DONATE NOW TO HELP UPGRADE LIBCOM.ORG

Talking Heads

(Introduction)

In the U.S. today, the vast majority of office jobs are still held by women. Even as heavy industry with its traditionally male workforce continues to lay off hundreds of thousands, the proportion of women in the workforce at large goes on rising. Why has the Christian New Right chosen this moment to campaign against married women holding jobs?

This issue's lead article, "Female Troubles: Wagework, Housework", looks behind the New Right's current offensive against women's rights at the complex relationship between "housework" and wagework, and at how changes in this relationship over the last century have transformed women's social role. Despite these transformations, women are being forced to bear the brunt of the continuing economic decline. "Female Troubles" discusses the possibilities for resistance—and for a society in which women and men would enjoy real freedom.

Many have hailed the recent strike by San Jose city workers for women's wage parity as a real step towards equality. Certainly, it was a historic occasion—the first time in America that men have walked the picket line to support the goals of women co-workers. Yet the formula of" comparable worth" on which the San Jose strikers based their demands, has serious flaws. "Compared to What?" in this issue reviews the strike and concludes that the strategy of demanding "comparable work" leaves open the possibility of new, non-gender based divisions in the workforce for management to exploit.

In fact, the division between skilled and less skilled has always plagued workers' organizing. The fate of the PATCO air-traffic controllers' strike which dominated the headlines through much of August and September, is only the most recent of the countless defeats such divisions have caused. "Under Control", an account of the PATCO walkout, shows how the union system helped Reagan and the Federal authorities to break the strike and analyzes the consequences for the aviation industry and for other American workers.

Is there a more effective alternative to unions? Our Letters column continues the debate about unionization with an exchange between the author of last issue's article on the Stanford clerical workers' unsuccessful unionization drive, and one of its organizers.

In PW#'s 1 and 2 we solicited first-hand accounts of work life from our readers. In this issue we inaugurate such accounts as a regular feature,"Tales of Toil". The "Horrors of Pooperscooper U" is a bitterly hilarious description of a receptionist's experience in a pet hospital, while "It Reached Out and Touched Me" takes a sardonic look at clerical work for Pacific Telephone. Our series of office worker fiction and fantasy continues with "Jack and the Beanstalk," an updated version of an old fairy tale.

For many of us who spend most of our daylight hours tapping away at keyboards, the office tends to become a sort of dreamworld. The Memorandum, a play by the Czech author Vaclav Havel, inverts this process by showing how life in a single cell of the bureaucracy is a perfect miniature of the whole of modern society. The Memorandum is reviewed in this issue.

For most of a century, clerical workers have tended to consider themselves privileged, even superior, to blue collar workers. This deep-seated attitude has only recently been changing, with the increasing strain imposed by office automation and the growing awareness that the office, too, has its health hazards. "Oops! Notes on an Unnatural Disaster" and "Chills and Drills From Toxic Spills" in DOWNTIME! show how much the situation of office workers has come to resemble blue collar work.

Modern industry has converted the U.S. into a single social factory where all of life increasingly resembles the automated assembly line. Whether their collars are white, pink or blue, their pay high or low, most workers in the social factory spend their time coordinating and modifying flows—of information, money, energy and goods. As these flows get faster, more complicated and more mechanized in the frantic rush for profit and power, the number of disastrous "spills" of all kinds is ever greater, and their effects more deadly.

Most of us at PW still work in offices. But we are anxious to hear from people in other departments of the social factory. Keep those cards, letters, articles and graphix coming!