[OPE-L] Intensities of Labour

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Thu May 11 2006 - 07:36:04 EDT

Noticing that Massimilliano Tomba is going to be presenting a paper
which concerns the "intensity of labour and the integration between
relative and absolute surplus value" at the ISMT conference (which
Riccardo just sent us information on) reminded me of the following
article.  The _Mute_ article by John Barker concerns _recent_ changes
in the intensity of labour.

An issue -- which I have long thought about -- is: how best to
empirically measure changes in the intensity of labour in and,
especially, across branches of production?  How best do we move
beyond anecdotal and personal stories (of which, of course, there
are many) to best demonstrate the extent to which the intensity of
labour has changed?  I've thought about a number of proxies that
could be used but they all seem to suffer from severe inherent

I think that the intensity of labour _has_ increased in branches of
production in many, if not most, branches of production.  In part,
this is related to technological change.  For instance, consider how
the *cell phone* is a technology which is used by many capitalists to
increase surplus value both by increasing the intensity of labour and
absolute surplus value.  In that sense, it could truly be seen as
a technology which increases the *integration* between the two.

Of course, as Barker notes, there's also amphetamines and cocaine.
Yet, the introduction of new 'substances' in working-class
consumption which increase the intensity of labor is hardly new:
consider, historically, the role of sugar and caffeine (the latter
especially through the consumption of tea and coffee) in increasing
the intensity of labour of wage-workers in the textile mills in
England during the industrial revolution (for which, of course,
slavery and the whole system of triangular trade played a vital

In solidarity, Jerry

Intensities of Labour: from Amphetamine to Cocaine

Published on Mute magazine - Culture and politics after the net
Intensities of Labour: from Amphetamine to Cocaine
By mute
Created 07/03/2006 - 12:45pm
By John Barker
In the '60s 'labour saving' technology was used to sell the promise of
infinite leisure. After thirty years of speed ups and lay offs, RSI and
dotcom sweatshops, the dream is looking distinctly tarnished. John Barker
draws on his personal and theoretical capital to explore the
contradictions and possibilities of a hi-tech, low-wage world


At the end of the 1960s young and cocky Situationists like myself talked
of the Japanese economic miracle “ because then it was the Japanese
miracle"  as being fuelled by amphetamine. The evidence was anecdotal, but
it was well known that the cheaply-made drug was a major business for the
Yakuza. This particular miracle was manufacturing-based; electronics and
autos figured prominently. In modern parlance, it was Fordist, that is,
large-scale manufacturing dependent on the ˜mass-worker". Amphetamine,
known to us then as an all-night dancing drug, was perfect for long hours
of work while staying alert. As we saw it, the miracle depended on
disposable workers subject to early burn out. A modern version of Marx's
picture of capital and labour as the Vampire and its victims.

Since then, in the richest parts of the world, the decline in the relative
size of the manufacturing sector is common knowledge. At the same time the
shift to a services-based economy has involved what Maurizio Lazzarato has
called an anthropo-sociological shift in the organisation of labour,
prompting the concept of ˜immaterial" labour. In addition, the generic
term post-Fordist has come to be used as an umbrella description of these
changes. They are real enough, but to see them as forming a discontinuity
with what went before is too slick in manipulating theoretical categories,
and leapfrogging the realities of global work.

The most common global economic model now is the super-exploitation of
pre-Fordist sweatshops and a peasantry pressured from all sides. Fordism,
where it does exist, is far from played out, though more often today it
lacks the associated Keynesian virtue of the producing labour being able
to buy what it produces, and so sustain ˜effective demand". In the rich
world too, sites of 'primitive accumulation' co-exist with Fordist and
post-Fordist labour. As a new form of the organisation of labour, as
Lazzarato recognises at an abstract level, post-Fordism itself began in
the manufacturing sector. As more subdued Situationists in the '70s we
talked of the model of team systems in Swedish car plants as
self-exploitation. Since then in the rich world the global rhythm of
just-in-time production dependent on computerisation, has created new
forms of rational exploitation. At the same time the service sector has
been subjected to the deskilling and time-and-motion disciplines of
industrial Taylorism. The language of factory discipline has been
incorporated even into public services like education and health which are
full of ˜line managers", while a more Stalinist-type of Taylorism has lead
to the constant application of goals and targets to be reached.

What remains the common factor globally, is capital's compulsion to
accumulate. For individual capitals one has only to read the financial
pages of most newspapers to see that the health, or otherwise, of
companies is seen through this lens. Since the start of the general
capitalist offensive in the mid '70s, the pressure has been on wages,
intensity of labour and the length of the working day, while it has made
its own compulsion into a natural state of affairs. Much of this pressure
is disguised by the mechanisms of the equalisation of rates of profit to
make an average rate, whereby surplus value produced by labour-intensive
sectors of production are realised by other ˜capital-intensive" ones. But
these pressures, despite enormous differences in real wages, are also
global, with a universal push for greater intensity of labour, though
taking very different forms.

For example, take the privileged sector of immaterial labour as defined by
Lazzarato: 'audiovisual production, advertising, fashion, the production
of software, photography, cultural activities, etc … activities which
tend to define and fix cultural artistic norms, fashions, tastes, consumer
standards and, more strategically, public opinion.' Descriptions of this
work in the ˜immaterial labour" canon, however, do not look at the
intensities of labour involved. The widespread use of cocaine in this
sector is not accidental. Its availability in the UK obviously has to do
with a range of factors “ the nature of some Latin American economies and
their staggering inequalities, sophisticated criminal organisation, the
increasing rise in the worldwide transportation of material goods and so
on" but it is also because the demand is there. It has been the perfect
drug for this relatively privileged sector; not creative in any real
sense, but perfect for generating an indiscriminate intensity of
enthusiasm for the projects provided in this sector, and for believing in
the great importance of what one is doing at any given time.


Just out of prison in the early 1990s and in urgent need of finding a way
back into the world and some legitimate income, preferably PAYE, I was
lucky to get a job in the small world of overnight news clippings
provision with no CV required. At that time the business was pre-digital,
and there is still a niche market for Chief Executives and the like who
want their clippings neatly cut and pasted on to headed paper, or hard
copy photocopies at least. The photocopy machines were the crucial items
of equipment (as they are for NHS line managers churning out new targets
and organisational charts), and, apart from a hard-working fax machine,
they were the only ˜fixed" capital in the place. Otherwise it was more
than just pre-digital. The building in Tooley Street “ old, old London“
was mass-produced gothic. The two floors occupied by the agency were
covered in stained beige carpeting that turned up at the edges to show the
nibbled grey foam underneath. The system demanded not just the photocopy
machines, but wall-to-wall pigeon holes. Pigeon holes! Even then they were

Each pigeon hole belonged to individual or collective clients, the odd one
that was interesting, but mostly corporate bastards and financial PR
bastards with their own client list. Most cuttings would go to more than
one pigeonhole, ten or more were possible. Hence the importance of the
photocopier. Anywhere between two and four in the morning there could be
sharp confrontations about access rights to the two, or sometimes three,
machines on the go. And then it might be luck if the bastard you’d got
hold of didn’t jam somewhere down the line. Sometimes it would clap out
altogether and we’d be down to two or just one machine for the night.
Things would then get ultra-manic. Other times with luck or skill, down on
your knees, heart palpitating, you'd sort it yourself, easing the mashed
up A4 out of a roller or gripper without leaving any paper scraps behind.

The only guides to help with this extra job were inadequate diagrams
stamped somewhere on the copiers' surfaces. They may well have been
stamped on by someone like Zhang Guo Hua, a Chinese worker who had entered
the UK illegally and died after doing a 24-hour shift doing a similar
stamping job. We instead, the Readers, were mostly odd balls, ex-art
students, and long term-ex students still paying off debts, and me,
getting a foothold back in the ˜real world": eclectic, "class"
˜middle class". The job involved reading a morning paper, or two or
three, first editions arriving between 10.30pm and 11pm, and cutting out
any article of any interest to any client, and noting the other clients
who would be interested in the same piece: the client/subject list ran to
many pages. You might say get The Independent, The Mail, and The Star. Or
if it was the Financial Times, it might just be The Express in addition.
Or just The Mirror. Whatever, the job required sticking the correct tab,
date plus name of paper, on each cutting, and then dividing them into two
piles. Some were to be mounted on various types of A4 as originals for big
cheese clients with that kind of fetish; the others to be photocopied on
re-usable A4 in order that shadow did not appear.

In addition to us oddball ˜middle class", there were some oddball
˜proletarians", pals of one of two bosses, who did clipping mounting
at this stage of the procedure, so that as a reader, one could get to the
photocopier with both mounted and unmounted clippings. After that first
bout at the machines things got really crazy. You'd read, photocopied,
distributed the mass of stuff into umpteen pigeon-holes and then geared up
for another fight for photocopier access. From reading plus first stage
filtering, the new ˜collectively" shared out responsibility was to
prepare the packages for the clients. Various bastards at Barclays Bank or
Price Waterhouse would like their clippings filtered into sections of
interest so that at 6.30 a.m. they were ready for anything; at worst a
routine grilling if the news was bad.

Our targets, deadlines, were never met in a wholly relaxed manner. Around
5.30 a.m. the drivers, cabbies and independents, impatient for the
packages they were to deliver, were hovering. Other nights as the dawn
appeared over the river Thames things got seriously manic. Lou the Taxi
driver would be on my earhole to forget everything else and finish the
Food and Drink Federation Package first so that he could get away. Other
times we'd be dragged into other packages, a Financial PR company
wanting photocopy only, but mounted on its headed paper. All this so that
some corporate bastard didn't have to read the paper himself. All this
with the additional pressure that a miss" might mean the end of a
contract. A spectacular hit on the other hand, a corporate name mention in
a murder mystery story say, would get at most a ˜good spot" mention.
There were several nights after a bad-sleep day, random car alarms wanting
to have their say, I would take a lick of amphetamine powder myself.


This was underpaid intensity of labour, which Marx describes plainly
enough as ˜expenditure of labour in a given time" in Capital. (Volume
I, Chapters 17 and 21). Increased intensity, and the length of the working
day, are contrasted what he calls the ˜productiveness" of labour as
means of increasing the production of similar units by each worker. It is
a contrast because increases caused by the ˜productiveness" of labour
through the use of improved machinery which has involved a fixed capital
outlay, and which he calls 'productive forces', do not increase the value
or surplus value of the aggregate units produced, whereas increases in
intensity and length of the working day do. This contrast becomes
important in Volume III, Chapter 14 in which Marx outlines countervailing
phenomena to what he calls The Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall –
a tendency caused precisely by the increased weight placed on
˜productiveness" in the production mix.

Such distinctions ought to be helpful in deconstructing the notion of
˜productivity". In the 1960s and '70s explicitly named productivity
deals were prevalent, and the notion of productivity continues to lurk in
nearly all capital-labour negotiations to the degree that there are still
such negotiations. There is, however, a problem with this Marxist
deconstruction, in that ambiguity hangs over the relationship between
intensity and productiveness as Marx describes it. He talks of the
relative number of spindles as against the number of people employed in an
international comparison: at one end France with one person per 14
spindles, and Britain with one per 78. But this does not tell us about the
nature of the spindles. Are the British ones so technically superior that
minding 78 does not involve a greater ˜expenditure of labour in a given
time" than minding 12? More specifically, does technically superior
necessarily mean less work per machine? The text here (Volume I, Chapter
22) is not so helpful either: 'In proportion as capitalist production is
developed in a country, in the same proportion do the national intensity
and productivity there rise above the international labour.'

The notion of the intensity of labour, however, as well as length of the
working day, is a valid one absolutely relevant to the present day
capitalist offensive with its compulsion to accumulate and the associated
aim of social control. Often, and in the Fordist model openly, there have
been increases in what might be called ˜pure" intensity of labour.
What they called speed-up. For a long period this was the area of
labour-capital conflict in the car industry. As a measure of intensity, it
was said that to work ˜on the line" at Ford itself, 15 years was the
maximum possible. What has been hidden is the extent to which the
development of new types of machinery to increase the productiveness of
labour has been dedicated to demanding a greater intensity of labour from
those operating it rather than, as we might say, the machine taking the
strain. A clear example is in the modern world of the logistics of global
just-in-time production. Dockers are not just seeing the return of casual
labour but, as Brian Ashton has pointed out, 'are subjected to work speeds
that are set by automated guided vehicles (AGV's), automated stackers
and semi automated cranes.'

In the 1960s and '70s there was a recognition (both intellectually and in
practice) that, despite the illusions on offer of more and more leisure
time for the worker and what was he/she going to do with it, machinery
developed under capitalism never had taking the strain as its objective.
In the early 1960s in powerful writing for the first issues of Quaderni
Rossi (at the very beginning of the Italian autonomist movement), Raniero
Panzieri used Marx's class analysis to override the notion of
'productive forces' being somehow neutral, let alone reaching the point of
making capitalist relations of production untenable. Instead he argued,
'the relations of production are within the productive forces'; that
technical development 'presents itself as a development of capitalism …
as an exhibition of the capitalist's authority ¦ and with new
possibilities for the consolidation of its power.'

˜Fordism", if looked at as productive processes, was and is shot
through with ‘Taylorism’, with the time and motion study as its
analytical tool. Harry Braverman in Labour and Monopoly Capital, quite
rightly saw both as being aimed at the de-skilling of labour and a
consequent reduction of its economic and political power. In the car
industry of the 1970s this was aimed at the de-skilling of draughtsmen and
factory engineers as punch hole NCs (Numerical Computers which pre-set
lathes and milling machines) were introduced on the factory floor. At the
same time they increased surveillance and control of jobs done on the
line. This had a double impact on worker organisation. It radicalised
draughtsmen and engineers in the newly formed TASS trade union. The most
radical inside that union formed most famously the alternative plan for
Lucas Areospace in which machinery for arms production could be re-jigged
into making socially useful products, in particular for the disabled. In
the case of Ford itself, ˜on the line" workers created an
international organisation autonomous from the official trade union
set-up. The Ford Workers Combine was capable of co-ordinating solidarity
actions internationally at shop steward level. Its imaginative tactics had
a precision formed from a clear understanding of the productive process
and changes in it.

More generally at this time increases in intensity of labour were met with
go-slows, or fights over tea-breaks. These latter were subject to much
soggy bourgeois satire: tea breaks, Ho Ho Ho. More often this conflict was
fought out in the arena of wages. This tended to disappoint various
leftists talking about ˜economism" in true Leninist fashion, but the
level of sophisticated militancy was enough to provoke a systematic
targeting of the pound sterling, as well as the Italian lira, by the new
wave ideological US Treasury team of the Ford Administration lead by
William Simon. They made explicit speeches to ˜the market" to the
effect that the lira and the pound were automatically transformed into
Mickey Mouse currencies by the effects of labour militancy. In the new era
of ˜floating" exchange rates brought into being by the Nixon's 1971
decision to break the link between the US dollar and gold (spelling the
end of the Bretton Woods consensus), currencies could be targeted in this
manner by words in the right ears from the representatives of a dollar
massively strengthened by US control of OPEC's new wealth in the form of
the petrodollar. This offensive scared the life out of the Trade Union
leadership in both countries. Nevertheless, until the capitalist offensive
that had been kicked off in this manner was augmented by a new era of
de-skilling, and anti-union legislation, resistance to increases in
intensity of labour continued.


Machinery, the very word has an old-fashioned ring to it, too heavy for
economies that are ˜light" and ˜flexible". In the mid 1990s when I
first dipped my toe into what might loosely be called the digital economy,
˜kit" was the favoured word. This dipping the toe involved a part-time
removals business (me and my nephew in a clapped-out Luton van)
specialising in creative digital office moves “ into Soho or out, then
into Clerkenwell or out “ and some months back in the news clippings
business, but this time working the first months of an online service.
This required a different intensity of labour to the hard-copy clippings
job. The reading of the papers remained the same, as was the size of the
reading list, the number of papers per person rather higher, but there was
none of that battling with the photocopier or the walks around the
pigeon-holes with armfuls of A4. Instead, a template existed on screen
where, with the Tab key, you could set up the date and name of the
newspaper; then a box for the headline of selected articles; then another
box in which to give a one or two sentence summary of what it said; and
finally a box in which to key in the codes for all the clients who might,
or should, be interested in the relevant article.

Whether any of this work could be said to have created surplus value is
dubious, it was by and large an aid to financial PR which creams off a
margin of surplus value it has not itself created. Spin they call it these
days. The work, however, was profitable, and the company grew even before
I left. As an individual I found its intensity less onerous, though
night-shift work is bad for your health whatever the job, the evidence is
legion. What it shared with the hard-copy business was its dependence on
loyalty to fellow workers. Team loyalty, or in our case, shift loyalty was
factored into the accounts consciously or not, by the employers. This is
hardly special, they say it is how armies work, how even the mass suicides
of World War I continued month after month. Don't let down your mates.
In the hard-copy job it was absurd, people tottering into work with the
flu and giving it to the rest of us simply because they knew that the
night's mania would be that much the greater without them. A related
similarity was knowing that too many ˜misses" would lose contracts,
and that lost contracts would mean job losses.

With the online work there were, however, more ways of avoiding the
intensity of labour which the process (writing two line summaries of
relevant articles) seemed to demand. Very soon I had developed a set of
bland summary templates. Underpaid and intensive as it was, though, it
bore no relation to the conditions of work in data-processing shitwork in
a Jamaican Export Processing Zone. RSI is a reality, ask anyone who has
ever suffered, or see how much corporate money has gone into legally
proving that it does not exist. Export Processing Zones almost by
definition, rule out health and safety considerations or regulations.


More recently it is another of Marx's ˜countervailing" phenomena,
the length of the working day, that has attracted most attention. It has
come from four directions: social-psychological concerns about ‘work
giving meaning to people's lives'; heroic accounts of how very rich
people such as those working for the McKinsey consulting firm or
investment banks work very long hours; grasping the material realities of
new forms of exploitation – perverted forms like being on call all the
time but being paid only for the hours that you work, which is the
cruelest manifestation of just-in-time; and Trade Unions now addressing
the matter of overtime. Small attention has also been given to cases like
Zhang Guo Hua in Cleveland, UK, mentioned above, and in China itself of He
Chun-Mei, a 30-year-old woman, both of whom died after working 24-hour
shifts. Such realities can provoke only grim mirth at slobbering accounts
of Investment Bankers working 15 hour days in the Business and now the
Feature pages of newspapers. Working 15 hours a day to make sure they get
their cut of the 24-hour days of super-exploitation.

In the UK this emphasis on the length of the working day is hardly
surprising given the long-drawn out resistance to the European Union’s
48-hour working directive from the New Labour government and its
supposedly ˜Old Labour" Chancellor. Figures from Prof Carey Cooper Of
Lancaster University showed that:

“ the UK has the longest working hours in the Western world after the
USA, having now surpassed those of Japan.
“ in the last seven years, coinciding with the reign of New Labour,
there has been a significant rise in employees working in excess of 48
hours; from 10 in the late 1990s to 26% in 2005.
“ since 1992 there has been a leap of 50% in the number of women
expected to do a 48 hour week.
" estimates in the 2000-2 period suggest that those doing a 60-hour week
has increased by one third to approximately 17% of the total workforce.

Professor Cooper's inquiry determined that if a person worked
consistently long hours it would damage their psychological and physical
health. Once again, we are talking ˜burn-out", and it is here that
length of the working day and the intensity of labour (those sure-fire
ways of extracting more surplus-value), are likely to have the same
effect. Taken in combination, as in the cases of Hu Chen-Mei and Zhang Guo
Hua, they are likely to be fatal.

That they may be combined at all reflects the defeats of the labour
movement that, for the moment, we are having to live with. In 1979, "the
winter of discontent“ as some wisepen had it – I was working as a
dustman in South Wales. Our crew had the Swansea areas of Townhill and
Mayhill. We had a tough schedule with bins that were always either up or
down stairs, and had to be returned when emptied. But the routes, the
tasks were fixed, and it was job and finish. It was like going to the gym,
we worked at speed and with luck I'd be home and washed by midday. Such
a life for workers was obviously intolerable for organised capital. If
such a person could work at such speed for 5-6 hours, why not make it
eight. Two hours of hanging around would have been intolerable enough, the
humiliation and boredom so well described in Ed Dorn's novel By The
Sound, but there was to be none of that. More streets per crew with a
small, and conditional pay rise was the result.

If conflict over intensity of labour was often partly transferred into
negotiations over wages, this has also been true of the length of the
working day, of overtime and how it is paid. If it is unpaid it is a form
of increased surplus value as theft. If it is paid at the normal hourly
rate, it indicates the relative powerlessness of labour organisation, if
it is at time-and-a-quarter or double time, the relative strength. But
Unions are now listening to cases of forced overtime even where proper
payment has been made. The advantage to a whole range of capitals is
obvious. Even if there is a pay incentive, it will be cheaper than hiring
new workers or even taking on agency temps. Thus while dockers are
˜sped-upâ€by the machinery, truck drivers are forced to work beyond
the legal limits.


In Chapter 10 of a remarkably pragmatic account of the British Economy,
Malcolm Sawyer offers an account of intensity of labour that sounds like
Marx describing the mechanics of piece-work: 'the flow of work to workers
has become steadily more efficient.' We may baulk at the neutrality of
˜efficiency" in this context, but he goes beyond Marx, however, in
nailing down this intensity. 'The immediate factors that have generated
harder work are changes in technology and work organisation augmented by
information technology.' Intensity is nailed down as working harder, and
that this has been increased by developments in the forces of production/
productiveness of labour defined by Marx as somehow separate phenomena.
Sawyer cannot nail it down quantitively, but in some ˜extreme"
circumstances it has stood out. Salvati describing ˜rationalisation
without investment" in 1960s Italy reckoned that productivity in the
1964-9 period rose at a very fast rate, as fast as in the 1950s, and yet
the rate of increase in industrial investment was zero. And if Sawyer
cannot make such a measurement he is clear about its impact: 'Work
intensification makes a contribution to growing productivity in the UK
economy, although its quantitive influence cannot be measured.' It cannot
be measured but he goes on to say but 'there are natural and social limits
to the extent that work can be intensified, so it is doubtful whether
further intensification is beneficial for long-term economic growth.
Moreover, there is evidence of links between work overload and ill health,
especially work-related stress, that suggests there are substantial hidden
costs even in the short-run.'

Costs to who? Sawyer, like Professor Cooper, is assuming at least some
objective interest in worker well-being, but there is no evidence that
British business takes much interest in this type of long-term. ˜The
long-term" on the cheap has been more to its taste. Historically its
strategy has been to suck out whatever it has had going for it right down
to the last two pence, then whinge. Now it has a government which portrays
health and safety regulations as ˜red tape" as if they were the whim
of pedantic bureaucrats, jobsworths or fanatics. At the same time
˜burn-out, the very notion of it, our picture of the speed-fed
Japanese worker forty years ago, has been expropriated by the language of
genius and management for itself.

It is both far more common and brutal than that. ˜Burn-out" is indeed
the modern version of Marx's picture of capital as vampire. In a recent
report by the V.V. Giri Institute in India on call centres in that
country, they talk of graduates as cyber-coolies and note the level of
burn out due to the intensity of labour. The Institute has its own concern
about the work as de-skilling, but has no difficulty in measuring this
intensity: it is the quota of emails and calls to be dealt with in a given
time. Sawyer cannot quantify intensity, but we can be sure that those
dedicated long-hour McKinsey folk have the templates for doing it. With
its slogan that everything can be measured, and what is measured can be
managed (Taylorism intact in the post-Fordist world), it could hardly be
otherwise. At the same time as the Institute's report, McKinsey did one
of its own which warned that, as wages rose in India and the supply of
˜skilled" workers tightened, its advantages, English language use for
one, relative to China and Eastern Europe would erode.

This threat, and its possible realisation, is a commonplace of
globalisation (the globalisation of existing power structures and
relations of production), a threat which, by sleight-of-hand, co-exists,
in its own rhetoric, with how everyone will benefit from trade
liberalisation, privatisation and selective deregulation in the long-run.
In the case of Indian call-centres we can see that it is a threat used
globally. The McKinsey study highlights the matter of wages which, as
described by Marx, and understood by unionised labour, cannot be
abstracted from intensity of labour struggles. In the world Marx describes
both are also sites of national class struggles, so that he can talk of
socially determined benchmarks of intensity and wages in different
countries. Despite the dynamics of globalisation of production, these
benchmarks, what with the history of colonialism and its impact, remain
very different in different parts of the world. In some places there is a
refusal of intensity despite wage promises, but mostly it is an
involuntary situation.

It is then both unreal and unjust to compare global intensities of labour
when there are such differences in wage levels. But this not-comparing
doesn’t preclude a clear-eyed look at some features which are common to
both intensity and wage conflicts. In the news clippings business, loyalty
to fellow workers was factored in, along with a culture of frenzy that
became normal. This was partly due to the time interval between first
editions of the newspapers and the dawn delivery time for the packages,
but more to the number of workers per shift. The small number, and thus
the intensity, was justified by the existence of competition, competitive
pricing and the rest.

These same pressures are “ despite the huge range of wage difference“
becoming globally common. Pricing oneself out of a job is a threat made
even to the lowest-paid, and this ˜pricing" factors in the level of
intensity. It takes different forms and comes to the same thing, speed-up,
downsizing, it all comes down to working harder in a given time. At the
same time the most primitive imaginable Taylorism has been given a new
lease of life by technologies of surveillance. Call Centres have gained
some notoriety for the policing of toilet breaks, the random listening in
to check performance and so on, but it goes far wider than that. Modern
technologies allow capital to check where each worker is at any given time
and, in many cases, what he/she has been doing at any given moment.


Milan Kundera has described, how post the 1968 invasion, many Czech
dissidents managed to get certain ˜manual jobs", and found them
liberating. You could stay out of trouble without compromising your
integrity, and the work by its very repetition without the intensity,
allowed a freedom to think. Such jobs, I suspect, are thin on the ground
these days, especially in the modern Czech Republic, still less in
Slovakia which is taking on a China-like bogeyman image for Western
workers and perhaps even Indian ones too. There is no freedom to think in
a call centre.

Instead we get management gurus talking of how 'passionate employees get
better results' as quoted by Madeleine Bunting in Willing Slaves.
Passionate?! As young English Situationists we found stories of Company
mass prayers or mass exhortations, mainly Japanese, both funny and scary,
and imagined dissident workers taking the piss. Now such things are just
plain scary and have a strong whiff of fundamentalism. There is no room
for dissidents at Asda or Orange, Bunting tells us. Their managements and
others like them aim to use the concepts of brand loyalty and teamwork to
give meaning to peoples' lives, she says. Various opinion polls like
that from the Penna Consultancy, purport to show the general success of
such strategies: that there is greater ˜loyalty, creativity and
productivity" from employees who find "meaning" in their work.
Meaning?! All this, while it is also a commonplace that there are no jobs
for life, there being no reciprocal loyalty.

This characteristic at least is equally true of the privileged sector of
immaterial labour described by Lazzarato. Privileged it is, but often
working on short-term contracts. It is the privileged version of the
outrageous super-exploitation of workers permanently on call but paid only
for the hours worked. At the BBC, six-month contracts are common; at The
Guardian’s small film documentary offshoot, two months, though this is
better at least than month-by-month contracts being enforced by Group4
Securicor in South Africa. For people with special talents in this
privileged sector and with very high earning-power, such a system is not
stressful, but further down the production chain of even such privileged
labour, the next job is not guaranteed.

Instead, on each job the mantra that 'passionate employees get the best
results' is the norm even when this is not true. It is not enough to
produce a graphic in which a globe spins round to show Bob Geldof’s face
on one side and a map of Africa on the other competently and without fuss.
No, you are required also to believe that it is of the greatest
importance. There is an intensity of labour in this sector that requires
of you that you believe it, and show that you believe it. And in this
small world word gets around. You have to ˜fit in" as McKinsey says of
its people: you can be as clever as clever can be, work those heroic long
hours, but you've also got to fit in.

In the privileged sector of commodified cultural production, cocaine has
proved to be the ideal drug in that it produces an intensity of
importance, of ˜passion" about whatever is in front of it, and the
long hours of concentration needed to make something of it, and a likely
disregard of the length of the working day and how it may continue into
your officially not-working time. It may be losing its exclusive cachet as
news comes in of Derbyshire commuters snorting the stuff, but it does have
these qualities. Amphetamine, with its tendency to endless digression
would be quite unsuitable for such work, whereas its cheapness in
comparison to cocaine (of the order of 1:12), and its chemical qualities
make it ideal for long hours of low-paid repetitive factory work.

The disparities in wages and incomes, and the consumption possibilities
they afford (drugs and otherwise), make proclamations of the unity of
labour resistance to the dictates of capital facile. This does not mean
that international solidarities are not, nor can not, be forged. At the
same time in many parts of the Western world unity is undermined by
increasing inequality, and this rise in inequality is in large part due to
the weakening of trade unions. This weakening has been caused not just by
rapid technological change and globalisation, but by persistent government
legislation to this end. Its impact was clearly seen in the UK in last
year's Gate Gourmet strike. Everyone working for a wage should be in a
Trade Union. Easy to say, and made very difficult in practice, but there
is a greater chance of success if certain cultural/ideological battles are
fought with vigour.

At its most general the claims of neo-liberalism and governments
ideologically committed to it, to be modern or modernising (something
especially important in the UK where each move New Labour makes to the
most archaic view of the world is presented as modernising) has to be
challenged on that ground. Its presentation of trade unions as dinosaurs
is laughable. Compare the Respect festivals (not the Galloway/SWP party)
initiated by the unions, which did reflect modern multiracial London, with
New Labour's Dome and its risible Cool Britannia. For the more
privileged sectors of immaterial labour such a challenge demands the
re-creation of proletarian values, most of all that, whatever else, you go
to work for the wage, and never mind the flim-flam. Despite a failure to
unionise, this at least was a shared point-of-view of news clippings
workers, and we forced the introduction of a new shift system that greatly
reduced the length of the working month.

More recently an example has been given by scriptwriters working for Fox
TV on reality TV shows in the USA. It may be hard to have much sympathy
for the writers on reality TV shows (or with workers for Group4 Securicor)
but that is beside the point. We don't know if cocaine was part of their
diet, but it is said they were being forced to skip meals, submit fake
time cards and work more than 80 hours a week. Now with the backing of the
Writers Guild they are taking legal action as are other writers against
other TV companies. Zachary Isenberg, one of the plaintiffs in the Fox
lawsuit complied with much of this because he was keen to get on in
television. But, he said : 'I spend almost my entire waking time at work.
I enjoy my job and want to keep doing it, but I also know there comes a
certain point where you have to stand up for yourself.'


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