1980s >> 1984 >> no-960-august-1984

In the workplace . . .

The alarm goes off, it’s 7 am and I know the nightmare is not yet over. I desperately want to stay in bed but drag myself out and again get through the normal routine in preparation for another day’s wage slavery.

My lift is waiting down the road, my “chauffeur” buys the Sun every morning, so I open it up as usual. The pre-packaged opinions glare at me in huge print in between pictures of uninteresting idols and unwanted “news” about who they’ve had affairs with lately. My friend informs me that he “only buys it for the wife”. As he has seen me read the occasional Financial Times at work, he has explained that he really reads the Daily Telegraph at home.

From my desk, penned in for another day, I can see the company cars lined up. the MD’s Audi nearest the entrance, next the under-Manager’s car and so on strictly according to hierarchy. The car parking spaces are rigidly adhered to and the poor, unsuspecting rep who parks his car in one of them is in grave danger and can, on return from lunch, expect to be subjected to verbal abuse and threatening behaviour. When a new wonder-machine is being delivered. the prospective recipient has to hover patiently in the corridor, like a child at Christmas, until the MD has approved the purchase. A flash car is the outward expression that a salesman has done well, the prospect of a new, more up-market one next year is the carrot for working harder, for putting in unpaid work at the weekends without complaint, for smiling and being pleasant to overseas visitors he can’t stand the sight of.

Most of my fellow workers are constantly chasing the next appliance on the road to gadget paradise. They never quite get there but it is glittering seductively just out of reach. Perhaps happiness to them is when they acquire a kitchen extension, a better car, new carpets, a bigger house, bigger mortgage, bigger debts. The more the debts increase, the more they need to keep their jobs, to conform, to turn up on time, show willing, have the right ideas. More often than not they look harassed rather than happy; one suffers from sleeplessness, others need tranquilisers.

I’ve tried explaining that because they are all working class and in the overwhelming majority, they need not put up with this kind of existence, after all. our class produce all the shoddy goods they always need to replace, make sure they are distributed, plan the sales campaigns—run society from top to bottom. But after four years of constant mental strain to get this point of view over, some still think I am describing some sort of “Russian system”, others say “it would be nice were it not for human nature”, not to mention the worker who told me that “work is not the place for this kind of deep, political conversation”, then obediently lowered his head over his boring delivery schedules.

Young female members of staff have to endure sexual harassment—always just within the limits of decency. Thinly veiled suggestions like “how good are you at it” or “you are looking hot this morning” abound and men stand as close as possible to explain a piece of work with hands longing to touch. The men are too worried about their “stable” marriages to play so close to home; better wait till next time they are on a business trip. The wives at home wait for their next anniversary card and seem satisfied with being no more than Mrs. with their husband’s initials in front of the surname.

The sad thing about this kind of behaviour is not the existence of sexual feelings but the hypocrisy and frustration which surrounds sexual relations under capitalism. The sexual act with a prostitute, whether she/he is bought on the streets or in marriage, is divorced from any real feelings for another person and a lot of unhappiness results from it. This kind of treatment of women in workplaces need not be a result of sexual desire but how the macho male is expected to behave as well as a way of “keeping women in their place”, constantly reminding them that they are really only good for one thing and must not aspire to senior positions. Of course, reinforcing the traditional view of women does tend to lessen competition for men.

As I settle down to yet another day’s tedious slog over the typewriter, I know that most of the other workers here consider themselves to be “middle class”, basing this self-satisfied assessment on the assumption that they are “educated” (have come out of one end or the other of the sausage machine), that they are “buying their homes” (are in debt to building societies) and enjoy taking business contacts to pretentious hotels and restaurants. Even so, they are acutely aware that their little privileges could easily disappear should they lose their jobs. However, this does not seem to lead them to the conclusion that they are members of the working class dependent on selling their labour- power to an employer for a living, just like the factory workers next door. Apart from the working class, there is only one other class in society, the employing class or capitalists. The capitalists may or may not work; the essential difference between them and the working class is that they have the choice.

Really big worries at my place of work, apart from whether next month’s salaries are going to be in the bank on time, are things like choosing the “right” bottle of wine when carrying gifts to “superiors” and whether their wives really know how to “entertain” at dinner parties. When extremes of idiocy take place, as when one worker brought a TV set in to watch the return of Prince Andrew and the boys from the Falklands, I have felt there is a real need for the firm to make an urgent investment and follow a Japanese example. In Japan, apparently, some companies have rooms where their workers can get rid of pent-up frustration and anger by locking themselves in for a while; screaming, shouting, hitting things and- throwing things about.

But this can only offer temporary relief. Unless we take conscious, political action to abolish this lunatic system, we are going to be faced with more of the same tomorrow, as I will be with the alarm clock.

Torgun Bullen