Processed World #11

Issue 11: August 1984 from

Submitted by ludd on February 6, 2010

Table of Contents

Submitted by ludd on December 29, 2010

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

Submitted by ludd on February 6, 2010

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

Submitted by ludd on February 6, 2010

(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

Submitted by ludd on February 6, 2010

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.

Submitted by ludd on February 6, 2010

"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