The normal course of a person’s working life typically produces a plethora of stories where the boss got one over on the employees and faced no retribution; countless unfair firings, anomalies with the paycheck, bullying, mistreatment and abuse. Hidden within, and on the periphery of these tales, is evidence of a small scale class-struggle springing into and out of existence in every imaginable kind of workplace.1
While many of these instances of rebellion do not result in long-term organization and often include a small number of workers, these events still play an important role in the class struggle. They become major contributions to a person’s constellation of experience in the workplace that reveals the counterpoised interests of the boss, as well as the potential for resistance.
For some. these moments become an important part of their overall development into class-struggle militants, and as such, are of more of novel interest to those seeking to build mass movements. It is with this in mind that Ideas and Action presents a series of short stories reflecting those moments of spontaneous mutiny, impromptu sabotage and most importantly, solidarity. We welcome contributions from our readers; please see our ‘Contact’ page for more information.
In this second installment of The (End) Work Zone we turn to a recollection from a member of the Workers Solidarity Alliance, Geoff. The story features the tactic of “whistle blowing”; the practice of informing customers of work conditions and their inevitable outcomes in order to pressure the boss to change things. This story highlights a particular leverage available for workers in the care industries; customers may be particularly sensitive to the consequences of poor work environments.
I’ve used the IWW tactic “whistle blowing” (many years before I had even read the pamphlet and knew it was a thing). but like most of the stuff in the pamphlet, it was something that just “made sense” to me to do at the time. I was working as a technician at a vet clinic and things had started going downhill. I don’t remember exactly why but it had to do with the boss/owner and their decision-making mainly, but it was affecting the way the workers could care for the pets people were bringing in and people were starting to complain. There was only so much we could do since the nature of our work was dictated by someone else. There were cases where people would just disobey the boss and stuff like that to do what needed to be done for certain pets. At some point I started talking with the clients and basically telling them in a polite and subtle way what was going on and hinting they should take their pets elsewhere. If my job was really supposed to care about them and their pets then that made the most sense to do. Fortunately it didn’t come back to bite me – most people appreciate honesty and love their pets of course, but you do have to be careful because you never know who might come in, might be someone very reactionary who automatically takes the side of bosses over employees or whatever. You kind of have to talk to them first and feel them out a bit. The boss started losing some clients and eventually they started changing the way they were making decisions and things like that, and things started running more smoothly.
- See Informal Workgroups by M. Jones and Holding the Line: Informal Pace Setting in the Workplace by Juan Conatz for further discussion of small scale, informal and spontaneous resistance. [↩]