a “zero-hours” contract… for thousands and thousands of hours

Jack Staunton writes on his work in a call centre compiling government market research surveys

When drunk we feel a strange kind of tiredness. Not the exhaustion of physical exertion nor the sleepiness which dusks in the late evening, but rather a cloying, dulling hibernation of the mind. This same sensation is brought about by endless hours of repetitive workplace routine.

No-one has ever sincerely smiled this much while wearing a headset

I have worked well over a thousand days at the call centre. I have read through still more thousands of surveys. The call centre does not test us physically or mentally yet it is a massive drain of human energy and vitality.

The idea is to collate telephone surveys for various government departments. We ask businesses how much training they do, if they need more government support, what they think the answer to the recession is. Every survey is unique yet they are all the same: half-arsed and self-contradictory fragments of ideas, answering what they think they are meant to say to a bunch of questions which tell them what they are meant to say. Continue reading “a “zero-hours” contract… for thousands and thousands of hours”

report of london call centre workers’ meeting

by Jack Staunton

On Saturday evening two dozen call centre workers from around London attended a meeting to discuss how we can best organise together. Although in the UK there are now some 750,000 people working in various types of call centre (such as sales, service calls and market research), very few are unionised. Employment is often very precarious, and the high turnover of staff in many workplaces means it can be difficult to organise, even though semi-casual work on low pay, along with management behaviour and petty rules, give plenty of reasons for us to do so.

The meeting took place as an extension of the AGM of the CWU branch at the Pell and Bales charity call centre in Old Street. Workers from another Pell and Bales site, as well as CCA International (sales), IFF (market research) and Listen (charity fundraising) attended to share experiences of standing up to zealous managers and recruiting people to the union, as well as to plan ahead to co-ordinate our organising initiatives. Continue reading “report of london call centre workers’ meeting”

hmrc call centre workers plan strike action

by Steve Ryan

Workers in HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) contact centres have voted massively to take strike action. Interestingly in a time of recession, the strike is not about pay, but conditions. Over the past few years the government policy of handing over public services to private sector managers (usually failed ones ) has led to a deterioration in working conditions, call centres being a prime example.

The centres are desperately understaffed meaning workers are micro-managed to achieve impossible turn-around times. Toilet breaks etc. are strictly monitored and bosses swan around with walkie talkies to chase up workers who appear to have been off line too long. Even so only half of calls are answered and a recent TV programme on HMRC was deeply critical of the service provided. Continue reading “hmrc call centre workers plan strike action”

the commune issue 2 published


february 2009 – £1 + postage and packing, email uncaptiveminds@gmail.com to order

click here for pdf or see individual articles below

barack obama is lipstick on a pig – by Ernie Haberkern

civil service pay dispute: defeat or victory? – by Steve Ryan, Wrexham PCS

class struggle on the london underground – interview with Vaughan Thomas, RMT London region chair (LUL)

occupations: the way to win? – guest editorial by Gregor Gall

the people’s charter: a charter for change? – by Chris Kane (online only)

militancy and mobilisation in the anti-war movement

the mindset of israelis in the gaza conflict – by Solomon Anker

anti-semitism and the war – by Aled Thomas

unemployment: a view from the front line – by Christine Hulme, PCS DWP

welfare ‘reform’, the brown premiership and the recession – by Chris Grover, Lancaster University

what does ‘socialism or barbarism’ mean today? – by François Chesnais

call centres: the workers’ enquiry – review by Jack Staunton

ukraine’s ‘new left’ and the russian ‘gas war’ – by Milan Lelich

the socialist movement in iran – by Sam Parsa

political platform of the commune

the “workers’ enquiry” and call centre communism

Jack Staunton reviews Hotlines: Call centre – Inquiry – Communism

When we pick up a left wing paper or magazine and scan its contents we can be fairly sure that its editors will not have failed to offer a piece on shifts in the world’s stock markets, analysis of the businesses felled by the recession, and a take on the latest wheeling and dealing by the world’s statesmen. Whether dry, rational and down-to-earth commentary, or grandiose predictions of the final crisis of capitalism and vast forces of chaos sweeping across the globe, we can be sure enough that developments in the activities of the ruling class will be recounted in some detail.

But ours is not a movement which limits itself to attacking the dominant system: it is a movement for the self-emancipation of the working class. To put that in the language of the current crisis: no-one simply wants capitalism to ‘collapse’ chaotically in a heap of bankruptcies and mass redundancies. Quite obviously, the unravelling of the irrationalities of capitalism will not in itself create a better society. Rather, we have a better, alternative vision for humanity: we want the working class to organise to displace those who control the levers of political and economic power and re-organise society from below on an egalitarian, collectivist and democratic basis.

So surely it should follow that the left ought to privilege understanding the state of the working class – the people and the movement who are actually going to revolutionise society.  This is all the more the case since although no-one would deny the existence of capitalism, for the last two decades it has been a commonplace assertion of much of academia and the media that the working class no longer exists.  For such ‘commentators’, the term ‘working class’ is itself merely a label for a narrow cultural stereotype: for example, in March 2008 the BBC’s White  season featured a documentary ‘Last Orders’, detailing the lives of white working-class pensioners in northern working men’s clubs, proclaiming that a few of this “endangered species”, the working class, do in fact still exist. Continue reading “the “workers’ enquiry” and call centre communism”