Pluto Press Logo




On the Blog

Working the Phones

Working the Phones

Control and Resistance in Call Centres

by Jamie Woodcock

Series: Wildcat

A Marxist investigation into the forms of resistance occurring in the UK call centre today

*Shortlisted for the BBC Radio 4 Thinking Allowed Award for Ethnography 2017*

*Winner of the 2016 Labor History Best Book prize*

Over a million people in the UK work in call centres, and the phrase has become synonymous with low-paid and high stress work, dictatorial supervisors and an enforced dearth of union organisation. However, rarely does the public have access to the true picture of what goes on in these institutions.

For Working the Phones, Jamie Woodcock worked undercover in a call centre to gather insights into the everyday experiences of call centre workers. He shows how this work has become emblematic of the shift towards a post-industrial service economy, and all the issues that this produces, such as the destruction of a unionised work force, isolation and alienation, loss of agency and, ominously, the proliferation of surveillance and control which affects mental and physical well being of the workers.

By applying a sophisticated, radical analysis to a thoroughly international 21st century phenomenon, Working the Phones presents a window onto the methods of resistance that are developing on our office floors, and considers whether there is any hope left for the modern worker today.

This book is available to download through the Open Access programme.

Jamie Woodcock is a researcher based in London. He is the author of The Gig Economy (Polity Press, 2019), Marx at the Arcade (Haymarket, 2019), and Working The Phones (Pluto, 2016). His research focuses on labour, work, the gig economy, platforms, resistance, organising, and videogames.

'A sharp reminder of the difficulties faced by call-centre workers'

- Financial Times

'Jamie Woodcock shows us what call centres can tell us about bleakness and resistance in the modern workplace'


'Jamie Woodcock's brilliant insider account of life in a British call-centre reveals the dirty realities of digital capitalism ... a book that is sure to become a classic'

- Peter Fleming, author of The Mythology of Work (Pluto, 2015)

'In this urgent and incisive study, Woodcock identifies the imposing challenges to organising against exploitation in conditions of atomised precarity, while also giving us precious glimpses of what a counter-offensive against capital might look like. A masterful lesson in how sociology can serve both to interpret and change a world of labour under the pall of austerity'

- Alberto Toscano, Reader in Critical Theory, Department of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London

'Woodcock knows not only his theory but his subject inside out. There's casualisation, cruelty and regimentation, but also subversion, and his focus on employee resistance offers a flicker of hope'

- Times Higher Education

'Everyone should read Jamie Woodcock's book'

- Manchester Review of Books

'A theoretically sophisticated and empiracally rich account of what it is like to work in a call centre'

- Red Pepper

1. Introduction
2. Working in the Call Centre
3. Management
4. Moments of Resistance
5. Precarious Organisation
6. Conclusion

Published by Pluto Press in Nov 2016
Paperback ISBN: 9780745399065

135mm x 215mm

Related Content


What’s Wrong with Modern Work? On the failure of the Taylor Review

The failure of the Taylor Review to advocate for workers suggests a solution will only come from struggle within. Jamie Woodcock looks to Engels’ report on 19th century workers, which could offer a blueprint for a counter-offensive.

Read full article

VIDEO: Jamie Woodcock introduces ‘Working the Phones’

In this video, author Jamie Woodcock talks about about his experience of working undercover in a call centre, and the insights he brought to his new book Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres.

Watch Video

INFOGRAPHIC : Working the Phones

Over a million people in the UK work in call centres, and the phrase has become synonymous with low-paid and high stress work, dictatorial supervisors and an enforced dearth of union organisation. However, rarely does the public have access to...

Read full article

Activism, Resistance and Dissent Reading List

From small acts of resistance in call centres and art galleries, to the strength of an international trade union, these books explore the activism that fights for change and makes global capitalism precarious.

Read full article

Labour and Trade Union Reading List

Work under neoliberalism is defined by low-pay, precarity, surveillance and total compliance, consequently, the need for unionisation is unquestionable. Here’s our Labour and Trade Union reading list, to prepare you for the world of modern...

Read full article
Back to Top