line of sickly yellow had been drawn down the width of the garden plot. One third of the garden was poisoned! Then I realized that the whole plot of land that stretched from the garden plot to the building had not one blade of grass or weed on it. We were gardening on the edge of some sea of poisonous chemicals! I was thankful that I hadn't carried home a load of chemical soaked vegetables to my wife who was pregnant at the time. I pointed this chemical sweep out to the garden club officials, but they thought it would still be OK to eat the vegetables that survived the chemical holocaust. That was the end of my green thumb. I let my poor garden shrivel in the sun.

I'm back at my bench again, assembling, assembling, assembling. I've run out of excuses to leave my bench. I've gotten parts out of the stockroom, I've delivered to the stockroom, I've gone to the bathroom, I went to get some more shipping forms. I've accepted the fact of working till the afternoon break. It's amazing what you will get used to. You do develop some pride in your ability to do simple things. I can assemble these things very fast when I want to, which is not very often. Me and one other woman are the only ones who know how to assemble these things. She trained me since she will retire in several years. Bess has been doing this job for almost thirty years, another old-timer. I was asked to document the assembly of this product as I learned the procedure, but I stopped after a few weeks. We're more valuable without documentation.

Second break. More coffee comes rolling down the aisle. I grab a cup and I'm off at a fast pace to visit some friends in another building. It's about a three minute walk to get there and I only have ten minutes. I run past the stock area, past the machine shop, past the degreasing area with its vats of steaming chemicals. I walk into the vast Printed Circuit Board area. There's about 50 women sitting in front of little racks of Printed Circuit boards, loading them up with capacitors, Integrated Circuits, and resistors. Pairs of reddening eyes look up from their giant illuminated magnifying glasses and microscopes. I see my friends, Laura and Rose, standing up and stretching in the walkway. Laura had worked with me at my last jobsite for HP and transferred here also. We go out the back door and cross the parking lot to smoke a joint in Rose's car. Both complain about their supervisors. The printed circuit area is a very harassed area. Lots of bickering and quarreling. The stories they tell remind me of the movie "Caged'' where the matronly women jailers harass and torment their prisoners, mostly young women. We finish the joint and run back to the building. I still must reach my area in a matter of minutes. Being a few minutes late from break time can be an excuse for a lousy or no pay raise come review time.

It won't be long now. The final stretch of the afternoon has begun. My eyes are fatigued. My fingers are trembling from dexterously manipulating hardware all day. I'm bored to death. I've run out of reminiscences, sexual fantasies, and daydreams. I think of what I'm going to do tonight. The early risers are starting to drift out. Our "flextime'' enables us to come to work within a two hour time slot, work our hours and leave. Sometimes I appreciate this flexibility, but I really miss the power I felt working in the factory when we all arrived en masse to take control of the machines. Even as wage slaves, there is something very powerful when a shift of workers leaves the production lines at the same time and march out of the plant together. Something that reinforced and gave the impression of unity and solidarity. Here, in silicon valley, they have us believe that we voluntarily come to work on our own accord and at our own convenience. What a joke.

Finally I have five minutes to go. I start cleaning up my area. Put away the tools. I nod goodbye to my co-workers. "See ya tomorrow, take it easy.'' I'm out the door. Fresh air, how great. Cars are revving up and twisting out of the parking lot. I check the paint on my car. A few rust spots, that's all. A few weeks ago it was discovered that the ventilation system was fouled up and raw chemical fumes were being emitted from the "smoke stacks.'' It had stripped the paint off of 300 cars and HP paid for new paint jobs for all of them. At first I thought how generous, but what other damage had been done? What did it do to our lungs or the lungs of nearby housing tract neighbors? New paint jobs were a small price to pay. I was surprised that not one thing about it appeared in the newspapers. Electronics is such a "clean'' industry. But then many stories I've heard about chemical dumping and poisonous fumes never appear in the papers.

I cruise out of the parking lot and join the crawling freeway traffic back to the East Bay. Hi tech workers creeping alongside auto workers and warehouse workers. The only difference between us high-tech workers and industrials is that we get paid half the amount. But then, that's the HP way.

--Jay Clemens

International Loafers & Winos Union

fiction by jeff goldthorpe

Up at six I'M LATE roommate's got the shower DAMN it's COLD this is summer? Going to union hiring hall at least avoiding personnel sniffing my stinky armpits while I await student financial aid GOTTA piss bad fumble with shirt pants stumble down silent drowsy hallway OH NO if union officers notice my two year absence from hall in school paying cheapie unemployed dues they'll UGH my roommate's strange goofy morose part time boyfriend sits at kitchen table made the coffee thanks and lights up a joint he asks: Toke? Why not? Weed and coffee I'll be flying I'M SCARED a union officer scrunching up his face--"Haven't seen you around here past year buddy let's see your records''--good to piss finally wash face take a few more tokes gulp down coffee GUILTY shouts Local 6 President "of stealing privileges of union membership while attending school fulltime without regard for unemployed union brothers'' OOOHH back to my room undercover snuggle with drowsy lover long hug make up after awful weekend fight soft heavenly flight warmth flesh MUST

OUT the door SCARED in my pocket "Nicagagua INVASION''

Claustrophobia of urban scraping by thousands huddling here on Shotwell Street Barrio Folsom 21st Street playground drugs basketball turf Folsom Boys Rule Y Que Fire Department Pacific Gas & Electric the closeness of war Ironworkers Hall fellow in car with Ironworkers patch on cap talking with wife at wheel "Don't start talking like...

No vacation summer here

No Esprit De Corps t-shirts or Mediterranean sunlight

Gray thick blanket gray fog

its hues reflected onto streets buildings people

This is San Francisco too

Daily grind of lumbering into work daily

I'm shivering need heavier jacket is it the dope SCARED eyes scrutinizing ears listening haven't seen you around hall deserter from the ranks of the proletariat RUSHING traffic down 18th Street but Shotwell Street sleeps jacked up cars snoozing on sidewalk a box of tools left out unstolen watched by neighbors at 6:45? Passing Mission Health Center mural's fertile man/woman/child happily gazing cross street at Kilpatrick's Bakery whose pipes jut out: "VEG OIL'' "SUGAR''--within graying 47 year olds coated with white wonder twinkie flour sugar and one 31 year old boyfriend of waitress at Rite Spot Cafe half blck down her parents are intellectuals and she likes Sunday gospel services in Oakland RIGHT turn on 14th Street left on Folsom under freeway rushing walls scrawled "L'l Smiley'' "Poor whites are the niggers of the revolution'' past The Stud where only two nights ago I was drinking dancing walking weezy home past the TOOLMASTER store where it was spray painted "Oh Toolmaster...Master Me'' and "Masturbation causes tool damage'' Still SCARED will I know anyone? Did they see me at The Stud? left on 11th Street left on Harrison past old beer brewery walls knocked out years ago empty uprooted vats sprawling fence town WHERE ARE the winos street people junkies urban beasts and goblins and drunken thrill seeking teenagers staking out territory at night WHY is my heart racing?

Here hall is spray painted "International Loafers and Winos Union'' Seven men slouching outside eye me curiously I nod PUSH frosted fog plexiglass door making gray sun grayer smoke flourescent-filled room BARS at Dispatch Window union newsletter dispatch rules and new stringent rules for people avoiding DUES in line at dispatcher's window my gods it's Hefferson at window old time 4000 lb. stand-up comedian alcoholic town fool who somebody says has cleaned up still gets soused occasionally and one of his kids takes him home and I always thought he lived in welfare hotels and when I make it to the window Hefferson says "10130? Yer number ain't been on the job board for awhile--have to wait till after jobs go out to activate yer number'' Okay just wanted to check on my number man STUPID so I came here for nothing wait 105 minutes for nothing oh well here I am

Nobody I know but the little red faced guy who never talked once in my 5 years at JOLLY FOODS which is topic of conversation of three other guys so I ask they hiring still, what's it like? "You worked there?'' FEAR cannot reveal my illegal student status I say Yeah worked there 5 years but just got sick of it quit a couple of years ago--the three guys turn to me


You gave up a permanent position at

Jolly Foods?


Very very sad

Their eyes are wide with pity and wonder at strange creature leaping to certain death as Lemming wildly hopping out to sea

My excuse: young single restless male OUTSIDE breathe cool gray air cooly startled turn to find Angel my favorite Mexican Jolly Foods new Christian shop steward "How are you my friend?'' sweet voice like fog floating over a hillside of three year absence FIRED Angel while visiting an ailing relative in Mexico and THREATENED to terminate me year before that when my Dad dared to stay alive on his deathbed longer than three weeks JOLLY still making Angel pay for his sins he describes his eleven jobs since then he recalls the cursed name of JOLLY personnel executioner PINKERTON: no shit when he used to work at Schlage Lock people threw tools at him when he walked through the shop just like they did to his strikebreaking ancestors and when Angel saw him last week face full of warts scabs monster before our very eyes COLD

Inside sitting near dumpy old guy with bulding eyes wool cap Local 6-style Rodney Dangerfield close enough to be friendly not too close to be presumptuous reading of severed heads hearts homes wariscoming wariscoming american prez sez war soon if contadora guys don't negotiate something RAGE sinking into daily routine job school

Am I dying

But walking to the hall I was

alive scared

alive worried

alive shivering

but money--but trapped--but moving--

but happy away from muggy summers

Rodney is talking cut in unemployment benefits 'cause recession is over it's only melancholy 8.9% hear "So recession is over ha ha'' HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA I told "em they should join the Army good benefits work on computers it's wave of the future Rodney and friend spoke earnestly "I'm too old for the military'' "I already did my time'' so we get to talking they're both from Wallworth's closed down "this is reagan country'' whole warehouse a year ago "consolidation of operations another big warehouse shut tight another St. Regis ColgateCarnation

These 47 year old guys

bunch of fish flip-flopping wildly on beach their scales do not shimmer in the sun the grungy greengraybrown walls light (Angel is waiting for the flying fish of the future)

They ask me where I worked my true confessions I quit Jolly Foods to go to school nine months unemployment benefits--NO--I did not tell them of bolshevik burnout, Rhonda, Miguel, bisexuality, The Stud, about how good it felt being fucked till he started pushing too hard--so I say night work was steady when I was at Jolly Rodney says Jolly doesn't hire for night production any more

Hefferson takes the dispatch mike: "No jobs jet Coffee truck is here if you want something'' Guy standing in front bellows: "Fuck you and the coffee truck!'' As people saunter out I'm still giggling to myself why I don't know getting drowsy will go home to sleep soon Hefferson closes job board five minutes early so I can finally put my number up on job board behind 40 others maybe I should take that temp painting job STOP LOOK LISTEN: there are only three or four guys under 30 in this hall

Sitting down again near Rodney listening to his genial conversation with black guy his age they worked at Wallworth's Rodney wants to leave at five past 9 turns to his friend

"Hey man gimme a dollar's worth of change''

"Shee-it, what choo want a dollar's worth o' change for?''

"For my daughter,'' Rodney says

"Sheee-it, a dollar's worth o' change for his daughter--shhee- it''

Rodney trudges out back to his house in Visitacion Valley paid off but taxes are a bitch and it's too small to rent you know

There was an old man

who swallowed a house

he died, of course.

--Jeff Goldthorpe

Processed World #15

Issue 15: December 1985 from

processedworld15proc.pdf5.58 MB

Table of Contents

Talking Heads

from our readers

poem by harvey stein

Quarantine Corner
collective editorial

Dear Del Monte
article by paxa lourde

Chainsaws & CRTs Do Not A Forest Make
review by primitivo morales

Fire Against Ice: Cannery Strike
article by caitlin manning & louis michaelson

Montgomery Street Morning
fiction by steve koppman

Road Warriors & Road Worriers
nyc bike messenger tale of toil by bob mcglynn

by simon, paris, watson, hamilton, zable & warden

925 Crawl
fiction by kathleen hulser

Remembrance Of A Temp Past
review by d.s. black

Dear Del Monte

article by paxa lourde

Dear Sirs,
What is wrong with Asparagus Spears that would make them so soft and mushy after you put cheese sauce on them to serve for guests?
Complaint letter to Del Monte Corporation

It was the closest thing to an assembly line that I had ever worked. The complaints were the raw material. The final product was soothed feelings, assurances of quality and care. It was the production of ideology, really. Trust in the system, in the humanitarianism of big companies like Del Monte.

The production process? The mail would come in big bags early in the afternoon. Somebody would do the initial sort: promotional correspondence (things like people sending in 15 coupons for taco holders) off to the promo half of the office, boxes in a bin, rest of the letters to us. The boxes were gross. People would send back food, yummy things like TV dinners put back in the carton and mailed, worm-ridden prunes, cans of discolored Chinese food (love those rotting bean sprouts). The food might sit in someone's house for a couple days then be sent through the U.S. Postal System where it would be thrown about, dropped, stamped, crushed. It would reach its destination, only to sit in an overheated office for a week or more. We, the clerical workers, weren't required to open the boxes. The supervisors were supposed to, which was fine with us. The idea was probably that the supes were better able to deal with the health hazard of decay. Now and then one would go through the bin and try to stretch the distinction between a box and a letter, giving us the small boxes to be opened along with the letters. I let this slide just once before I began immediately and obviously dumping the boxes right back into the bin.

Not that the letters were much better. People felt obliged to send us the sticks they almost choked on, the ‘field debris’ (worms, mouse carcasses, dirt clods) they found in their cans, discolored, misshapen pear halves wrapped in baggies and made even more discolored and misshapen by automatic postal equipment. The department responded to an astounding volume of complaints. I was there in the slow season when we were handling 250-300 a day. The letters would be opened, date stamped, read, and then coded. In coding, we would write down Del Monte's standard name for the product, the can code, and a code for the complaint. The can codes were an issue. The label asked that customers include the letters and number found on the bottom of the can when writing about problems. Encapsulated in that nine-unit alpha-numeric code was the date and location of the packaging. Needless to say, consumers were very interested in cracking the code. People would want to know the age of some cans they had just bought at a warehouse sale or had found at the back of Grandma's shelf. No help from Del Monte.

The information from the coding would be entered into a computer. The computer would (1) compile management reports on all this information and (2) spit out a personable letter, supposedly from the head of the department but in actuality signed by anybody, expressing grave personal concern for the unfortunate experience and assuring intensive quality control. Coupons good for the purchase of more Del Monte products would be offered as compensation. There was a bizarre schema for determining how much compensation the customer Would receive. For a 50 cent can of peaches with a worm in it, the customer would get a $1 coupon if she noticed the worm upon opening the can. If she dumped the peaches into a pot and saw the worm, she would get $2. If the peaches reached the table, $4. If the wormy peach was dished out onto a plate, $6. If somebody bit Mr. Worm in half, she would get the grand prize of $8 worth of coupons. For choking, if done by an adult, $3—if by a child, $5.

When customers wanted an explanation, they usually got it—but the explanations were disingenuous. We had form letters detailing the dangers of old, rusty, bent cans. (Surprise! Don't eat food from cans that are leaking and smell funny.) Another letter assured that canned fruits and vegetables were just as nutritious as fresh—after, of course, chemicalized vitamins and minerals were added back in to substitute for those killed in the preserving process. The supervisors were trained to identify chemical compounds or different species of insects that might be found in someone's package. When the supes were stumped, they sent it off to the lab who could do chemical analyses or identify, say, a found bolt as coming from the drying machine for raisins. If a customer was really hurt, the complaint went to Legal so that they could fast-talk her into signing releases in exchange for minimal, but quick, reimbursement.

The response would be sent and the complaint would be filed along with any materials that accompanied it. Squashed-up pears, rotting worms and stale breakfast pastries would be stuck in the filing cabinet, The office reeked—and this was in the winter. I understand that in summer the place stinks to high heaven.

After working in the office a while, most of the workers found themselves avoiding canned and frozen foods—especially the ‘problem products’ like cream corn or canned salsa (I myself opened at least six letters relating how palls were cast on New Years Eve parties when someone fished up broken glass on their tortilla chip.) Some workers frankly said they were revolted by the stuff. Some asserted that fresh vegetables were healthier. Others commented that most of the letters were from out of state; in California, though, we have a completely different way of eating (the snooty way out). Whatever the reason, we were all alienated from seeing the problems of the corresponding consumers as our problem too. We knew better than to buy the stuff in the first place.

Stale Joke

I liked working in this office for about a week. At first, the letters were interesting, funny documents. Instead of being grossed out, unable to eat, I found myself obsessed with food. Reading about a freezer-burnt chicken pot pie filled with artificially flavored cornstarch would make me think of the wonders of a chicken pot pie done right—a butter crust filled with chunks of stewed chicken and baby carrots in a light cream sauce. Returned cartons of Hawaiian Punch that looked and smelled like anti-freeze made me thirsty for fresh fruit juices, for bittersweet carrot juice, cloudy organic apple cider, bottled Napa Valley wine-grape juice. Letter after letter about shoddy canned vegetables made me hungry for crisp green beans cooked in butter, garlic and fresh oregano from my garden, swiss chard with an olive oil and white vinegar dressing and lots of freshly ground black pepper, or artichokes served with homemade mayonnaise...

But the amusement and heightened sensuality soon wore off. I became depressed. There were sad things, infuriating things, going on in these letters.

What were the letters saying? To paraphrase and simplify an idea developed by Claude Levi-Strauss—humankind as biological beings stand midway between nature and culture. Food is our primary link both to nature and to each other. Our system for obtaining and preparing food indicates both our relationship to nature and the structure of our society.

Take this letter:

Dear Sir:
Last night my husband came in from work late so I fixed him a “Del Monte Fried Chicken Dinner.” He found a hair in the broccoli. It has always made him sick to find a hair in anything he eats. So that was my wasted money, time, and a dinner.
He is on his lunch hour now. So I fixed him a Salisbury Steak Dinner. I'd been busy with my daughter and I really didn't expect him home because of the terrible weather. When he started to eat, he found a very long hair in his steak gravy. Well he was going to eat it, and ate the steak, but found another hair in the au gratin potatoes...
Since this has happened, I'm going to buy Morton dinners, again. *

* (Morton is made by Del Monte. In fact, the Del Monte frozen foods are supposed to be top of the line relative to Morton. So it won't do this consumer any good to switch.)

The classic working-class family. The husband works at some low level job where it's normal to go home for lunch. He is the breadwinner, the king of the castle. And out of utter gratitude for her state of dependency, the wife is expected to be his personal servant, preparing all his food on demand. Bad enough. But what about TV dinners? The foodstuff is of poor quality, the portions meager. An analysis would reveal high salt content (just the thing for that high blood pressure) and destroyed nutrients from the cooking-freezing-baking cycle (three, three, three processes in one!). And let's not forget the various unnecessary and potentially carcinogenic chemicals used to color, thicken, flavor, emulsify, leaven, preserve.

Nobody likes to find hair in their food, but why should it be so unexpected? To be sure, all kinds of disgusting things happen in food processing plants. Field rats go into catsup.. Workers drop rubber gloves, hair nets and chewing gum into vats. A friend of mine worked in a Watsonville brussel sprouts factory where a junkie friend of hers barfed on the belt. My friend watched in smug revulsion as the vomit-sauced cabbagettes were packaged and frozen. (Aren't these stories oddly fascinating?)

The husband's horror of the hairs is embedded in the modern food distribution system. Until recently, meals were prepared in small kitchens by people intimately associated in daily life. If you found a hair in your food, it was Cousin Bette's, or maybe the landlady's. A hair in a TV dinner, on the other hand, is an anonymous yet intimate intrusion. It provokes a correspondingly vague-yet-intense dread of contamination.

This separation from the source of food and its natural qualities can take on absurd distances, as in the following letter:

I recently purchased your product Del Monte “PITTED PRUNES.” While chewing one of the pitted prunes, much to my horror, I bit down upon a pit—you will find this pit attached plus the purchase wrapper.
This pit incident has caused damage to my tooth [which is capped]. I cannot predict the extent of damage until I see my dentist, however, when the pit made contact with my tooth, I heard a loud “crack” and I now find the area to be very sensitive.
As you can well imagine I am in great distress and would appreciate hearing from you as soon as possible.
I cannot afford dentistry as I am unemployed.

The food companies can't even leave untouched the most ostensibly ‘natural’ foods. There are ways to eat prunes and avoid the pits—you can hold the prune and just bite around the pit, or gingerly puncture the end of the prune and suck the pit out, or stick the whole prune in your mouth and chew around the sides of the pit with your molars. If you expect to find the pit anyway, you can deal with it. I read many other letters where people were similarly ‘horrified,’ ‘shocked,’ or ‘appalled’ to find a naturally-occuring part in their food. And because they really weren't expecting it, they often hurt themselves when they choked on a bean or grape stem, cut their cheek on a chicken bone, or bit into a prune pit.

We need to know what to expect from food so that we don't find ourselves poisoned, down with a case of the runs, or unexpectedly drugged (what delicious mushrooms!). But we also desire variety, both for nutritional satisfaction and sensual interest. The desire for variety could be an evolutionary adaptation, enabling humans to obtain the nutrition they need in a range of environments. Tribal people, except in times of extreme shortage, usually have a varied diet obtained from small-scale agriculture, hunting, and gathering. One tribe in the Philippines can identify and use 1,600 different plants. Similarly, peasant cultures, though usually burdened by landlords, banks and profiteering middlemen, diversify their diet by raising vegetables appropriate to the season, gathering herbs, greens, berries and nuts in the wild, and hunting and trapping. The people in outlying towns and cities benefit from their resourcefulness—witness a European or Chinese town on market day.

The food corporations flatten diversity. Choice and variety exist as an array of commodities. What we find at supermarkets is not real variety; the same things in different packaging take up large amounts of ‘shelf space.’ A standard American ‘junk food’ item like chocolate wafers with ‘creme’ centers is offered in the name brand form (Oreos), the competitive brand form (Hydrox) and the ‘economy’ house brand form (Lady Lee, Bonnie Hubbard, Frau Sicheweg, etc.). In the produce section, you can buy the standard tomato, the standard zucchini, the standard peach. But a perusal of any seed or fruit tree catalog is a revelation. Every ‘basic’ fruit or vegetable exists in several forms, each varying in taste, texture and appearance. Unless you have your own garden, it's impossible to obtain the variety our agricultural heritage has to offer.

The Del Monte letters revealed a great deal of atomized, isolated food consumption. Particulary sad were the old people who would write about how they lived on TV dinners. Since they ate by themselves, they found the portions just right, with no waste or leftovers, and the dinners were easy to prepare, But TV dinners are not a healthy diet, especially for older people needing to restrict their consumption of salt, fat, and refined carbohydrates. These atomized meal preparations reveal the sort of community that people in our society age into—none.

True, at least a third of the letters claimed a “guest” or “company” was present when food was found to be defective. Like the asparagus letter at the beginning of this article. Or this one:

Last evening I had guests for dinner. I was serving the fruit cocktail as an appetizer when one of my guests found this bit of extra on his spoon [a grape stem]. Needless to say, I was very embarrassed...

But having guests was such a common claim that I suspect it often wasn't true. People didn't feel confident in asserting complaints on their own behalf. They needed a witness, imaginary or otherwise. Somehow, they were embarrassed about eating alone.

Meal sharing is a way of experiencing human connectedness—care, equality, friendship. From this point of view, the nuclear family dependent on corporate merchandise is clearly a failure. Inside it, people are bored, tense, harrassed—like the harried housewife with her Steak Dinner. Outside, they are alone. The most fundamental human collective activity—meal preparation and consumption—is done in solitude, even after the preparation becomes strenuous and the consumption delicate, as it is for the elderly. In many suburban families, it is common for people regularly to eat their dinners while watching separate TV's, unless they go out together to eat.

Del Monte
Consumer Affairs:
Katherine M. Randle:

Dear Ms. Randle:
My husband and I have just returned from a vacation and upon my return I found your letter awaiting me.
I was sick to my stomach for 3 days on my vacation, due solely to the memory of my opening of the Del Monte can of Yellowstone or Freestone Yellow Peaches, taking a quick sip of the usually delicious syrup, and seeing this horrible cock-roach, floating up to me right under my eyes. The mere thought of it still sickens me. I very easily could have swallowed some remote part of the roach or even its feces. I tasted the syrup. I did not eat any part of the peaches.
Your letter explains in detail the procedure you take, and I quote, “You take particular care that the product is wholesome and free of any foreign matter” unquote. How then can you explain the presence of this ugly horrible roach floating in the juice, floating up to me before my eyes?
I have the roach itself frozen in a Baggie, the can with the number stamped intact on the bottom of the can in my freezer, as per instructions from the gentleman with whom I spoke at the State Food and Drug Administration. I would very much like to get the filthy thing out of my freezer.
I was ill for 3 days after the incident, wholly due to the fact of remembering the roach. My stomach was truly upset. Nice way to start a vacation! On the 5th day we took a tour in Honolulu to the Dole pineapple fields and saw the sign of the Del Monte fields, and the mere sign “Del Monte” conjured up my memory again of the roach. I will never again be able to enjoy the delicious taste of a cold, juicy freestone peach from any brand again. This thought alone makes me very, very angry. So, Ms. Randle, I'm sorry to inform you that 3–$1.00 coupons is not going to compensate me for the misery I encountered on my vacation and the future sacrifice of any enjoyment I would derive from eating a dish of nice canned peaches.
I am returning your 3–$1.00 coupons, and hopefully some remuneration in accord with the misery I endured will be forthcoming. If not I shall take the horrible cock-roach and the can and consult my attorney.
I thoroughly dislike writing a letter like this Ms. Randle, I know you're just doing your job, but I have no alternative.

Mrs. Dorothy Mann
LaMesa, California

The Price of Grain and the Price of Blood

The Third World is starving. Some would claim that it is wrong to be concerned with alienation and sensual deprivation in the U.S. when many people can't even get a minimal daily serving of rice and beans. Such an attitude fails to see the interrelatedness of the problems; how the same institutions are responsible for both. It also misses the possibility for a politics rooted in our daily life, leaving us powerless to do anything except donate money to this or that relief agency.

In Food First by Francis Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins, you can look up Del Monte in the index, and then go down the sublistings to find out how the company usurps traditional farm practices in different areas.

  • In Costa Rica, the company gives special loans to politically well-placed landowners.
  • In Guatemala, Del Monte owns 57,000 acres of agricultural land but plants only 9,000. The rest is fenced off just to keep the peasants from using it.
  • In Mexico, the company pays the farmers 10 cents a pound for asparagus that it gets 23 cents a pound for in the U.S.
  • In the Philippines, armed company agents coerce peasants into leasing their land to Del Monte's pineapple plantations. Cattle have been driven onto planted fields to destroy crops. The peasants and their animals are bombarded with aerial sprays.

    See also sublistings for Kenya, Hawaii, and Crystal City, Texas.

An anonymous source in Del Monte middle management relates a bit of company lore, In the early seventies, a new data entry clerk punched in the wrong destination code for a 480-boxcar shipment of lima beans grown in the Philippines. Instead of arriving in Japan for processing, the limas wound up, completely rotten, in Kenya. The company fired the clerk and cavalierly wrote off the loss as a food donation to starving Africa. Such charity.

A principal mechanism used for the destruction of native food systems is the conversion to export-oriented cash economies. The best lands are stolen/bought by the corporations—or, more usually, by their agents in the local upper class. Companies like Del Monte serve as the notorious “middleman,” taking over the secondary role of broker, shipper, packer, merchandiser. The displaced peasantry surge onto marginal land which is quickly exhausted, farmed to death. Those remaining work for wages on the coffee, cocoa, rubber, luxury vegetable plantations. They buy their food from stores, much of it now imported and alien to the native cuisine.

Here in the United States, the best lands are obliterated by housing tracts, shopping malls, industrial plants. I grew up in the Marysville-Yuba City area of California. Dividing the two towns is the Feather River. Like the Nile, the Feather River used to flood once a year, depositing a layer of fertile silt. This silt built up into a topsoil suitable for wonderfully productive orchards. The area used to be forested with peach, walnut, almond, plum trees. Until the construction of expensive, ecologically destructive dams, the towns used to worry about rainy season flooding. As I was growing up, more and more of the orchards were covered over by housing tracts. Immediately outside of town began the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a region not as suitable for intensive farming but more pleasant for living (above the fog, below the snow, and with a view). And the foothills didn't flood. It seemed obvious that people should live in the hills and leave the valley floor either in its natural state or as farmland. As an adolescent, I would spend afternoons mapping such ideal communities, sketching in community greenhouses and herb gardens as well as libraries, theaters, and hospitals.

I still fantasize urgently about such communities. I imagine little burgs with lookout points onto the valley, parts of which are laid out for agriculture, parts of which have been reclaimed by nature. The housing tracts and shopping malls have been torn down—the material from the old buildings has rotted away, been recycled, or been shipped off to the anthropological section of the Museum of Natural History in San Francisco. The orchards have been replanted—but instead of miles of boring Elbertas and Freestone peaches for the canning industry, we grow many varieties of fruit. This not only enlivens our diet and prolongs the seasons in which different fruits are available, it ensures that entire stands aren't threatened by blights or bad weather affecting either certain genetic strains or particular times of ripening or blossoming. The diversity also satisfies the cultural preferences of the different peoples who have settled in the area.

There are fields of grain, again of diverse varieties and genetic strains. We never export grain, though. Most areas of the world are regionally self-sufficient in staple agriculture, and have well-maintained warehouses to protect themselves from food shortage. We do ship off a few regional delicacies, like spiced canned peaches—we had to do something with those old canneries!—nut butters, a Chinese-influenced plum sauce, virgin olive oil, wine. But our exports are nothing we can hold anyone to ransom with.

Individuals or small collectives have trusteeship for plots of land that they work themselves. I and a couple of friends oversee an olive orchard planted on the lower slope of the hills, a prune orchard a little below that, an orchard of mixed fruits—fancy peaches, kiwis, persimmons, other things we raise for the local market. Next to the orchards is an open cropped field that sometimes grows wheat, sometimes safflower, sometimes clover for grazing goats. The work required by our land trust varies from season to season, year to year. Things are especially hectic in late summer and fall when the olives need to be picked and pressed, the prunes dried and stored. We divide chores as best we can, but people have different capacities and other pulls on their time. Inequities happen, quarrels do flare up as a result and need to be mediated. Other collectives have been known to fragment in huffs of personal resentment.

We use a mixed-bag technology. Even if we wanted to use petroleum-based chemicals and fertilizers, we couldn't. They're just not available; oil is too scarce. We learned a lot from the farmers on a work-learn excursion we made to Italy, which has a climate similar to ours and grows similar crops. A lot of the stuff that comes out of the transformed U.C. Davis is useful, too. Davis, previously a research center for agribusiness, is now a bustling study center for the decentralized western North America food production systems. But many improvements come out of our own experimentation. We own the tools and machinery that we use day-to-day. The special stuff we either borrow from the county warehouse or have brought in by special jobber teams that share in the harvest.

At home, I have a vegetable garden shared with the woman next door and her daughter. Now and then I coerce my lover to go out and pick some squash or rake the paths, but he mostly likes to stay inside and read. Jeff is a teacher; for him, dirt-poking ranges from tedious to uninteresting.

How do we prepare our food? Sometimes we cook at home, sometimes we warm up leftovers, sometimes we eat at the neighborhood kitchen. The cooking at the neighborhood kitchen is usually good, and the kitchen is a great place to catch up on local gossip and caucus for county meetings. Now and then, to celebrate, we eat at a specialized restaurant, where the real cooks operate...

Crusts of Brie and Such

Such utopian thinking is not irrelevant pending some grand historical juncture. Instead, we should use such thinking now, both to critique the present world, and to imagine and build the world that we want to create.

A sane food system, both for the Third World and for us, would mean community responsibility for, and control of, local food production resources. To leave them in the hands of the corporations is to be vulnerable to their repressive and irresponsible economic, political, and ecological practices.

Parts of such a sane food system already exist. In San Francisco, there are a couple of fairly good cooperatively-run grocery stores, a farmers’ market where small growers can sell their produce, and a community garden network. There used to be a widely-patronized home delivery cooperative. These institutions should be emulated and broadened. But along with such worthy do-it-yourself projects, we should examine the land use in our vicinities. Our cities are built on valleys and plains that were once farmland—land that should still be the ground of our sustenance. Possible activities to retake this ground range from organizing community gardens on vacant land (especially in an urban area, it's a good idea to get the soil tested for lead and other chemical residues before you start a garden. Make the landlord pay for it!) to fighting construction projects that eat into agricultural districts, demanding a redistribution of that land to small growers who use ecologically responsible methods.

When I announced at the Processed World shop that I was working an article about food, someone jibed, ‘'I don't know if I want to read it. It will tell me about all the things I shouldn't eat but do anyway.” We expect an analysis of the food industry to conclude by listing things that are unhealthy (like chemical and fat laded processed food), or deprive other people of needed resources (like the meat industry or the production of cocoa and coffee), or should be boycotted (like Campbell's soup, Nestle's, table grapes ... ). Such calls for abstention not only sounds like yet another puritanical injunction against enjoyment, but can also be impossibly inconvenient. Our food distribution system has been colonized by the food corporations, too. For instance, you're late for work and you don't have time to pack a reasonably nutritious lunch. You're going to have to forage at the company lunchroom or the corner roach coach. What kind of food do you really expect to find there?

People have a fierce emotional attachment to what they eat. Food is pleasure, security, cultural affirmation. A politics of food needs to account for all these things. Pleasure particularly is discounted in discussing food. Take pains with a pie for a party and you're immediately accused of being a yuppie. Propose that a group meet at a local cafe and somebody will assert that McDonald's is more working-class. Yet a reclamation of regional cuisine can be a motivation for a Third World people to reject the banal diet it has been forced to adopt since the destruction of its native agriculture. A similar urge on our part can be an enticement to the development of food distribution systems that supersede the corporate food industry because they offer food that is more pleasurable as well as produced in socially and ecologically responsible ways.

We also find pleasure in the communality of food—sitting down and gossiping while peeling apples, hoeing a garden together, sharing a feast. Such activities may seem too homely for political consideration. But think about what it means to have these activities supplanted from our daily life in favor of the more quickly prepared, the more brilliantly packaged. There are many ways to be starved. Food is our primary connection to the world around us and to each other. Leaving it to the corporations is self-destructive in more ways than one. Establishing an intimate relationship to food is a way of reviving our own diminishing humanity.

by Paxa Lourde

Road Warriors & Road Worriers

nyc bike messenger tale of toil by bob mcglynn

by Bob McGlynn, a.k.a. The Enigmatic Emissary
(opinions expressed here are mine and not that of any group or organization of messengers)

a true story:

    He was riding his bike on 46th toward Broadway. Up ahead was an illegally double-parked bus going in reverse, and across from the bus was a car that was pulling out of a parking lot, ready to enter 46th. The biker had the right of way but signaled the car anyway to let her know he would be proceeding on. The car driver accelerated, and the biker was caught between the forward motion of the car and the reversing bus. His body was crushed and he lost one leg immediately in a pool of blood. The cops showed up but basically did nothing. They didn't even fill out an accident report. They let the driver go. It was another biker who called the ambulance and found out the guy's name before he lost consciousness. The cops were white; the driver was white and was seemingly drunk. The biker was Black ... and a NYC bicycle messenger."

I remember once asking at a meeting of 50 bike messengers, “has anyone here not had an accident? “ No one raised their hands.

Such is the reality of bicycle messengering beneath the human interest stories which romanticise “those nonconformist free spirits, going for the big bucks” ; and/or condemning us for murderous wild riding, “law breaking,” “bad attitudes ... .. mental retardation,” etc.

I find that many peoples' overcuriosity about bike messengers borders on the neurotic. “You do that!? ... Wow...” or (jealously) “Well you've got some freedom but you can't do it all your life you know.” Perhaps they want/need a little of that “free spirit” stuff: the relative frontier of the open street vis-a-vis the unnatural enclosedness of 9 to 5 land can be quite intriguing with its danger and autonomy.

I'm going to concentrate on my own experience as a bike courier, although there are many types of messengers, primarily foot messengers, truckers, MC's (motorcyclists), and your occasional skateboarder or roller skater.

Bikers work mostly for messenger companies that specialize in messengering, although some companies (say in the film industry) employ their own in-house bikers.

What we do is simple; we ride to one place, pick up ('p.u.' in our lingo) a letter, package, whatever, put it in a bag strapped around our back, and deliver it to another place. We get most jobs by continuously calling up our company dispatcher who directs us to the next assignment. The alternative if you feel like saving phone money (we aren't reimbursed for phone calls, although many clients let us use their phones for free), is to go back to the company to get assigned more work, but that's normally inefficient. If we're lucky, we'll get a few jobs at a time—if things are slow, we'll get them one at a time, or none. We get paid mostly on both a piece rate and commission basis. We get paid per job and get paid a percentage of the job cost (i.e. what the client is charged). So if the average minimum cost for a midtown pickup and delivery is about $5.50, and the average commission is 50%, then we make $2.75 for that job. Many companies have additional costs added on for extra distance traveled (''zones” ), size and weight of pickup (oversize), waiting time (if the p.u. isn't ready when we get there), etc. Some of us make another 5-10% on rain or snow days. If we kill ourselves and ride hard and fast without breaks, a number of us can make a generalized average of about $9 an hour, but others, who are newcomers or who aren't so lucky or adept, make $5.00 an hour. There are also slow periods when everyone is making shit. Legendary stories about how we're all making $100 a day ain't true. And I've never met anyone that's clearing $18,000 a year (not that some lone lucky maniac isn't pulling that). Ya gotta take breaks in this business (plus we have to cover bike repairs and all other expenses related to the job). Last but not least, we are (on paper) “Independent Contractors” : meaning we are “our own bosses,” and not employees. More on that BULLSHIT later.

Bicycle messengering began as a new industry somewhere around 1972. It was started by my first boss, who later got forced out in a scandal where he was illegally charging us for workers' compensation and then pocketing the money for his coke habit. His wife took the company over—(She was formerly a biker who worked for and then married him—and then divorced him—Yo, Dallas in NYC!). There's a couple of thousand of us, almost exclusively male, 60% Black and Hispanic (mostly Black), 40% White (years ago I'd say it was more like 50-50), average ages 18-late 20s. We do have our handful of 50-70 year old heroes, and as the years go by, there's an increasing amount of “oldies”— people who stick with it year after year getting into their late 20s and early 30s.

In general many of us do fit the outlaw-counterculture-street person image (with no apologies from us), that we're either romanticized or condemned for. A lot of us wouldn't be caught dead working in an office or factory (that's our preference—we ain't the snobs!) and biking is an easy place to find work. The scene is extremely transitory, companies are incessantly hiring, plus they overhire “to keep themselves covered” which fucks everyone, especially the newcomers because there's less work to go around. On the other hand it's often the only gig in town—no one else is hiring—so we end up with a crowd of poor types trying to make a buck and also some arty and intellectual sorts who can't make any bread at their profession.

All in all there's a great deal of camaraderie among us as the joints are passed and tools are shared—it is especially apparent when we rush to the side of a biker that's been hurt in an accident in this bohemia of the streets. The hellos exchanged in elevators, the whistles, the bikes, their speed, the nicknames, dread locks, colorful or torn clothes, sleek biking clothes, grimy and sweaty faces, fingerless gloves, and the superficial command of the day definitely makes bikers a “cool” group. The City is “ours” as we have an aura of strength that lacks of any trace of uneasiness or intimidation; we know who we are and where we are going and for this we reap a type of “respect”. People will “stand aside” as we flash in and out of offices.

On the other hand, biking can be a grueling fuck of a job: dealing with the traffic, weather, cops, stolen bikes or bike parts, stuck up office workers and bosses, bus tailpipe in our faces, pollution, discrimination ("Are you a messenger? Please sign in before taking the elevator.”), painful loads, exhaustion, and the accidents we all eventually have. The “Independent Contractor” status imposed by the companies is a joke. By claiming we are not employees, they don't have to worry about workers compensation or health plans, unemployment insurance, paid sick days (we're sort of prone to things like colds, sore throats, etc.), paid personal days (maybe our work is kind of hard and we need breaks once in a while?), holiday pay, etc., etc. Additionally, it makes us responsible for all job related gear and expenses like our bikes, bags, locks, tools, rain/snow gear, bike repairs and phone calls. It's a legalistic fiction and ruse since the real social relationship we have with the companies is like that of any other boss/worker situation.

On the other hand the game is a plus for us because they don't take taxes out of our paychecks, and our work expenses are tax deductible (although I don't know of any bikers that keep track of their phone calls!). We are not off the books though, as our companies file our wages and we're required to figure out and pay our taxes like everyone else. But it does leave the outlaws among us with some fun opportunities that the State and Feds are well aware of. For their own opportunistic reasons, they are trying to abolish the Independent Contractor bit and are battling out that gray legal area with the companies.

After all, if couriers don't pay their “dues,” how will Ronnie and Nancy be able to afford to eat?!

City Government Decides to Regulate

Last but not least is our problem with the city where our “coming of age” comes in. The spark (for the city) started when Councilwoman Carol Greitzer was almost hit by a biker. (She was unsure whether it was a messenger or not.) Now good old Carol is your prototypical snob, just the kind of person your biker loves to hate, and in this situation, the visa-versa was very important; she began a crusade to get bikers regulated and licensed. The climate was certainly ripe—it's clean up and control time in America.

In the context of an increasingly gentrified NYC, clean up and control also meant a few local specifics such as: restricting food vendors (from whom the working class gets a relatively cheap and quick lunch) from midtown Manhattan and other parts of NYC, further regulation of cabbies that would have put uniforms on them—and of course—getting those rowdy messengers (there are other things of course, like NYC cops cleaning up graffiti by beating to death graffiti artists like Michael Stewart) .

As an aggregate we messengers mess with the clean-cut sensibilities of the new “for the rich only” urbanization. It was bicycle messengers out of that trio, though, that ended up losing. This was due in part to the fact that messengers weren't organized. Organization is difficult because of our scattered “factory of the streets” atomization. We were easy to pick on by politicians who wanted to score political points with constituencies whose prejudicial popular wisdom (fed by media distortion and the pols) had us pegged as crazies who unendingly mow down innocent civilians.

So in 1982 along comes Greitzer with a vengeance, and the process of formulating a bill to regulate bikers began. Some of the original proposals were totally bizarre. They included the creation of a wholesale new bureaucracy to license and regulate all bikers, shit like having messengers pay $1,000 (!) for a license, requiring us to have large identification signs attached to “the baskets” on either side of our bikes (What a gem! The last time I saw anyone with wire baskets was in 1966 in the suburbs. No one has them in our industry!), and forcing bike couriers to keep a log of all their trips. Eventually the bill the City Council would vote on was:

    1) We'd have to carry a special I ID card
    2) We'd have to have a license plate on our bikes
    3) We'd have to wear a uniform jacket or T-shirt with our company's name and our license number
    4) The companies would have to keep a record of our trips

Criminal penalties would be applied: $100-250 fine and/or 15 days in jail for not complying.

Messengers Organize Resistance

No messengers ever knew any of this shit was going on, but some of the bosses were in on the proceedings. They were opposed to the regulations because they didn't want the added bureaucracy of keeping a trip record, they would in all probability be the ones to have to issue the ID cards, etc., and they didn't need their business getting screwed up because their workers were being stopped by the cons and maybe hauled off to precincts. Just about one month (late Spring '84) before the City Council vote, I noticed a newspaper article on my company's office wall concerning the regulations. I knew my boss taped it up and asked her what the story was. She started bragging that she'd been fighting it all along with a “where were you guys” attitude. I clued her in that we were never notified of anything by anyone. But so much for that bull—it was panic time!

I immediately booked out to a phone and called a biker friend to get some organizing going—the messenger insurrection had begun! A bright pink leaflet by “Rough Riders” was issued entitled “WAR!!—CITY COUNCIL VS. BIKE MESSENGERS” explaining what was happening and calling for a meeting. Fifty workers came to this meeting from a group that's always been accused of being “too individualistic” and “utterly unorganizable.” The “Independent Couriers Association” (ICA) was born that night ("Rough Riders” lost out as a name—oh well, too bad) which would be nonexclusionary; all messengers (foot, truck, etc.) would be welcome as would company office workers. But because of emergency circumstances regarding bikers, the flavor of organizing would orbit around us. Structurally the ICA was loose and democratic with a core of the most interested (people who regularly did the shit work, went to all meetings, etc.). Women played a role out of proportion to their small numbers in the bike messenger force. Over the next few weeks, we planned and did the works: we issued petitions, had phone-in campaigns and wrote letters to the mayor, City Council, and media—we demonstrated, lobbied, leafletted, held press conferences and chaotic “war-party” meetings of 50-100 bikers in the middle of Greenwich Village's Washington Square Park.

The heat was on—the cops were harassing the crap out of us—enforcing chickenshit laws to the max like ticketing us for not having bells (Gimme a break—a loud “yo” or a whistle will do it, nobody needs the distraction of taking a hand off a brake to ring a bell no one may hear) or not bearing to the edge of traffic (the most dangerous place for us since people open car doors which we crash into—being “doored”—pedestrians walk in front of us from in between parked trucks where we can't see them (crash) etc., etc.), and most importantly, for going through red lights and the wrong way down streets. Many stories circulated about bikers getting ticketed for laws they didn't break, getting beaten up by the cops, and snagged by special police traps set up around midtown. Black couriers were getting it worse, and eventually we issued a special police complaint form for bikers to fill out. The media, of course, was uniformly opposed to us and backed the law.

Ostensibly the reason for the proposed bill was to help identify us if we hurt someone. It was also meant to deter us from busting red lights and booking the opposite way on one way streets, since if caught, we'd either have “proper ID” to get summoned (as opposed to giving a phony name and then ripping up the ticket), or else we'd have to pay stiff penalties. It all sounded sooo reasonable to a culture drowning in bureaucracy and servility. To us it was an unnecessary, unworkable and abusive affront.

Why were we singled out to carry a special apartheid-like ID? The law did not concern all bikes, but only commercial bike riders (which besides us would also include delivery people from Chinese restaurants, drug stores, groceries, etc—but clearly these laws would not be enforced against them) and was therefore discriminatory. The issue of hitting people was bullshit. We do often ride wild (we have to to make a buck), but hurting anyone is a rarity—we'e the “pros” out there while your normal biker is not. Statistics backed us up that we were involved in few collisions and they don't say who's fault those accidents were. We know damn well most accidents are the pedestrians' fault (The New York Times that opposed us admitted that in an article). Stories abound about “those crazy riders, one of them almost hit me the other day! “—the key word (for us) being “almost.” Bicycle messengers are like any of the rest of the “controlled chaos” of NYC's cabs, cars, pedestrians, etc.; we gotta get to where we're goin', and fast!, with the inter-hostility and danger among us all being mutual. Our position was: Hey, if a messenger hurts someone, let him/her be dealt with like anyone else in a similar situation.

All counter arguments against us were in the realm of “What if”—what if we break a light, hit a pedestrian and kill them? Well how about “What if a pedestrian breaks a light, jay-walks in front of a courier, the courier swerves over but it's into a racing truck?” Should jay-walking be forcibly outlawed? Should pedestrians have IDs tattooed on to their foreheads? Perhaps midtown should be cleared of everyone. Both the light breaking biker and pedestrian have the same attitude—“give us a break, it's no big deal.” Crowded, fast-paced urbanization is a sick unfortunate fact, and those of us stuck in it basically do the best we can with the marginal inconvenience we cause each other.

The uniform was the most disgusting thing; shove it we said, we are not prisoners or slaves (and if there were a license plate with the same info, why have it twice?) What if we forgot our uniform or ID card one day or our plate got stolen—should we get busted for that?

It would also clearly be unworkable and chaotic, There were no provisions in the bill for any central issuing agency or coordinating center. How would cops who's a messenger and who's not? Would they summons someone on a bike who didn't have the license, etc., but wasn't a messenger? If they tried to summons a messenger, what would stop the messenger from saying she/he wasn't one? Although most messengers carry similar bags and have a certain look, there's no way a cop could really prove whether someone was really a courier on the spot. What if we're out riding one day with our standard courier bag but were not actually working that day and we get stopped? What about the person who's not a courier but digs our bags and carries one—will they be stopped by the cops for not having a license? This opened up a big area for police fascism and being that a lot of us are longhairs, Blacks, etc., we didn't want the fuzz having an extra excuse to fuck with us We also tried to make a common cause with bicycle clubs but they didn't show too much interest.

Our most militant argument was: WE JUST WEREN'T GONNA DO IT! And as for the obvious law-breaking stuff—going against the lights and the wrong way clown the streets—the most vocal amongst us said it quite plainly: “Why shouldn't we be able to do it?” Being prevented from doing so was our worst fear, and the law could definitely put a crimp in our style. Freedom of the road was a necessity since time and money were synonymous.

In all probability, though, the war against us was that type of political show that emerges every so often (headlines screaming “Crackdown on Pushers!” ''Crackdown on Cabs!”; one columnist labeled us ''The Killer Bikes”), and eventually the cops would pay attention to more important stuff and basically leave us alone (thereby the whole thing being a waste of everyone's time).

Practical Subversion

But back to the City Council. Predictably they passed the bill with only one abstention, Miriam Friedlander (a supposed ''progressive,” she later supported it when the bill was partially modified) and one no vote.

The bill then went on for Mayor Koch's signature—but there was a surprise on that day. Fifty angry bikers showed up (while losing work time) to testify against the bill. Koch did some thing he never does; he postponed signing it, which was a moral victory in the fray if nothing else. We succeeded in setting the tone and atmosphere for the day; we put the city in the embarrassing position of being the bully picking on an ass-busting, hard-working, “defenseless” group of young people. Soon after of course, he did sign it with one provision watered down; the criminal penalties for not having the ID car would be dropped, and the fine for that reduced to $50—big deal, right?

So then came the process of hammering out the specifics for the regulations like who would issue the license plates, what color would they be and other nonsense. The ICA demanded to be in on that meeting, and that was accepted. (I had reservations about being in on my own ''self -managed” oppression, but I wanted to observe the show.) In attenance was the ICA, company bosses, and reps from the mayor's office, Dept. of Transportation and the cops.

Then the fun began. The people from the city didn't know anything about how messengering works, and it was quite a laugh watching them trying to figure how to implement a turkey of a law that would have no central coordination. For instance, the law said the license was to only have three digits. Add on to that the fact that there would be no central list to refer to, and you'd have a lot of bikers with the same number! Who should be responsible for getting the plates, signs, and ID cards; the companies or the riders? Were we employees? Were we Independent Contractors? In a major victory before the negotiations started they dropped the uniform bit—but we'd have to have some sort of “sign” on our backs.

We asked (satirically) “How are you gonna contact all those thousand of Chinese restaurants and groceries and tell them and their tens of thousands of commercial bike delivery people about this?” It was good watching the fools enter territory of which they knew not. The police lieutenant was the best as he kept quiet, slouched crumped up in his chair, chain smoking and smiling at the circus? “Hey lieutenant, do you think we can store the trip records (records for around 1,520 million jobs a year!) in a police warehouse or something?” “Yea, uh, I guess we got room in a corner somewhere.”

Because the whole thing was so dumb and because we used our brains, we managed to get important modifications and concessions. Also, the plate under our seats would not be the large size the city planned on which would have been hell for our thighs and crotches as we mounted and dismounted. It could be as small as possible, as long as the company name (or abbreviation) and license number can fit in one-inch letters and numbers (did any of the jerks ever ride a bike? ) The sign on our back could simply be another license plate attached to our bag. We wouldn't back down on our insistence though, that the whole “sign” idea had to go. The city said “they'd consider it” (bullshit). We also demanded the cops have a meeting with us to discuss the way they were fucking with us bad, That “uppityness” astounded them! They agreed to “arrange a meeting” (more bullshit). We also managed to get the implementation of the law postponed. The most important thing won was a method of circumventing the thing altogether (Sorry readers, for security reasons I'll have to ask you to use your imaginations)—we walked out of the meeting smirking.

And so ... the charade went into effect January '85 in all its predictability. The heat from the cops had already cooled off. and the deadline for complying with the law came and went with zero fanfare. I'd say 75% plus of bikers aren't complying. Many are refusing and others work at companies that aren't even supplying the ID and stuff. The majority of those that do, do it only partially—they'll have the plate but not the sign, or visa-versa. Some will have a plate but keep it in their bag. I saw one plate that was on backwards!

The Song Remains The Same

Bikers remain the same, busting lights, and tearing down the street the wrong way, hopping sidewalks and riding in the (safe) middle of traffic. There's been no mad rush by us to install “bells” on our “killer bikes.” The pavement ahead remains our prey. Gone are only the screaming headlines against us. A “terrorized'' city is back to the old grind cursing us only under the breath as we do them amid the hassle and hustle but general harmlessness (as regards sheer safety) of it all, just trying to survive in a speeded-up world not made by or for the majority of any of us. And please—if you've read an inference into this article of “Fuck the cabbies,” “Fuck the pedestrians,” the way others say “Fuck the bikers,” it wasn't meant. Not that bikers don't engage in the same infantile prejudices that others direct against us.
But inane hatreds and prejudices get us nowhere. The point is to look out for and love each other, dummies!

It's good to see a nicely working dialectic sometimes. The bike regulations that were meant to repress us provided the catalyst for the only sustained bicycle messenger organization ever: The ICA. Some prior attempts included couriers at one company that was overhiring too much trying to organize a union. That attempt.fell apart in afew weeks. The Service Employees International Union tried it on city-wide basis some time ago, but after some months that too faded. Of recent memory is the Teamsters. Some messengers who had a Teamster visit were glad when the amazingly stereotypical mob type character left (reportedly he referred to the only woman courier there as “honey” and said “you fellas don't mind if I call her honey, do you?”, to which one gutsy guy said “don't you think you should ask her?”).

The word “union” is certainly scary to the bosses, but so do some bikers have problems with it. They fear it would mean the loss of the Independent Contractor status, and they'd have to face the regimentation of taxes being pulled from their paychecks, they'd have to punch in and out (because some companies are lax now about your comings and goings and taking days off) and no company will pay an hourly wage similar to what can be made on commission. Besides unions have a bad name for being self-serving authoritarian bureaucracies—just the thing that many messengers dig escaping. There are examples though of other types of “Independent Contractors” that have successfully bargained with employers without losing their status. In any case most all couriers agree that we need our own group; we have a legitimate basis to organize for our welfare.

So the ICA lives on. Whether they can get the messenger regulations junked remains to be seen. They hold regular meetings, publish a newsletter and are concerned with everything from potholes to the lack of workers' compensation some riders are faced with. A grant has been received, a messenger concert/ bash is planned and the ICA has even gotten some bike shops to give discounts to its card carrying members. The “unorganizable” have remained organized?—an ironic anomaly in the age of Reagan

Theoretical Insurrectional Addendum

Bicycle messengers as a group aren't exactly your young Republican types and would make in interesting addition to a backward, comatose and (dying American Labor movement. Delivery services seem to be a growing industry amid the withering of your more traditional blue collar staples such as steel. Information as such has become a highly valued commodity and bicycle couriers, along with others such as computer workers, make up some of the labor of that circuitry. The narrowing of gaps in space by speeding up time is what makes your messenger on a ten-speed hurtling across midtown or your relative Federal Express efficiency attractive to a capitalism pathologically hungry for profits that depends on getting things done as quickly as possible. This is where the pivotal importance of information processors, circulators and transport workers comes in. Capital is finding it much more efficient to bypass and circumvent the sometimes inefficiency of the Post Office and use the immediacy of such as bike messengers, private package carriers, and machinery that can zap text and graphics from one locale to another in seconds (ironically less work—in terms of increased speed, efficiency and agility—often means more work here as peddling is harder than hoofing it, and because we can do more jobs per hour, then we are gonna do more jobs per hour. The same goes for the secretary and the word processor vs. the secretary and typewriter—because stuff can be typed quicker and more efficiently with the former, then that secretary is gonna be loaded with that much more work.)

That which is so important to the circuitry of Capital can also be its short circuitry. Neither messenger companies nor their clients can store away messenger runs for instance, like a coal company might hoard coal in anticipation of a strike. Any job action by couriers would have an immediate debilitating effect on those concerned. We can cut power off at its source and sever completely the lives of transmission

Why not? We owe nothing to a society, that would burn out its young on danger-ridden streets in an envelope of polluted dirty orange haze no matter how ''hip” our job may appear to be (the world of Appearances being what helps con and control us as we unendingly accept our daily oppressions). Death in industry or death in war—these are the choices America the Beautiful offers. Who the fuck needs it? Wouldn't it be interesting if “ignorant” and “unorganizable” messengers might be among the ignition points of a future rebellion against this dollar-and object-centric society, and for a people-and life-oriented one? Imagine a coalition of the street (couriers) and office (secretaries, computer programmers, etc.)—Yo! It's the Revolution! OK, OK, so it's silly fantasy, but such wild imaginings have a habit of becoming very real in history a la France '68, Poland's Solidarity, or say Black insurrection in South Africa. If the farmworkers out west could get organized, why couldn't we? (Our social statuses are quite similar in ways.) Still, I have to smile everytime someone says to me “Ya know, it'll probably be the bicycle messengers who'll overthrow the fucking government.” But what if...?

In the meantime you can catch me plowing blacktop—and hating and loving every second of it.

Processed World #16

Issue 16: April 1986 from

processedworld16proc.pdf5.44 MB

Table of Contents

Talking Heads

The Junk Still Works
pw collective editorial

from our readers

Encryption & The Dossier Society
article by tom athanasiou & staff

The Bastard
short fiction by ana logue

Death In The Works
short fiction by d.s. black

Silicon Valley Girl
by jeffrey lener

South Africa: Laboratory of Repression
article by med-o

Hot Under The Collar
vdt speakout, unions in silicon valley?, watsonville strike revisited

The Accomplice
fiction by christopher winks

When Should Curiosity Kill?
article by tony lamanha

Pressures of the Assembly Line
poem by tom clark

Waiting for Josie
fiction by charles alan irwin

Silicon Valley Girl

by jeffrey lener

We've rilly interfaced long enough, you know, and the liveware will be home before midnight, so let's get started, okay?
You like my architecture, don't you? I know you've probably heard some real grody stuff about me down at the user group, but it's rilly not true. I mean, I am kind of user-friendly, but I'm not a multi user or time-sharing system like some of those girls down on the beach. I'm just into good healthy integration between compatible systems—and you look like a real prototype. Not like some guys I've met. It's like, they're all either hackers or tweeks or frobnicating fools.
I got myself fixed up with a naive user last week, a real soft error. My fault for trying to pick someone up through a bulletin board. And then there was this whiz kid I met last month at the Winter Comdex. He keeps feeding me this cybercud all night, and then this bit twiddler lasts about a nanosecond, you know? I mean, with most guys it's just GIGO, totally mung. But you look like you rilly know protocol. See anything you like on the menu? Ooh, I like a hands-on kind of guy. Mmm, how'd you know I had a touch-sensitive screen? You've rilly got a nice diagnostic routine. Yes, I have been told I've got great components... Now let's get access to that joystick. Oooh. Just a microsecond and I'll make that floppy disk stand up and run some programs. I'm gonna make like Pac Man with this tool .
.. Mmm ... nibble ... gulp ... your software's turning into hardware... oops, sorry, like, did I byte? ... Mmm ... wow, you've rilly got a moby dick! What's that, you want to get interactive? I usually like to be asynchronous, but I'm game ... Oh, yes, I do like this configuration with you. You rilly know what to do with my control key. Yes, lick my honeywell. Like, I can't wait anymore. I want you in my disk drive. Now. Wait, I have to put in my removable disk? What would Dr. Ruth say if I didn't? Like, wow, fatal error, you know. Now the automatic self-test, and my wetware is ready. Come on, lover, fillI my expansion slot.
Ohhh, wow, we're rilly on-line. Yes, wraparound ... ooh, c'mon, upload, download, upload, download—wow, what a power surge! RAM it in me! ...
Hey, wait, not yet, use your surge suppressor ... That's right, oh yes, upload, download, upload, download, come on, scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, c'mon shoot that ink jet printer in me, oh yes, COM, COM, COM, OEMVARMSDOS CPUCPDOSASCIICPM!!!
Wow, that was awesome. You rilly zapped my screen. Like, I saw graphics, you know. I mean, like, I'm still toggling. That was totally elegant. Fer sher.

Jeffrey Lener

Processed World #17

Issue 17: August 1986 from

processedworld17proc.pdf5.07 MB

Table of Contents

Talking Heads Roll

An American for Hire
editorial by michelle l.p.

Safe with the Gaping Maw
tale of termination by bill dollar

The Making of a Bad Attitude: An Abridged History of my Wage Slavery
tale of termination by lucius cabins

Termination X2
tale of termination by florence burns

Charley Browns -- Where Everything is Prime?
tale of termination by lucille brown

Lose Jobs Now: Ask Me How!
tale of termination by zoe noe

Naked Agenda
tale of termination by d.s. black

End Game
a game that lasts a lifetime!

Where's the Dirt? Chemicals Run Amok in the "Clean Room"
expose by dennis hayes

The Factory and Beyond
review by klipschutz

by linda thomas, bart plantenga, s. badrich, adam cornford, nathan whiting, barbara schaffer, reuben m. jackson, g. sutton breiding, tom clark & klipschutz

Flexing Muscles at Flax: Anatomy of Service Sector Organizing
interview by maxine holz

Pursuit of Happiness
review by lucius cabins & dennis hayes

from our readers

a planetary album for new encounters

Talking Heads Roll


Still gagging from this summer's star-spangled, corporate-sponsored, sanitized salute to American Liberty"? Well, throw out your Pepto Bismol and plunge right into PROCESSED WORLD 17, the special Termination Issue. And remember: Lady Liberty does not have to work for a living.

The issue begins with a special section devoted to the subject of termination—for our purpose, getting fired. Here, Bill Dollar, Lucius Cabins, Florence Burns, Lucille Brown and Zoe Noe recount their sometimes hilarious but more often infuriating experiences of what is euphemistically called "being let go."

We also offer behind-the-scenes closeups of two contrasting job situations. Dennis Hayes' WHERE'S THE DIRT? analyzes the frighteningly invisible toxic menace to microchip assemblers in Silicon Valley and their even more frightening passivity in the face of corporate prerogative. In FLEXING MUSCLES AT FLAX we see the ups and downs of a grass-roots unionization drive at San Francisco's biggest art supplies store, via Maxine Holt's interview with two of the participants.

Also included are a riveting piece of fiction by D.S. Black, NAKED AGENDA, a review by klipschutz of the poet Antler's magnum opus FACTORY, and Lucius Cabins's and Dennis Hayes's review of the stage play THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Poetry and readers' letters (now found at the end of the magazine) round out the issue.

But back to the subject of termination. The PW staff is painfully aware that job loss Is a complex and serious issue, several dimensions of which are not covered In the "Tales of Termination" Our stories express the viewpoint of young, single white people for whom Bring poses a political indignity, but not an irrevocable threat to their livelihood. There is no mention of the mass layoffs resulting from de-industrialization, or of the plight of its displaced victims, for whom the notorious "bad attitude" is probably nothing more than a frustrated fantasy. For these unfortunates, termination represents a frightening tumble into a pit of unemployment or underemployment from which there is little hope of escape.
Coincidentally, in a recent review of PROCESSED WORLD in UNSOUND magazine, writer George Scialabba comments on PW's restricted point of view. He writes that the magazine has "given a voice to the poets, misfits and rebels," and also shown that "there's a good deal of the poet, misfit and rebel in ordinary people as well." But he very astutely points out that "the reverse is also true: even in poets, misfits and rebels there are 'ordinary' aspirations, e.g. for stability, rootedness, and yes, for comfort and convenience." Would PW be able to address the issue of "how to grow up and stay radical"? One PWer decided to tackle the dip side of flippancy by recounting the paradox of her search for security.

An American for Hire

editorial by michelle l.p.

I've always been security-minded. On the other hand, I've always resented and despised the very idea of wage labor. Quite a dilemma for a first-generation American who has never occupied the comfortable ranks of the middle class.
Economic stability has always been up there in my top five life goals, owing, no doubt, to the insecurity of my childhood. My immigrant parents never really took to the market economy in America. They remained helpless and insecure in the face of go-get-'em individualism, living humbly and methodically according to the precepts of pre-World War II Europe. My dad diligently paid all the bills in cash, in person, never realizing that a checking account could "save time.'' Both parents kept the same low-paying jobs for eons, never aspiring to move up the ranks into the conniving managerial class. Ambition, American-style, was to them an extremely crass and distasteful pursuit.

However enlightened my parents may seem, their lack of adjustment to middle class values caused me endless problems. As a kid I suffered adult-like anxiety about money and our lack of it. I was constantly worried by our family's medical bills, inadequate medical insurance, and perpetual indebtedness to this or that doctor. All the anxiety this situation produced seemed to result in more illness, accidents, and bills—and less insurance.

My disquiet over the money problem was exacerbated by my old-world, anti-capitalist father who gave us daily diatribes about the decadence of American mass culture, likening it to the fall of the Roman Empire. He told his little daughters that consumer goods were frivolities master-minded by the rich to keep the working people in chains. They were "wasteful" products that contributed to a "weak" character. Why vacation when you could work? Why eat out when food was just as good at home? And piano lessons? Those were a luxury that only the rich could afford.

Yet our lives were made miserable by the chronic money shortage. My father refused us most of the pleasure products that were de rigueur in sixties suburbia. Our junky, used cars continually broke down on the freeway, the car being our sole means of escaping to the beach or the mountains, or to look at the rich people's homes. Our own house was excruciatingly insufficient, with seven people (two of them elderly grandparents) and one very loud T.V., squeezed into its five rooms.

Luckily, my mom's employment at the local department store enabled us to pass as middle class. Thanks to her 20% discount and her uncanny understanding of children's needs, she defiantly provided us with some of the more affordable requisites for membership in the Suburban Club—while teaching my dad a thing or two about the fundamentals of human psychology. Nevertheless, at a very early age, I had an advanced and quite painful understanding of the importance of money in our society.

As a teenager my deepest ambition was to act on the stage, but I quickly abandoned it, realizing that the work was not stable enough for my tastes. Once out of college I opted for a career I felt would better coincide with my political beliefs but still provide a surefire paycheck every month. That "stable" profession was college teaching. It was 1979. One hitch in the grand plan to marry ideals to economics was that I detested graduate school. Another was that the job market for teaching was closing fast. This only highlighted the absurdity of my slaving away in grad school and the fawning acquiescence of my fellow students to the faculty.

I decided to try other careers for a while, which resulted in a 16-month stint as a temporary word processor and a near nervous breakdown. No matter what the job situation I would leave at 5 p.m. fuming at my dumb-shit bosses, who bolstered their feeble egos by generating a feverish pace of work; a pace which, I soon realized, masked the work's meaninglessness. This was also about the time I started reading Processed World, which awoke me to the fact that wage labor was a no-win situation. Whether word processing for the law firm or thought processing for the university, the employee always loses, financially, psychologically, and emotionally.

It also became clear that any kind of career whatever under capitalism was a sham-and especially so in the 1980s. Professionalization, I realized, was nothing more than a tremendous ruse to get a swollen baby-boom generation to compete harder than its parents for fewer jobs while feeling more important.

Yet, I returned to graduate school, more bitter and suspicious, but still tethered to my longings for security. What mostly got me through three more years was my enjoyment of, and devotion to, assistant teaching, to the exchange between student and teacher. I learned to ignore the higher-ups and do my own thing in the classroom. What also helped me through was my decision to chuck academia and start teaching in the community colleges, which I now do part-time. I've come full circle—I'm a teaching temp. I get hired and fired at the whim of the administration, my pay is ridiculously low, I have no benefits and no perks, and there are no full-time jobs to be had.

If this were a few years ago, I'd probably walk out of this situation in a huff. But now I am very carefully planning my ascent up the pyramid into full-time, permanent status, with its insurance benefits, pension plans, and the rest of the perks that buy off the average worker. I know that, as usual, I'll come to resent full-time work—the same early hours, the same commute, the same four walls, the same people, the same surrender of my Self to the institution —despite my appreciation of the students. But right now it seems worth it.
In part, this is because my now-retired parents live off meager social security benefits, and my first-generation instinct is to help them. The other part comes from the me-generation instinct, which warns against getting myself into their situation when I'm old. I also realize that I would like to have kids and I sure as hell don't want them to inherit my money anxiety. In other words, I am facing adulthood and doing what I think is best.

Do I worry I'll sell out one day and become "too bourgeois"? Not really. Although I've come to recognize and accept my desire for security, I am well aware that it can't truly be fulfilled in corporate America. In reality, the stability of middle-class life is very tenuous. Any serious illness, accident or layoff has disastrous implications for people increasingly denied social services by the state and lacking an extended-family support network to on.
Without any guarantee of financial support should fate be unkind, Americans cling to products of capitalism which symbolize security. They collect "things" as padding, little realizing that the social structure creates the insecurity they run from.

Which brings me to my final point: I think that radicals who have consciously embraced marginality have mistakenly tended to scorn working people's desire for security, creating an artificial barrier more detrimental than useful. These artists, intellectuals and outcasts choose to remain apart and above, married to a life of self-denial and struggle in the best Christian tradition. Such people view anything short of such sacrifice as "selling out.''

I desire the life that middle-class status affords: family, pleasure, freedom from money anxiety. I'd be lying if I didn't admit it. I also think it's foolish to pretend that anyone who has struggled or suffered in his/her life doesn't want that. Just ask any recent immigrant slaving for minimum wage in a sweatshop, as both my grandmothers did. Or ask me. I hate capitalism and wage slavery, and probably always will. But for now, you can sign me, an American For Hire.

by Michelle L.P.

Safe with the Gaping Maw

tale of termination by bill dollar

Recently, at CALA supermarket in San Francisco, I came to the check-out with a quart of buttermilk for myself, and an expensive bottle of ale for a friend, and the young woman at the cash register charged me only for the buttermilk. The boy who was bagging scoped what she did, and we all three caught each other's eye, and nobody said anything, but the girl smiled slightly, and then I said "Thankyoubye" and left, feeling great from the experience. I'm sure they enjoyed the joke, too.

Ten years ago I worked as a clerk in a very popular health food store in San Francisco, stocking shelves, minding the produce and occasionally tending the cash register. The place was very successful, doing in excess of a million dollars worth of business annually when worked there. The owner was a very driven, "Type A" kind of guy, who showed great single-mindedness in pursuit of the bucks. I didn't care for him much. He was a sleaze who chased the female employees.

The longer I worked in this place, the more I took to a practice which some European intellectuals have (I believe) called "self-reduction," that is, using my place in the system to subvert the system. Friends of mine, friends of friends, and anyone who looked like their food budget was a major concern got fabulous discounts. Fabulous discounts. During the time I worked in that store I made a hobby out of doing that type of thing. I know it always made me feel great.

Other people who worked there engaged in the same sort of thing, to one degree or another, and certainly everyone took food for themselves, the boss expected it. Despite all this, the store continued to be very profitable. There was a concrete drop safe in the back of the store, with a slot in it through which the cashiers were to drop, at the end of their shifts, the envelopes containing their cash register tape, cash and checks. Sometimes the take from a particular shift would be so massive the cashiers would have problems jamming the wads of cash through the narrow slot. A couple of them found it very frustrating to have to do this after a tiring shift, and they complained of it. So the boss widened the slot in the concrete with a cold chisel and hammer. A short while later, it was widened again (thick wads of cash) so that a young boy could get his hand and forearm in there easily. Once, when was in the back of the store getting high with a friend, my friend scoped the drop safe with the gaping maw, and he started listing ways I could fish the cash back out, but I never did use any of them. I certainly wish I had.

Somebody else took the initiative. One morning they came up a thousand dollars short (the tape was there, the cash was not) and the proverbial shit hit the fan. Management's solution to this thorny problem was to get everybody to take a lie detector test, or else they could take a walk. Within a day or two the lie detector test guys showed up, and all the employees had to be there, too, or else.

There were two lie detector test guys, and they came in two customized vans with lie detectors inside. No waiting! I said no way was going to take that lie detector test. The straw boss (a guy I actually liked) said fine, get lost, and by the way that proves to me that you took the thousand bucks. Well that got me steamed. It was a total Catch-22 ! So I decided, since I was going to be fired anyway, that I would take that test, and confess to all my little crimes (which I thought might actually be fun) and exonerate myself of that one big crime. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!!! I don't really want to go into too much detail about my ordeal in the customized van. It was horrid, naturally. sat in this plush chair wired up to this machine like a laboratory animal, while this Marcus Welby android asked me questions and studi