Loretta Lou interviewed David Graeber at Made in China Journal:
Question: The spiritual violence of doing nothing in a bullshit job seems to be the inverse of the labour exploitation we see among workers doing precarious ‘shit jobs’ in the casualised gig economy (for instance, university cleaners; Amazon workers being fired for not working fast enough, etc.). Are these two phenomena linked somehow?
Answer: There is an enormous culture of ‘lean and mean’ in the corporate world, but that is applied almost exclusively to blue-collar workers, not to white-collar ones, where the opposite logic applies. I always go back to the example of the Elephant Tea factory near Marseille, which illustrates for me a lot of what has been happening since the 1970s: in this case, workers improved the machinery and increased productivity steadily over the years. In the 1950s or 1960s, this would have led to increases in pay—there was basically an understanding that if productivity goes up, workers get a share of the increased profits—or perhaps hiring more workers, but since it was the 1990s, the boss just hired more and more white-collar workers. At first, there had been only two: the boss and a human resources manager. Suddenly the catwalks were full of guys in suits, three, four, five, ultimately maybe a dozen of them, wandering around with clipboards watching people work, basically trying to figure out some kind of excuse for their existence. They tried to concoct schemes for greater efficiency but the place was already about as efficient as it could be. They held meetings and seminars and conferences and read each other’s reports. Finally, they decided: well, we can just fire everyone and move the plant to Poland! The place has been in occupation ever since.