Posts Tagged ‘Call Centres’

Amazon Invents Vibrating Wristband to Control Workers’ Movements

February 14, 2018

More on the steady progress of western industrial management towards Orwellian totalitarianism. In this clip from the Jimmy Dore Show, Dore and his guest, Ron Placone, discuss the invention by Amazon of a wristband, which uses information technology to monitor where workers are in a building. The wristband is intended to be worn by warehouse workers. If they don’t have their hands in quite the right place when they’re reaching for a product on the warehouse shelves in order to fulfil an order, the wristband vibrates in order to nudge them in the right direction. The company is promoting this as a way of getting its workers to get the requested goods from their shelves and off to the customer, and then move on to the next order.

Dore and Placone make the point that this is indeed deeply totalitarian, with Placone mentioning the theory of inverted totalitarianism proposed by one academic. This states that while previous totalitarianisms were all about the state ordering you what to do, the new, inverted totalitarianism is also all about absolute control, but this time it’s done for your convenience and benefit.

They also make the excellent point that Amazon is a company worth billions, but in America many of their workers are so poorly paid that they have to subsist on food stamps.

They also joke that this wristband will allow Amazon to control exactly what their workers are doing, right up to the point when they decide to replace them all with robots.

I put up a piece last week about the growing threat of totalitarianism in the workplace, noting the ways various companies from call centres to the Torygraph are using technology to try to control their workers’ movements. In the case of call centres, it’s done through motion detectors fixed to desks, so management can tell when their galley slaves are moving about. The weirdo Barclay twins, who own the Torygraph, tried to introduce it there, but the hacks revolted and their bonkers plan had to be abandoned. These schemes are increasingly getting to resemble the fictional, evil totalitarian corporations in dystopian Science Fiction, like that in Jack Womack’s cyberpunk novels Ambient, Heathern, Random Acts of Mindless Violence and Elvissey.

And it also gives Brits another reason to despise Amazon, apart from the fact that despite doing much of its business over here, it doesn’t pay any corporation tax.

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A Security Card To Track Workers’ Movements in the Orwellian Office

February 2, 2018

It seems employers will seize any opportunity or technological development to spy on their workers. Yesterday the I carried a story about a tech company, that had developed a chip, carried in a security card, that would allow employers to monitor the whereabouts of their workers as moved through their building. It would help them see if they were spending too long in the loos or otherwise wasting time.

This is very much like something out of some of the nightmarish futures portrayed in cyberpunk SF. In Jack Womack’s novels of a parallel Earth in which central authority has collapsed along with Christianity – Ambient, Heathern, Random Acts of Mindless Violence and Elvissey – power is held by an oppressive industrial conglomerate. This corporation makes sure its staff stays at their desks through the simple expedient of shackling them there in stocks.

And we’re getting closer to that nightmare future all the time. I’ve mentioned the book on the terrible way office workers are treated in America, White Collar Sweatshop, before on this blog. One of the elements of modern American office life that was draining any kind of joy from clerical work was the constant surveillance.

And it’s being done over here to call centre workers. According to Private Eye, the weirdo Barclay Twins also tried to inflict it on their hacks in the Torygraph. The Gruesome Twosome had motion detectors put up around the hacks’ desks, so they could tell when they were walking about and not sat behind them making up stories about how wonderful capitalism and the Tories were, and how Corbyn was an evil Communist anti-Semite. This was a step too far for the galley slaves on the sinking rag. They revolted, and the vile pair had to take them down.

Britain really is becoming a totalitarian, Orwellian society, where we are monitored all the time. In 1984, the TVs watch you, to make sure you’re doing what Big Brother’s government wants. Now there are fears that private companies are collecting personal data on individuals from the internet, in order to target them better for advertising. And this is apart from the expansion of state surveillance under the Snooper’s Charter, and the travesty of the Secret Courts, in which you may not know what you’re accused of, nor the evidence against you, or who the witnesses and accusers are, or have members of the press and the public present, if the authorities deem all this is endangers ‘national security’.

And with the corporate media now panicking that no-one’s watching the Beeb and other news broadcasters because of their horrendous pro-Tory bias, perhaps it won’t be too long before some bright spark at a right-wing, corporate thinktank decides that we really ought to be monitored to make sure we’re watching the required amount of TV per day. Just like in the Robert Rankin comic SF/Fantasy novel, Armageddon – The Musical.

As for how evil the corporate masters of Womack’s fictional world is, the Southern businessman whose drawling pronunciation of ‘Heathen’ provides the title of the second book in the sequence, Heathern, organises shooting parties where the quarry is Black, Asian and Mexican children.

So far our captain of industry aren’t that despicable. Not just yet. On the other had, we do have IDS and Esther McVile to thank for the genocide of the disabled. This is their warped welfare policy, in which the goal is to throw as many desperate and needy people of government support as possible, even if it kills them. According to an official report, this has resulted in the deaths of 120,000 people.

They’re killing people, but doing so without alarming the sensitivities of all the ‘aspirant’ middle class folks, who vote for them. No gas chambers or SS-style murder clinics, as under Aktion T4. They just through them off benefit, have the Heil and the rest of the baying Tory press vilify them as frauds and scroungers, and leave them to starve to death.

But we can put actually physically shooting the poor for sport past them? Toby Young is an ardent supporter of eugenics with a hatred of the working class and nothing but sneers and contempt for ‘diversity’ and feminism. He also wrote that he masturbates to images of starving Africans. And his oppo Ben Bradley wanted the cops to play ‘splat the chav’ during the 2012 London riots. It might be a bit of stretch, but I can imagine both these charmers writing stupid pieces about how shooting chavs and the rest of the disadvantaged would be a nice day’s sport.

White Collar Sweatshop

May 21, 2016

Looking through the politics section of one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday, I found a book entitled White Collar Sweatshop. This was about the highly exploitative and oppressive working conditions for office workers and salaried employees in America. Looking through it at random, one of the chapters was on the surveillance of the workers by the bosses. I didn’t buy it, because some things sometimes can be too depressing and infuriating. Also, the atrocious conditions in which workers are being treated are becoming manifestly obvious. The surveillance culture amongst some bosses is a case in point. It even extends to the hacks on the Torygraph, where the weirdo Barclay twins put up motion detectors to stop their hacks moving about too much, and possibly taking too many breaks. They didn’t invent the idea. They took it, according to Private Eye, from conditions in call centres. I think the twins, Tweedleweird and Tweedleweirder, were finally forced to take them down after a revolt from their staff. But those forced to endure it in call centres aren’t so fortunate. And so responsible office workers and clerical staff ground down, just to satisfy the boundless greed and sadistic need to control of the managerial class.

From 2002: Kaiser Healthcare Lobbies for NHS Work

January 31, 2015

Private Eye published this article below in their edition for 12th – 25th July 2002. It discusses the lobbying of the then-Labour government for NHS contracts by Kaiser Permanente, a US private healthcare company. As a private company, Kaiser Permanente did not provide cover for the poorest fifth of the US population. This is pretty much indicative of the companies now queuing up for access to the health service, now being privatised piecemeal by the Tories. And if this continues, this is how British healthcare will look after the NHS is privatised.

Hail Kaiser!

While health ministers inside the House of Commons continue to accuse the Tories of intending to privatise the NHS, outside the Commons they themselves are showing increasing sign of sympathy with moves to, er, privatise the NHS.
In
Eye 1056 we referred to a paper in the British Medical Journal by American doctors pointing out the advantages of Kaiser Permanente, a huge private health organisation in California with keen ambitions to expand in the UK.

On 20 June the annual lecture of the Office of Health Economics, financed entirely by the drugs industry, was delivered in the prestigious headquarters of the Royal College of Physicians. The speaker was David Lawrence, departing chief executive of Kaiser Permanente. He outlined the tremendous advantages of providing health care the Kaiser way, without making any effort to deal with the chief objection: that as a private organisation financed by private insurance, Kaiser cannot and does not provide health care for the poorest 20 percent of California’s population.

The NHS, on the other hand, does not exclude anyone on grounds of income or wealth. The Eye’s many spies at the lecture, which was packed with representatives of the drug companies (though the health department was conspicuous by its absence), describe Dr Lawrence’s performance as “long on charm, short on facts.”

Almost simultaneously, and naturally by coincidence, the authors of the original pro-Kaiser paper in the BMJ have replied in that journal to the loud and almost universal criticism of it from defenders of the NHS. Somehow, rather like Dr Lawrence, the fails to deal with the main and obvious criticism that Kaiser does not provide health care for the poorest (and therefore usually the sickest) fifth of the population.

In his speech Lawrence referred several times to his cooperation with and admiration for “Don” – believed to be a reference to Don Berwick, a keen American medical privatiser who has just been appointed by the government to the National Health Service modernisation board.

Meanwhile more news about Kaiser comes to the Eye from the Los Angeles Times whose 17 May issue carried the curious headline: KAISER CLERKS PAID MORE FOR HELPING LESS. The paper revealed that in 200 and 2001, call centre clerks working for Kaiser could earn bonuses of up to 10 percent of their salaries if they spent less than three minutes 45 seconds on the phone per patient.

The call centres were available to Kaiser’s three million members in Northern California. The bonus system was denounced by the California Nurses Association, representing Kaiser’s registered nurses. They complained that the call centre system allowed unlicensed telephone clerks to make decisions about scheduling appointments or referring patients to medical advice nurses. The association claimed such a task was restricted by state law to “licensed medical personnel”. The newspaper also quotes a doctor at one of the call centres describing the system as “a barrier between patients and their clinical providers”.

While a substantial section of the medical establishment sucks up to Kaiser, there are increasing signs of the close relationship between the government, the Labour party and the private health and drugs industries. On 27th May, for instance, health minister Lord Hunt, a champion of PFI in the health service, opened the spanking new High Wycombe Centre for the drugs company Pharmacia; and the Fabian Society, a constituent part of the Labour Party , whose founders proclaimed the advantages of public ownership, is running a monthly lecture (plus the usual buffet lunch) as part of its Health Policy Forum, proudly inaugurated last October by health secretary Alan Milburn.

The forum is in association with (and mostly paid for by) the enormous French drugs company Aventis, whose annual turnover is $18bn.

Ed Miliband has made it clear he intends to reverse the Tories’ privatisation of the NHS. He needs our support, and provides hope that the NHS can be saved.

1898 Call from Russian Workers to Form Union against Employers’ Abuses

April 24, 2014

I found this leaflet from the Ekaterinoslav Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class in Lionel Kochan’s Russia in Revolution (London: Paladin 1970) in 1898. It’s a protest against the appalling conditions and high accident rate at the Bryansk factory. If the direct causes of the strike were particular to late 19th century Russia, I was struck by how many of the issues are recurring in Britain in the early 21st century: starvation, low wages, refusal by the company to permit ‘necessary breaks’ – according to Owen Jones in Chavs, in one call centre workers have to put up their hands, as in school, every time they wish to take a comfort break. Unions and strikers were illegal in pre-Revolutionary Russia, and this government would very much like to go the same way. Boris Johnson has said that he would like to make strikes made illegal, if they were passed without fifty per cent of the workers attending the meeting, even if all the workers present voted overwhelmingly for the strike. The leaflet reads:

Every day we must hear, no here, now there, that a man has died and our blood-suckers continue to stuff their pockets, giving
no consideration to the men who have died, whose families have lost their bread-winner and are perhaps dying of starvation. The whole day we work, pouring out our blood and sweat. Every minute we expose our life to danger, we have no chance to use an essential break, and when there are accidents they accuse us of carelessness! The greed of the capitalists, the long working day, the meagre wage – there is the cause of all accidents. Even the holidays which we have had until now, have seemed too much to these beasts of prey and they have persuaded the government, which is always on the side of the capitalists, to reduce the number of holidays in the year … Comrades, they have fooled us, they have fed long enough on our blood and sweat. Our only salvation can be Friendly Workers’ Unions, against which nothing can stand. Let us join together, comrades, in one general union and demand from the office new changes in the regulations. (p. 45).

People are starving in Britain due to the government’s reforms of the benefits’ systems. Mike over at Vox Political has launched an FOI request and went to court to get the government to release the precise numbers of figures for those who are dying. It’s about 73 people a month, although it may well be much higher. And the Work Programme and various workfare policies, traineeships and unpaid internships are all about supplying industry with unpaid labour. It’s about time all this was stopped, and working people stood together to unite to force the Tories out and overturn their vile policies.

Karl Marx and the Wage Slavery of Call Centre Workers

March 15, 2014

Call Centre Pic

One of the main features of the modern, post-Thatcher economy is the rapid explosion in call centres. These seem to have taken over from manufacturing as one of the leading employment sectors. One cannot walk past the various employment bureaux without seeing jobs in them advertised. On the other side of the picture, ordinary domestic life is now punctuated by regular phone calls during the day from someone in Birmingham, Glasgow, or even Mumbai phoning you up to ask if you want to change your energy provider, telephone company or are aware that you might get some kind of refund on your insurance. If you phone up a company, you are automatically put through to their call centre somewhere else, frequently half way round the planet. They’re often in one of the developing nations, like India, which has a large reservoir of skilled workers, who can be paid very poorly compared to their fellows in Britain. British call centre workers are, however, joining them as extremely low paid employees working in dehumanising and exploitative conditions. I heard a long time ago from a friend that call centre work is one of the most miserable experiences people go through to earn a living.

Owen Jones on Degrading Conditions in Call Centres

Just how depressing and degrading they are is also described by Owen Jones in Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. He writes

If you think shop workers have it bad, consider now the call centre worker. There are now nearly a million people working in call centres, and the number is going up every year. To put that in perspective, there were a million men down the pits at the peak of mining in the 1940s. If the miner was one of the iconic jobs of post-war Britain, then today, surely, the call centre worker is as good a symbol of the working class as any.

‘Call centres are a very regimented environment,’ says John McInally, a trade unionist leading efforts by the PCS to unionize call centre workers. ‘It’s rows of desks with people sitting with headphones. There’s load of people in the room, but they’re separate units. They’re encouraged not to talk, share experiences and so on … The minute you get in the door, your movements are regulated by the computer.’ Here is the lack of worker’s autonomy in the workplace take to extremes.

In some call centres he has dealt with, a worker in Bristol or Glasgow who wants to leave fifteen minutes early has to go through head office in Sheffield to be cleared. ‘We’ve likened conditions to those you’d have seen in mills or factories at the end of the nineteenth century.’ Think that’s an exaggeration? Then consider the fact that, in some call centres, workers have to put their hands up to go to the toilet. Computers dictate the time and duration of breaks, with no flexibility whatsoever. Employees are under constant monitoring and surveillance, driving up stress levels.

Many call centre workers have told McInally that the whole experience is ‘very dehumanizing. People talk abaout being treated like robots. Everything is regulated by machines.’ The working lives of many operators consist of reading through the same script over and over again. According to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, increasing numbers of call centre workers are being referred to speech therapists because they are losing their voices. The cause? Working long hours with little opportunity to even have a drink of water.

That’s one reason why the sickness rate in call centres is nearly twice the national average. The other is deep alienation from the work. In once call centre McInally dealt with in Northern England, sickness rates had reached nearly 30 per cent. ‘That’s a sign of low morale’, he says – as I the fact that annual staff turnover is around a quarter of the workforce. And, like so much of the new working class, the salaries of call centre workers are poor. A trainee can expect £12,500, while the higher-grade operators are on an average of just £16,000.

The dehumanising regimentation and micro-managing of call centre staff by computer reminded me of some of the dystopian SF that appeared in the 1970s, speculating on the type of future if computers suddenly took over the world and humanity was reduced to their slaves, watched and controlled totally by omniscient machines. The intrepid crew of the Enterprise encountered one such society in the Classic Star Trek episode ‘Return of the Archons’. The crew of the Liberator, the Dirty Just-Over-Half-A-Dozen of BBC’s Blake’s 7, also encountered an alien civilisation under the totalitarian control of central computer, though were able to bring it down and break free to continue their campaign against the Fascistic Federation through the superiority brain-power of their own machine, Orac. Sadly, contemporary call centre workers trapped in their totalitarian, micro-managed environment, can’t look forward to being similarly freed.

Marx pic

Karl Marx on Wage Slavery

As for the similarity between the conditions suffered by modern call centre workers and those of 19th century mill workers, it is striking just how similar t6he former are to Marx’s classic description of wage slavery in the 19th century.

Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois state; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the foreman, and, above all, by the individual manufacturers himself. (pp. 1467-8).

Marx was wrong about many things, but here he is absolutely correct. What we need is are renewed campaigns to improve conditions for the working class, to give people a better future than simply functioning as another human cog being ground down by the inhuman and dehumanizing machines of big business.