1. The ingenuities of our times

Submitted by Spassmaschine on January 19, 2010

1.1 Our times ...

"Money can buy everything, it is said. What is not said is what it takes to buy money."

Eighteen years ago ... Bhupender ... dropped post-graduation mid-way ... started job ... hand tools factory ... in Faridabad ... adjoining Delhi ... Gedore Tools ... now Jhalani Tools ... eighteen years consumed ... one rented room ... eight feet by ten feet ...for Bhupender, Bisheshwari and four children ... one toilet ... for six families ... one tap ... for two dozen families ... after overspending on rent ... to avoid shanty towns ... no cinema ... or eating out ... or drinking ... or smoking ... even tea shops shunned. Wages ... usually delayed ... paid after three-four months ... Bisheshwari ... cooks ... cleans ... gets water ... desperate for a job ... searching for the past two years ... unable to find one. Bhupender unable to support old parents ... who stay in a village ... small plot of land ... cattle ... old father has now got a job ... road building.

Ranjan ... turning thirty-two ... spent more than a decade studying in premier scientific research institutes ... completed PhD ... employed as research associate ... on project to project basis ... with strict deadlines ... work-shift is 9.30 to 6.00 ... but deadlines mean long hours at night ... not working beyond shift-hours implies hostility towards the boss ... jeopardises employment in future projects ... also works for getting approvals for future projects ... but without guarantee that an accepted proposal will mean a job for him. Highly specialised work ... decade-long training ... uncertainty of work ... and still ... low wages ... a half of the salary spent on food ... just for himself ... has to stay in a hostel ... impossible to support his family.

"Work is on our minds twenty-four hours everyday."

Karen ... Jean ... in Paris ... share apartment ... two small rooms ... corridor contains the kitchen ... two small shelves. Karen ... up by 7.00 ... leaves by 7.30 ... reports at 8.00 at a cafe ... works till 1.00 ... next ... television company ... reads proposals ... writes synopsis ... back by 8.00 ... next ... cooks ... eats ... sleeps ... interrupted at 7.00 ... everyday ... except Sunday. Jean Francois ... editor ... at Euro Disney ... leaves by 7.00 ... back by 9.00 ... eats ... sleeps ... two to three months holiday ... once in two years.

Rajbal ... owns a hectare ... northern India ... works everyday ... twelve months ... 365 days ... in heat, frost, rain ... preparing soil ... sowing ... irrigation ... harvesting ... cleaning ... guarding the land ... day and night ... arranges seeds ... fertiliser ... water ... diesel ... electricity ... tools ... cart. Old parents and wife and children help ... sometimes workers hired. Most grain sold to government agencies ... procurement price is ridiculously low ... equals legal minimum wages for eight-hours shift-work for only 147 days ... for two crops per annum on one hectare.1

"I force myself to go to work everyday, the way I force my child to go to school everyday."

Ramya ... typist ... computer operator ... secretary ... small trading company ... Delhi ... returns from office ... by 7.30... housework till 9.00 ... spends some time with daughter ... sleeps by 11.00 ... heat and mosquitoes ... often without electricity ... up at 6.00 ... cooks ... cleans ... drops daughter at school ... leaves by 9.00 ... crowded buses ... reaches hurried and late by 10.30 ... claustrophobic room ... rapid pace ... unfinished work ... lunch ... 15 to 30 minutes ... hurries off at 6.00... Sundays ... washing clothes ... regaining energy. Raghu ... her husband ... sales and servicing job ... electronic office equipment ... leaves by 8.30 ... back by 7.00 ... school homework with daughter ... one room ... including kitchen ... common toilet ... with other families. One child ... already difficult ... second unthinkable ... difficult for the child too ... three-year old ... already gets homework.

1.2 and its ingenuities ...
The ingenuities of our time lie in the

  • governance of production
  • enforcement of discipline
  • manoeuvring of allocation
  • command over ideas and dreams

Towards a partial fulfilment of this operation we attempt to understand

  • governance of production as management of levels of exhaustion.
  • enforcement of discipline as management of layers of eradication.
  • manoeuvring of allocation as management of a range of extraction.
  • command over ideas & dreams as management of the effectivity of seduction.

The categories that we are using are not to be looked at as rigid, and we hope that they will achieve some explanatory value as we move on. These different ingenuities are all inter-woven and exist together. Their seeming separation results only because at times one becomes more highlighted than the others.

Managing the levels of exhaustion

karoshi dial 110
In the Fordist assembly line the labour process was designed to occupy the workers 45 seconds in every minute. In the flexible production plant, workers are occupied 57 seconds in every minute.

Having appeared in the land of the rising sun, the management paradigm of flexible production is shining in every land where the sun rises. The foremost objective of flexible production is to enforce hyper-intensive work.

Workers on Toyota's assembly line in Japan and England make 20 movements every 18 seconds.

The numbers given above imply that a lack of application and insufficient concentration for even a fraction of a second is being eradicated. This results in a level of stress that imperils both physical and psychological health.

Workers have suddenly died on the shopfloor, seemingly healthy and robust. The flexible produ-ction technique has contributed a new word to the Japanese dictionary - karoshi : sudden death due to overwork.

Karoshi Dial 110, a volunteer group, had identified 1500 such deaths by June 1990.2

The ingenuities in the management of production lie in the transparency and, therefore, the near invisibility of coercion in our times. A wonderful device which manages to make us work throughout the year and throughout the week. As a result, the continuous implantation of habits of work intensification is perpetuated.

In retrospect, whip-yielding master on horse-back managed to make serf and peasant work three to four days a week and three to six months a year.

An intriguing question : What makes coercion invisible now, and what makes it so effective ?

Managing the scales of eradication

  • a disciplined child
  • a good student
  • a productive worker
  • an efficient gesture

"Any worker arriving five minutes after the ringing of the bell ..."

"The gates of the school will be closed at 6.30 a.m. Any child arriving late will not be allowed ... "

"The train is scheduled at 17 : 44 : 30 ... "

"8.45 entrance of the monitor, 8.52 the monitor's summons, 8.56 entrance of the children and prayer, 9.00 the children go to their benches, 9.04 first slate, 9.08 end of dictation... "3

"It is expressly forbidden during work (study) to amuse one's companions by gestures or in any other way, to play at any game whatsoever, to eat, to sleep, to tell stories and comedies ... "

"... As for the duration, the small step and the ordinary step will last one second, during which two double steps would be performed ... The ordinary step will be executed forwards, holding the head up high and the body erect, holding oneself in balance successively on a single leg, and bringing the other forward, the ham taut, the point of the foot little turned outwards and low, ... "

"For good handwriting, the pupil must always hold their bodies erect, somewhat turned and free on the left side, slightly inclined with the elbow placed on the table, the chin can be rested upon the hand ; the left leg must be somewhat more forward under the table than the right ; a distance of two fingers must be left between the body and table, the right arm must be at a distance of three fingers from the body ... "4

Behind the innocuous words of everyday, such as discipline, efficiency, productivity, work-culture, punctuality, good schooling, lie the pogroms of eradication : the eradication of any uncontrolled movement of a hand or the unproductive glance of an eye or the unwanted wandering of a mind.

Managing a range of extractions
We thought it apt to term "management of extraction" what is generally referred to as the "management of allocation" because the latter does no justice to the ingenuity of personnel trained in management schools.

Their ingenuity, for one, lies in the following comparison :

Till about three hundred years ago the ensemble of monarchs, emperors, kings, lords, priests, knights, samurais, usurers, etc. managed to extract one-tenth to one-fourth of the total produce.

Today more than 95 % of the produce is extracted. Governments alone extract more than one-half of the global produce, and far from being called exploiters, governments are advertised as the overseers of our welfare.

In the utilisation of the produce militaries get priority over the producers. This becomes evident during tragedies, like the famine in Bengal, India in 1942. Even by official figures, more than three million people died of hunger in this famine. The famine (read genocide) was caused due to the diversion of food and provisions to the military.

Managing the effectivity of seduction
Several pathways blend to form a network of seduction : family, school, religion, academia, national culture and the media are some of the nodal points.

The attempt of the managers of seduction is to convince us, to make us believe, to instil in us that

  • work is meant to make our lives easier,
  • work is meant to make the world a better place,
  • technological research is geared to reduce work,
  • money makes social interactions simpler ,
  • it is a sin to live without working for a living,

The wages we get are equal to our contribution in production, the militaries, governments, leaders and representatives are there for our benefit.

The most ingenious task entrusted to the managers of seduction is to make us believe that most of us believe this make-belief.

We are seduced to internalise and desire discipline and authority.
We are seduced to hand over our produce.
We are seduced to surrender our voice.

1.3 ..its counter ingenuity

The other ingenuity of our times, an insurgent ingenuity, lies in resistance.

Our resistance to discipline, to seduction, to extraction and to work takes diverse forms, varying from stopping work to working for free. Resistance is directed against governments, against managements, against planners, against media, against wars, against authority, against surveillance, against representatives and against dominant values. Some times it appears as collective defiance of authority, at other times it may even be masked as individual submission to power.

During the Gulf war thousands of people in America participated in anti-war discussions, appeals and protests on radio and television. This was made possible by the operation of a number of unlicensed radio stations and television channels. This attempt to circulate ideas and opinions unconstrained by the interests and permissions of governments, businesses and media created something of an electronic equivalent to a leaflet.5

A signpost on the road leading to a village in Maharashtra, India reads : "Government officials are not allowed in this village. No taxes will be paid."

Students at La Trobe University in Australia wrote articles in a student magazine, which gave advice on the "Art of shoplifting".6

Blue flu - Virus of Everyday Resistance
In 1994, hospital workers in Chicago took a cue from researches in biological warfare and invented a new sickness - the blue flu. On the 9th of February, more than a thousand workers of four hospitals notified themselves as suffering from blue flu and took leave. The workers included specialists, doctors, nurses, technicians and sweepers.

Researches have shown that virus, such as those causing the blue flu, attach themselves particularly to workers weakened by excessive work-load and low wages. The anxiety caused by new agreements, which reject workers' demands for wage-increases and more employees, makes them even more susceptible to these virus. Such conditions generate turbulent emotions in the workers and they decide to fall sick collectively. In this particular case, managements had observed the symptoms carefully and their prognosis suggested that the workers were going to fall ill. They reasoned that the questions of legality and illegality must have an impact on such a pestilence. They warned the workers that falling sick in this way was illegal, but this did not deter the virus.7

" The practice of 'self-reduction' - i.e. the refusal to comply with price increases of essential services ... is not an entirely new phenomenon in Italy ... what is new is the way in which this practice has spread to other sectors ... such as public transit, electricity and home-heating ... when viewed in the context of parallel practices - such as squatting and organised mass appropriation of groceries from supermarkets ... it becomes ... a struggle for the re-appropriation of social wealth produced by the working class ..."8

ingenuity conceived by the holy ghost
Women workers in Malaysia have to look through micro-scopes and weld different parts together. A worker saw a ghost through a microscope ; within minutes all the workers on the assembly line fainted. The managements got unnerved and called in both rationalists and ghost catchers to practice their respective crafts. Sociologists were also invited to do micro and macro studies for long-term solace.

The holy ghost changed its form and reappeared as rumours of some poisonous gas leak in a factory in the US. In this shoe factory, workers began feeling dizzy as boxes containing glue were opened. Complaints of headaches, dizziness, body-aches, chest-pains permeated throughout the factory - the management got the factory vacated. Chemical-biological warfare experts, with their state-of-the-art gadgetry, checked every nook and corner but could not identify the poisonous gas. Management got the work recommenced. However, after some time again the same symptoms and the same measures followed. The results were also the same as before. With this routine almost established, the ghost was ready to show some more tricks but the management took remedial measures, and called in experts in psychology and sociology ..9

The information about these ingenuities travelled fast and reached the Bata shoe factory at Faridabad in India. There it conspired to produce another ingenuity. The management had installed new fully automatic lines to replace the earlier semi-automatic lines. The workers were given a target to make 2400 pairs per line per shift instead of the 1660 pairs they were making on each semi-automatic line. Right after the installation of the new lines, workers started complaining of headaches and dizziness due to the constant movement. They gave a production of only 1400 pairs per line. This went on for one and a half years after which the management dismantled the fully automatic lines and had to give up its retrenchment scheme.10

Work is Duty said Lord Krishna, Work is Love said Lord Jesus, Work is Chaste said the Prophet Mohammed, Work is Worship said Swami Vivekanand, Work is Truth said Mahatma Gandhi, Work is a Long March said Chairman Mao, Work is Patriotism said Field Marshall Stalin, Work is the Nation said Sir Churchill, Work is Freedom said Fuhrer Hitler, Work is Security says the UNO, Work is a Bond says the World Bank. Work is Worship - so believe the wage-workers. In fact, wage-workers go a step further and believe - 'better worship than work'. And workers, being workers, do not only believe so but also act accordingly. Towards this end they do whatever is in their power to do. So much so that holy days have now acquired the meaning of holidays.

They are eager to worship Kali or Ram, or Mohammed or Mary or Christ or Zarathustra or the Mother Goddess, or Govind Singh, Nehru, Hitler, Churchill, Mao, Kennedy, Sanjay Gandhi, Zia, or even the unknown soldier. They accept this to be preferable to work. They celebrate birth anniversaries and do not work. If celebrating a birth anniversary is not acceptable, then they mourn a death and do not work. In fact they celebrate anything, commemorate anything, observe anything, mourn anything if it means no work. Ram's reaching Ayodhya or Mohammed's leaving Medina; Gandhi's trek to Dandi or Mao's haul to Beijing ; the victor's victory or the loser's defeat - anything will do. Nobody is despicable enough not to be worshipped, nothing is outrageous enough not to be celebrated if it only means - no work!

  • 1 Rajbal, Faridabad Mazdoor Samachar (FMS), December 1994.
  • 2 Ben Watanabe. 'Sudden Death from Overwork' in Labour Notes, June 1992 quoted in Tony Smith, 'Flexible Production and the Capital/Wage labour Relation in Manufacturing', Capital & Class 53. Flexible production rose in the land of rising sun in the mid-eighties.
  • 3 Foucault, Michel. 'Discipline and Punish : The Birth of the Prison', Vintage New York, 1979.
  • 4ibid.
  • 5 Tony Dowmunt (ed.), 'Channels of Resistance', BFI Publishing.
  • 6 Rank and File News, P.O. Box 103, West Brunswick, Vic. 3055, Australia.
  • 7 FMS, April 1994.
  • 8 'The Working Class Struggle Against the Crisis : Self-reduction of prices of Italy' by Bruno Ramirez February 1975 quoted in the Poor...
  • 9 FMS.
  • 10 FMS, August 1995.