VDT Law Fails
This Is Now


Skill sharing is the way of the future. This is probably not what Kropotkin envisioned when he wrote Mutual Aid, but I'm going to go ahead and share with you some of what I've learned on the job. I work as a temp, a word processor, a secretary, part of what the communists call the "paper proletariat," doing what this anarcha-feminist prefers to call"paperslutting. My agency (read: pimp) arranges the trick, and I meet the client. I dress and act appropriately, and I do whatever they tell me for the time specified. (If they are overly cruel, my agency/pimp will ostensibly protect me. The one time I did report a client for cruelty I found the agency very sympathetic, but they haven't gotten me a single assignment since then.)

For as long as I work the job, I get approximately 40% of what the client pays me hourly. The state gets something like 20%, and the agency takes the rest. On the training video, they showed me a pie chart detailing what they do with my earnings. According to the chart, my earnings go to pay their "rent, office supplies, salaries, profits, and other costs." Funny the way they order their words to make profit sound like an unavoidable expense.

So here's some advice from the vast stores of my desperate creativity. If work is a prison of measured time, it is only logical to begin with time. What do you do with time at work (other than watch it)? WASTE IT! I'm sure you can figure out how to do this on your own, but here are some of my favorite ways.

Be 5 minutes late for work. Get lost on your way there the first day (even if you don't, they can't expect you to find your way around their zoo very easily, at any rate). Get coffee or tea or water. One trick is to get half-cups, on the ostensible basis that you like it very hot; that doubles your coffee-getting time. Ask for a small tour of the worksite, if you think your genuine interest in their operations could be plausible. Write down everything they tell you. Ask several people to recommend places for lunch. Be 5 minutes late getting back from lunch. Whenever possible, don't use your best judgement. Wait until someone's off the phone to ask them how they want their letter typed if you have a question. If you're typing it in the computer, sure you could alwayschange it later, but my motto on the job for the hourly wage is, "Why waste work when you can waste time?"

The most famous way to waste time at work is an old radical union trick, from the military too. It's referred to as working by the book. Literally, the rule book. They write the damn things, but if work actually were done by all the regulations, nothing would get done. Working by the book means doing exactly what procedure dictates and more but never less, no short-cuts, no rushing, check everything twice, get approval at every step, cut no corners, and, whatever you do, don't use your intelligence to streamline their processes.

At work, people break rules for two reasons: to benefit the goals of the corporation (for example, evading EPA regulations) or to work against the goals of the corporation. Which side are you on, after all?!?

Go to the bathroom a lot. (One temping friend tells me he takes small naps on the toilet, waking up when someone opens the door. I'm impressed but not that adept.) While you're in the bathroom, try out new hairdos. Wash your face. Pull up your stockings (as the case may be). Masturbate. Plan your evening. Do graffiti if it's possible not to have it linked to you.

Leave work five minutes early.

This list is by no means exhaustive. Be creative. Your creativity in this respect is only rivaled by the creativity of those who devise the thousands of stupid regulations set up to keep you passive in their workplace. Lest you feel frustrated with this approach-it may seem petty-bear in mind (and they have told me so in so many words) that your time is their money.

Be careful, but always keep alert for opportunities. You'd be surprised at how many apartments can be furnished with the seldom-missed surplus of the corporate world. If you have particular skills, you may be able to do large-scale damage to office machines that will be interpreted as due to breakdown rather than sabotage.

Maybe I've read too much Foucault, but in any case, I think the most damage you can do in an office setting is organizational. The whole idea of bureaucracy (rule by desks or offices) is to centralize information, to have at the fingertips of those who make decisions all the available facts about those they control, affect, observe, monitor, select, disregard, ignore, and forget, and about those by whom they are affected and limited and on whom they depend.

Thus they rely on computers, on elaborate filing systems, on steep but extensive hierarchies, and on principles of secrecy and mystification. Organization and structure are the backbone of the internal aspect of the corporation which I think is most interesting to the infiltrator: Bureaucracy.

Misfiling even a few documents can do a lot of damage. On the IBM, you can name files inscrutably and fail to label the floppies, so when you're gonethey can't really derive the name of the file from the subject of the document. On the Mac, files can be stored in inappropriate folders and can likewise be labeled unintelligibly. When you leave, don't explain what you've done with things unless you have to.

Address labels can be riddled with misspellings and typos (no one has to approve them before they go out). You can answer the phone in a confusing way. Just do it the way you learned how; pick it up and say hello. Almost without fail, the person calling will think they have a wrong number.

I think it's good to do these things even when they have only a marginal effect in countering and undermining the evil and power of these companies because it keeps you critical. This kind of dual consciousness at work prevents slippage toward the conservative careerism that is what is so insidious about office work.

Without a critical consciousness at work, it's too easy to mingle your ego gratification with their corporate goals. They have it set up that way. You do a good job for them, and they pat you on your soft little head. Sabotage is resistance. And resistance is sabotage because their work order depends on the association of your personal fulfillment with their processes. When you resist, you fuck that up.

So go ahead, fuck shit up. I did. I do. I am. And you're reading it. It's fun, but it's not just a game, not just heroically pitting your mind against the enemy.

Sometimes way up on the 57th floor of their corporate headquarters, you find a wide-open window, and if you stick your head out, you might just see the sky. And if it makes you feel deadened or sick or frustrated or lonely or crazy or helpless or angry orjust sad, remember, it doesn't have to be like this at all.

— by Stella

VDT Law Fails

A San Francisco judge recently overturned the controversial VDT ordinance after it had been in effect for only three weeks. According to Michael Rubin, attorney for Service Employees International Union (SEIU — which helped draft the law): "Judge Lucy McCabe said CAL-OSHA expressly pre-empted San Francisco's VDT ordinance, and that no other entity has the power to regulate the workplace. She relied on language of the CAL-OSHA Act for her decision." The ruling essentially bans occupational legislation at the municipal level.

Supporters of the ordinance intend to appeal quickly, but expect that it will be at least another year before the issue is resolved.

"I'm confident it will be back in effect, unless we're able to get state legislation first," said Rubin. "It's Part of a coordinated effort involving collective bar gaining and attempts to pass statewide legislation."

The lawsuit overturning the ordinance was secretly subsidized by IBM, and looks to have been a good investment for the giant computer company. IBM, along with several other companies, financed two tiny plaintiffs in their quest to outlaw the few concessionr granted VDT workers. Neither the plaintiffs nor IBM would name other corporate backers, but did confirm their existence.

An IBM spokesman said that the company's backing does not mean it is opposing SFs law. "What we're interested in is having federal standards instead oflocal ones," he said, revealing a typical strategy of multinationals. In another recent case, not directly related to this one but similar in that it relies on an argument that a higher jurisdiction takes precedence over local efforts to regulate public policy, an arbitration panel of GATT (the Ceneral Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) ruled that U.S. attempts to require dolphin-safe tuna fishing violated international free trade agreements. SF's VDT ordinance would have required, over the next four years, that employers in SF provide VDT workers with adjustable chairs, desks and computers in order to reduce the incidence of repetitive strain injuries, and the installation of non-glare lighting to avoid vision problems. However, measures to reduce potential health injuries from the electromagnetic fields emanating from computers were thrown out in the negotiating process.

In exchange for accepting such a negotiating process, which included representatives of the Chamber of Commerce, the City and SEIU, the ordinance was supposed to be lawsuitproof.

"We always knew there was a possibility that a renegade employer group might challenge it, but we were disappointed and upset that litigation was conducted in such a secretive manner, said Rubin of SEIU. "I don't know why corporations are hiding behind the screen of two tiny companies set up as a front." While the amount IBM spends on lawyers' fees pales next to the company's $2.8 billion loss last year, siding with the forces of regression shows the company has little acumen for the current technology industry. VDT industry watchers, such as Louis Slesin, editor of the New York-based VDT News, say they find IBM's position baffling when IBM could easily be making its products more ergonomically safe for users and marketing its low electromagnetic emission VDTs-resulting in more sales.

Although this is the first major lawsuit over a protective ordinance, at least 19 lawsuits representing hundreds of millions of dollars have been filed against computer companies over repetitive strain injuries in the past few years, according to Slesin. Apparently, IBM and others fail to see the logic in supporting protective legislation so workers don't get hurt and sue the hell out of them in the future.

"One wonders why IBM is going against what must be the recommetldations of their own ergonomists," said Slesin.

Slesin and others supporting protective legislation make the economic argument that Processed World readers love to hate: a protected VDT worker is a productive VDT worker.

"Major employers know there's no doubt that they get an investment in ergonomic equipment back in productivity gains," Slesin said.

Employees, on the other hand, are mostly interested in avoiding debilitating and disabling injuries. Some VDT workers have taken the stormy and faltering path of the protective legislation as a sign of things to come. "First they say the city can't regulate it; then they'll say the state can't regulate it, and we'll have to wait for the Fed to regulate it-and look at their record on worker protection," said a disgruntled office worker. "Maybe we need some direct action. A substandard VDT, once disabled, can't be reinstated by a mere lawsuit."


Ecotech, a three-day conference recently held in Monterey was intended as a coming out party for "corporate environmentalism." The organizers were somewhat disappointed, as only about 20% of the attendees—including Chevron, PG&E, Apple, Arthur D. Little and Esprit—were corporados, and blamed the low turnout on the "recession." Others weren't so sure. Jay Harris, the publisher of MotherJones, noted that General Dynamics was nowhere to be found.

In the other corner were a flock of the usual suspects-Amory Lovins, nerd and techno-pragmatist par excellence, Stewart Brand, post-political green extraordinaire, Fritjof'I am a philosopher" Capra, Denis "Earth Day" Hayes, Chellis "Technology is the problem" Glendinning and a variety of other green luminaries of local and national fame. The middle ground was held by a mdlange of environmental consultants and wannabes, politicians, green-fund managers, entrepreneurs, middlemanagers, journalists and multi-media artists. It was a strange brew. Knocking around in it, I learned that even though "most of these corporations are green the way an apple is green, on the outside where you can see it," in the silver words ofJoel Hirshhorn, author of ProsPerity Without Pollution, there was something going on here that could not be reduced to the public-relations bullshit recently named greenwashing.

Corporate environmentalism is-just maybe-a real social movement. It's small, and far less important than its adherents believe. The bulk of them are painfully naive, and they spend hours bemoaning their lack of access to the "guys at the top" and the "real decision makers." But for all that, there they are- sincere, pragmatic and more than a little worried. They believe, as a woman from PG&E put it at one of the late-night "break out" sessions, that "the corporations have the talent, the resources, the R&D and the ability to make a difference," and that if they can't be brought "on board" there's no hope of reversing the environmental crisis in time.

On day two a nice lady from Hallmark Cards (a corporate feminist, by the way) took the stage to assure us that even in Hallmark there were a few sincere and determined people working hard to make a difference.

Again and again, the message came down from the stage. Peter Schwartz, bigtime corporate consultant and author of The Art of the Long View, summed it up well when he said that "corporate environmentalism can be a successful partnership between private initiative and social good" and that greens who are fixated on "blocking" corporations and pushing their "kneejerk views" of environmental problems do more harm than good by "delegitimating environmental regulation over time." Corporate environmentalism, on the other hand, "provides multiple payoffs" because "efficient and high-quality products reduce cost and environmental impact" and environmental regulation forces companies to take the long view.

A few hours later I cornered Schwartz by the buffet and asked him why, if

environmentalism and.efficiency and profitability all go hand in hand, the world was going to hell? He smiled, chewed and pronounced — "incompetence. It scares the hell out of me.

It scares the hell out of me too, but then again, so does competence.


- Tom Athanasiou