Advertisement

The Making of the Call Centre Cybertariat

  • Enda Brophy
Chapter
Part of the Dynamics of Virtual Work book series (DVW)

Abstract

This chapter explores the formation of the call centre workforce, its entry into the workplaces of communicative capitalism, and its encounter with the established yet struggling trade union movement. The twin backdrops for this account of how language was put to work in call centres during the 1990s and 2000s are Atlantic Canada and Ireland, regions divided by an ocean but united in their status as signature cases of state-sponsored informational development. In both regions a highly educated, multilingual workforce was introduced to working with a headset in the call centres that proliferated through newly wired urban centres. By zeroing in on the case of Aliant call centre workers in the province of New Brunswick, the chapter relates how the lively intelligences and communicative capacities of this new workforce were compressed and reformatted into what I call abstract communication. Harry Braverman’s vision of the degradation of mental labour became the lived experience of employees in the customer relations departments of the Atlantic Canadian wireless sector, where management’s subjection of workers to routinization, increasingly intrusive forms of monitoring, and threats of labour outsourcing eventually produced outbreaks of workplace unrest and labour organizing through incumbent trade unions. However, the cases in this chapter are not auspicious ones for the collective organization of the cybertariat, illustrating how even in-house, unionized call centre workers remain vulnerable to regional and global outsourcing strategies of their employers. This weakness appears to derive at least in part from the defensive organizing postures adopted by the trade unions representing these workers, raising the question of whether the established union movement in its present form is an adequate vehicle for the collective organization of the cybertariat.

Interviews Cited

  1. Aliant worker 1, Moncton, April 6th, 2006.Google Scholar
  2. Aliant worker 2. Moncton, April 6th, 2006.Google Scholar
  3. Aliant worker 3. Moncton, April 3rd, 2006.Google Scholar
  4. Aliant worker 6. Moncton, April 6th, 2006.Google Scholar
  5. Brideau, Sandy. Moncton. April 6th, 2006.Google Scholar
  6. Buckley, Karen. Moncton, April 6th, 2006.Google Scholar
  7. Irish worker 1. Dublin, July 24th, 2009.Google Scholar
  8. Irish worker 2. Dublin, August 5th, 2009.Google Scholar
  9. Leblanc, Ferdinand. Moncton, April 3rd, 2006.Google Scholar
  10. Malone, Mark. Dublin, July 21st, 2009.Google Scholar
  11. Richard, Donovan. Moncton, April 4th, 2006.Google Scholar
  12. Richard, Keenan. Moncton, April, 4th, 2006.Google Scholar
  13. Roy, Philippe. Moncton, April 5th, 2006.Google Scholar

References

  1. Aglietta, M. (1979). A theory of capitalist regulation: The US experience. London, UK: Verso.Google Scholar
  2. Aliant. (1999, May 31). Atlantic business combination complete: Aliant launched; enters TSE as CDN$3B growth company. Canada NewsWire.Accessed via Factiva database: https://global.factiva.com/
  3. Aliant, & Council of Atlantic Telecommunications Unions. (2004, September). Collective agreement.Google Scholar
  4. Aneesh, A. (2015). Emerging scripts of global speech. Sociological Theory, 33(3), 234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bain, P., Taylor, P., Watson, A., Mulvey, G., & Gall, G. (2002). Taylorism, targets and the pursuit of quantity and quality by call centre management. New Technology, Work and Employment, 17(3), 170–185.Google Scholar
  6. Balka, E. (2002). The invisibility of the everyday: New technology and women’s work. In Sex and money: Feminism and the political economy in the media (pp. 60–74). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  7. Berardi, F. (2013). L’autonomia dell’intelletto generale: Ecco il problema. Commonware: General Intellect in Formazione. Accessed at: http://www.commonware.org/index.php/neetwork/45-autonomia-intelletto-generale
  8. Bouzane, B. (2004, July 30). Union brings it home: Pickets set up at manager’s houses. St. John’s Telegram, p. A4.Google Scholar
  9. Bradbury Bennett, T. (2004a, June 11). Police seek list from Aliant: Want to know who has knowledge to bring service down. St. John’s Telegram, p. B7.Google Scholar
  10. Bradbury Bennett, T. (2004b, July 21). Strikes draining food bank. St. John’s Telegram, p. A1.Google Scholar
  11. Bramming, P., Sørensen, O. H., & Hasle, P. (2009). In spite of everything: Professionalism as mass customised bureaucratic production in a Danish government call centre. Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation, 3(1), 114–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Braverman, H. (1974). Labor and monopoly capital: The degradation of work in the twentieth century. New York: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  13. Breathnach, P. (1998). Exploring the “celtic tiger” phenomenon: Causes and consequences of Ireland’s economic miracle. European Urban and Regional Studies, 5(4), 305–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Breathnach, P. (2000). Globalisation, information technology and the emergence of niche transnational cities: The growth of the call centre sector in Dublin. Geoforum, 31(4), 477–485.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Brophy, E. (2009). Resisting call centre work: The Aliant strike and convergent unionism in Canada. Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation, 3(1), 80–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Buchanan, R. (2002). Lives on the line: Low-wage work in the teleservice economy. In F. Munger (Ed.), Laboring below the line: The new ethnography of poverty, low-wage work, and survival in the global economy (pp. 45–72). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  17. Buchanan, R., & Koch-Schulte, S. (2000). Gender on the line: Technology, restructuring and the reorganization of work in the call centre industry. Ottawa, ON: Status of Women Canada.Google Scholar
  18. Burnham, J. (2003). Why Ireland boomed. The Independent Review, 8(4), 537–556.Google Scholar
  19. Callaghan, G., & Thompson, P. (2001). Edwards revisited: Technical control and call centres. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 22(1), 13–37.Google Scholar
  20. Canadian Press. (2004, May 4). Union leader predicts Aliant managers will tire as strike drags on. Canadian Press. Accessed via Factiva database: https://global.factiva.com/
  21. Carrillo Rowe, A., Perez, K., & Malhotra, S. (2013). Answer the call: Virtual migration in Indian call centers. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. CBC News. (2004a, July 6). Aliant using outside workers: Strikers. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2004/07/06/Aliant_040706.html
  23. CBC News. (2004b, July 30). Strike has cost CDN$21M: Aliant. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Accessed at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/strike-has-cost-21m-aliant-1.495490
  24. CBC News. (2009, October 16). Bell Aliant to close 11 call centres. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Accessed at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/bell-aliant-to-close-11-call-centres-1.838216
  25. Colectivo Situaciones. (2006) ¿Quién habla? Lucha contra la esclavitud del alma en los call centers. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Tinta Limón Ediciones.Google Scholar
  26. Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. (2001, September 27). Aliant Inc: Call-centre workers among 800 newly-unionized phone workers. Market News Publishing Via COMTEX.Google Scholar
  27. Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. (2005, September 27). Phone customers should be rebated for poor service – CEP Canada. NewsWire.Google Scholar
  28. Cronk, E., & MacDonald, D. (2004, July 16). Council of Atlantic Telecommunication Unions info update: Bell contract offer & CIRB hearing. Retrieved from http://www.cep.ca/reg_atlantic/files/aliant/040716_e.html
  29. Cuccomarino, C., & Pezzulli, F. M. (2012, December 13). Tra mirafiori e Bangalore: L’inchiesta politica nei call center calabresi. Il Manifesto, pp. 8–9.Google Scholar
  30. Doellgast, V. (2012). Disintegrating democracy at work: Labor unions and the future of good jobs in the service economy. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fuchs, C. (2010). Labor in informational capitalism and on the internet. The Information Society, 26(3), 179–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Garnham, N. (2011). The political economy of communication revisited. In J. Wasko, G. Murdock, & H. Sousa (Eds.), The handbook of political economy of communications (pp. 41–61). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Good, T., & McFarland, J. (2005). Call centres: A new solution to an old problem? In J. Sacouman & H. Veltmeyer (Eds.), From the net to the Net: Atlantic Canada in the global economy (pp. 99–114). Aurora, ON: Garamond Press.Google Scholar
  34. Graeber, D. (2011). Debt: The first 5,000 years. New York, NY: Melville House.Google Scholar
  35. Greco, P. (2011, May 27). Analisi di un call center. Retrieved from http://www.uninomade.org/analisi-di-un-call-center
  36. Grimes, S. (2003). Ireland’s emerging information economy: Recent trends and future prospects. Regional Studies, 37(1), 3–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gruppo d’inchiesta sulla precarietà e il comune. (2013). Boll Center n. 2: Bollettino d’inchiesta sui call center calabresi. Retrieved from http://www.sudcomune.it/site/images/ALLEGATI/inchiesta/Bollettino_inchiesta_call_center_n._2.pdf
  38. Guard, J. (2003). Manitoba’s call centre explosion: A preliminary overview. Toronto, ON: United Steelworkers Canada.Google Scholar
  39. Halifax Chronicle-Herald. (2004, September 9). Many striking Aliant workers to lose some strike pay, employee says. Halifax Chronicle-Herald.Google Scholar
  40. Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2009). Commonwealth. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Heller, M. (2003). Globalization, the new economy, and the commodification of language and identity. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 7(4), 473–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Houlihan, M. (2001). Managing to manage? Stories from the call centre floor. Journal of European Industrial Training, 25(2), 208–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Huws, U. (2003). Who’s waiting? The contestation of time. In U. Huws (Ed.), The making of a cybertariat: Virtual work in a real world (pp. 177–186). New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  44. Huws, U. (2009). Working at the interface: Call-centre labour in a global economy. Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation, 3(1), 1–8.Google Scholar
  45. Huws, U. (2014). Labor in the global digital economy: The cybertariat comes of age. New York, NY: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  46. Jaimet, K. (2006, June 9). The plot to enslave New Brunswick: Did the former premier make a secret pact or was the Bilderberg just a place ‘to meet interesting people’. Ottawa Citizen.Google Scholar
  47. Jobs, C., Burris, D., & Butler, D. (2007). The social and economic impact of the call center industry in Ireland. International Journal of Social Economics, 34(4), 276–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kolinko. (2002). Hotlines: Call centre, inquiry, communism. Retrieved from http://www.nadir.org/nadir/initiativ/kolinko/lebuk/e_lebuk.htm
  49. Lloyd, A. (2013). Labour markets and identity on the post-industrial assembly line. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  50. Lüthje, B., Hürtgen, S., Pawliki, P., & Sproll, M. (2013). From Silicon Valley to Shenzen: Global production and work in the IT industry. Toronto, ON: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  51. Maass, A., & Sustar, L. (2016). Why they won: The Verizon workers’ campaign for union democracy set the stage for a successful strike. Retrieved from https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/06/verizon-strike-contract-deal-cwa-ibew-union-pickets/
  52. Macphee, N. (2004, April 13). Aliant workers could strike by Friday. St. John’s Telegram.Google Scholar
  53. Marx, K. (1990). Capital: Volume 1. London, UK: Penguin.Google Scholar
  54. McFarland, J. (2000). 1-800 New Brunswick: Economic development strategies, firm restructuring and the local production of global services. In J. Jenson & B. Sousa Santos (Eds.), Globalising institutions: Case studies in social regulation and innovation (pp. 53–79). Hampshire, UK: Ashgagate.Google Scholar
  55. McFarland, J. (2009). Telling the story of globalization, neoliberalism and the call centre industry in New Brunswick. Socialist Studies: The Journal of the Society for Socialist Studies, 5(1), 24–50.Google Scholar
  56. McKercher, C. (2002). Newsworkers unite: Labor, convergence, and North American newspapers. Lanham, MA: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  57. McLaughlin, P. (2004, September 11). Aliant workers vote on deal. Halifax Daily News, p. 11.Google Scholar
  58. McNally, D. (1993). Against the market: Political economy, market socialism and the Marxist critique. London, UK: Verso.Google Scholar
  59. McNally, D. (2011). Global slump: The economics and politics of crisis and resistance. Winnipeg, MB: Fernwood.Google Scholar
  60. Miozzo, M., & Ramírez, M. (2003). Services innovation and the transformation of work: The case of UK telecommunications. New Technology, Work and Employment, 18(1), 62–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Mirchandani, K. (2012). Phone clones: Authenticity work in the transnational service economy. Ithaca, NY: ILR Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Morini, C., & Fumagalli, A. (2010). Life put to work: Towards a life theory of value. ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 10(3/4), 234–252.Google Scholar
  63. Mosco, V. (2009). The political economy of communication (2nd ed.). London, UK: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Mosco, V., & McKercher, C. (2008). The laboring of communication: Will knowledge workers of the world unite? Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  65. Niemeijer, M. (2004, August 6). Unions slow to develop new strategies: Canadian telecom industry rocked by deregulation, competition, mergers, technology. Labor Notes, p. 305.Google Scholar
  66. Pupo, N., & Noack, A. (2009). Standardising public service: The experiences of call-centre workers in the Canadian federal government. Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation, 3(1), 100–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Richardson, R., Belt, V., & Marshall, N. (2000). Taking calls to Newcastle: The regional implications of the growth in call centers. Regional Studies, 34(4), 357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Rideout, V. (2003). Continentalizing Canadian telecommunications: The politics of regulatory reform. Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press.Google Scholar
  69. Roggero, G. (2011). The production of living knowledge: Crisis of the university and transformation of labour in Europe and North America [Produzione del sapere vivo.] (E. Brophy, Trans.). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Schatz, L., & Johnson, L. (2007). Smart city north: Economic and labour force impacts of call centres in Sudbury, Ontario. Work Organisation, Labour & Globalisation, 1(2), 116–130.Google Scholar
  71. Shniad, S. (2005, January 6). Lessons from the TWU-Telus dispute. Labor Notes. Retrieved from http://labornotes.org/node/26
  72. Shniad, S. (2007). Neo-liberalism and its impact in the telecommunications industry: One trade unionist’s perspective. In C. McKercher & V. Mosco (Eds.), Knowledge workers in the information society (pp. 299–310). Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  73. Snowdon, G. (2010, September 22). Call centres benefit from rise in graduate applicants. The Guardian.Google Scholar
  74. sp00n. (2005, May 22). ClientLogic employment issues. Retrieved from http://www.dslreports.com/forum/r13467423-Clientlogic-employment-issues
  75. Stevens, A. (2014). Call centers and the global division of labor: A political economy of post-industrial employment and union organizing. New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.Google Scholar
  76. Taylor, P., & Bain, P. (2001). Trade unions, workers’ rights and the frontier of control in UK call centres. Economic and Industrial Democracy, 22(1), 39–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Taylor, P., & Bain, P. (2003). ‘Subterranean worksick blues:’ Humour as subversion in two call centres. Organizational Studies, 24(9), 1487–1509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Tutton, M. (2005, November 16). Aliant outsources 129 jobs, slashes 100 temp positions. Halifax Daily News, p. 13.Google Scholar
  79. Tutton, M. (2006, March 8). Shakeup won’t mean job cuts, CEO says. St. John’s Telegram.Google Scholar
  80. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. (2004). World investment report: The shift towards services. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Switzerland.Google Scholar
  81. Vaccaro, A. (2004, September 22). Aliant workers wary. St. John’s Telegram, p. D1.Google Scholar
  82. Warson, A. (2002, July 30). Moncton’s core gets urban facelift: City’s fortunes have been reversed by new businesses, prompting building. Globe and Mail.Google Scholar
  83. Winseck, D. (1998). Reconvergence: A political economy of telecommunications in Canada. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.Google Scholar
  84. Wong, T. (2004, July 31). Strike could hit Bell this week: Technicians give union mandate to set up picket lines. Toronto Star.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Enda Brophy
    • 1
  1. 1.School of CommunicationSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

Personalised recommendations