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Issue: 010 CPU: Working in the Computer Industry 05/01/94+14
CPU is a moderated forum dedicated to sharing information among workers in the computer industry.
- ABOUT BOX
- NEWS: SONY ELECTRONICS WORKERS ATTACKED BY POLICE
- FEATURE: ON FINDING WORK
- FEATURE: THE NATIONAL WRITERS UNION
FEATURE: "COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT" FOR COMPUTER WORKERS IN AUSTRIA
- BILLBOARD: PARTICIPANTS FOR SURVEY ON PART. DESIGN
- CALENDAR & CALLS MINORITIES IN SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING
- LABOR BYTES: MISCELLANEA
- EOF: LUDDITES!
1. ABOUT BOX
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CPU is a project of the "Working in the Computer Industry" working group of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility / berkeley Chapter.
Editors for this issue: Michael Stack and Jim Davis. We may be contacted by voice at (510) 601-6740, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or by USPS at PO Box 3181, Oakland, CA 94609.
CPU is a project of the "Working in the Computer Industry" working group of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility / Berkeley Chapter (though views expressed herein are not necessarily those of CPSR... and while we're at it, neither may they be those of our employers).
CPU is now into double-digits, and subscriber count at last look this week was 2104. We've had quite a bit of ongoing discussion on this question of whether or not the nature of the employer-worker relationship has changed, and if collective action by contemporary wage earners is passee. We'll summarize the discussion in the next issue. If you have anything to add on this question, send them in, and we'll try to include them.
But first... In this issue, we lead off with a recent news story about a fight at the Sony electronics plant in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico -- the material has circulated on a couple of lists, and we forward it on here. We realize that our readership is fairly self- selecting -- you need to have email -- so it's all the more important that we make sure the other sections of our industry are not forgotten.
In this issue, we also feature a profile of the National Writers Union, which we solicited. This piece is important for a few reasons. First, many of the NWU members are technical writers (including the author of the piece included here), those folks writing the documentation and editing the READ ME files -- a critical part of our industry. Second, most of their members work in the same fashion as many of us -- as independent contractors, under work-for-hire agreements or other type relationships, often getting work through brokers of some sort. Third, writing prose and writing software are pretty close in their nature. Fourth, writers are having to confront the issues of publishing and the InterNet -- just like many computer software authors. I think we have something to learn from their experience...
We also have a very interesting -- and very important -- report on the rights of computer workers in Austria. We would very much like to hear from people who work in the computer industry in other countries, because we very much work in a global industry. We have a lot to learn from each other. Send in your notes, observations, news, gossip, etc.
A belated happy international worker's day, and while we're at it, let's hear it for bringing back the 8-hour day!
3. NEWS: SONY ELECTRONICS WORKERS ATTACKED BY POLICE
NAFTA'S BRUTAL AFTERMATH: SONY WORKERS IN MEXICO ATTACKED BY POLICE DURING PROTEST AT PLANT GATES
[Editor's note: The following report is based on information released by the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras and the AFL-CIO's Department of Information.]
On April 16, 250 workers at Sony Corporation's maquiladora facility in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico were attacked by police while demonstrating peacefully in front of the plant. The workers, mainly women, were protesting Sony's attempt to conduct fraudulent union elections.
Worker dissatisfaction at the plant has been rising since last January, when the company discharged six union delegates who opposed anti-democratic union tendencies and a new work schedule with a six-day week, including work on Saturdays and Sundays.
Women workers throughout Sony's operations objected to the new schedule because it eliminated time which they needed to attend religious services and spend with their families.
On April 14, at 11 p.m., Sony's hand-picked union representatives announced that there would be an election for union delegates the following day at 7 a.m.
At 7 a.m., the company's designated union representatives conducted the "election," telling workers to line up on two sides of the plant according to which slate they preferred. Union officials pressured workers to support the company slate.
On April 16, workers organized a non-violent protest in front of the plant gates, demanding new, fair, secret ballot elections. At noon, Nuevo Laredo Mayor Horacio Garza called in the police. Forty police officers wearing riot gear descended upon the workers, beating them with billy clubs. Dozens received blows. One young man was admitted to a local hospital with head injuries.
As of April 18, the situation remained extremely tense.
The situation is being monitored by the American Friends Service Committee, the AFL-CIO and the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. A formal complaint may be lodged against Sony before the National Administrative Office, the body set up by the U.S. Labor Department to implement NAFTA's side agreement on labor.
"When the administration was pressuring Congress to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement, the American people were promised that workers' rights would be respected," said Ed Fiegen of AFL-CIO Organizing and Field Services. "When this case reaches the NAO, the American people will find out whether the administration is willing to stop corporations that intend to use NAFTA as a tool for dragging down wages and violating workers' rights."
For more information, contact the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, 3120 W. Ashby, San Antonio, Texas 78228. The coalition's phone number is 210-732-8957.
WRITE TO SONY!
[Editor's note: Below we print the text of a sample letter which the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras urges concerned people to send to the Sony Corporation to protest its attacks on workers in Mexico.]
Mr. Carl Yankowski, President
One Sony Drive
Park Ridge, New Jersey 07656-8003
Dear Mr. Yankowski:
I am writing to express concern regarding violations of workers' rights at Sony's Magneticos de Mexico facilities in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico.
I have received reports that on Saturday, April 16, 250 workers at your plant were attacked by police while conducting a peaceful demonstration. The workers, mostly women, were protesting Sony's attempt to conduct fraudulent union elections aimed at choosing union delegates who support company policies.
Workers have complained that last January Sony discharged or demoted six union delegates who opposed a new work schedule which Sony implemented that requires a six-day work week, including work on Saturdays and Sundays. I understand that women workers throughout your Nuevo Laredo operations object to the new schedule because it eliminates time which they need to attend religious services and be with their families.
On Friday, April 15, 1994, Sony clearly conspired to fraudulently elect hand-picked union delegates who would represent your company's interests instead of the interests of the workers. I urge you to:
(1) Move quickly to rectify this situation by supporting a new, fair, secret ballot election, monitored by independent observers;
(2) Rehire workers who have been unjustly fired for supporting democratic union representation and desist with threats and reprisals against union activists;
(3) Eliminate the recently established six-day work schedule which requires employees to work Saturdays and Sundays.
I trust you will move promptly to address these concerns.
Send faxes to:
Carl Yankowski, president, Sony Electronics (Fax 201-930-7202); Michael Schulhof, president, Sony of America, (Fax 212-755-8548); Akiro Morita, chairman of the board of Sony Corporation, (Fax 011-8135-448-5376.)
Thank you for your solidarity with our sisters and brothers who work at Sony's maquiladoras in Nuevo Laredo.
Ed Feigen, AFL-CIO Phoebe McKinney, American Friends Service Committee Susan Mika, Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras
This article originated in the PEOPLE'S TRIBUNE (Online Edition), Vol. 21 No. 20 / May 9, 1994; P.O. Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654; For free electronic subscription, email: email@example.com
Feel free to reproduce; please include this message with
reproductions of this article.
4. FEATURE: ON FINDING WORK
We received the following from Jeff Johnson:
A colleague found the following at the end of an advertisement for openings at Price Waterhouse. It at least suggests that people are beginning to feel free to say that they have at least some bias against people who are not part of the information superhighway and technologies connected with it, which begins to confirm CPSR concerns:
Interested candidates should send plain text vitas to: "firstname.lastname@example.org". This is the preferred method of application. Be sure to mention "research scientist" in your cover letter. Formatted vitas should be sent via fax (okay) or physical mail (if you must) to: Human Resources Price Waterhouse Technology Centre etc. etc. +----------------------------------------------------------------+This echoes a recent _Newsweek_ story (3/14/94), "Help Wanted -- Reluctantly, Jobs: Why getting hired will never be the same". "The dramatic restructuring of U.S. business has made for major changes in the job market. Work is more specialized, information is harder to come by, employers are smaller and exceedingly cautious about hiring. In searching for a job, what you don't know can hurt you badly." Companies are "niche players", often obscure, and finding the companies is job 1.
According to the article, companies rely more on professional associations, or exclusive publications which raise an additional barrier to the job seeker -- the cost of subscribing is frequently high, putting the job announcements out of reach of the unemployed. Employers use various screening devices, including agencies to weed through resumes that don't display exactly the requested job skills.
Employers are more reluctant to extend permanent employment, since the "average workers have more autonomy -- and responsibility -- than in the past" (translation -- become symbiont with the company, work 60 and 70 hour weeks, and -- you get to hold the lash yourself!) The article also claims that employee lawsuits have driven up the cost of dismissing employees that don't fit in. So temporary agencies have thus become a major tool for weeding out prospective workers ("try before you buy"). As one plant manager told the magazine, using temps "gave us a 2,000 hour job interview. We got very confident with their mind set, their abilities, their interest."
The article concludes:
Many companies are prepared to move work around the world or contract it out if they can't find workers they want to hire. That may be the biggest difference between the economy of the 1990's and the one that used to be. This time around, business is refusing to scrape the bottom of the labor barrel and job seekers bear the burden of proving they don't belong there."
5. FEATURE: THE NATIONAL WRITERS UNION
The National Writers Union (UAW-AFL-CIO) was formed in the early 1980s. Like most unions, we came together in response to intolerable pressure. During the 1960s and 70s, massive changes occurred in what we now call the information industry as old firms were gobbled up by giant conglomerates such as Gulf & Western and Time-Warner. A process that continues to this day.
Under these new regimes, it was no longer enough for a publisher to make a reasonable profit, now they had to make maximum profits. From an author's point of view, that meant three things: First, pay scales were frozen or cut. To this day, many of the major national magazines still pay freelancers the same rate they did in 1960. Given inflation, that's equivalent to a 50% pay cut. Second, the emphasis shifted more and more towards books and articles aimed at the lowest common denominator mass audience. It's called the 'block-buster mentality'. Writers who sought to address smaller readerships were, and still are, marginalized. Third, the old personal relationships between writer-editor- publisher were replaced by boiler-plate contracts, bean-counter bureaucracies, and cut-throat business maneuvers.
We formed a union because as individuals we were at the mercy of companies that had no mercy. Except for the handful of big-name super-stars, the information mega-corps see writers as disposable and replaceable. Only as a community willing to support each other do we have any chance of redressing our grievances on a footing of mutual respect. A publisher who cares nothing about mistreating an individual writer still has to be wary of angering authors in general, for without the information creators, the information industry has nothing to sell.
There were, and are, no shortage of writers organizations. But none of them had as their primary purpose defending the economic rights of their members. And none of them were based on organizing and mobilizing writers around the strategic principle of all-for-one and one-for-all. That's why we chose the union form. We are not an institution that provides services for our members. We are a voluntary, self-help, do-it-ourselves-together organization. Some people say we are a 'non-traditional union', but in truth we simply follow the old rank-and-file concept of trade unionism.
Today we have more than 4,000 members nationwide: journalists, poets, book authors, technical writers, copysmiths, newsletter authors, speech writers, and so forth. We are organized in locals with our national headquarters in New York. Like other unions, we have a health plan, a grievance system, job banks, and so on. We also have data banks, press credentials, and contract advice stewards.
As freelancers, we are a different type of worker, we're 'self- employed'. According to the Department of Labor, we have 'clients' not 'employers', so we are not covered by American labor law. We have no legal collective bargaining rights, no legal right to strike, no National Labor Relations Board, in fact none of the protections that other working people have fought for and won. As a result, we have had to develop new forms of organizing, and new, non-strike, strategies.
For example, the worst thing about being a freelance technical writer is the broker system. The brokers try to control access to the jobs so that writers have to work through them. Typically, they leech one-third of everything that the client pays for the writer's labor. The services that the brokers provide are in essence no different than those of a literary agent, but agents charge only 10-15%. In response, union tech writers pooled their knowledge and resources and hired a skilled coordinator to set up a writer-run NWU Job Hotline that provides a low-cost alternative to the broker system.
Our grievance apparatus is one of the NWU's great success stories. It is entirely composed of volunteers, all of them writers themselves, who go to bat for any member being abused by a publisher or employer. We have successfully resolved almost 80% of our cases. Over the past years we have recovered more than $800,000 owed to our members by publishers who initially refused, or simply failed, to pay. You've heard the old one-line gag: 'The check is in the mail.' Most people don't know that it originated as a description of the freelance writer's economic reality. While of course we are proud of that $800k figure, we are also appalled by it. The NWU represents about 2% of America's freelancers. If $800,000 was being chiseled from just that small group, you can imagine how much is being withheld from the non- union writers.
The NWU is one of the very few organizations working to insure that the rights and needs of information creators are not trampled in the rush to build and own the so-called Information Superhighway. Words, stories, music, art, photography, do not spontaneously burst into existence in the libraries, vaults, and databanks of AT&T, Time-Warner, or Viacom-Paramount- Simon&Schuster. Someone creates that information, and those someones deserve to make a fair living from their craft.
That is why a number of union members recently filed a copyright suit against the NY Times, Times-Warner, Times-Mirror, and Mead Data. Over the past 30 years those writers sold articles to those publishers who bought the right to print those stories in their publications. Then the publishers sold the stories to Mead Data who charge clients big bucks to read or download that information from the Nexis database. Mead paid the publishers, but the publishers never sent a single dime to the original writers. Yet print copyrights are not the same as electronic-database copyrights. The publishers sold rights they did not own. Hence the lawsuit.
The National Writers Union is actively defending the rights of creators in the forums where future information policy is being hammered out. Naturally, we oppose any two-tiered society composed of information-haves and have-nots, and of course we are active in the struggle to ensure universal access to the information sources of the future. But we are also concerned with another type of access, access as publishers and distributors.
On a philosophical basis, everyone is in favor of open access. It's not until you get down to the economic realities of actually implementing it that push comes to shove. We know that if people cannot afford the cost of information, equal access is a sham. The other side of that coin is that independent creators have to have the opportunity to make a living from their craft.
Unpaid amateurs have always produced an important segment of the world's art and information, but the bulk of consistent high- quality work comes from people who devote their full time to that endeavor. Many do so as employees of the multi-nationals that today have a stranglehold on the planet's major media. The alternative has always been the independent freelancer. We in the National Writers Union want to make sure that alternative remains viable which means some way in which independent creators can earn a fair return on the fruits of their electronic labors.
They say that freedom of the press only applies to those who own presses. That was fine in 1776 when presses were affordable, but now 90% of the print media is owned by a handful of giant corporations. Today it costs almost nothing to air your opinions on the InterNet, but you do not receive any pay for doing so. The internet is a free speech agora, but not an economic marketplace of ideas. Yet that market will soon be here. Electronic bookstores, magazines, newscasts, entertainment formats, and so forth are all on the immediate horizon. If that electronic marketplace is designed so that you have to have a million- dollars of hardware and a thousand-dollar-a-day connection in order to be a distributor/seller, then the independent voices are effectively denied access.
Of all the information policy issues being addressed by the National Writers Union, none is more crucial than common carriage. Will the information superhighway equally carry all ideas regardless of content? The classic model of common carriage is the phone company. Anyone can buy a phone and say anything they want on it, and Pac Bell charges the same rates for everyone. The great anti-Christ of common carriage is the cable- TV web. The content of every second of every channel is monitored and controlled. Now phone companies are merging with cable-TV companies to bring us the information universe of tomorrow. Whose model will they use? Congressman Markey (D-MA), Chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, has introduced a bill requiring common carriage on the information superhighway, but only for the first five years. After that, no protection. Needless to say, the NWU is fiercely opposed to any limitation on the freedom of expression.
Bruce Hartford Secty-Treas,
National Writers Union
6. FEATURE: "COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT" FOR COMPUTER WORKERS IN AUSTRIA
"Collective Agreement" (German: "Kollektivvertrag"): is an agreement between unions and representatives of industry. It lays down basic rights of workers in certain areas of industry. Unlike the US, such agreements are valid also for non-union members. In this article we detail the draft version for such a "Collective Agreement" for workers in the computer industry. This draft has been worked out by computer professionals organized in the Union for white collar workers -- most of them shop stewards. Collective agreements currently valid for workers in the computer industry are not specific to the computer profession. Though workers in the computer industry already have most of the benefits listed below in the draft (through collective agreements made in other trades, through voluntary benefits offerings by companies or through "Betriebsvereinbarung" -- an agreement between the company's shop stewards and company management) , there are advantages to having a collective agreement that is industry specific. If the trade representatives terminate a collecitve agreement because they want to cut costs, etc there are many means to fight it, since the other side is the union representing all affected workers. Whereas with the termination of voluntary company offerings or "Betriebsvereinbarung" (see above), the fight then becomes a local one with less public focus, with less people willing to do something against it.
Lets take a look at the contents:
Working hours: 38.5 per week; usually a half-an-hour lasting unpaid lunch break has to be obeyed.
Flexible working time: the core-time, where workers have to be present (and at work of course) is 09:00 - 15:00 (Monday through Thursday) and 09:00 - 12:00 on Friday. It is in the responsibility and freedom of the worker when to bring in the remaining working time.
Overtime pool (German: Zeitausgleich): each worker may have an overtime pool which may not exceed +20 or -10 hours. If your accelerated plus-hours exceed +20 at the end of the month, these hours have to be paid as regular overtime hours. The overtime pool may be used to take days off instead of regular vacation days but not more than two consecutive days.
Overtime (paid): in principle overtime hours have to be paid, it is the decision of the worker to add overtime hours to his/her overtime-pool; overtime hours before 20:00 are paid 150 %, overtime hours done after 20:00 are paid 200% (that is you receive 50% or 100% more than for a "normal" working hour). The same multiplication factor applies if such hours are added to the overtime pool. Overtime hours have to be paid the month following the month they have been done.
Shift work: in the case where shift work is necessary, the workers receive three more vacation days per year (Austria has as lowest level 5 vacation weeks per year). Shift hours between 22:00 and 06:00 have to be paid 3% more.
Jubilee money: after 10/15/20/25 years of working for the same company, the worker receives 1/1.5/2/2.5 of their monthly salary extra.
Travelling for the company: if travelling is within your usual working time, it is counted as such. If it is not, you are paid roughly 50% of your "normal" salary. All expenses (car, train, plane, hotel) have to be taken over by the company. For each single day the company has to pay remunerations (depending on the location this is 30 to 60 US$ per day). The company has to take care of extra insurance for the time of the trip.
Health: the company has to take means to avoid any risk for the health of the employees (e.g. regular checks of the working places, adaptation to more accurate standards). Specials costs for glasses and/or contact lenses have to be taken over by the company.
Further education: each employee has the right for further education. The employer has to support this right by special means. One day per month is devoted to education; if the employee does not agree with the employer's plans for training, the work council has the right to support the interests of the worker. The employee may take the education time for up to five months (that is five days) at once. Education time is fully paid - even overtime.
The advantage of such "Collective Agreements" is that companies cannot discard easily such rights as they might do these benefits voluntarily rendered.
Often people question such regulations and there are objections raised to shop stewards and unions especially in those areas where highly educated people work -- "what the hell do I need that?!" Etc. I do not want to elaborate these issues here to a full extent since a lot of the contributions in CPU deal with the need and necessity of a collective representation. But I want to put down some ideas and thoughts.
Having talked to American people from the computer industry, explaining to them the social standards we have in Austria such the duration of vacation, full social insurance, etc., too often there comes the argument: "really nice, but who -- which company -- can afford that?" This answer came for instance from a person, who didn't know, how to pay the university education for his children -- but the "poor" company he was working for was able to afford some million dollar salaries for several managers in the upper levels -- as it is usual in most industries. Those people, who earn a fortune cannot afford to give the people who do the hard work, what their work is really worth, they simply "can't afford that." And there are people believing that!
Another critical point is, that in this area of highly educated people, people tend to be very individualistic: "I check my things out myself!" I would be a liar, if I would state here, that one would not be able to improve his/her personal situation to a status, which may not be achieved (in the short run) collectively. But it is a short-term view and is not the general case: it is rather the exception. The "American Dream" is true for a small number of people, the "American Nightmare" is what is general. It is a matter of solidarity and of taking the long term view to recognize, that together you may achieve more then you can expect to achieve alone. And it is my personal experience that even individualistic people may be convinced that a representation in form of shop stewards or unions is important.
(engagierte Computer ExpertInnen, Postfach 168, A-1015 Vienna)
[See CPU_005 for more on the workings of Austrian unions and labor laws and their impact on the computer industry -- Ed.]
7. CPU BILLBOARD: PARTICIPANTS FOR SURVEY ON PARTICIPATORY DESIGN
Looking for Participants for Survey on Participatory Design
I am a researcher at the University of Technology, Sydney investigating Human-Computer Interaction in the context of Participatory Design. An important part of my research is to survey participatory design methods used in development of computer-based systems by organizations in different countries. A summary of results from the questionnaire will be available to all participants.
The results from the survey will be very useful for developers, because it will assist developers with selecting participatory design methods which are appropriate for their own development requirements.
If you are using Participatory Design in any way at all, I would be very grateful if you would contact me, so that I can send a copy of the questionnaire to you. Should you agree to participate, you can be assured that your name and that of your organization will be help in the strictest confidence. Your contribution is very important to ensure that a variety of methods are represented.
Jean Hallewell Haslwanter
School of Computing Sciences University of Technology, Sydney
PO Box 123
Broadway, NSW 2007 AUSTRALIA
fax: ++ 61-2-330-1807
8. CALENDAR & CALLS FOR PAPERS:
The Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering seeks submissions for its first year of publication. The first issue will be published in Spring, 1994. The purpose of the Journal is to publish original, peer-reviewed papers that report innovative ideas and programs, scientific studies, and formulation of concepts related to the education, recruitment, and retention of underrepresented groups in science and engineering. Issues related to women and minorities in science and engineering will be consolidated to address the entire professional and educational environment. Subjects for papers can include:
-- empirical studies of current qualitative or quantitative research -- historical investigations of how minority status impacts science and engineering -- original theoretical or conceptual analyses of feminist science and Afrocentric science -- reviews of literature to help develop new ideas and directions for future research -- explorations of feminist teaching methods, black student/white teacher interactions -- cultural phenomena that affect the classroom climate.
To receive guidelines for manuscript preparation send complete mailing address to:
Kathy Wager, Editorial Assistant
Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering
Women's Research Institute
Sandy Hall Room 10
Blacksburg, Va. 24060
Subscriptions can be obtained by sending a letter of interest and check payable to:
Begell House Inc.
79 Madison Ave.,
New York, N.Y. 10016-7892.
Institutional rate: $75.00; Individual rate: $40.00. Individual rate is available to home address only, and must be paid by personal check.
9. LABOR BYTES: MISCELLANEA
LAYOFF REPORT: DIGITAL EQUIPMENT CEO Robert Palmer says the firm needs to cut another 20,000 employees, or nearly one-fourth of its work force, and spin off some divisions, this following a staggering $183 million loss for the third quarter. When it's done DEC will have 85,000 -- half the employees it had in 1989. Some "experts", according to _Business Week_, say that DEC should be getting rid of 40,000 people. Also from DEC, a new euphemism for dumping people: "population adjustment", as in, "Our headcount has risen steadily to meet customer needs since our last population adjustment two years ago," attributed to DEC Australia managing director Ron Bunker, in a Newsbytes report, on announcing cutting 96 workers down under. (New York Times 5/7/94, _Business Week 5/9/94, clari.nb.business 5/13/94)... KALEIDA, the Apple-IBM joint venture, is laying off 20% of its workforce -- supposedly APPLE and IBM are disappointed with the pace of development of its development tools. (NYT 5/10/94)... BORLAND is cutting it's European workforce by 20% (about 200 jobs) (_Wall Street Journal_, 4/25/94) NEC has reduced its manufacturing personnel by 30 - 50% via "lean manufacturing methods, according to the newsletter "Software Opportunities in Japan" (3/94). Multimedia hardware/software company MEDIA VISION, announced layoffs of 50 of its 350-member workforce. The company is under investigation by the FBI and SEC over securities shenanigans, and several of its officers have ankled in the past few weeks. (Newsbytes, 5/11/94)
ONE RESPONSE TO LAYOFFS?: We missed this one when it came out, but back in February, someone sent a bomb through interoffice mail to XEROX'S vice president of desktop publications. Police suspect it may have had something to do with layoffs carried out the week before -- 10% of Xerox's workforce over the next 2-1/2 years is being cut. Said Xerox spokesperson Tom Abbott: "Xerox employees are under a tremendous amount of stress and pressure as a result of the reduction in force. They are losing their friends and co- workers and know they have to deal with more work with less people. Let's put it this way: We're all being very cautious." (_San Francisco Examiner_, 2/2/94).
OFFSHORE MIGRATION: Moving computer work offshore is not just a problem for U.S. engineers. Noting Canada's computer programmers and high-tech experts are feeling the heat from lower-priced off- shore competition, the Canadian Advanced Technology Association (CATA) says that companies could "body shop" programmers in countries such as Russia, India and Eastern Europe for a fraction of the cost of domestic labor. If used to be that all software work was considered cutting-edge, high-value added work. No more. According to an Edupage note, "industry analysts recommend conceding the repetitive code writing to developing countries while keeping the creative, value-added side of the software equation at home." (Canadian Business Magazine, v67 n5 05/94)
RSI UPDATE: Repetitive stress injuries (RSI) are on the rise, and are estimated to cost U.S. businesses as much as $20 billion a year. More than 60% of all workplace illnesses are attributable to RSI, and some of the most serious injuries come from using a mouse, says an expert on the subject. (Miami Herald 5/2/94) Meanwhile, the computer industry is beginning to respond with a variety of "ergonomic" keyboards, designed to reduce RSI. The keyboards go for anywhere from $179 to $1,200. (Investor's Business Daily 5/3/94) At the same time, more than 2,000 lawsuits have been filed against big names like EASTMAN KODAK, IBM and AT&T, alleging the keyboard manufacturers knew of the risks of repetitive stress injuries as long as 10 years ago, and failed to warn customers of possible problems related to prolonged keyboard use. Documents show some companies became aware of the potential for injury through claims by their own employees, and issued internal memos on minimizing injuries, but these warnings were not publicized outside the companies. (Wall Street Journal 5/4/94) On the other hand, Newsbytes reports on a new theory on carpal tunnel syndrome, a type of RSI: the problem isn't in the position of the hands or arms, as a result of keyboard design, but in the position of the monitor, affecting neck muscles which must work overtime to hold the head in place. This extra work eventually causes the neck muscles to "spasm" and pinch the nerves that lead to the arms. Julia Lacy, author of a self-published book called "How to Survive Your Computer Workstation" (CRT Services, 1990) argues that most computer users can protect themselves from carpal tunnel syndrome by making sure they do not have to bend their head, even slightly, to view the monitor. (clari.nb.trends, 5/11/94)
AUTHORS GUILD PROTESTS CONTRACT: The Authors Guild is protesting a new Random House standard contract, calling its clause on multimedia rights "a brazen attempted land grab on the electronic frontier." One source of irritation is the reduced royalty rate for electronic products -- 5% as opposed to the usual 10% on hardcover books. (Wall Street Journal, 4/12/94)
COMPUTERS AND WORK (WORK, WORK): With five Canadian government departments experimenting with telework to shift jobs away from the office using information technology, unions representing public servants warn that it may result in longer working days without additional compensation. (Toronto Star 4/25/94) Beepers not only communicate, they also control. Harvard economist J.B.Schor says, "Now you may have to make yourself available on a 24-hour basis to gain or keep employment, to be successful or get promoted. It's not acceptable to say: 'I won't wear a beeper because my time is my own.'" (New York Times 4/17/94)
JOBS FOR YOUTH: ONE STRATEGY: Canada's federal youth employment strategy includes a $31.5-million Youth Internship Plan to prepare young people for futures in high-tech industries. The plan includes initiatives managed by private industry sectors, co-op education, and a joint private and public sector community-based training program for dropouts. (Ottawa Citizen 04/16/94).
SILICON VALLEY BOOM?: According to the _San Jose Mercury News_ (4/11/94) SV is booming, with sales for the 150 largest companies up 19% in 1993 and profits up 50% (to $4.63B).(Sales for the Fortune 500 were up only 0.2%, profits 15%.) There's little hiring yet, but further profits cannot be achieved through restructuring or staff cuts. 20 SV companies now exceed $1B in sales. 50 of the top 150 went public within the past three years, along with 67 smaller SV companies. The number of [surviving] public companies has gone from 175 to 300 since the late 1980s. Profits from the IPOs have brought investors and venture capital, and most of the pain from defense cuts is over. Intel and the semiconductor manufacturers accounted for 64% of the total profit; computers for 9% (with profits down at Apple and $1B in losses by Amdahl and Tandem); and software for only 3%. The large software companies are Borland, Ask, Informix, Adobe, Electronic Arts, Symantec, Santa Cruz Operation, Intuit, Boole & Babbage, Synopsis, Software Publishing, Ross Systems, Gupta, Frame Technology, Zycad, and Trinzic. [From The Computists Communique, 4/14/94]
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"'Everyone believes the United States is in the midst of an economic transformation on the order of the Industrial Revolution,' _Business Week_ noted recently. But this fashionable analogy between today's second and yesterday's first Industrial Revolution is only half complete: the catastrophe has been left out. The prospect of another epoch-making historical leap thus generates simple-minded delight among those managers who seek to enlarge their authority at the expense of workers; among those equipment vendors whose high-tech hype enchants the unsuspecting; among those manchild technical enthusiasts who are encouraged to indulge their socially irresponsible fantasies at public expense; among those system-building militarists who imagine security through strength through silicon; among those trade unionists who remain handicapped by the hallucinogenic homilies of technological progress; and among those ambitiously neoprogressive politicians whose rosy rhetoric belies their ignorance of that first 'great transformation' -- 'a world turned upside down,' contemporaries soberly described it -- and the mass insurrection that flowed in its wake. For a more complete analogy would shake the spirit not stir it, and give thoughtful people pause. It has been forgotten in the present paeans to progress that the earlier episode was stained in blood as well as grease and that it engendered not only passive immiseration but active rebellion."
The above quote is from _Progress without People: In Defense of Luddism_ by David F. Noble (Charles H. Kerr, 1993). The book is mostly essays questioning what "progress" means and motives behind the drive to automate. A key element of the book is a recasting of the machine-wrecking actions at the beginning of the 19th century, perpetrated in the name of mythical characters General (Ned) Ludd and Captain Swing. The Luddites were not against machines or "technology." They were against starving. The term "Luddite" as it survives into the late 20th century allied with a simplistic total anti-technology stance does those who originally bore the moniker a misservice.
_Progress without People_ also includes a summary of Noble's important study of the development of numerical control machinery under the aegis of the Air Force.
Its a great book, even unto the appendices: Byron in the house of lords against the death penalty for "machine-breaking," and Norbert Weiner's late '40s warning to the UAW of the pending problems for labor with the coming automation (and the terse response). Write: Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, P.O. Box 914, Chicago, Illinois 60690.
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