Political consequences of outsourcing (was Re: [fla-left] Gainesville's May Day focuses on labor (fwd))

Nestor Miguel Gorojovsky gorojovsky at SPAMinea.com.ar
Fri May 5 08:40:16 MDT 2000


En relación a [fla-left] Gainesville's May Day focuses on labor,
el 4 May 00, a las 23:58, Michael Hoover dijo:

[...]

>
> While colleges/universities have outsourced bookstore/food services
> for years, last decade - characterized by managerial restructuring,
> 'cost containment,' accountability, 'academic capitalism,' etc. - has
> witnessed spread to many areas: custodial/maintenance, groundskeeping,
> printing, housing operations, purchasing, security, facilities
> management,  communication/business/computing services, campus mail
> delivery.

Since 1976 in particular, Argentina has been transformed into the
Paradise of outsourcers. Under the general banner that "specialists"
should take care of "subsidiary tasks", and that if you work for a
boss who makes money on your sweat your work will be more effective
than if you work as an employee of the State, everything from toilet
cleaning to high tech engineering has been stripped away from the
state institutions.

This move began with what was by those times somehow fearfully
described as "subsidiary privatization" in state owned enterprises,
and was later imposed as the great answer to the "problem" of the
Argentinian state (which problem however being the simple fact that
it is other states, namely American and Western European states, who
rule our state) and its so called inefficiency.

While at first, outsourcing just meant to deliver juicy parcels of
state owned concerns to avid and hungry sub-contractors, with the
globalizers moving full throttle ahead after 1989/91, anything other
than the most essential tasks in the State were "outsourced".

One does know all of the reasons why one should oppose outsourcing,
not the least one being the fact that people who -for example- do
janitors' work while being an employee of, say, a technical office,
are in a more dignified human and social situation than people who
are "just janitors" working for some blood-sipping subcontractor
whose "task" is limited to putting together toilet paper, bad quality
soap and "human resources", that is a simple organizative work that
would most probably be better performed by a dedicated office at the
institution.

Why, then, to outsource? Well, because this move gets two immediate
results: (a)  a weaker objective situation of a divided working class
(and this includes the lower self-esteem of the class...), and (b)
the generation -when they do not exist- of a layer of middlemen, of
professional lackeys who constitute a new power base for the
bourgeoisie.

I have an example that I run into quite recently.  As you may know, I
work at the Argentinian National Bureau of Statistics (INDEC), and I
am a geographer. When I began working there, I was a part of a team
of people who were to build up, in 1987-89, a Geographic Information
System for the Institute. This would have been a great step forward,
from different points of view. The team was dissolved when, after
1989, the crew appointed by Domingo Cavallo took hold of the
Institute. The reasons invoked were from stupid to slanderous, but
what was important was that these people were decided to "outsource"
the GIS of the INDEC. They thus signed a quite dark agreement with
the Argentinian representatives of a very important American firm of
this sector, and what in fact they did was to put people in the INDEC
to work for this firm, though those people (yours truly included)
were completely ignorant of what was taking place. That's business!

But this is not what I want to comment here. These are usual things,
that is the way a colonial capitalist state works, so that nobody
would feel particularly amazed at these "revelations". What I wanted
to comment is a different thing. Two of the members of the original
crew in the GIS project were a couple of young engineers, very
intelligent and progressive people, who were truly decided to help
the INDEC have a good GIS of its own, who understood the reasons
behind the existence of an independent development team WITHIN the
institution, and so on. When the Cavallo people came in, they were
kicked out from INDEC. What they did afterwards was what usually
happens with trained professionals in the Argentina led by the
"liberals":  they put the skills they learnt and drilled in the state
to their own, private profit. They HAD to do something in order to
live.

Well, they were successful (something I am happy about, being as they
are good people with great technical ability), and they managed to
build up a company working on Geomatics. This company thrived on the
field left by downsizing of Argentinian state: they signed contracts
with the private owners of Argentinian public utilities, they
obtained contracts with Argentinian provinces to develop and keep
actualized the cadastral sheets of the province, and so on. All and
every one of the tasks they live on were, are, or should be, typical
tasks a well conceived State would do by itself. But all of them are,
now, outsourced.

Due to a fortuitous reason (as time ran by, they gained a name and
became representatives in Argentina for an American GIS company), I
saw them back in the Institute a couple of weeks ago. Our Directors
had been visiting the USA during the American Population Census, and
they observed the excellent GIS that the Bureau of the Census uses.
When they asked for the companies that had developed some of the
modules of the GIS that were found very interesting, they discovered
that the representatives in Argentina for that company were precisely
the people who they had unceremoniously kicked away from the INDEC.
So, they invited them to explain to us what a GIS meant.

Of course, now they came as "salespeople" as well as engineers and
GIS experts. They also came as people with a good disposition towards
INDEC, and without "anti-State" prejudices. That is, they came in the
best mood and with the best of the intentions. Some of the former
members of the GIS team met with them after they made their
presentation, and we had a friendly talk, where we remembered the
hard days we had had more than a decade ago.

We were in sintony all along the talk, until one of them,
automatically, in what I would term an expression of the crudest
class instinct, let fall the phrase "Of course, outsourcing is the
best solution".  I made some acid answer on how people change with
time, but didn't allow my rage carry me on. So, I did what many
people in my country do when confronted with the mixture of class
interest and stolid idiocy we usually call a ZONCERA: I sighed for
myself, shut up, and changed issue.

But this comment, made lightly and, I would say, with the best of the
intentions, is the protruding part of an iceberg of complicities that
outsourcing generates. A whole layer of "good will" people become
supporters of the "bad will" model. Not even a crumble does fall from
the banquet table without social meaning.

A hug,




Néstor Miguel Gorojovsky
gorojovsky at inea.com.ar





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