McKenzie Wark on Thu, 10 May 2001 04:19:52 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Manual Labour in the Knowledge Economy

Harvard Blues
edited from Harvard worker's testimonies at:

You want to know about regular working-stiffs? You want to know what
kind of life I lived for twenty-three years working in that place?
Twenty-three years... It was nothing that I planned. It was just, get a
job, so I got a job.

Things in the workplace now are so different than theywere years ago.
It's not fun anymore. It's not enjoyable. It's a scared feeling and an
unstable feeling in the workforce now.

My alarm goes off at four in the morning. That morning time is the only
real time I can have to myself. Boy, I'll tell you, there are a lot of
days when you're walking around in a fog. You're just pooped out.

After the luncheons, we get a shot at the leftovers, after the
professors eat.I'm tired physically, and I'm tired up here, in the head,
too.  All anybody's talking about is a living. I just need a living.
We're talking survival.

They're driving steaks into our hearts. It's cost control. How does
Harvard justify paying a person $8.50 an hour with the kind of money
they have? They should be damn well ashamed of themselves.

I had the idea that I'd start my own business, but then my father got
sick-he had cancer-and about a year later my mother got sick-and she had
cancer. Throat cancer. I stopped going to school so I could work to take
care of them. If you're an ordinary working stiff for this outfit,
you're dog meat.

The work itself sucks, alright? It's very tiring, and it's hard work.
But you just clean it all up hold your nose and you think to yourself,
'I got three kids, I love my kids, I love my kids. I want the kids to be

Financially I'm OK now. I was able to move out of the projects, but, you
know,after paying taxes and daycare and car insurance, that's when you
start going to food pantries and soup kitchens at night and you start
trash-picking for clothes and toys and furniture. I find good food in
the garbage here too. Chinese food, you know-it doesn't go bad because
of all the chemicals.

I like this job, because I can come in here and shoot the shit with
people from all over the world-from places I'll never go, because I'm
broke. I go insane when I'm always working and taking care of the kids
and I don't have any conversation. But working this job, I get to be
around intelligent people. Although I'm not sure how intelligent some of
you really are. Like, I don't know if they're at Harvard because they
have rich parents or if they're actually intelligent.

Being the cleaning lady you know people. You hear things. You see
things. You're the quiet dirt cleaner. I'm very self-reliant, you know.
I like Shirley Temple. She's cute. So I always tried to be like her.

I come from a family of working people. My father was a miner. My mother
worked in a garment factory. When my mother was still a young woman,the
illegitimate daughter of a Catholic Priest put a curse on her. It made
her hands bleed, and because she worked in a garment factory, her hands
bled all over the fabric.

When it comes to turning out the men who run the capitalist class, the
men Harvard produces haven't changed in 100 years. I'll be damned to
seewhere they have. What they will teach you at the Harvard Business
School is that you never pay the worker the true value of their wages.

I love working in the art museums, and I love being around the art. I
have students come into the museum, who, to tell you frankly, are just
pricks. Sometimes you have a student in there trying to analyze
critically a work of art that you've been looking at over andover and
over and over again for two straight years, so you see things in that
painting that they're not going to find in ten minutes.

I mean, many of the guys are working so many hours that their health has
suffered, and we don't have no paid sick days. Harvard constantly tells
you about humanistic views, the truth, morals. Those are fundamentally
important concepts, but they're set aside for economic convenience.

I don't got a lot of money and I don't dress fancily. I didn't go to
Harvard, but I was taught that you should be truthful and that you
should have some honor as a human being. If you are a man without honor,
then you are nothing. Those are not empty words to me.

Some of my work involves cleaning the steam pipes. It's back-breaking
work. Even when the steam was off it's be 85 degrees, you be down there.
It'sconsidered bull work. You take a sledge hammer, knock the bolts off.
You pull the collar, you wrestle it, really, and I mean it. You have to
have fourteen inch wrenches and then you clean it with sand cloth and
graphite grit, and then put it back.

Working overtime is how I survive. Five years without a raise. We got a
$200 bonus once. I did the math and it amounted to three cents an hour.
But my job -- get this-my job is guarding millions and millions of
dollars of art.  Working for a company for eight years no raise. How
much money they have right now? $14 billion?

I go to the Extension school, and sometimes the real students look at
you like you're poor when you say that. I've heard of people humiliated
by students, but not with me. Because I know what I am.

They have somebodys working 10 years, no benefits. I don't know what
they do if they get hurt. See, no one stays at a job more than a year
these days. I personally believe they design it so it's not worth it.
They make you so miserable that you never even last in a place a year to
get a week's vacation.

No one in my family was ever a student, except one cousin that's a
doctor and he's a lawyer and he's this and he's that, and he went to
Yale, you know, and he's very, very, very successful. Whether thatmakes
him happy I don't know.

I'm doomed We're doomed. You know this cloning thing? Me and the people
I work with -- we're not intelligent enough to be cloned, but we're not
stupid enough to be cloned either. We'll be disregarded. Sometimes I
just think America's just getting too smart for its britches, too
successful, too powerful. It's a funny way America is. That's what's sad
about America.

Somebody might order shelves, I put 'em together. I actually like
working with the tools. You know the most difficult thing about this
interview is trying to describe what I do, I mean, how do I describe it?
I cover for people, essentially. I mean, how do you describe it?

Usually on Monday, we feed the homeless from 12 to 1, and then we have a
Bible study and then we have an AA or NA meeting. It keeps me busy, and
you know. I just try to give back a little bit. I have a union but I'm
not sure which one.

At Harvard, education is secondary. Selling utilities and managing real
estate, and of course the famous Harvard portfolio. The ineptness of the
current management is incredible. There isn't a manager there that's a
tradesperson. There's not a working foreman in the place that'a minority
or a woman.

But you know, I guess these are the prices you have to pay when you
become an adult and you don't go get an education, you know, and you
become a blue-collar worker for the rest of your life. You're gonna have
some struggles. My family, they see me every weekend, but that's it. I
speak to them on the telephone. When I wake up in the morning, they're
still asleep.

I took the job as a survival job. Some people just decide it's a dumb
job, it's a stupid job, so I'm not going to take it seriously. I can't
work that way. In order to stay sane, I have to do it well. I agreed to
do it. I told them I would do it. So, I have to do it well.

Harvard's trying to cut our sick days, holiday time and disability too.
We can't do that. How would you live? How do you live? Everybody knows I
got screwed. But I can't afford an attorney-it would just be a another
bill, and I'm not going to put my house up to get an attorney.

I think many people are not optimistic about their future. And because
they're not, they're not willing to give a hundred percent. They're not
willing to be committed to something that's not committed to them. See,
work is a self-inflicted wound. It just is.

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