karoshi

a ballad against work

Indian communist group Collective Action Note’s pamphlet about and against wage labour.

i wrote a review of this for Anarchy, in the winter of ’99.

A Ballad against Work: A Publication for Collectivities
(Majdoor Library, Autophin Jhuggi, N.I.T., Faridabad 12001, India, 1997) 62pp., Free, but send appropriate postage.

In this ambitious project, the people of Collectivities attempt to take anti-work discourse beyond theory to create a body of work which examines the actual mechanisms employers use to create the repressive conditions at our places of employment and in our lives beyond the workplace. Utilizing specific case histories, wage-slave poetry, and actual corporate propaganda, they create an epic saga about 20th century workers and the effects of factory speed-ups, spectacularized “entertainment,” efficiency studies, and control over workers-both at the site of work and away-which points out in stark detail the dehumanizing effects of modern industrial/corporate domination over the working class. To counteract the foulness of corporate labor practices, the authors have also included numerous examples of workers resisting these imposed conditions through ingenious methods of their own-and a chapter which explains the imperative for collective struggle.

Though produced in India and dependant sometimes on accounts of local labkaroshior activities, this pamphlet has examples of workplace horrors and worker’s experiences from every industrially developed continent. Without the stories of resistance and call for worker solidarity against the oppressive bosses, this would be quite a depressing piece of work. Indeed, many of the entries do not suggest that there is a way out for workers and describe how they are crushed, in spirit as well as bodily, by the conditions imposed upon them. However, the narrative nature of much of the brief entries, the occasional poem, the lists and boxed asides makes for an entertaining read, even when dealing with such topics as karoshi -a word coined by the Japanese to describe sudden death due to overwork, which caused 1500 deaths there in the ’80s. Yet, it seems that no matter what the efforts of those in charge, people cling desperately to their humanity, and for every effort made to squeeze out more productivity, workers find ways to sabotage, resist and assert themselves as human beings.

A Ballad Against Work‘s one obvious contradiction is the final chapter’s rally-cry for collective acts of resistance as the only means of effective struggle in the workplace, despite having devoted space in an earlier chapter to descriptions of how the downsizing of personnel and the resultant concentration of tasks, particularly in the transportation industry, has made it possible for very few people to disrupt-even bring to a complete halt-industrial production on a factory or national level.

sabotageUnlike Studs Terkel’s Working, or the anthology Sabotage in the American Workplace (pdf), the people who make up Collectivities are more interested in a long glance at our workplace oppression, rather than an exhaustive study. Their layout is fun to look over, with mish-mashed fonts in the subheadings and boxes of anecdotal alternatives to corporate dictates. There is even a postscript flow chart which depicts the interconnections between resistance and subversion, motivators and coercers and the actions/ forces they utilize. Although sometimes bleak and disturbing, and with little to offer in the way of theory, this pamphlet is entertaining and can inspire playful acts of subversion as well as dread and hopelessness, often on the same page. Which makes it fit quite well into our bipolar culture.

This review was first published in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed

there is a text-only version available from the libcom library.

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