Independent Media Centre Ireland

"We Are Hireable On Demand...Exploitable At Will And Fireable At A Whim"

category national | worker & community struggles and protests | feature author Friday February 18, 2005 22:24author by James R

Hands up who remembers back in the day, at the height of hype on the IT economy, when every half witted career guidance counsellor in the country did their best to pilfer leaving cert students of their dreams by forcing them into dead end computer courses in preparation for a career in call centers? The mass media cheer-led us into a new millennium and we awaited the collapse of work as we knew it Jim, ready to lap it up in the leisure society, with dreams of flexible working from home wearing headsets and tapping keyboards. Then the repetitive drone of the dot com boom was suddenly slapped aside and the realization dawned that while Gates may have got his millions - millions of others were left with nothing but repetitive strain injury and flexiploitation. It’s admirable the myriad of ways they make us swallow their bullshit. They repackage it every once and awhile in a never ceasing effort to make old lines of conflict and tensions once spotted, less obvious.

Related Links:
Class Struggle in the New Economy A Ballad Against Work
Prol Position, home of the Hotlines inquiry into resistance in call centres.
Slavery Calling
The Simon Jones Memorial Campaign a campaign against the casualisation of labour, named after a man killed in a 'workplace accident', due to casualisation and workfare.
Video games on the theme of precarity
Working in a Music Store Interview with a HMV worker.
Green Pepper interview with Chainworkers

Douglas Coupland coined the achingly appropriate term ‘McJob’ for the monotonous dead end short-term employment that so much of Generation X fell into and we now take for granted. He presented the McJob as a slacker lifestyle choice that facilitated an escape from the cage of traditional career choices allowing us to define ourselves as something other than our job descriptions that’d see us all going the Willy Loman way.
As a result he certainly fell for the worst excesses of post-modernity as a method taken on by power and capital to impose a frightening new method of work discipline and organization on us. This increasingly obvious face of work in advanced capitalist countries has had a number of different terms attached to it by arse-hole academics each vying for position to create the latest ‘post-whatever the fuck’ trend in the ivory tower. While simultaneously turning themselves into supposed experts on the reality the rest of us live. The best term for the McJob phenomenon is the most obvious - precarity.

It is a system of employment, where locally we are mobilised to be on our toes constantly by short term contracts in one end of the service industry or other. There is also the purposeful undermining of traditional forms of worker’s organisation in how workplaces are organised and a de-teething of unions nationally by forcing them into bed with the bosses through social partnership. Globally it is a field where capitalism laps up technological innovations to disperse production throughout the globe. So Nike engage in the immaterial production of a brand, while someone else produces the actual product.
Politically, precarity manifests itself as social democracy retreats ever further up its own ass as the middle management of capitalism, in the face of a private sector itching to tear apart the security of the welfare state. Those that have entered the labour force in past few years are among the first generation since 1847 that doesn’t have to piss off to England or the States to find work, but the first to wave farewell to a ‘job for life,’ and instead suspiciously eye up insecurity, short term contracts, rent slavery and shite public services as privatisation is used to shift capital into private hands in case we get too uppity.

Employers use students* precariously preferring them to employees that may need stability or security. Usually finding work in the worst swamps of the service sector such as pubs, call centres or high street chains, open to abuse as seasonal workers and then fucked out. One student in a call centre “was taken in, in kind of a draft for want of a better word, with seven or eight students and then there was one girl, like who was from Ballymun…and she’s like ‘Well they never called me back – they must have forgot!’ It was clear that they called all the students back but they hadn’t called her back.”
One former HMV worker just out of UCD described how “the team leader structure and the way the three floors in the building were divided created an air of division" which disrupted his attempts to start a union in pursuit of basic rights. “There was 25 or 30 people laid off on Christmas Eve and I was the first to be informed of my laying off. They didn’t like my attitude. The company exploited its brand image, so people really want to get a job there, people didn’t want to jeopardise their job by raising objections. There’s a reward scheme or structure whereby people who adhere to company policy and wear the HMV logo with pride will be rewarded in the fact that they’ll receive some façade of a promotion, be that team leader or in the case of seasonal workers, being kept on for a longer period.”

A friend has experiences of being put through the Marks and Spencer’s Retail Academy. Forced to greet customers as part of a routine interview in a shameless attempt to squeeze unpaid labour out of him as the brash youthful face only to eager to help on the shop floor, struggling to hide the comedown from hell. Branding is production remember. There are more insidious bastards who use computerized personality tests - it may well be off the mark but that’s not the point. All they want is to check if you go along with the rubbish where they tell you about your 'personality' without rolling your eyes to heaven. And this even before you start work. In one call centre training “lasted about seven days, they go through all the products and are constantly just told about CC LTD**, CC LTD…then there was this stupid video that runs through all major events in Irish history and CC LTD is there beside ridiculous shit like Mary Robinson getting elected and then maybe something happens to CC LTD that year and that’s thrown in as if it was an equally huge occasion in Irish history just bullshit like that. Real bullshit, basically the main training is to make you feel as if you are part of something, That corporate idea.”
Taking up a path first beaten by WalMart, TK Maxx in Dublin refer to their staff as ‘associates’ rather than workers or employees.

On one hand, management use bullshit training regimes and exercises to reduce start off wages, yet simultaneously use technology to de-skill workers in an effort to reduce their control over production. But as usual most real training comes from work colleagues. A call centre employee described how ‘“you finish making a call there’s this thing where you’ve got 20 seconds to type up if you made a sale, to catalogue all the info. If you don’t catalogue all the information in that twenty seconds you get fined, it’s a section of your bonus, once you close it another call comes in immediately.”
The McDonalds mode of automating food processing defines the trend. Ironically, in the first major boom of call centers in Germany, there were 'scandals' of companies grabbing up to 50,000 DM (25,750 Euros) per newly created job and ‘skilling up workers’ where a 40% turnover was considered normal. In an ideological climate that dismisses state intervention, this is a rather bizarre wealth redistribution to the corporations.

Most people one day bullshit a path out of shit jobs like HMV that subsidise some tosser of a landlord in Rathmines into something more ‘grown up’ the overall rhythm of work doesn’t really move an inch. If your not one of those creatine fuelled little shits on the 46A. Or if you can’t scab a job off the aul’ lad of some chicken brained L and H type that’s been bred from the cot to pounce around and lord over the rest of us with all the intellectual agility of a legless monkey. Get used to the idea that an arts degree’s real value is as quality roach material to complement a life time of drudgery in jobs with a ‘please deposit brain here’ slot at the front-door. Yet have you ever noticed how in convenience stores there’s always more cameras trained on the staff than the punters?
Doing a McJob is like returning to school, idiots make you wear uniforms and use bull shit award schemes like gold stars on copy books after a spelling test to instill discipline and loyalty: "There’s a chart put up every day of how much you’ve sold the day before so that instills competition first of all, that’s the main way. So every one can see where they are ranked, even though there are only ten people on a team. But in fairness my team seems to fail quite badly.” Just as in school where authoritarianism is greeted with subversion on a level that can sometimes reach unbelievable planes of piss-taking there a hints of a similar pattern in call centers: “The main thing every one that works in there talks about is how much we hate it. I’m serious, maybe 60 or 70 of the time we have socialized on breaks and stuff we spent bitching about it...These jobs sap any energy out of you it’s the exact opposite of pressure if you know what I mean. Total monotony. Pressure is the wrong word to use, maybe it will get pressured, I don’t know. We take the piss out of people’s names, we shout at each other on the phone, try to make other people laugh on the phone. It happens loads, it cuts off around two percent of the calls and then that person will never answer their phone to CC LTD again.”

*This is one of the most notable things about the current state of the labor market. I couldn’t find statistics through google on it however, but I’m sure someone can post a link up here with some
** The real name of this company has been changed to protect the identity of the staff member.

The film Precarity will be screened in NUI Galway and UCD shortly as part of the New Antagonisms series of films and discussions.

Comments (19 of 19)

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author by pcpublication date Thu Feb 17, 2005 18:20author address author phone

great ive been wanting to see that film, fair play

author by Johnpublication date Thu Feb 17, 2005 19:15author email dunaree2000 at yahoo dot comauthor address author phone

I take it you are unhappy with the current state of Ireland, what with full employment, massive immigration, soaring living standards and life expectancy, and the highest rate of new house completion in the history of the world. You are a hard man to please. Perhaps you could name a country (preferably socialist but any will do) that is currently doing better than Ireland. When you grow up, you'll realise that the Ireland of 2005 is one of the most successful countries that has ever existed.

author by Michaelpublication date Thu Feb 17, 2005 21:37author address author phone

John you make a fair point about the success of the the Irish economy, but I think you're ignoring the issues of poverty, inequality and injustice.

author by LOL :-) - newspeak centralpublication date Thu Feb 17, 2005 21:50author address author phone

yes. we are the best! check it out xic@!
precarity has got into the english language!
give the OED one year. Wow. thank you James R, it almost came down to "precariousness".

author by Chris Bondpublication date Sat Feb 19, 2005 02:06author address author phone

are u living in cloud cockoo land or something. Do you think that a country with the second largest disparity of wealth in the developed world, 123,000 children living in consistent poverty, proportionatley the worst funded education and childcare system in the EU is one of the most successful countrys in the world?

author by alan ó maonaigh - n/apublication date Sat Feb 19, 2005 03:27author email alan_o_maonaigh at yahoo dot comauthor address n/aauthor phone n/a

Insighful stuff, but may I suggest changing the default language option within the control panel to English: Ireland? Otherwise, and I'm sure the irony won't be lost on the author, the article merely illustrates the fact that corporations (i.e. Microsoft and its operating system) wield unrecognisable power over our day to day lives.

author by irish cultural attache in san franciscopublication date Sun Feb 20, 2005 08:19author email irishculturalattache at gmail dot comauthor address author phone

... then get out of the country and go to Cuba. Ireland is one of the best places in the world to live, by any standards. All this drivel about disparity of wealth and oppression is designed to keep the very people who would benefit from globalisation from actually doing so. Look at the losers in Belfast who stone "the peelers" (what is this? Victorian England?) at the behest of the Godfathers in Sinn Fiend - the very ones who should be benefiting from economic development, are being pulled down by outmoded ideology and disinformation (while Gerry and the ageing gauleiters around him feather their nests). Suckers. Thankfully, most people see this kind of crap for what it is - the blurtings of the "you're not the boss of me" students of the world, who all end up working in Iona or Microsoft anyway...


"... every half witted career guidance counsellor in the country did their best to pilfer leaving cert students of their dreams by forcing them into dead end computer courses in preparation for a career in call centers? "

This is unmitiagated nonsense, written by someone with either an American education or the basic inability to switch the speller in Microsoft Word to English (Ireland) What dead end computer courses? What about all the guidance to study computer science and electronic engineering in DITs around the country? And isn't it call "centres"?

" the repetitive drone of the dot com boom was suddenly slapped aside and the realization dawned that while Gates may have got his millions...'''

>> Bill Gates made BILLIONS before the "dot com boom". And I bet that you're using a Windows-based PC or Internet Explorer on a Mac or working through an ISP that uses a Windows server.

"millions of others were left with nothing but repetitive strain injury and flexiploitation. It’s admirable the myriad of ways they make us swallow their bullshit."

>> Who are "they". Is this more of this "us and them", "attacks on the workers" bullshit that pervades this site? People would swallow bullshit if they had a mouth as big as yours, But thankfully, most find it distasteful. Where is your mandate?

What a crock of nonsense... God, no danger of Kevin Myers ever being done out of a job with tosh like this....

author by Ed Leepublication date Sun Feb 20, 2005 13:22author address author phone

I know there are crappy McJobs around and workers being exploited and what not. But what specifically are you upset about? Globalisation of production? Deameaning workers' rights? Corporatisation?
McJobs may suck, but it is still work. Being a student myself, I know the pressures to find work and earn some cash, be it for socialising or for that J1 trip. Personally, I wouldn't feel exploited in the examples you've given. Unless of course it breaks moral standards or threatens my physical safety. I know plenty of young people who are in 'precarious' employment and they seem very happy (and lucky) to be working. In fact, and i'm not encouraging it, they in turn 'cheat off the system by finding loopholes for their own personal gain.'
And speaking of Ireland being the best place to live in?? I don't think it is, but it's certainly not bad either.

author by macobairpublication date Sun Feb 20, 2005 18:47author address author phone

Why shouldn't Irish people have jobs?

author by Office Dronepublication date Mon Feb 21, 2005 11:33author address author phone

In fairness now, they didn't just push IT. They also indulged in the fantasy that learning languages would be a good career move.

John's argument that things have never been better misses the point. "Precarity" as far as I can gather from the article is about more than GDP.

Mortgages are for life, not jobs

author by fast-food employeepublication date Mon Feb 21, 2005 13:27author address author phone

I work in the fast-food sector, it's very badly paid and I work a nine hour sometimes 10 hour shift with only a half hour break! next time you go get your take-away after a night out. think of the people that have to serve you your food and the blatant exploitation their under.

author by garethpublication date Mon Feb 21, 2005 14:17author address author phone

involve either calling people up and bothering people about something (my 90 year old grandmother was essentially tricked into changing her phone carries), selling people food that is doing them (not to mentions the animals who were butchered for it) harm or selling people things that they don't need, but are manipulated into wanting by the sophisticated, soulless technologies of advertising and the (or rather, the largest section of) media. i think it would be a fantastic idea to coordinate some sort of ethical jobs bank.

author by seedotpublication date Tue Feb 22, 2005 02:54author address author phone

"Illegal" status for workers - either tied to employer or residency which is "illegal"

Illegal drugs

Mortgages which are unaffordable and at risk from interest rate rises

pensions deficit

Lack of public health, high cost of private insurance

decline of TU organisation in private sector to below 20% - increase in fixed term contracts and 'atypical work'

Precarity is part of the climate of fear::control mechanism. The link to the slacker McJobs in the original article is good - part of the death of ideology / end of history mood that resulted in activism instead of politics and summit hopping instead of organising.

Maybe the boosters who are telling us how we've never had it so good can explain why my father on a single income could buy a house and raise 6 children with so much less stress than me and my wife, both employed, live in Celtic Tiger Ireland . Some of it is my telco bills ;-) - some of it is precarity - trading security and quality for consumption and quantity.

As well as ethical jobs, we need to look at what we have lost as we chase individual success over collective well being.

author by georgepublication date Tue Feb 22, 2005 19:08author address author phone

Its one thing stretching the employment rights of students to the limit, but with many new immigrants working in Ireland now, employers can pretend they don't have any rights at all.

I asked a Chinese guy in a small shop recently why the the products scanned in at a higher price than they were labelled, and could I have them a the labelled price. He explained that I couldnt as his boss deducted the difference between the scanner and the till from his wages!

author by soupypublication date Wed Feb 23, 2005 02:18author address author phone

The impoverished class are their own allies and enemies. When people are locked into corporate towers for the McJobs, they are visually impaired people about their opportunities for getting away from the endless tyranny of hierarchy. But wouldn't some of those degreed students be able to outsource their bosses someday?
Here I am getting some degree in some major that I'll be funneled right towards who knows. The less brain dumping the more people might learn and use that mental space for their own creative work.
Stop bitching already ;

author by brian - n/apublication date Wed Feb 23, 2005 15:58author address n/aauthor phone n/a

I've been working successive contracts for a multi national corporation for 18 months now. I'm over qualified for the operator job I'm doing. Despite massive profits they "can't afford" to hire me permanently. I get no security, no benefits and low pay because a recruitment agency charges a fortune to run my payroll. I can't afford health insurance . They would laugh at me if I tried to get a mortgage to buy a house so I piss away money on rent every week. I have no hope of getting a pay raise this year because there's an endless stream of people in the same situation that would take the job if I was fired. This is the reality for most of my class who graduated with IT degrees two years ago.

Full employment is bullshit. A meaningless figure massaged by the goverment to win more votes. You could hardly count my peers in that group.

author by maylerpublication date Thu Feb 24, 2005 13:58author address author phone

someone was bleating on about how great Micro$oft was, and in particular explorer!

thats so 2004

“Security, Cool Features Of Firefox Web Browser Beat Microsoft’s IE” - Walt Mossberg, Wall Street Journal

work website telling it how it is.

author by Linkerpublication date Fri Feb 25, 2005 14:59author address author phone

25 February 2005 13:50
The owner of a McDonald's franchise in Swords in Co Dublin has been fined €1,500 in the Dublin District Court for employing an underage teenager.

Full story at RTE:

Related Link:
author by sunday morning ranterpublication date Sun Feb 27, 2005 11:37author address author phone

Don't get me wrong - I love this site but cannot get over on an ongoing basis the fact that trade unionists/environmentalists and other left groups have not used it coherently and in an organised fashion to analyze and diagnose the fundamental and quickly mutating problems of irish society. The first step to changing something is to analyze it and understand it and to spread the analysis.

It is obvious that this kind of critical project has been given up on by the greens and labour and by sinn fein.

The dissident left (my round robin term for those read and use this site around issues like bin tax / gats / involvement in war) runs in cycles of bitching and emergency activism and use the site to address the rest of the dissident left and maybe journalists who lurk here.

No-one uses it to grow and address a broader audience.

Why Not?

It is high time that progressive elements of the left realise that INDYMEDIA used in a thoughtful way is a tool for broad two way communication. Emphasis on the broad. That is all it is - a tool maintained by a small group of people with little time and resources beyond that needed to keep the site paid for and ticking over.

C-Dots post above hints at the kind of thing I mean.

"Maybe the boosters who are telling us how we've never had it so good can explain why my father on a single income could buy a house and raise 6 children with so much less stress than me and my wife, both employed, who live in Celtic Tiger Ireland"

A detailed generational survey of quality of life / security / housing / environment /employment rights would be something that theoretically should be a possible point of co-operation between the various antagonistic groupings on the left. It would also broaden the audience addressed by the site by letting them know it is happening somewhere like here. ie I do some research with my mum the teacher who just retired. She reads and adds. She tells her other retired friends and they read and add.
I mean what other choice is there. Joe Duffy? The Village whose open columns are filled by the cynicism of various swp members writing under cover of a variety of fronts? Dublin based Socialist newspapers with tiny print runs?

I mean is this site going to be strictly for the remnants of the sub-culture that built up between 1999 and 2002 around summit hopping and 'anti-globalisation'. Or can broader sections of the population be involved?

Anyway this rant from thread on Hunter S Thompson brought this rant on:

"I think many of the the younger folks don't care a whole lot because in their hearts they feel there's no future, or no future worth getting excited about. All around them is the evidence of things getting worse, not better, with every passing year -- grimmer, grayer, poorer, more controlled, more boring, more cheap and sordid, regimented and cruel, drab and tasteless. A matrix of McSchools, McHouses, McJobs, McFood, McClothing, McMedia, McCities, McWorld. And of course neatly package McYouth McCulture, McRebellion, McSex and McNaughtiness especially targeted at them...

If I feel moments of mute, bitter rage at my own aged parents and their whole generation, for having gobbled up a planet in such slobbering haste, leaving my generation with the stupendous bills to pay -- what the H do we suppose the kids of the next generation feel when they look at their tottering economy and bankrupted ecosystems? Why not keep your head down, conform, and try to win a bit of comfort in a scrap of "safe" space, since there's no real hope for anything like a happy ending or a bright future?

I do know younger folks who are vibrant with dissent and passionate creativity, full of hope and laughter and rage and deep empathy, buzzing with sarcastic critique of the Culture of Terminal Dumbness, overflowing with prankish, poetic, mad mockery of the machinery of corporate imperialism. But they are altermondialistes -- who still believe, bless them, that "another world is possible." Sometimes they almost convince me, too :-)

The difference between the conformists and the rebels, I am persuaded, is the difference between despair and hope. Perhaps this is why the failure of our young to rebel causes us such heartache -- we know that the calmness with which they accept "the world as it is" is the calmness of despair?

Posted by: DeAnander | February 24, 2005 01:05 AM"

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