Blue Books working day #Factory #workplace #inquiry #ethnography #Marx #Dickens #Engels #Spivak

The Blue Books:
Marx’s Capital as guide for engagement at work.

John Hutnyk

Abstract: The figure of the factory inspector is set out by Marx, primarily in ‘The Working Day’ chapter of Capital, volume one, not as an uncritically approved person of unassailable credentials, but as an advocate of investigation that does a service for the working class ‘that should never be forgotten’. The Factory Inspector most often named is Leonard Horner, and his work in the Blue Books, parliamentary reports appearing at least annually, was read by Marx as raw material for his examination of conditions in the industrial factories of 19th Century capitalism. For this chapter Marx also read Dickens and Engels, and many other sources for his commentaries on the struggles over wages, hours, child labour and education. The introduction of the Factory Acts ensured a modicum of education for children, with limits on the number of consecutive hours they may be forced to work. Marx’s critique of these concessions develops within an argument that exhorts collective struggle, and investigation of the workers themselves involve in this struggle. That his argument was also against slavery, bonded labour, and exploitation worldwide is a contextual lesson that can suggest practical ways to engage ethnography and workplace inquiry today.

Key words: Factory, workplace, inquiry, ethnography, Marx, Dickens, Engels, Spivak

Read the whole draft here.

The informality of ‘free’ labour.

I am writing on the relation of illicit and informal labour to formal labour, the unpaid component of capital as embodied, lived, precarious and immaterially material as a way of keeping all workers in a kind of check – aspirations and opportunities limited by affective restraint, low horizons and opportunity. How this plays out in the informal and illicit economies of nightlife, port life, smuggling, contraband, covert and dysfunctional piracies…
Conceptions of ‘labour’ have relied for too long on an unexamined conventional definition based upon working hours which ignores Marx’s radical and innovative extended argument in Capital. Labour, in Marx’s unfolding presentation, is first of all labour-power, but in a changing sense. His analysis proceeds from simple reproduction to collective – a movement replicated in individual chapters and in the book as a whole. By the later chapters of volume one, the issue is the maintenance of a separation between productive consumption in the workplace and consumption that reproduces collective labour power. A distinction maintained by the wage form, with responsibility for reproduction – food, shelter, training, domestic life, childrearing etc – delegated to non-work or unpaid ‘free’ time.
Capital cannot exist materially without this immense trick of ‘free time’. In addition to receiving without fee the ‘surplus’ created above reproduction by labour in the workplace, capital also benefits in various ways from the materiality of unwaged time. The informality of this time of reproduction, of unpaid labour in the home, in training, in community, even in recovering, through sleep, for work the next day – all this time has become saturated with commodification, from school books and domestic appliances to therapies and alarm clocks. Nightlife and homelife become the shadowy extension of labour time (Adorno) subject to an affective recovery work, replenishing that which capital appropriates for free. ‘free in a double sense’ Marx says, and today, more than ever, all of our time is monetized as such ‘free time’
from this, from studies of the informal sector, it becomes possible to say…
…well, there will be a case study on informal economies in port cultures, piracy or some such. To be worked out closer to the date…

Evaluation Workplace Inquiry in the University as thousand flowers

A draft abstract for a talk:

What would be a genuine radical example of the university evaluating itself? I propose that this would not be the blunt branding exercise of metrics, quality assurance, REF and league tables. This is a bureaucratic beauty contest of merely cosmetic interest, no intellectual merit and ethically corrupt. Instead, assume three things: 1) the university is its entire population, students, academic teaching and research staff, administrative, support, and infrastructure staff, and users, stakeholders, vested interests. 2) all these constituent groups are capable, and can be supported, probably for less cost than the current evaluations, to look at their own work and be researchers tasked, from day one, with participation in workplace inquiry and 3) a variety and proliferation of research styles, report modes, and transparencies are compatible despite their possible non-commensurability – that a thousand flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend need not add up to a single algorithm but can exceed present evaluations many fold. Drama Therapy, ethnographic film, counter-mapping, workplace inquiry – all these trading on resources already inside and outside the university and foregrounding the self-critical DNA of what the university mission should be all about. Not mere rhetorical support for the humanities or increased public understanding of science through promotion of a few media friendly dons, but a genuine radical effervescence of ideas, creativity and questioning of what the abundant potentiality of the social production if knowledge might be.

So I want to make three points.

1) That the university crisis is a consequence of a monetization of the university in the interests of industry and this is disguised in a pervasive, but wholly inadequate, discourse of accountability that does not have the resources to really account for the situation. REF, Hefce visit, SWOT analysis and audit surveys are ill suited to the extent of the crisis.

2) the departments and sections of the university have, each of them, been remodeled for pecuniary gain. A typology of the ways the commercial imperative can be presented, but is no pretty sight. A deep critical re-evaluation of the university is demanded, but any criticism or questioning of the path of managerialism is rapidly undermined.

3) solutions to this predicament already lie within the university and its communities, but it requires a radical transformation of all roles in the university to include self-auditing as robust research component of all jobs. Time for this must be allocated, funded from gains available once senior executive positions and moneys spent on consultancy and pointless audits are redistributed. Training of the workers in the sections for the new deeper critical auditing can be provided from budget lines freed up by departing executives.

Everyone agrees the crisis in higher education is never far off, but a strange kind of complacency looms. All manner of statistical and anecdotal evidence can be deployed to underline this proximity to crisis. Yet, the number of times the crisis has been forecast exceeds plausibility and is topped only by the excessive statistical data and ‘analysis’ that purports to explain it away. Discuss.

See also here and here for long forgotten past versionings.

A Pay Rise is Not Enough – We Need a Plan C

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Provoked by Parliament’s steadfast commitment to a Plan A of Austerity, the rusty machinery of the Trades Union Congress has provided the customary opposition in the form of its Plan B: marching for the alternative, marching for jobs, growth and justice, and now marching for a pay rise. We think it’s important that we join our fellow workers on 18 October, but we do so critical of the TUC, its politics and its innocuous demand. In short, we need a Plan C.
The march on 18 October will be the biggest national mobilisation of the working class in two years. This is something the TUC is relatively good at – which is reasonable to expect given its immense budget. However, this is also an organisation which has joined forces with the Confederation of Business and Industry (CBI) in backing workfare programmes, and which increasingly appears interested in only engaging with – let alone fighting for – only a narrow subset of workers. Within the formal work economy, employment is increasingly casualised, while ‘informal’ work such as care – which is equally crucial to the generation of profit – remains as marginalised as ever within the TUC’s chauvinistic and rigid workerism.

The demand for a pay rise seems to be more closely tied to legitimising Labour’s new policy for an £8 minimum wage than creating a movement to challenge and transform the present reality of working class existence in Britain. Labour’s plan for a pay rise – 26p per hour on top of the existing minimum wage by 2020 – is an insult. It’s a grand plan to remunerate the increasingly impoverished and growing working poor with less than the price of a bag of crisps. The TUC’s support for such a policy is an embarrassment.

Throughout the week of the 13 October, we will be joining the national strikes and picket lines in the run up to the demonstration. One-day stop work actions obviously have their limitations, but any hope we have of strike action becoming more general and widespread means we must engage, participate and make connections. We have launched #strikeup to collect reflections, dreams and counter-narratives of what work and striking could look like in the future, and we encourage others to strike up similar conversations on their local picket lines. We will then join the march on 18 October, standing with our fellow workers while strongly critical of the TUC’s complicity.

A pay rise is not enough. We demand the ability to live without overwhelming insecurity. We demand to work with flexibility and on our own terms. We demand an end to the double burden of unremunerated care work. We demand an end to sexism and racism in the workplace. We demand a movement that does not limit itself to pay rises but one which dreams of a world beyond work. We demand a Plan C.

We Need To Talk About Work

Plan C London would like to invite you to:
We Need To Talk About Work: a series of public discussions about the crisis of the work society and strategies for moving beyond it.
7.30pm Tuesday, 30 Sept Common House
5 Pundersons Gardens, Bethnal Green
Plan C is calling for two things in October:

* Mass support, solidarity actions and participation in the national trade union strike on October 14th.
* A bloc at the TUC demo on October 18th in London.

We want to open up the ideas and plans for these interventions to everyone who shares our problem with work. We’ve already started these discussion at our festival (Fast Forward 2014) and want to continue them through a series of public discussions entitled: “We Need to Talk about Work” across different cities in the UK.

Through these discussions we’re hoping to collectively develop shared perspectives, and to translate our ideas into strategies for the struggle for freedom from waged slavery. These discussions will take place and the end of September, and we encourage everyone who can’t come to one of Plan C’s discussions to organise similar events in other places.

On 18th October the Trades Union Congress (TUC) will be organising its first national demonstration since 2012. Against the Plan A of austerity, the TUC and the left wing of the Labour Party are proposing a Plan B. With the slogan “Britain needs a payrise” the TUC have fallen in line behind Labour Party policies: clinging to the minimum wage, gesturing towards the living wage and mumbling about a higher minimum wage if employers can afford it. The TUC’s addition to this paltry collection of promises is a demand for a ‘crackdown’ on executive pay.

These policy proposals, and others like them, fall far short of both what we need and what we want. The problem isn’t just that we’re not paid enough for the work we do; it’s that most of the work we do isn’t paid at all. The problem isn’t just that our wages are too low; it’s that wages are still the only option open to us in order to survive. It’s not just that work doesn’t pay enough, it’s that we have to work for wages in the first place.

The demand for less work and more money is more realistic than the hope amongst the TUC and the Labour Party that all this current unpleasantness could be got rid of if we just got back to how it was before. You know, back when Britain made things goddamit, employers paid good family wages, and everyone had a job. The peddlers of this fantasy seem to be innocent of the fact that capitalism, and history, has moved on. They also seem innocent of the fact that we wouldn’t want their rosy dream of the 50s even if we could have it. It would mean going back to some version of the past (one that never really existed) where many of us would have to retreat back into the home so there could be ‘full employment’ for our husbands. It would mean rejigging the global economy in order to get back to some good old fashioned colonial exploitation which kept money flowing into British coffers.

We look forward to meeting you at one of the public meetings or on the streets on Oct 18. For more information

Ephemera issue out…

New issue of ephemera on ‘The politics of worker’s inquiry’ released…

The Politics of Worker’s Inquiry
ephemera: theory & politics in organization
Volume 14, Number 3 (August 2014)
Edited by Joanna Figiel, Stevphen Shukaitis, and Abe Walker

This issue brings together a series of commentaries, interventions and projects centred on the theme of workers’ inquiry. Workers’ inquiry is a practice of knowledge production that seeks to understand the changing composition of labour and its potential for revolutionary social transformation. It is a practice of turning the tools of the social sciences into weapons of class struggle. It also seeks to map the continuing imposition of the class relation, not as a disinterested investigation, but rather to deepen and intensify social and political antagonisms.

Workers’ inquiry developed in a context marked by rapid industrialization, mass migration and the use of industrial sociology to discipline the working class. It was formulated within autonomist movements as a sort of parallel sociology based on a radical re-reading of Marx and Weber against the politics of the communist party and the unions. The process of inquiry took the contradictions of the labour process as a starting point and sought to draw out such political antagonisms into the formation of new radical subjectivities. With this issue we seek to rethink workers’ inquiry as a practice and perspective, in order to understand and catalyse emergent moments of political composition.

Including essays from Fabrizio Fasulo, Frederick H. Pitts, Christopher Wellbrook, Anna Curcio
Colectivo Situaciones, Evangelinidis Angelos, Lazaris Dimitris, Jennifer M. Murray, Michał Kozłowski, Bianca Elzenbaumer, Caterina Giuliani, Alan W. Moore, T.L. Cowan, Jasmine Rault, Jamie Woodcock, and Gigi Roggero; an interview with Jon McKenzie; and book reviews by Craig Willse, Stephen Parliament, Christian De Cock, Mathias Skrutkowski, and Orla McGarry.


my, and several others, link back to refs from an older post on workplace inquiry here.

BBC Magazine trinketizing


A bit of pointless commentary that would have had more impact had it come out at the time:

What would you take from your desk?

Leaving with just a box

By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

If you were told to clear your desk of personal belongings and leave the building, like staff at the UK headquarters of Lehman Brothers, what would you take?
Photos of the kids, spare ties, trainers, mugs – a cuddly toy? What was in the cardboard boxes being clutched by stunned staff as they left the London offices of the bankrupt US investment bank Lehman Brothers?.


Email:, subject DESK

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The bank’s 5,000-strong workforce turned up on Monday only to be told they were to clear their desks of personal items and go home. Images of the newly out-of-work carrying their possessions were beamed around the world
But if you got the same instructions from an employer, what would go into your box?
“I’d take a piece of card with my name written in Arabic on it, a 30-year-old photo of my school football team, a Barcelona football club mug, a copy of my friend’s novel, a two-year-old thank you card from a student, some spare contact lenses, an iPod charger and two pairs of shoes,” says teacher Chris Baxter.
“Mainly they’re little things, but most of them are very personal. A lot of the time I don’t really focus on them, but other times they trigger good memories. I wouldn’t want to leave them behind.”
For some it’s a case of accumulation by stealth, rather than a conscious decision to personalise a drab little corner of corporate space.

Cats pics go in Mag reader Siria’s box
“Generally, I have a problem with what I call the ‘trinketisation’ of one’s workstation, so I don’t have things like pictures or figurines to take away with me,” says fellow teacher Sian Allen.
“But I would take my draw full of shoes for various social occasions after work, including one pair of Manolos.
“Also a broken iPod, six Tupperware pots in various sizes, a M&S bra with broken under wiring, a selection of unread classics, half-used packets of Ibuprofen and a small selection of thank you cards with obsequious messages from students, to remind me that I am loved and appreciated.”
When people personalise their desk they are marking their territory, says workplace behavioural expert Judi James.
“It’s something humans are hardwired to do. We’re basically animals and need to mark out what is our space. We’re also nesting and making ourselves comfortable.”
But it’s also about opening ourselves up to others and that can be very good for business.
“Personalising your work space is also about giving other people the opportunity to ask questions, it’s about socialising,” says workplace psychologist Gary Fitzgibbon.

A few little friend would go with reader Thomas Cogley
“If someone sees a photo on your desk, or picture, it is easier for them to strike up a conversation and for communication to flow. Generally, if someone shows an interest in you, then you are more likely to help them when they ask.”
But the evolution of the modern office environment, with its hot desking, can make stamping some personality on your workspace a bit harder. Modern technology has also had an impact.
“There probably wasn’t many family pictures in those boxes being carried out from Lehman Brothers because the screensaver has replaced them,” says Ms James.
“Nowadays, personal possessions at work quite often come down to a pair of trainers and tracksuit for the gym.”
Here is a selection of items that you would take from your desks.
I think I’d be content with my Alfa Romeo mouse mat and the rather dog-eared pictures of Joyce Grenfell and Margaret Rutherford that are currently adorning the casing of my monitor.
Jonathan, London
If only Faust had heard of hot desking.
John, Tower Hamlets, London, England
In front of me I have a model house, a toy TARDIS, two sea shells, a model of a 17th Century English pikeman and a picture of Kate Blanchett. Me, a geek? How very dare you sir …
Mike Molcher, Leeds
On my desk I have: A jar of honey (for my morning porridge); the Statue of Liberty (obviously a copy – a souvenir of a trip to NY); hand cream; tea bags; a stapler (a battery-operated one I brought with me); my mug, bowl, plate, spoon, knife and fork; a container full of porridge oats; a packet of dried apricots; a packet of chopped nuts; several notebooks full of information; vitamin C tablets; and a packet of instant pasta – red wine and mushroom flavour! Also a few other bits and pieces scattered on the shelved behind me, including a coat, pair of shoes, items to do with my motorcycle club (newsletters etc.) and my hole punch.
Anne Boyce, Halifax, England
I have a longboard, rock from mountain, pic of my two-year-old old daughter, pic of Johnny Cash, rear view glasses.
Ste Mc, Leeds, UK
I have a picture of my dog to remind me of her, pencil with funny tops on them from places I’ve been around the world, a little cartoon character figurine (Chucky from The Rugrats) a stone that’s supposed to be good luck.. bright coloured tabs on each side of my monitor with phone extensions just to brighten my desk area up. My drawers are filled with food for breakfast and lunch!
Emma Hamilton, Lisburn, NI
What would I take? Everything that wasn’t nailed down!
Paul, Stoke, UK
10 weeks ago on my redundancy I took: 1. All my personal bits & pieces. 2. As much of the stationary cupboard as I could pour into my large cardboard box. 3. Several DVD’s of data & client info. 4. As many of the data wall-charts (£1200 each) as I could fold up and put in my cardboard box. 5. My company laptop that I just happened to have left at home the previous week. 5. Anything else that wasn’t bolted down in my office. 6. Oh, and a smug smile on my face.