"This normalised insecurity is characterised by a new type of low-paid worker, already indebted by higher education and then repeatedly laid off due to market fluctuations, takeovers and relocations. Unlike their senior colleagues, these workers are not entitled to traditional forms of compensation such as redundancy payments or 'gardening leave'. We might therefore call this new group the graduate without a garden."
If only, rather than wasting my time thinking about work-power relations and questioning the discourse of 'jobseeking', I would apply "smart effort with impact" and display "positive and balanced intent", and above all if I cultivated a proper work ethic, I could now be making a living writing stuff like this:
(this and countless other righteous tracts discovered via the 'Employability Hub' @EmployHub - a "social learning community", apparently*)
The words would pour out of me, as if I were possessed by some inspiring inner voice. From my pulpit-blog I would preach the gospel of employability, giving new virtual form to the familiar motivational narrative: the sanctimonious opening anecdote... the history bit... the bit where I mention "the capitalist economic model" as if I stand outside of it... the vaguely threatening, Torchwood-like The 21st Century is when everything changes and you've got to be ready bit...
In contrast to the old-fashioned 20th Century workplace, the author tells us, "The 21st Century perspective favours values like..."
...fear, insecurity, competition, selfishness, 24/7 availability, emotional labour? No? Oh hang on...
"...independence, individuality, influencing without authority, insistence, initiative, innovation, risk, diversity and entrepreneurialism."
Ah, of course. Hallelujah.
* More on Hubs here
Notes on walk, Bury St.Edmunds 28 December 2012: Symonds Road, Shakers Lane, Hollow Road, Compiegne Way
Moreton Hall: once a stately home owned by a Cambridge history professor, now a private school. Day and boarding, ‘preparatory and pre-preparatory’. Pre-preparatory?
According To Locals (1) From 1940s to 1960s the whole area around Moreton Hall, previously farmland, was a military airfield abandoned after the war. Children played unsupervised among the munitions.
According To Locals (2) In the 1950s Ford wanted to build a car plant on the site. The council refused, said high wages would damage other local industries. Moreton Hall, almost-Dagenham, then became a residential development.
According To Statisticians A few years ago a study found the Moreton Hall estate to have the longest average life-expectancy of any area in the UK. “Girls born on Moreton Hall could live to 119”
Leave Symonds Road at right angle bend – past the layby where 6 years ago I parked every morning for a 3 week temporary agency admin job at a bank in the town centre - into Shakers Lane (no vehicular access)
No evidence of Shaker worship, architecture or furniture in Shakers Lane; only the background drumming of traffic on the concrete runway of the bypass gouged into the landscape 100 metres away.
Continue straight ahead, past left turn leading to footbridge over dual carriageway towards the Abbey Gardens / town centre. Ignore the call of the A14 container lorry-retail park continuum, in many ways the successor to the Abbey itself; a once all-powerful institution ransacked by rioting townspeople and dismantled for scrap.
Further down Shakers Lane: sequestered elderly care home; SCOPE ‘Inclusion’ Unit; one or two houses; B&B.
“not considered to be of special interest”
End of Shakers Lane, reformatted junction with Hollow Road and Barton Road. A mini-roundabout is overlooked by a distinctive relic of a 14th century window, moved from a hospital in another part of the town to its current location in the late 1700s, forming part of another hospital building which later became a private house. For some time, seemingly since at least 1900, it has stood alone, its second home also a ruin.
North up Hollow Road, towards the sugar factory. By bridge over railway line: ‘Adult Learning Centre’ recently renamed ‘Community Hub’. Outline of old lettering still visible on brickwork behind new sign. Biopolitical palimpsest.
The metallic mass of the sugar factory, its silos sighing, chimneys puffing out white smoke. An actual real-life factory, not a CGI heritage simulation. Have to resist the urge to walk up to the barrier and ask the security guard if I might wander in and have a look around.
Occasional lumps of sugar beet, thrown off by over-enthusiastic delivery lorries, lie like dead seed pods on the pavement outside the houses opposite the factory. Having started their lives in a remote field somewhere on the planet’s surface, at every moment being guided by nature and human intervention toward their final transcendent crystallisation, these poor specimens got to within a calorie of fulfilment only to end up, by the whim of the sucrose Gods, stranded here on the hard shoulder outside the gates of Silver Spoon. Imagine residents tired of tripping over these unwanted gifts every day upon their arrival home, picking up the dirty beets and hurling the damned things back at the trucks as they rumble past.
1936: “The British Sugar Corporation was created by the Sugar Industry (Reorganisation) Act to manage the entire UK sugar beet crop”
1982: The British Sugar Corporation was taken over by Berisford International and became British Sugar plc.
2011: ABF and its parent company Wittington Investments targeted by UK Uncut for tax avoidance. “The tax avoidance scheme involved moving capital between ABF/Primark and the affiliated Luxembourg entity ABF European Holdings & Co SNC by means of interest-free loans, avoiding tax of about £9.7 million per year.”
“£650,000 fines following sugar factory death” (2005)
“The tall British Sugar silos dominate the town's skyline, whilst the busy A14 passes above the roofs on a high-level flyover.” (2007)
Just past the factory, the pavement dissolves into generic automotive (de)territory. All that is solid melts into non-place signage. Peripheral zone of industrial units and DIY outlets. Hot tubs, ‘Mole Country Stores’.
A143 roundabout at optimistically named ‘Compiegne Way’ - concealed service road, electricity substation, fenced-off factory land, discarded bottles
As glimpsed from a car window: pedestrian standing on grass verge, folding a 1980s map of Bury St.Edmunds, in fading light.
Mr Duncan Smith, in the spirit of accountable and transparent government I believe the public has a right to know the contents of the £39 breakfast which you consumed at our expense.
Did you plump for the smoked salmon option? Or was it a full English? If so were the eggs scrambled, fried or poached? How many sausages? Are you a black pudding man?
Was the service satisfactory? What thoughts passed through your mind as you devoured the warm chunks of flesh?
Congratulations! Using your expert Googling skills and social media knowledge, you have reached the blog of one of the candidates for your latest vacancy. Think of this as a hidden CV extra, offering a wealth of behind-the-scenes material. Please do read through the various entries and leave a comment - your feedback is important.
I should take this opportunity to mention, in case I somehow omitted the fact in my covering letter, that there is also a whole book which deals with similar topics: scroll down for details. If you are thinking of advancing my application to the interview stage I would suggest buying and reading this text (it is very short, and cheap). You may find the contents informative and a useful point for discussion.
I look forward to hearing from you.
"I had the perfect elevator speech memorised and I carried it around everywhere for months in my head, but when I finally found myself in a real elevator with a real potential boss and I opened my mouth to speak, all that came out was 'FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU' for the entire journey."
This article (discovered via this excellent post at Marginal Utility) describes in a chillingly casual way the Smile Or Die-style employment practices currently being implemented by Pret A Manger in London and elsewhere. By way of recruitment on the basis of a "cheerfulness" assessment and a "teamwork" ethos built on peer pressured positivity and micro-monitoring, "Pret has managed to build productive, friendly crews out of relatively low-paid, transient employees. And its workers seem pretty happy about it", according to a New York Times journalist, after his jaunt around the company's aspirational granary outlets with its CEO. Well obviously they "seem" happy if their jobs depend on it (and even during your lunch hour you might be unmasked by a senior functionary), but that isn’t a cause for celebration. And if people really are happy to be used as low-paid, disposable service fodder, then that’s even worse. It’s a recipe for exploitation.
In the shaping of workers into tasteful human commodities, as in the treatment of the edible products, latent contradictions are made palatable by a calorific dollop of marketing mayonnaise. Just as Pret wraps its standardised food preparation process in a cosy narrative where every sandwich is apparently unique and "handmade", so also its employees are urged in their transactions with aspirational lunchers not to "hide” their "true character", while at the same time they are fitted as generic components on a performative production line. The result is an impression of synthetic authenticity which has migrated from the wholesome packaging of the food to the corporate seasoning of bodies and minds, whether they like it or not.
I’m not a regular Pret visitor myself (how did you guess?), but still, this set-up is surely a target for some sort of counter-alienation intervention. For instance, how about a campaign of one-off purchases made while showing staff specially prepared cue cards? "Don't worry, I won't demand a side-order of smalltalk with my tea." "Workers have a right to be miserable". "Nod if you are being held hostage by the Happy Police". Admittedly this wouldn’t of itself bring the great capitalist smoothie machine grinding to a halt, but at least it might draw momentary attention to the artificiality of such apparently natural interactions and communicate a hint of genuine - not painted on - solidarity between customer and labourer, which would be a start.