I was amused to notice the other day that the street next to Moorfields Eye Hospital in London is – appropriately – named ‘Peerless Street’.
This first set me thinking of other terrible eyesight-related puns (Seymour Place, Fuller View … ) but then reminded me of that period in the 1980s when the Greater London Council was being abolished. I remember attending a meeting at County Hall (I forget for what purpose it was called) which started with all the participants introducing themselves, and recall being absolutely astonished at the variety of functions the GLC carried out that this revealed. Some were to be expected (‘I’m A from Planning’, ‘I’m B from Parks’; ‘I’m C from Archives’ etc.) but some exposed aspects of public life I had never thought about – most notably, ‘I’m X from Street Naming’. Once mentioned, of course, it seems entirely logical that there should be such a department. But I cannot begin to imagine what sort of a Quango or public-private partnership might have taken this over after the GLC was abolished. I suspect that any scope they might have had for originality is now much reduced.Was there once, perhaps, some joker lurking in the department for the previous half-century taking secret pleasure from such wordplay, or a group taking bets on whether it would be spotted; or is it the merest coincidence? Whatever the background story, it’s a pretty sure bet that, even if this function has not yet been outsourced, it has been reorganised in such a way that there are standard protocols to be followed and procedures to be adopted so that it can be managed in exactly the same way if it were.
I conjure up an image of a hard-pressed young person at a screen in India, checking new names against a database and then hitting a button that sends the new name to be added to some other database halfway across the world that updates the GPS system in the process, perhaps criss-crossing the boundaries of half a dozen different corporate entities – one tiny unit in a complex international division of labour whose members have at least in common the fact that they can probably not even identify, let alone engage with, any boss who actually controls the system.
I have written an article for the latest Socialist Register on the way in which the financial crisis has given a huge new impetus to the standardisation, commodification and outsourcing of public services (see http://socialistregister.com/index.php/srv/article/view/15646 ). This builds on an earlier piece for Work Organisation, Labour and Globalisation called ‘the new gold rush’ (which is available free online at http://analytica.metapress.com/content/y865j96l54438251/?p=4e8cbd585492417996d3b277e057f681&pi=0 ) in which I describe the stampede of the new, exponentially growing, multinational corporations that supply outsourced services to the public sector that provides such a profitable new field of accumulation for them.