Socialist Worker


Issue No. 2036

Call centre conversion

A few years ago, I worked as a developer supporting the operations of the call centre (Management by stress, 27 January) at a British bank. The profitability of a call centre like this is governed by a simple algebra.

Fewer staff equals lower costs and more calls in the queue. Shorter calls equals more calls taken, equals more sales made, equals higher profits. This is recipe for a high pressure working environment where every minute spent attached to a handset counts, and the fewer minutes spent on each customer the better.

But there is another variable in the equation – the conversation rate. Not every call will result in a sale, but well trained and motivated operators will 'convert' more calls into sales.

Selling loan insurance, the most profitable product, involves playing on people's fears of sickness and redundancy. You have to sound friendly and sympathetic while ruthlessly undermining customers' confidence in their future earning ability.

Morale matters. The call centre needs the emotional consent of its workers to be profitable. Themes and frequent special occasions are used to create a 'fun' atmosphere.

Workers are divided into teams, and 'friendly' competition between teams is encouraged. Individuals and team leaders are offered bonuses for high conversion rates.

Extroversion is prized, and lack of enthusiasm is seen as a personal failing. People play along, but their emotional consent is provisional. It evaporates quickly enough after hours when it's time to let off steam.

Surprisingly, the most enthusiastic are often the most cynical.

Dominic Fox, Northampton

Translation cuts attack dignity

There was recently an item on Newsnight which poured scorn on the provision of translators and translations to help people access the NHS, council, benefit services and the legal system.

It suggested that the national cost of £100 million a year was an unwarranted extravagance. Among the 94 health cuts being made by the Brent teaching primary care trust in west London is the withdrawal of funding for translation services.

Brent is one of two boroughs in the country where 'ethnic minorities' are in the majority.

It is also one of the country's poorest boroughs. The loss of translation services may deter some patients from going to the doctor or the hospital.

For others it will mean a return to the situation where children are taken out of school to translate for their mothers or grandmothers.

This is an affront to humanity and human dignity. It is a racist cut. It is nonsense that the provision of translation services prevents people learning English, as some suggest.

But the cuts in funding for English as a second language classes certainly will do.

Sarah Cox, West London

Holocaust Day is not time to attack Zionism

When Israeli leader Ariel Sharon was bombing Lebanon in 1982 he compared Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to 'Hitler cowering in his bunker'. That was a terrible insult to the victims of the Holocaust.

Holocaust survivors in Israel then went on hunger strike to oppose the invasion. This demolished Israeli propaganda and exposed the Israeli leader as a criminal.

It is time for us to return the gesture. During the time of Holocaust Memorial Day Arabs and supporters of the Palestinians must reach out in friendship to the victims of the Nazis.

Unfortunately, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign attempted to use Holocaust Memorial Day to launch an attack on Zionism.

Perdition is a good play that raises deep issues for Jews and the supporters of Israel, but for a Palestinian support group to put it on now is ill advised.

It does not reach out to the millions of Jews who are unhappy with Israel's policies, but instead muddies the water.

It is no secret that some Zionists collaborated with the Nazis, but even more died fighting them. So where does this leave the discussion?

With Fatah and many Arab regimes collaborating with Israel to smash Hamas, it could be seen as hypocritical for us to attack some Zionists for 'collaboration' with their tormentors.

Ayman Wehbe, East London

Crime and capitalism

I am writing to express my appreciation of Donny Gluckstein's article Capital's Punishment in the January edition of SR magazine.

The author is correct to say that 'inequality, desperation and alienation are key to understanding why capitalism is the primary cause of criminal behaviour'.

In 1993, Peter Imbert, then chief of the Metropolitan Police, admitted that 'the notion that there is a direct link between crime and social deprivation is compelling. There is a real need to offer hope to the most disadvantaged if we are to see any reduction in crime.'

In the 1970s a study revealed that three quarters of the people in prison were manual workers, a third were homeless at the time they were sentenced and 15 percent were illiterate. The state of affairs today is nothing new, and even worse.

Gluckstein is also correct in stating, 'The middle classes and the rich go to great lengths to remove themselves from the poor.' The system is weighted towards the powerful.

As Edwin Parry said in The Law And The Poor in 1976, 'In every age your judge will be tinged with the prejudices of his time and his class. I cannot see how you can expect to grow middle class judges in hot beds of middle class prejudices without the national formation of a certain amount of middle class bias.'

George Coombs, Hove, East Sussex

Chance for Scotland's left

I agree with Mark Brown (Letters, 20 January) that most people in Scotland regard the Scottish National Party (SNP) as being to the left of New Labour.

The division of the left into the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and Solidarity does make things harder. However, I think Mark's analysis is pessimistic when he states the left is in danger of losing votes to the SNP.

Research recently carried out by TNS System Three indicates that Solidarity could be on course to return an MSP in seven of Scotland's eight electoral regions.

The results showed that 7 percent of voters across Scotland would be 'quite likely' or 'very likely' to vote for Solidarity on 3 May.

This will not happen automatically. It will need people to work very hard, campaign, leaflet and raise funds to ensure this potential is realised.

We cannot afford to miss this opportunity.

Steve West, Kirkcaldy

Bigotry and gay adoption

The New Labour government and the media have been riven by arguments in the past few weeks over gay adoption.

It looked like sections of the cabinet, including Catholic fundamentalist Ruth Kelly, were going to push through an exemption for Church of England and Catholic adoption agencies so that they didn't have to allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt children.

Because of the groundswell of concern about this bigoted move, the government backed down.

But the whole story shows that the real fundamentalists are in the heart of power, and in the established Christian churches.

Simone Murray, Carlisle

Programme for anti-racism

We should be aware of the campaign in the media by the usual suspects to play down the racist behaviour on Celebrity Big Brother and portray it as a 'fuss about nothing'.

All the usual buzzwords are flying from the mouths of these apologists – 'freedom of speech' and 'the right to cause offence'.

Why does the right wing media attack those who complain about racism rather than those who perpetrate it?

Thankfully, it appears that the majority of the British public were disgusted by the racism displayed on this programme.

Stephen Davis, Sunderland

C4 shame

I can't see how Channel 4 could not see the blatant modern day racism on Big Brother. It acknowledged the bullying, but it failed to realise that Shilpa Shetty was bullied because of her race.

This country needs to open its eyes. If people in such high places turn a blind eye to such an obvious thing, we have got serious problems.

This country should have been able to deal with racism a long time ago.

Debbie, East London

Need for more ration debate

Elaine Graham-Leigh (Letters, 27 January) misunderstands how activists like Aubrey Mayer intend carbon rationing to work as part of contraction and convergence.

It is based on a fixed total amount of emissions ration that is then divided up equally.

This amount falls each year, enshrining emission cuts in the system.

The equal allocation would favour poorer people who consume less so produce lower emissions. Carbon rationing would be most effective if combined with measures such as socially run public transport.

However, if carbon rationing is rejected then public transport investment alone will not stop enough people flying and driving.

Substantial restrictions in car use, trucks and aviation would need to be proposed instead.

We need more analysis of how to achieve the emission reductions necessary and more debate to engage with activists.

James Woodcock, East London

Thanks for giving to the SW appeal

Thank you to everyone who donated to the Socialist Worker appeal which has raised a grand total of £145,072 for our paper.

The response to the appeal has been fantastic and we have received hundreds of individual donations.

We would like to thank the CWU union which donated £850, along with all the other trade union branches and trades councils who supported us and the trade unionists who organised collections in their workplaces.

One of the highlights has been the fundraising events and gigs such as the Pete Seegar and John Coltrane tours and the Cultures of Resistance gig with Courtney Pine, Rodney P & Skitz, Gilad Atzmon and Sam Beste. We would like to thank all the artists and musicians who participated.

All the money we received has been vital in enabling Socialist Worker to continue what it does best – providing a voice for the movement and putting the case for socialism.

Keep supporting Socialist Worker – buy it, read it, sell it. Donations can still be made online on or by calling 020 7819 1182.

Hannah Dee, Socialist Worker appeal

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Article information

Sat 3 Feb 2007, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2036
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