Call centers: A new front in the class struggle
Published Aug 21, 2011 8:22 PM
Across the world, as capitalism adjusts to its newly strengthened ability to
force workers to accept wages lower than ever, “call centers” are a
growing area of employment.
This growing industry involves workers who receive or make phone calls. They
either sell products or deal with customer complaints and concerns.
The lowest paid call center employees in the world are in Somalia, according to
the CIA World Factbook. The political situation allowing these extremely low
wages for Somali telephone workers has been enforced with U.S. bombs and cruise
India is also the site of a growing number of call centers, as are Bangladesh,
the Philippines and many other impoverished countries throughout the world.
But call centers are also numerous and big in the imperialist countries. In
Britain, 3.5 percent of the entire workforce is made up of call center workers.
The BBC has even referred to call centers as “the factories of the 21st
century.” (March 10)
In the U.S., hundreds of thousands if not millions of young people are finding
themselves not standing on an assembly line, but sitting in front of a computer
screen wearing a headset. In exchange for this dull and often highly stressful
labor, they are collecting much lower wages than unionized factory workers did
two earlier generations.
Call center workers often depend on commissions to receive anything higher than
minimum wage, and in some cases they are forbidden from contesting the amount
of commission they receive, even if statistically their results merit higher
wages according to the company’s own regulations. Many call center
workers are college graduates.
The tasks of call center workers can be very difficult. Their jobs can involve
making “cold calls” to people, randomly asking them to buy a
product or make a donation. A worker’s commission can depend on her or
his ability to convince someone, who calls in to make a complaint, to instead
upgrade their cable TV or buy a new product from the company they are
A foreperson or “manager” often walks up and down the aisles of
call centers, watching workers’ every move and driving them to produce
better results with threats and scolding.
Some call centers require their workers to purchase headsets, uniforms and
necessary tools for doing the job from the company itself. It is also very
difficult to get full-time employment at a call center. Often workers cannot
get enough hours to make ends meet.
Efforts to unionize call center workers in the U.S. have begun. In 2010, the
Communication Workers of America announced that unionizing call center workers
was a top priority. (Search “improving call center jobs” at
Many of the Verizon workers along the East Coast of the U.S. who are now
striking for better wages normally work in Verizon’s call centers,
answering the phone when complaints about Verizon land lines are made, or
changes in service are required.
In the lead-up to strike, Verizon workers held joint “stand ups,”
in which they refused to sit down for brief periods, standing at their desks in
solidarity. They also wore bright red — the colors of their union —
It is clear that as capitalism seeks to thrust a “low wage” future
on the workers of the U.S., the struggle of call center workers against the
harshness of this new field will intensify.
Maupin, a Workers World Party organizer, has worked in several different
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