'IT'S LIKE George Orwell's 1984 in there. You can't even go to the toilet without someone in Coventry or London knowing where you're going and for how long.' Those were the words of a BT call centre worker in Bristol who was out on strike on Monday along with over 4,000 call centre staff. Their fight is against bullying managers, understaffing and impossible work targets.
These are complaints that every worker in Britain can identify with. Tony Blair may hail the dawn of a 'classless society' and declare that the 'class struggle is over'. But far from being over, the class struggle is a reality for millions of workers.
Some 400,000 people now work in call centres in Britain. Call centres symbolise the way that white collar work has become backbreaking, repetitive and just like working in a factory. 'It's like a production line,' was one of the most common complaints on the picket lines on Monday.
Millions of other workers face the same kind of pressures - whether we work in a factory or in an office, bank, supermarket, hospital or school. We are expected to work longer hours in worsening conditions and to put up with managers always on our backs to make us work harder. In the name of 'flexibility' and 'family friendly policies' our bosses force us to work crazy shift patterns that make childcare practically impossible to organise and which ruins our relationships and social lives.
Bosses hold the threat of takeovers and competition like a gun to our heads to make us terrified that at any point we might lose our jobs and be thrown on the dole. But the call centre strike showed something else too. It showed that, like miners, dockers and car workers before them, white collar workers can organise collectively and fight. Such workers have huge potential power to bring our bosses' whole profit making machine to a grinding halt.
If Communication Workers Union leaders, for example, had called out every BT call centre worker on Monday it would have hit BT bosses where it really hurts by stopping their £135 a second profits. Instead of talking of 'partnership' and crawling to Tony Blair, it is time that union leaders started organising and fighting.