[OPE-L:2172] the political economy of call centers (2/2)

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Sun Jan 16 2000 - 10:57:20 EST

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(continuation, JL)

>critically. Demands for higher wages, for example, lead in Call Centers of
>banks to the introduction of wages based on performance and frequent
>performance tests. In this way a previously non-existent wage hierarchy
>was adopted.
>f) Work method and product
>What is the actual work of a Call Center-worker? Which functions and
>reponsiblilities does she/he have to take care of, in addition to the
>"official" work, in order to accomplish the job? In doing so, does she
>improve the work flow in terms of management? Which skills is she
>developing and how is capital utilizing them?
>What significance does "immaterial work" and its "product" have in this
>sense? How can value be embodied in an "immaterial" product? How can it
>absorb human labor and therefore increase capital? In factories the labor
>of thousands of workers is embodied in the product. They actually see the
>product as the result of their cooperation. How does this relation appear,
>if the "product" is information or a satisfied customer?
>This question of the work method leads us to the actual basis of worker's
>subjectivity, the question of how they see their work, their productive
>connection, their society.
>g) Worker's subjectivity
>1. Actual workplace activity
>What relation do workers have to what they do on the job? Capitalist
>management claims, on the one hand to want good quality ("labor process"),
>on the other hand it is interested mostly in quantity ("process of
>creating value"). How do workers handle this contradiction? Do they want
>to do "good work for a good product"? How do they react to the
>intensification of work?
>What do they enjoy about working? How do they deal with stress? What ist
>their opinion of the hierarchy? What means do they develop to avoid
>working? What do they think about the job or the profession? Is the
>mobility also part of their own will?
>2. Coherence amongst workers
>How do workers see the coherence between them? Capital brings together
>isolated laborers of different origin and has to make them cooperate. What
>kind of relation develops between those workers when they are forced to
>work together? What divides the workers and what brings them together? How
>do they commonly find solutions for the daily problems created by the
>divison of labor? Do they see the possibilities, within this process, of
>turning the cooperation around as a base of their own power against
>3. Society
>How do Call Center-workers relate their work to the reproduction of
>society? What sense do they see in their work and the product in
>connection with the reproduction and needs of society? What do they think
>about the "sevice ideology"? How do they perceive themselves within the
>development of society? How do they assess this development?
>This relation between the perception of the own activity as combined
>workers on one hand, and the reference to work and development on the
>level of society on the other, reveals how the "desire for communism" is
>practically expressed today.
>4. Worker's discussion and organizing
>We must capture the actual experiences of exploitation, the ongoing
>discussions, conflicts and organizing attempts, we must criticize and
>develope them further.
>h) Strikes and struggles
>What experiences of struggle do workers in Call Centers already have? What
>revolutionary tendecies lay in these conflicts? What forms of organizing
>appeared? We will, for example, investigate the conflict at Citibank in
>Ruhrgebiet, Germany, where at the end of 1998 the workers began a strike
>against the out-sourcing of a central Call Center and the resulting wage-
>reduction and deterioration of other work conditions.
>i) Worker's power and communism
>We take Call Centers in order to analyse what basis for worker's power and
>revolutionary self-organizing does exist. In discussion with workers we
>have to find out which communist tendencies actually are being hidden or
>lie behind the disgusting rhetoric of the "service- and information-
>society". How do the workers acknowledge the fact that capitalist labor is
>more and more expanding into all spheres of life? What do they think about
>the increasing proletarization and dependency on labor, at the level of
>society, that to us looks like the "service society"? Do they have ideas
>of another type of social formation that does not make us new "servants"?
>How do they assess the development of information technology which would
>allow a cooperation of workers on a new level? What does it mean that
>information can be transfered to all regions of the earth? That through
>the development of the productive forces the contribution of an individual
>worker to the creation of a product is less and less measureable and
>apparent and that, therefore, the basis of capitalism gradually
>disappears? Furthermore, do they see any chances to use the "information
>technologys" in the class struggle against its capitalist applications and
>in this way to overcome the separation of producers and production
>knowledge as the basis of (the division of) labor?
>4) Further steps and appeal
>In the near future we will organize collectively the above listed steps of
>the investigation (political discussion, analysis of information
>materials, interviews with other workers etc.). We will draw up a more
>detailed thesis which can serve as a basis for the worker's discussion and
>for the decisions about an intervention.
>We want you to take part in this debate and investigation - at best with
>direct contacts and information. This paper is an appeal to intensify the
>discussion on revolutionary organizing and to let collected material and
>experiences circulate. You will find a questionnaire attached which you
>can use in interviews with colleagues or comrades who work in Call
>Pass this paper on to other collectives, write to and/or meet us!
>Apart from German we can speak English, Polish an Turkish fluently. We are
>also able to read French, Spanish and Italian contributions.
>Nevertheless, you should write and circulate papers in English (or
>German), if possible, because otherwise we would be overburdened with
>We wish you passion and strength in the upcoming struggles!
>Kollektiv in kommunistischer Bewegung - November 1999
>C/o Archiv
>Am Frderturm 27
>46049 Oberhausen
>e-mail: kolinko@koma.free.de
>Questions for Call Center Workers
>This questionnaire should enable us to analyze interviews with workers
>from different Call Centers in several countries. Interviews, as part of
>revolutionary investigation, are not an interrogation of workers in order
>to collect facts. The questionnaire should be criticized and developed
>further, together with the workers. Our aim is, that the interview will
>become a discussion where we destroy the daily myths of the capitalist
>production process and criticize the development of society. The
>investigation will become part of the revolutionary process where it
>manages to put forward the argument about capitalism, class struggle and
>communism within the field of expoitation and where it becomes the
>beginning of political self-organizing itself!
>We indicated the decisive questions for the political discussion in bold,
>the supplementary ones are not.
>a) Company
>1. In which company are you working?
>2. To what sector does the company belong?
>3. To which bigger trust does the company belong?
>4. What is produced there or what kind of services are offered?
>5. What function does the Call Center have in the company?
>6. In which Call Center department are you working?
>7. What other Call Center departments are there in the company?
>8. When was the Call Center set up?
>9. Did the company get state subsidies?
>10. How many people are working altogether at the location or for the
>11. Is the Call Center out-sourced or has it just been set up?
>12. Were already existing Call Centers joined together?
>13. What has changed through that concerning work conditions?
>14. Was the same work you are doing in the Call Center done in other ways
>15. Which work routines or technologies have changed through the set up of
>the Call Center?
>*16. Why do you think does this Call Center exist?*
>17. What eyplanation does the management give about the question of why
>the Call Center exists?
>b) Region
>18. Are there many Call Centers in your region?
>19. In what sectors are they engaged?
>*20. Why are they concentrated in your region?*
>21. What do managers or politicians say about this?
>22. Is there a training scheme for Call Center agents offered in your
>23. Who is offering that?
>24. Is the state employment office or social service agency putting
>pressure on people to work in Call Centers or take part in the training
>c) Workers
>25. How many people work in the Call Center?
>26. How many are female, how many are male?
>27. How many immigrants work there?
>28. Where do they come from?
>29. How many are part-time workers, how many are full-time?
>30. Has the proportion of part-timers and full-timers changed?
>31. What various working time models exist there?
>*32. In your opinion, what kind of people start working in Call Centers?*
>*33. Why do they start working there?*
>34. Do you think people in the Call Center come from similar backgrounds
>and get along well, or do they differ from each other very much?
>d) Job or profession
>35. How long have you / the others worked there so far?
>36. Did you / the others already work in other Call Centers?
>37. Why did you / the others finish working there?
>38. What did you / the others do or where did you work before that?
>39. How did you find the Call Center-job?
>40. Why did you / the others apply for the Call Center-job?
>41. Do you / the others want to work there for a long time?
>*42. Do you want to have another job within the Call Center?* (Which one
>and why?)
>e) Qualification
>*43. What criteria did the management apply when hiring people?*
>44. What kind of job training or skill did you already have before?
>45. Does the management organize training to qualify workers?
>46. How long does this training last?
>*47. What is taught or what have you learned there?*
>*48. What do you think about the training now, where you are working?*
>*49. Did you have the necessary skills before or did you learn them "on*
>*the job", while working at the Call Center?*
>*50. Which skills does a Call Center-worker need, in your opinion?*
>f) Methods of working
>*51. When working on the telephone, which actions do you perform?*
>*52. Who is giving you direct orders?*
>53. Apart from those, who has a position superior to you?
>54. With which technical devices are you working?
>*55. Which functions do these devices have?*
>56. Can you operate the devices properly?
>57. Do you like working with the devices?
>*58. What do you like about this work in general?*
>*59. What do you dislike about it?*
>g) Cooperation
>*60. Are you working together, cooperatively, with other workers?*
>61. In what way do you cooperate?
>62. Do you have contact with other departments, branches or work sites?
>63. Are these contacts important for the work?
>64. How do you find the information you need?
>65. Are you dealing with a call on you own or are you putting them through
>to other departments as well?
>h) Problems with the organization of work
>*66. What kind of problems frequently come up concerning the organization*
>*of work?*
>67. Are there frequent failures of the technical equipment?
>*68. In the case, where there are problems, how do you deal with them?*
>69. What role does cooperation with your colleagues have in this context?
>70. What role do the managers and supervisors have?
>*71. Is it enough to follow the official work routines in order to manage*
>*the work, or do you also have to fulfil other functions as well?*
>*72. Have you been given additional work since you began?*
>*73. How did you react to that?*
>*74. In your opinion, who is organizing the work?*
>*75. Is the organization of the work sensible?*
>*76. Why not?*
>*77. Why are there managers and supervisors?*
>*78. In your opinion, why are there so many workers in one office in Call*
>i) Work intensity
>*79. How or what is determining the pace of work?*
>80. At what rhythm are you being called or are you calling up?
>81. Is the rhythm of the calls and your work speed determined by the
>telephone equipment?
>82. Is the rythm of calls leaving you time for talking to colleagues about
>other things?
>*83. What do you talk with them about?*
>*84. How do you manage to make the work easier or to have unofficial*
>*85. Do you think the job is stressful?* (What exactly is stressful about
>86. How do you feel after a working day?
>j) Control
>*87. Are you being controlled and how?*
>*88. Who is controlling you?*
>*89. Why are you being controlled?*
>90. Which criteria are being used in controlling you?
>91. What happens if you are making serious mistakes or if you are not
>following orders?
>92. Does that happen often?
>93. Are you managing to get around the controls?
>94. Does it happen that people do something wrong deliberately in order to
>have breaks or fool the supervisor?
>k) Wage
>95. How much do you earn?
>96. Does everybody earn the same?
>*97. Why not?*
>98. Is there a wage scale or are there wage groups?
>99. What criteria are used to get a pay raise?
>100. Does the wage depend on performance?
>101. Are you getting additional payments for certain working hours (at
>night, on weekends...)?
>102. How does management justify the wage differences?
>*103. What do your collegues have to say concerning wages?*
>l) Working hours
>104. What does your contract say about your working hours?
>105. Are you working overtime, special shifts, etc.?
>106. How long does it take to get to work and back home?
>107. What time does the Call Center open and close daily and how long do
>people call up?
>108. Is the Call Center open on Saturday, Sunday and public holidays?
>109. What kind of shifts exist (e.g., early shift, night shifts only)?
>110. How is the shift schedule made?
>111. Do you have a say in that matter?
>112. Are there work time accounts where you can (be forced to) accumulate
>working hours and take time off later?
>113. When do you have breaks?
>114. Do the workers have breaks together?
>115. Do you have additional breaks due to the fact that you are working in
>front of computer screens?
>116. How many days of vacation do you have?
>*117. Are you satisfied with the working hours, the shift system etc.?*
>*118. What is not satisfying to you about all that?*
>m) Unions
>119. Is there a negotiated collective agreement?
>120. Does that cover only the location, the whole company or the sector?
>121. What exactly is regulated there?
>122. Who has signed it together with management?
>123. Is there a works council (official worker representation body on the
>company level)?
>124. What is it doing?
>125. Which union is active within the Call Center?
>126. What is it doing?
>*127. What do you / the other workers think about the union and the works*
>*128. What do you expect of the union or the works council?*
>n) Services
>*129. What exactly is your service?*
>*130. Why is this service getting "produced"?*
>*131. Who has an interest in it?*
>132. What significance does friendliness, customer oriented service etc.
>*133. Do you consider your job as necessary for society?*
>*134. What does the management have to say about that?*
>*135. What do the other workers say about that?*
>o) Conflicts
>*136. While working, do you talk a lot about the problems in the Call*
>*137. What are you talking about exactly?*
>*138. Are / were there conflicts among the workers?*
>*139. What was the problem and what happened?*
>*140. Are / were there any bigger conflicts with the management?*
>*141. What happened exactly?*
>*142. Will there be (more) conflicts around the situation on the job?*
>*143. Were you already threatened with out-sourcing or closure of the*
>*Call Center?*
>*144. What do you think about this threat?*
>p) Discussion
>*145. What is the difference between work in a Call Center and work in a*
>*factory, other offices or in a hospital?*
>*146. In the future, will more people work under conditions similar to*
>*Call Centers?*
>*147. Will there still be Call Centers in a few years?*
>*148. What will change about the work conditions?*
>*149. How do you imagine work and life will be in ten or twenty years?*
>*150. Who will determine how the situation will be in ten or twenty*
>*151. What do you think about the possibility of commonly organizing for*
>*an improvement of the situation?*
>*152. With whom would you organize?*
>*153. What could you do to put through your demands?*
>*154. What do you want to put through or change?*
>q) Questionnaire
>*155. What do you think about this questionnaire?*
>*156. How can it be improved?*

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