Office Politics: Computers, Labor, and the Fight for Safety and Health

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The desktop computer has transformed office work. Business and social forecasters claimed that the use of video display terminals (VDTs) in the “Office of the Future” would free workers from routine tasks, giving them more time for creative work and chances for career advancement. Office Politics  argues that, for many VDT workers––most of whom are nonunionized women in low-paying, dead-end jobs––exactly the opposite has been true. VDTs have been used to routinize office tasks; export work via satellite to low-wage, nonunion offshore offices; to de-skill workers and monitor their productivity. And the nature of the work has led to widespread health and safety problems, including vision, musculoskeletal (repetitive motion), and stress-related illnesses. Many have also charged that the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emitted by computer terminals are responsible for miscarriages, for birth defects, and for promoting cancer.           

As office workers sought to protect themselves against these new occupational health and safety problems, they found little help from organized labor, business, or the government. Office Politics  is the first book to explain why. It shows how corporate interests successfully redefined the VDT health and safety crisis as a “comfort” problem, how the government refused to collect data on the true scope of VDT-related illnesses or to regulate Information Age industries, and how labor unions ignored women workers.           

Office Politics is key reading for everyone who works at a computer. It will be of special interest to students, academics, and professionals in political science, sociology, occupational and environmental health, business, labor and management issues, women’s studies, computing, and public policy.


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What People Are Saying

Frances Fox Piven
"An eye-opening book about the politics of the latest frontier in the age-old struggle for worker safety in the United States. A must read!"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813522869
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/1996
  • Pages: 240

Table of Contents

List of Acronyms
Introduction 1
Ch. 1 The Hazards of Working with Video Display Terminals 9
Ch. 2 The Office of the Future Meets the Factory of the Past 17
Ch. 3 Organizing Office Workers for Occupational Safety and Health 35
Ch. 4 A Question of Business 51
Ch. 5 The Federal Politics of Ergonomic Inaction 65
Ch. 6 The Nonproblem of Nonionizing Radiation 85
Ch. 7 The Office of Management and Budget: Ombudsman to Business 107
Ch. 8 State and Local Arenas: Laboratories of Democracy or Labyrinths of Frustration? 127
Ch. 9 Workers' Safety and Health in Postindustrial Society 143
Notes 153
Selected Bibliography 197
Index 209
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