Radical media, politics and culture.

working for the rat race

On lunch break yesterday I encountered two people canvassing for Illinois PIRG. I've also seen many a flyer advertising "summer jobs to save the environment!", so they must be hard up for bodies.

PIRG raises money for environmental causes. They also raise money for Save The Children (you can tell who they're fundraising for based on the jackets they're wearing at the time). Last I knew, PIRG pays their canvassers $35 a day, with a small commission on money raised above a certain amount. Turnover is astronomical, because they fire people who don't meet quota and because the pay is close to minimum wage ($6.50 an hour in Illinois) for standing up all day on concrete, and talking to many, many people. Friends of mine who worked for them on the east coast were trying unionize in two cities and ultimately gave up because they couldn't live on it. The company has allegedly busting other staff unionization attempts.

The canvassing group ACORN has done the same (for details go to iww.org and put "acorn" into the search function). They pay $14K a year (they're a social justice group, like PIRG, any price for the cause, I suppose). When I canvassed for Grassroots Campaigns Incorporated (the for profit group to which the Democratic Party contracted out a chunk of the fundraising for the Kerry campaign, and who, it seems, no longer have a website) we got paid $60 a day if we made quota, which worked out to approximately $7 an hour, with percentage bonuses for bringing in large amounts over quota. A number of things occurred that may have been wage and hour violations (a friend who worked at America Coming Together alleges similar stuff, which boils down to unpaid forced worktime), but we never pressed charges. They closed the office and laid us off with a 12 hour notice.

So what, so nonprofits and progressives are still bosses, big deal. Who does this surprise? No one with any sense or who has had a job. What I wonder about really, though, and don't have time to get into just now, is all of this in the context of the idea in some aut circles, that work is no longer generative of subjectivities. All the above jobs have attendant subjectivities and lifestyles - it's part of how the places operate. The same goes for the bike messenger industry, which has an enormous social scene and informal networks across shops. And then there's more white collar kinds of nonprofit work, employees of unions, (basically anyone working for the social justice industry, the mendicant orders of empire). There are some remarks tangential to this in the Precarious Lexicon of precarias a la deriva, about a typology of different sorts of precarity. Eventually I'll get that translated. It seems to me that a lot of the social justice industry, and some other precariou work (like bike messengers) still has attendant forms of subjectivity but ...

I'm not sure how to articulate it. I think it's like this: (the story goes that) the factory used to be THE site of subjectification for workers. In a way it's like the workplace contained subjectification, like concentric circles. (That probably was never totally accurate, but certainly today) it seems to me with these precarious work situations the relationship is flipped - subjectivities are the outer of the concentric circle, at least in canvassing work, bike messengers etc. Those subjectivities are employed, mobilized, and certainly molded, by the bosses. Speaking of bosses, I have to run.