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