About call masters and team leaders, partition walls and works councils, communication training and standard phrases, sabotage and waiting-on-hold, entry masks and base unions, moments of revolt, questionnaires and leaflets...
In the summer of 1999 we decided to start working in call centres in order to meet people who work there and to understand what's going on. We wanted to combine our rage against the daily exploitation with the desire and search for the struggles that can overcome it. Therefore, we had to understand the class reality at this point, be part of the conflicts and intervene. Three years and a millennium later we have written down part of our experience, taken from more than ten call centres in which we sweated; from discussions with friends in England and Italy who also worked in call centres; from reports of other call centre-workers in the US, France and Australia; from interviews, theoretical discussions and the debate on methods of inquiry and intervention...
We have written this because we feel the urge to publish something now. In the last three years we have discussed, tried out, pushed so much; we now want to contribute to the further discussion. Who are we writing this for? For everyone...
* who wants to understand what the reality of exploitation looks like in call centres, how people get together there, how they do their work and how they rebel against it;
* who is looking for ways to collectively confront the shitty situations in the sphere of exploitation that we come across every day;
* who has had enough of representatives of parties and unions and wants to take things into their own hands;
* who - like us - wants to find the revolutionary tendencies that can sweep away the conditions of exploitation.
We write this down because we want to provoke a discussion of how we can get rid not just of call centres but the relations of exploitation altogether. We ask you to read our experiences critically and maybe try out something similar. Not that we see this as a 'duty' or a 'historical mission'. We can overcome the leftist culture of representation and self-sacrifice only by referring to the concrete conditions of exploitation, by inquiring and intervening.
This is our struggle for the control of our life, against alarm clocks and work shifts, the rhythm of the machine, the racist foreman, the sexist division of labour and the warmongers. Therefore we need clear thoughts, open discussions, solidarity and responsibility, specific methods and concrete aims.
This is a contribution to the process. This is our own perspective. We aren't journalists, scientists, professional writers or officials. We have written this as workers who experience and fight against daily exploitation, and as a collective who is searching for revolutionary potentials in order to get rid of the relations of exploitation.
During the process of the last few years we have referred to and discussed several concepts, theories and methods: These have included: critical discussions of Marxism, for instance of Socialisme ou Barbarie in the fifties in France and the Quaderni Rossi in Italy in the sixties, who examined the concrete conditions of exploitation and the prospects of a new class movement; the left- and council-communist critique of Leninism as an ideology and state policy which has forced the workers in Russia into a new (soviet) regime of exploitation; the critique of the positive reference to capitalist forces of production, of an allegedly 'neutral' technology, of the idea that it is enough to substitute the bosses with bureaucrats in order to achieve communism; the critique of the Leninist concepts of avant-garde and the division between 'economic' and 'political' struggle, which is used again and again by layers of petty bourgeois and intellectuals in order to enforce their claim to leadership; the critique of the idea of workers' control, meaning that the factories could be taken over and run by committees of (skilled) workers without the abolition of the capitalist form of production and reproduction...
We use these critiques, and concepts of class composition and inquiry. A revolutionary class movement can only grow from the material conditions of the exploited, from their forms of co-operation and from the struggles that take different forms, arising from specific conditions. We are part of that process and try to join in the revolutionary reshaping of this world. We want to intervene where it is important to support the communist tendencies within the struggles and to avoid the traps set by capitalist promises and illusions.
So our questions are:
* What is the class composition in our region, worldwide...?
* What are the current methods of production, what work is being done, what constitutes a factory?
* What are the conditions in the sphere of reproduction?
* What is our role in the struggles?
The inquiry in call centres was an attempt, a start. We invite you to follow us through a part of class reality, that we have investigated. You will find some rough edges in this text along with information, questions, critiques, proposals. This book is a reader. You can read it from start to finish or browse it and jump around the various sections.
After this, 1. Introduction, there is a section on our starting points: 2. Inquiry: Understand, Intervene... What are we referring to? What are we hoping for? After this we describe what we have done: 3. Evaluation: Three Years in Call Centres. What kinds of problems did we have with the interviews and leaflets? What worked out well? What could we do better?
Under 4. Call Centres: In the Whirlpools of Circulation we briefly describe what call centres actually are and how they went from boom into crisis. In 5. Everyday Working Life we tried to understand what actually happens at work, how the workers co-operate, how they are made to work by the machinery and in what kind of situations they (can) attack the relations of exploitation. Above all we used our own experiences and the interviews for this.
In part 6. Confrontations: The Pulse of Collective Struggle we approached daily exploitation from a different angle. We focused on the kinds of conflicts, experiences and problems; for instance with sabotage and strikes, and the role of forms of organising such as works councils, (base) unions, support initiatives. For that part we referred to the reports and leaflets from 'our' call centres and others.
At the end we have brought together the experiences in 7. Proposal: the Next Steps... a call for further discussion. Under 8. Appendix we have added our questionnaires, some of our leaflets, a list with short descriptions of the call centres mentioned in the text, a list of literature/links and a glossary (with call centre vocabulary).
Have fun reading it. And bear in mind: We want your opinion, comments, stories...
love and rage
kolinko, Ruhrpott, Summer 2002
1 If you want to know more: we have added a list of texts and links in 8. Appendix.
2 We have written a paper on class composition. See [http://libcom.org/library/discussion-paper-class-composition]. In the German-speaking world the mentioned concepts are being developed further by the comrades from Wildcat who use the term 'militant inquiry' [Militante Untersuchung]. See: [www.wildcat-www.de]