Tuesday, August 23, 2011

workplace sabotage - book - 1997 - The Best of Temp Slave!

The Best of Temp Slave!
Jeff Kelly (ed.)
Garrett County Press
1997
161 pages

The Best of Temp Slave is an anthology of writings that were originally published in the well known Temp Slave zine.  The zine, which focused on labour issues pertaining to temporary contract work, was edited by Jeff Kelly, who also wrote much of its content (using the alias Keffo) and, by extension, the content of this anthology.  In addition to publishing his own writings, Kelly also published material by other frustrated temps, and other well known zine writers, including Pete Jordan (AKA Dishwasher Pete, editor of the zine Dishwasher and author of the book Dishwasher: One Man’s Quest to Wash Dishes in All Fifty States), and Debbie Goad (who published the zine, Answer Me with her husband, Jim Goad) who had temp experience.  

The original zine ran, according to zinewiki, from 1993 into the early 2000s, although I cannot find a reference to the exact number of issues.  It had a peak circulation of 3000, which is quite high for a zine, and was notorious enough to be mentioned in numerous articles about temporary labour as well as in books like Naomi Klein’s No Logo.  Furthermore, Re/Search Publications head, V. Vale interviewed Keffo for volume two of his Re/Search Zines book, and the zine even inspired a Temp Slave musical that was performed in 2001.  Temp Slave was successful enough as a zine to have been a conditioning force upon a larger zine-making practice during the 1990s zine golden age.

Temp Slave was about work and the workplace, but it was not, however, a zine for Marxist critique of labour from the perspective of a temp worker.  Instead, it was a forum for temps to vent their derision for an exploitative and humiliating system of labour.  Many of the written pieces that appear in the book are humorous in their spiteful portrayals of office decor, staffing company personnel, management and permanent workers.  Sabotage is a persistent theme of the book and many of the articles give specific examples of workplace pranks and vulgar dialog spoken to freak out the permanent staff.

A number of the pieces also convey the angst of having skills that aren’t utilized by the basic work, of having talents that far exceed their job requirements.  In The Rise of the Network Society by Manuel Castells, the author discusses an emergent (now emerged) white collar proletariat, for the information age, that does reception work and data entry.  These jobs are not entirely unskilled as they involve computer and information literacy as well as strong communication skills.  The Best of Temp Slave does include accounts of industrial work and other assorted positions (like the Shopping Mall Santa) but most of the stories pertain to office settings.  The Best of Temp Slave (along with a thematically similar - although not identical -  publication, Processed World) thus captures the frustration of a largely educated underclass who occupy the lowest positions of the office without much opportunity for advancement.  The temp is an outsider to the social world they work in, and their status as temp maintains that social and professional position.

Many of the authors in The Best of Temp Slave speak harshly of the staffing companies that keep their clients in a precarious crisis of low-wage officer work alternating with periods of unemployment.  While the authors are frustrated with these positions, where they’re treated as disposable, there is the potential that the heavy deferment to staffing agencies is causing a crisis.  A report about employment in Toronto last year determined that too many jobs are short contracts, the fluctuations in unemployment statistics likely relate to the availability of temp work from month to month, and Toronto has one of the highest unemployment rates out of large Canadian cities.  With fewer and fewer available permanent positions, the tides of temporary positions has become a serious issue.

So Temp Slave deals with serious issues regarding work, but in a humorous way that details all of the opportunities for payback and the few consequences that result under such circumstances.   Anyone conducting research on office sabotage should consult this book as its rife with examples, in fact, the book makes a carnival of the practice.  Furthermore, the book is full of satirical illustrations and comics that lampoon the temp experience and the office work setting.  Some are reminiscent of the kind of bulletin board humour that can be found in offices, but with a harsh... sometimes violent edge.



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