Talking Heads


Processed World continues grow, both as a magazine and as a community of rebels from the office and elsewhere. Nearly 2,000 copies of PW #4 were distributed in the first six weeks after publication. Our bi-weekly Wednesday night gatherings at a bar in the North Beach district of San Francisco have been drawing new friends, sympathizers and fellow malcontents.

With the expansion of the editorial/publishing group, differences of opinion have multiplied. While we're all still agreed on the basics—the themes that have recurred throughout past issues and this one—we are divided on certain theoretical and strategic questions.

How to organize ourselves—and for what—is the most crucial of these questions. All of us are extremely critical of the existing labor movement. While some of us feel it can be worked with or within in certain circumstances, others are adamantly opposed to trade unions. We all agree that the revolt which Processed World has analyzed, chronicled—and, hopefully, contributed to—has to extend beyond the limitations of the workplace into an attack on the entire complex of social institutions and relations we encounter every day. This involves the development of new kinds of organization, reflecting the diversity of experience and circumstances in modern society. Be they termed councils, unions, assemblies, or affinities, these forms could be the precursors to a situation where everyone could decide on the fundamental questions of work, play, creation and enjoyment. The debate on unions continues in our Letters section with an exchange between a former social service worker and present SEIU militant, and Lucius Cabins, author of last issue's artic on the Social Service Employees Union. We welcome further contributions on this topic.

Another sensitive issue—especially because of all the other questions it raises—is that of "sabotage." While the sabotage theme has cropped up in PW before, often jokingly, this issue's lead article, "Sabotage: The Ultimate Video Game" is the first time any of us has treated this theme in depth. The article has provoked intense debate among us.

To begin with, the very meaning of the word is in question. Does sabotage refer to any destruction by workers of corporate or state property? Or is it merely the disabling of machines? More broadly, does the term cover (as the old Industrial Workers of the World had it) workers' on-the-job restriction of their own output by whatever means?

Moreover, what is the significance of sabotage? Some of us, who emphasize the crucial importance of the new data-processing technology to an already-shaky power structure, see sabotage as an essential means to undermining this structure as part of a wider social transformation. A contrasting perspective is offered by those who view the usefulness of sabotage as limited at best, and which, in its individual forms at least, is potentially damaging to collective solidarity by bringing down management wrath on an atomized workforce. Most of us would stress that acts of "sabotage "should be viewed in their specific context—type of work situation, general level and aims of workers' self-organization there and elsewhere—and interpret these acts accordingly.

These viewpoints alone deserve far more extensive coverage in PW. But Out of the arguments about sabotage have come others: about what kind of world we want (especially its technological base); about what kinds of tactics and strategy are most effective for improving our conditions within the present set-up; and about how such efforts relate to the fight for a new kind of society. The technology question in particular gets another look in this issue with "Not Just Words... Disinformation, " a review of San Francisco's recent office Automation Conference and the trouble we made there, including selected comments from the press. A different slant on the VDT is also presented in this issue's fotonovela, "Charlie in Videoland, " a satirical look at kids and computers.

Along with the disquieting story of Charlie and his friend, the Visions and Nightmares department continues in this issue with "Fantasies of a Working Girl" and "Customer Service, Michael Speaking, May I Help You?" Both pieces take off from workaday situations into the realms of the surreal. So, in a different way, do the various poems, most of which deal with feelings of isolation and despondency in the office workworld. Our latest Tale of Toil, "Help, I'm Doing Hard Time... " is truelife Kafka, demonstrating just how strange this work-world can be, especially within the labyrinths of the so-called "public sector. " Additionally, it provides a useful corrective to currently-popular New Right cliches about why government doesn't work.

We go into our fifth issue a larger, more varied and contentious group, debating many of the same questions that working people have argued about for at least a century and a half. We have in common a dissatisfaction with all of the previous answers. As organizations of office workers outside the traditional unions appear—and PW is just one of them—these debates can only become more widespread and better focussed. PW hopes to go on being one context for such debates. But we would like to see others. Go us one better! And keep in touch!