What People Do
Issue #32, April 1997
Steven Rubio: I had a friend, back when I was in the factory, who was writing a masters' thesis in sociology on alienation in the workplace. I offered to introduce her to some of my work mates, thinking she might find them useful subjects for interview, that their perspective on their alienation might illuminate her own work. She declined my offer; she said she had too many books to read, that she didn't have time to talk to any workers.
I don't want to make the same mistake, so what follows are the words of a few of the people without whom Bad Subjects would not exist in its present form. Many of these people do not think of themselves as working for Bad Subjects. In fact, most of them have never heard of Bad Subjects. But their labor is part of what gets hidden in modern capitalist society. James, Grace, Ritu, and Robert are just four of the many whose work makes Bad Subjects possible.
(James Dudek is the Student Affairs Officer in the UC Berkeley English Department. He is usually the first person to see hardcopies of a new issue of Bad Subjects.)
The main function of my job is to provide academic advising to undergraduates in the English major. Because we have around 1000, it's a pretty hectic job. I aid students in resolving Incompletes or old grade changes in addition to certifying them for graduation. Another large chunk of my time goes to running the front office. I supervise an assistant and a work-study student and am ultimately responsible for everything from the general reception to the mail getting sorted. Lastly, my big Spring thing is organizing the entire commencement ceremony for the department. I worked with the University, the Police, copy shops, a caterer, sound people, volunteers and beg other staff to help me on the big day.
I'm a type-A kinda guy, so this type of manic environment suits my disposition well.
Steven: Do you like your job?
James: I love my job. As an alum from this department I find it gives me a chance to help other students with my personal experience (good and bad) as a student here. I take a lot of enjoyment in cutting through red tape and helping students who are down-trodden by the bureaucracy. Students are so grateful when you do something for them in a timely manner. Many of them have brought me toys for my desk. I keep hoping for beer, but it's nice to know they've taken the time to appreciate me.
Steven: What don't you like about your job?
James: Hmmmm. I have to be careful here as I do need to keep my job to pay off those student loans! The only thing I have trouble with, at times, is severe multi-tasking. I like all multi-tasking up to a level, but sometimes it just gets insane. One example of what I mean is something that happened last week. A student came in to talk to me. She was crying. I was trying to discern the nature of her problem when someone came tearing around the corner and asking me for help with their Xeroxing project. After I declined, someone else came up to me to ask me about the calendar. Then the phones started ringing like crazy. That stressed me out. I wanted to help the student, fix the machine, answer the phone and talk about the calendar, but I couldn't do it all at once! This job has taught me a lot about prioritizing and about being Zen. Except for that minor complaint, this is the perfect job for me. And I'm fortunate to work in a place that has such a stellar staff and management. I know if I have any problems I can get support from my boss, Helen.
Steven: If you were given enough money tomorrow to allow you to live comfortably the rest of your life, would you stay on this job?
James: Man, you're not afraid to ask the tough questions, are you? No, I wouldn't stay in this job if I was independently wealthy. But not for any of the reasons you might think. I just absolutely hate getting up early. I've always been a night owl so these past years of learning to go to bed by midnight have been painful. I would definitely have a job, though. I think I might do volunteer work or pursue things I enjoy that don't pay much. But if I win lotto, I'm sleeping in until 10:00 AM every morning!
(Grace Park works in one of the on-campus computer facilities at UC Berkeley where Bad Subjects issues are assembled.)
I answer computer-related questions and try to help people do their thing on the computer. I also call out the names of people on the waitlists and fix computer problems as best I can. I like my job because I get to learn a lot of interesting up-to-date computer stuff and work with a great staff of intelligent people.
Steven: What if you won a lottery and had enough money to live on the rest of your life. Would you quit your job?
Grace: I would seriously think about it before quitting this job. Perhaps I can work less hours, but I would probably not quit.
(Ritu Rai works for the copiers who print the hardcopies of Bad Subjects.)
There's not just one task that I have. Mainly, I'm trying to get our accounts to pay us. Then, if they're really crazy down here I have to come downstairs and help out with taking orders and stuff, and if the desktop publishers go out to lunch I have to help there, if people need help with computers or something. I work in all directions. Right now it's even more that way because we're short of staff.
Steven: Do you like your job?
Ritu: Yeah, I like it. Everyday, it's not the same old thing, you're doing different things, you're learning. You're not stagnating, and that makes you more interesting and lively.
Steven: If you won the lottery or something and got enough money to allow you to live comfortably the rest of your life, would you come to work the next day?
Ritu: Yeah, I still would! Well, if I could take the money and run to India, then I'd stop working! (Laughs) But I think I'd get bored with that really quickly. If I get all the money in the world I'm just gonna be sitting doing nothing. Everyday is gonna be like, "what do I do now? I bought five million of these, I've got a five million dollar house, now what do I do?"
(Robert Washington works in Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley in Custodial Services. Wheeler is the home of the English Department; Bad Subjects is assembled each month in Wheeler's computer facilities.)
I'm a custodian. I clean the rest rooms, bathrooms, dusting, high-speed, strip the floors, sweep, mop, clean toilets, sweep the stairs, mop the stairs, dust the stairs. We've got two guys and two ladies from five to 1:30 in the morning five days a week.
I've been here eight years. Four years on graveyard, then I came on this shift. They cut the graveyard out.
Steven: Are you working twice as hard for the same money?
Robert: So-so. They have contractors.
Steven: Meaning they hire out the work rather than give it to you? Do they go through the union or do they call outside?
Robert: Outside. They work over on Doe Library and Moffitt. It's been going on since ... '93. We used to get a lot of overtime.
Steven: If tomorrow you woke up and won the lottery, would you be at work the next day?
Robert: Yeah. I don't like staying home. I figure if I get all that money, I'd be in trouble. If I come to work, I stay out of trouble.