February 10, 2010

'Autocratic without being clear ...'

A few people have emailed about the NuBureaucracy event on Friday at Goldsmiths with Matt Fuller and Alberto Toscano. I want to confirm that the event is open to all, no registration required, and that it is definitely taking place between 2 and 4.

Speaking of NuBureaucracy, a reader who would like to remain anonymous writes:

    At around the same time I read your book, I took dubious employment for Brown's typically cack-handed 'Future Jobs Fund'. The centre 'facilitiating' (pimping) this money basically delivers minimum wage, part-time, six-month contracts for several job roles, some of which offer semi-worthless NVQs, others pathetic certificates in 'self-esteem' or 'confidence-building'. I was interviewed on the understanding that it was a training/education programme, but its emerged as a cack-handed pool of easily-disposable labour.

    The 'community' centre is run by ageing militant councillors/activists - in my experience, often the most desperate and manically obedient accesors of 'project' funds (and somewhat Stalinist to anyone who points out logistical contradictions etc.). It may even be perversely 'socialist' in that every F.J.F. employee is paid the same regardless of experience, age, education, skill or job title. Although intended for unemployed 'youth', the DWP and Job Centres have taken an almost sadistic glee in referring single mothers of very young children and the middle-aged (they adjusted the goal posts after realising 'youth' can still get access to free education or training here and there, rather than cleaning corridors for six months).

    The obsessive auditing (largely guessed at, because the DWP's stipulations were vague and poorly thought through, as is typical of New Labour) has made it impossible to actually 'train' or 'mentor' the employees as required. For those taken on, the auditing has trickled down from job centre referral (all personal details must be recorded - even of those who are informed of vacancies but decline to attend) to interview (70% forms, 30% questions) to CRB check (this takes up about half the week, explaining the ridiculous levels of surveillance and questioning required for a Mcjob and demanding forms of ID not easily accessed by the poorest people in the country).

    The clincher is the timesheets - the FJF employees are mainly based all around the city as 'placements' (as classroom assistants, drivers, receptionists etc. etc.) - but all 200 workers' timesheets must have three signatures accounting for each week handed in by Friday, otherwise pay isn't processed. This is overseen by three supervisors and one administrator. It was recently announced that the timesheets previously used were 'wrong' as they had the wrong logos (!) and certain boxes to be ticked weren't printed on them. Now we have to backtrack several months of timesheets, from all around the city (they ALL need the placement supervisors' signatures accounting for every single hour worked since October). The timesheet issue became particularly absurd during Xmas and the snow chaos that followed, as we had to determine who was 'genuinely' off or just using the holidays or snow as an 'excuse' (by using the minibus driver to tour us round so we could check every signing in book).

    Did I mention that along with timesheets, CRB, job centre 'liaison', interview, contract, and signature required for various 'policies', I also have to check each and every workplace down to its insurance provider and fire hose details? Needless to say, those I expected to 'mentor' (monitor) have become an indiscriminate blur to me as I spend the first three hours of every day working out what forms they/I haven't filled in yet. No one ever seems to check them, and when the government auditor comes, he only seems to need one afternoon. However, every 'senior' employee here spends the week in a blind panic babbling about the 'audit trail'. The management is autocratic without being clear, aggressive without any target, and insistent that numbers and places are filled immediately - which itself has threw up certain problems when we're pressured to 'hire' people before CRBs or references are checked.

    Its an ugly, confusing, desperate place to work and I'm looking for an escape route that won't mean benefit suspension (each job I've had seems to accelerate the rate of auditing to a dizzying degree, the shorter the contract the more forms I collect). The levels of bewilderment combined with blind obedience at all levels is a worrying microcosm of 21st century Britain in so many ways. The general ineptitude and overworked martyrdom is so ingrained that the only 'social' contact remaining is very childish feuds, gossip and mysterious, defensive glares when anyone asks a question about how something is done.

    Funnily enough, the government has just given the go-ahead for my centre to 'deliver' 200 more jobs with the same staff overseeing it! Get me the fuck outta here...

Meanwhile, Ben Jeffery, who is writing a very interesting book on Houellebecq for Zer0, remarks:

    CR made me think of a panel discussion I attended at the Guardian postgrad fair last summer. It was on media in the digital-age, and one of the panellists was Conor McNicholas, the longstanding editor of NME. He was easily the most impressive speaker, very cogent on the methods NME has used to adapt to a changing economy and on their necessity (according to him NME makes a six-figure profit). But his bit could have come straight out of Capitalist Realism: outsourcing, staff being required to multitask (‘introvert’ writers, as he put it, have generally been forced out by ‘extrovert’ members of staff, those willing to make podcasts and web-clips – not for any greater wage, he added, “But hey, those are the breaks.”), tapping up alternative streams of revenue (tickets, T-Shirts), expecting a DIY attitude from anyone writers interested in joining the staff (they should already have a blog audience they can bring with them into NME), etc. What was most striking, I found, wasn’t that Mr. McNicholas never mentioned anything about loving music or NME having a role as a public organ, but, on the contrary, how pointless it would be (would feel) to bring it up as a point against him – i.e. to attack NME for being cynical, commercial, sugary trash. Like, how often must this guy have heard soft-headed people shriek that NME have betrayed the music, sold out, whatever…. If someone in the audience had used the roving mic to say so, they would have seemed like a tit and been laughed at. I’m sure of it.
    Your recent posts on the problems of working with dead or dying terminology also got me thinking. I wonder if there isn’t a way in which even the term ‘capitalism’ has lost its sense. Most people would, no doubt, agree that we live in a capitalist system if asked, but ‘capitalism’ as a political system does (to some degree) lose its meaning in the absence of viable political alternatives – need I point out, e.g., how soiled the term ‘socialism’ is? How few people register it as a viable political option? I know that I, reflexively, often switch off a lot of the time when I hear it or read it – it’s a dying, if not totally dead, slogan. I do think that when many, many people in the West say ‘We live under capitalism’ they don’t mean ‘As opposed to socialism (or whatever)’, they mean it like ‘We live on planet Earth.’
Posted by mark at February 10, 2010 01:00 PM | TrackBack