Work! Someone is watching you

After the banks, the stores. After the stores, the offices and the factories. What could be more practical for a boss than using video surveillance to watch his workers? The bosses have diverse and varied arguments for imposing cameras: security, employee theft, productivity.

One is wrong to believe that cameras only play a directly disciplinary role; they also fulfill an indirectly repressive function as well. The boss exercises a psychological surveillance of his workers without them knowing it. He sees that so-and-so is talkative, without him or her knowing anything. . . . This power doesn't grow alone. Often enough, video surveillance is complemented and completed by magnetic access-passes, ID cards, information-surveillance . . . an entire arsenal that transforms certain workplaces into veritable high-security zones. . . .

According to the 1992 Aubry law that regulates video surveillance in businesses, the boss is required to inform the appropriate committee and the salaried workers that they cannot be filmed without their knowledge.

A closed place, the firm is the location where the worst can be imposed on a submissive population. While it's true that unions are globally manifesting an official and theoretical hostility to video surveillance (except on the trains), the problem of liberty often gets put to the side in favor of more immediate struggles.

Meanwhile, certain unions, like SUD -- at the level of the interdependent unions G10-Paris or the CNT, which is a part of the the CLIFT collective -- have led salaried workers in symbolic protests. Many local struggles have started against the video installation projects. At the society-wide level, if one can make such comparisons, the company remains the terrain upon which one finds the most conflicts, which are both collective and individual.

Here are the details of some of these conflicts, in which salaried workers mobilized collectively to prevent video surveillance (Braff factory: strike) or imitated the effects (Creteil Plate: general assemblies daily). The SUD union Indre-et-Loire chose to complain against a video installation at the post office but, without mobilization, couldn't win its case.


Monday 26 December 1994: after a week-long strike, the workers at Braff (Morbihan) win the removal of 14 proposed cameras.

3 February 1994: press conference of the striking cleaners' union of the Parisian subway ("COMATEC"). COMATEC had summoned the strikers' lawyers, to threaten them with legal action based on video surveillance recordings. In effect, the RATP tasked the cameras with "surveillance of delinquency," which puts upon them an unacceptable and juridically contestable pressure (diversion of function). The press conference announces the taking of legal action.

End of 1998: during one week, the unionized sections of parcel post workers organize themselves and sign a petition (200 signatures, over 267 for stopping 3 of 32 video surveillance cameras coupled with registered magnetic access-cards). Postal clerks win the concession that the cameras won't be used where they work and the badges will be anonymous (voluntarily worn).

18 May: press conference "video surveillance of salaried workers" at the initiative of "Souriez, Vous Etes Filmes" and many unions. There are individual actions at RELAIS H Limoges (by AC! Limoges), another at Euro Disney (by the CGT), the COMATEC conflict (with a CNT representative), and one at Creteil (a CFDT representative).

15 June 1999: the union SUD Indre-et-Loire protests against the installation of 19 cameras and appeals a loss.

Recently, the CGT was counter-attacked at the arms factory Thomsom in the Loire region, where a union delegate was the victim of a discharge procedure (secret defense) because he denounced the presence of a video surveillance camera pointed at the local union.

To conclude, one notes that current social struggles make a climate favorable to rejections [of video surveillance]. During the strike of December 1995, striking postal workers at Roissy masked video surveillance cameras and, in the colleges, the students at Tolbiac and Censier broke theirs. During the movement of unemployed workers in 1997, the same reactions were observed at certain ASSEDIC.


Ordinary film of an average salaried IBM worker

8:30: Mr. IBM arrives at the entrance to work. Five large cameras pan over the scene.

8:40: BADGE: hourly control in the American fashion.

8:45: Elevator: two in-your-face cameras control access to the building above.

8:50: Main office: his open space, spaces theoretically free from cameras. Nevertheless, the control continues: every computer transaction is logged.

10: leave the open space for the toilettes. Two cameras accompany him all the way, just short of intimate places.

10:04: leave the toilettes, the elapsed time is recorded and two cameras watch his movements all the way to the elevator.

12:05: leave the elevator. Two cameras photograph his face.

12:35: return to work, re-trace the same steps as this morning, in front of the same cameras, from the same angles.


(Tract against the surveillance of workers, distributed during the occupation of IBM on 2 March 2000, by CLIFTI [Collectif pour les libertes individuelles face aux techniques de l'information]. Included in No to Electronic Watchtowers: Elements of Reflection on Video Surveillance. Translated from the French November 2003 by Bill Brown.)

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