Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres, London: Pluto Press, 2017; 208 pp.: ISBN 0745399061, 17.99 [pounds sterling] (pb)
Jamie Woodcock's book represents a deep attempt to approach the complexity of labour process in call centres from a perspective based on the thoughts of Marx and the Marxists who have developed the method of workers' inquiry. The main purpose of his study is to present the different control mechanisms that take place in work, the moments of resistance, and also to ponder the role of workers' organization in workplaces such as call centres, where precarious employment, high levels of workplace discipline and an absence of trade unions are commonplace.
In order to accomplish these research aims, Woodcock is mainly inspired by Marx's little known and never materialized labourer research project, which was rescued in the second half of the 20th century by diverse experiences of research and political action, among which the Italian operaista stands out. Workers' inquiry is a method focused on the workplace and which seeks to highlight workers as active subjects. It is not only an academic method, but also part of a political project: every moment of resistance in the labour process is considered from a worker perspective, in order to promote workers' organization and develop politics against the interests of capital.
Woodcock recognizes the importance that mechanisms of control of work have on the increase of productivity and corporate profit. In general terms, the author points out that call centres are organized based on Taylorist principles that, in order to combat downtime at work, generates standardized guidelines (scripting) of different types of sales and customer service required at work. These scripts are elaborated and reworked from the knowledge that management is acquiring by appropriating the know-how of workers.
Two main dimensions of control in the call centre are studied: technological and direct supervision. Technological innovations are focused on the connection of the telephone to a computer, and enable a range of forms of monitoring and disciplining: (1) the acceleration of the work process through the automatic distributor of calls, (2) data on the performance of each worker and (3) digital record of all calls. All these innovations allowed an unprecedented level of surveillance in the call centre.
On the other hand, personalized control by supervisors has two...