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Chapter 6: Work (ETD)


In previous years at this summer school I have organised appropriate assignments for this topic of work. Two years ago, for example, I invited participants to stay over at the Institute's chalet in the Tatras. A dozen of us managed, in only one weekend, to paint all the interior rooms and also to erect a fence around the garden. There wasn't much time to enjoy the scenery, but everyone enjoyed themselves and we had a splendid party on the final evening. Then last year I took the entire group to my sister's allotment to help with the potato harvest, but this was less successful. Perhaps it was because my sister provided only soft drinks for the party afterwards. Unfortunately one student complained to our Rector and went so far as to use the analytic Marxist concept of 'exploitation'. It took me quite some time to explain to my colleagues that, far from wishing to exploit student labour, we were simply organising an experiment in economic anthropology. After all, I gave up a whole day myself to supervise the students' work.

Figure 22: Potato Harvest (photo courtesy of Frances Pine)

Given these precedents, I think we must confine this year's assignment to the realm of observation. Please walk down to the main railway station and make a list of all the types of work you can record in this area. Include activities such as begging, illicit retailing of cigarettes etc. Can you distinguish a 'formal' and 'informal' sector here? If so, can you spot any links between the two? Give examples of the ways in which even the most 'formal' jobs known to you, in factories or in offices, depend on informal practices. Why is it that, when a trade union calls upon its members to 'work to rule', in other words to confine their activities to the formal rules of their job, the results sometimes hardly differ from a fully-fledged strike?

Once again, Ania could hardly contain herself. 'It's outrageous', she said. 'If he tried to get me to spend a weekend picking his sister's potatoes, I'd soon tell him where to get off.'

When they went to call on Maria and Wlodek they found her busy cleaning the apartment, while he was relaxing over a newspaper. Maria herself suggested that the others go out for a drink together while she prepared the supper. Ania insisted on staying behind to help. Later they all went out to a club where the music was mostly Polish Hip Hop.

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