It’s been a while. Instead of writ­ing for noway­tomakealiv­ing, I’ve been doing field­work for a research project called ‘Green Col­lar work’, inves­ti­gat­ing the val­ues and moti­va­tions for those work­ing in eco-businesses, with a par­tic­u­lar inter­est in envi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tants and those sell­ing eco-products. It’s been fas­ci­nat­ing. I’ve met a shaman, a for­mer banker and a gui­tarist, amongst others.

I haven’t yet met any cur­rent pris­on­ers, but per­haps I should change the focus of my study to green energy , and put a call into the solar panel com­pany Becom­ing Green. A Guardian report today sug­gests this com­pany has replaced full time staff (at least £48 for an 8 hour day at the adult min­i­mum wage) with pris­on­ers (£3 a day). £3 a day works out at 40p an hour; that’s 40p an hour to put on a happy voice and con­vince poten­tial cus­tomers of the ben­e­fits of an envi­ron­men­tally friendly way to gen­er­ate energy, to put up with the com­plaints of oth­ers and meet the tar­gets set. It’s not clear whether the non-prisoner for­mer employ­ees were on more than the min­i­mum wage, but £6.08 an hour wouldn’t be much for a job as noto­ri­ously mis­er­able as being in a call-centre. There are sev­eral researchers who have noted that call cen­tres have some­thing in com­mon with pris­ons inhab­i­tants of both are sur­veilled and mon­i­tored (van den Broek, 2003), so that using the toi­let becomes a pub­lic activity.

It seems a shame that none of those pris­on­ers, nor any of the other work­ers, have been put to task on the organisation’s web­site, cor­rect­ing some of the gram­mat­i­cal errors (the com­pany, it seems, “is vastly evolv­ing through­out the UK regard­ing Renew­able & Sus­tain­able Energy”). But that’s by the by. It seems to me to be bad to pay peo­ple 40p an hour, and bad to get rid of more expen­sive staff in order to do so. I’ve been think­ing so much about the ways some of the small green busi­nesses I’m talk­ing to try to make a good, eth­i­cal liv­ing in what Guat­tari (2008: 30) calls the ‘dis­si­dent vec­tors’ of cap­i­tal­ism by doing some­thing envi­ron­men­tally pos­i­tive and, along the way, treat­ing their employ­ees, fel­low work­ers and cus­tomers well, that it is quite a shock to my inter­mit­tently hope­ful heart to see some­thing green be so dirty.

Ref­er­ences

  1. Guat­tari, F. (2008) The Three Ecolo­gies Lon­don, Continuum.
  2. van den Broek, D. (2003) ‘Sur­veil­lance, pri­vacy and work inten­si­fi­ca­tion within call cen­tres Issues in Work­place Rela­tions: Work­Site Work and Organ­i­sa­tion Stud­ies, Uni­ver­sity of Sydney.