Thursday 25 April 2013

Let's Get It On

Andy Beckett's 'When the Lights Went Out' captures an interesting moment in history, when the right decided to organize itself along leftists lines, via collective effort, to crush the Grunwick strike. It appears that the victory of the right owed it success in the mid 70s to superior organization - the group efforts of the Grunwick-strike breakers, but also the creeping relevance of the neoliberal think tanks. I'm quite happy to be corrected on this, but to me organization is a big factor, and the left, at least from Beckett's book, comes across as increasingly disorganized and dysfunctional. Some of the ideas about organization that would help the right were emerging not just from the left, but from the world of industrial psychology.

Organization has always been something psychology has been concerned with. Some of the first major 'wins' for psychology as a science of organization were Charles Myers' work at Rowntrees in the 20s and 30s, and the foundation of modern psychology, Robert Yerkes' work screening recruits for the army just prior to WW1 (Yerkes' work is memorably demolished in Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man). Out of the tentative beginnings of industrial psychology came the personnel psychologist. In the 1950s, when an influx of GI-bill tutored psychologists came into the field, the personnel psychologist became a totemic figure of the 'organized society', which was the subject of many of the criticisms that would go on to create the counter-culture movement.

The personnel psychologist carried out many of the functions that would improve an organization: administering aptitude tests; making Taylorism-inspired efficiency savings; recomming training; and in general manage feedback. This was an application of scientific methodology that most businesses were grateful for: there were other services however, which were of even more value.

The union movement in America in the 60s and 70s was growing more powerful: civil rights actions had expanded the franchise of the unions and given them more power. Throughout this era the personnel psychologist, along with picking suitable applicants for job positions, had been rooting out potential union members as a valued service to capital and management. The personnel psychologists (Charles Hughes, author of 'Making Unions Unnecessary', and Nathan Shefferman, ) would create, much like forensic psychologists do of serial killers, profiles of potential union members and ditch any job applicants who matched them. They would also devise organizational structures resistant to unionization.

Of Shefferman's innovations an associate said: "We operate the exact way a union does...but on management's side. We give out leaflets, talk to employees, and organize a propaganda campaign.”

John Logan, labour historian:  "Between 1974 and 1984, one firm established by one industrial psychologist trained over 27,000 managers and supervisors to "make unions unnecessary" and surveyed almost one million employees in 4,000 organizations."

The tactics of industrial psychology, leftist organization, and advertising technique became blended into the right's efforts to start winning victories against the consensus. The logic of industrial psychology union-busting has always been described in terms that the solutionists of the late 2000s could appreciate: unions are illogical roadbumps to better, rational organization.

Unions are now shadows of their former selves and there isn't a lot for the personnel psychologist to do. Enforce happiness quotas, positivity, etc. Strangely a lot of them are now concerned with fighting figures more alien, more irrational than the unionists. Outsiders bent on major disorganization.


Saturday 20 April 2013

Also interesting esp on the deliberate suppression/manipulation of Seventies' referendum on independence.
Actually one of the first videos we posted on this blog, but here in a single upload.

Saturday 13 April 2013

Speculation on a confluence of things:

  • This sliver of an obit/memoir from Hari Kunzru at the Guardian popped up following James Herbert's recent death - 
  • The above worn copy found yesterday in a charity shop in Loughton, Essex. Actually someone appeared to have offloaded their entire Herbert collection for the benefit of the Sue Ryder charity. I was sorely tempted to grab them all but wasn't sure how to justify them in terms of space to the rest of the family (or to myself). This horde  reminded me of the jumble sales my local scouts used to have where I could hoover up Sven Hassell paperbacks and all manner of unwholesome pulp from the heaving piles of paperbacks. This was rich compost for the impressionable mind. Although tidied up and carefully managed, charity shops still  occasionally possess this magical power to open portals and transport. But I digress into funny smelling,slippered-up nostalgia.

  • I remembered 'The Rats' being set around Epping Forest and near to where I was standing. Flicking through, I realised the action was generally around the East End, where James Herbert grew up. It was the less powerful Lair, set around the Forest, that I remembered being shared around the school in 1979/80 like Mayfair, Men Only or Penthouse.  This stuff was 'dirty'. The sex is full-on and explicit and any pleasure is generally tempered by brutal death. To adolescent boys it was powerful, if chastening, stuff at a point where they were being force-fed 'improving' literature from the Canon. Other alternatives were, from memory and my parent's bookshelves, updated Boys Own stuff by Alistair MacLean and  the racing thrillers of Dick Francis. I don't remember comics featuring much.

  • This boarded up canalside house, seen on a recent walk, also seemed to fit with my memories of the Rat's landscape.

  • In the next decade Derek Raymond/Robin Cook plunged his hands back into the black swamp and came up with even more brutal pulp in the Factory series, having tried his hand at class satire 'A Crust on its Uppers' and clunky, dystopian vision 'A State of Denmark'. He describes writing 'I was Dora Suarez' as 'a battle with evil'. In this company Cook was unusual as a drop-out from the ruling class, someone who deliberately turned his back on the route theoretically mapped out for him by breeding and education. Judging by his sales he didn't hit the reading public in quite the same way as Herbert, maybe lacking the former's marketing background. David Peace cites Cook as an influential fore-runner in his use of what Cook called 'the Black Novel' to anatomise and dissect contemporary society throught he prism of its worst horrors.

    • Coincidentally I reread an interview with Stewart Home, another working class 'outsider', who plagiarised/appropriated whole chunks of Richard Allen's Skinhead pulp, along with other works from the New English Library (NEL) canon. From the carcass of these pulp works Home constructed  books like Pure Mania and Red London in the late 80's and 90's, which he pumped full of repetitive sex and violence riffs interpersed with political theory and experimental avant garde techniques. Home talks extensively in other places about his love of in pulp fiction, and exploitation cinema in opposition to what he views as the exhausted literary and cultural mainstream. Sex is not brutally punished in Home's work. 

    • 'The Rats' appeared in 1974, coincidentally the same year the Stranglers formed. There are some similarities in the general levels of misanthropy, the image of rodents and the deliberate use of violence and shock. Herbert was a marketing man and designed his covers and the ad campaigns for his books. I may be wrong, but with the Stranglers it also feels that they were fully aware of the musical, lyrical and visual aspects of what they were doing. This level of professionalism damned them in the eyes of the Punks. It 'feels' like the work comes from the same swamp, although probably, in Herbert's case, without the Gnosticism that Phil divines in the Stranglers work. 

    • Like the Stranglers, James Herbert was huge in terms of sales and did not 'fit' comfortably into the prevailing cultural landscape. He was there in plain sight, like a large rock in the road. He made shedloads of money, but his interviews suggest a man who is always concerned that people don't get it.  He was a working class author writing about ordinary people, against prevailing modes, and he was conscious of this fact.

  • I don't think it's purely nostalgia that makes 'The Rats' and its companions resonate. Herbert was plugged into something vital, if deeply unpleasant, in the prevailing culture. It was recognised as 'real' by 15 year old schoolboys as readily as many other 1000's of others. Never something to be entirely proud of, never trumpeted, except in the Horror community.   This is probably why the books are turning up in charity shops and not being proudly displayed next to Martin Amis. 

  • All this is really a prelude to me having to re-read 'The Rats'. Many of these decades blogs  seem to be the revisiting of formative experiences and barely understood childhood events with adult critical apparatus. My first pop hero was Gary Glitter and Jimmy Saville bestrode the entertainment landscape like a colossus. Maybe something in 'The Rats' was reflective of this state of affairs. Will report back, hopefully in more coherent fashion.