back to article Don't cross the team tasked with policing the surfing habits of California's teens

Bid farewell to the weekend with a tale of surfing snoopage and automation rejected in another story from The Register's Who, Me? files. We stick with the current century in today's retelling and skip to the sunny US state of California and a school district with hundreds of thousands of students and teachers. "A massive …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unions...

    1980s, working in BT, just pre-privatization. We were in a new office in a newly-created software development centre, nice computer room, and lots of assorted terminals.

    All of which had to be placed in a separate room designated as the "terminal room". Couldn't have them on the desks of the engineers, because union rules said that only typists were allowed keyboards on their desks. Engineers weren't allowed to do their own typing, that was beneath them and might put typists out of work. No amount of arguing would convince the union of the difference between "typists" and "software engineers". Rules are rules.

    In the end some of us pulled our own RS232 cables through the ducts (ohh, technician work, that ruffled a few feathers) and put VT100s on our own desks. The union grumbled, but when the people they were allegedly 'protecting' told them where to go they eventually gave up and pretended it wasn't happening.

    1. TSM

      Re: Unions...

      I'd have been tempted to retitle the positions as software typists. But that might have ruffled a few other feathers.

  2. chivo243 Silver badge
    Windows

    Back in the day

    We had exchange with many, many Distribution lists, I was tasked with offloading management of these lists to the appropriate admin assistants, with training them on how to manage these lists. Due to push back from those assistants (over worked but plenty of time for coffee breaks) I managed those lists until we waved good bye to Exchange.

  3. ColinPa

    Free school meals

    I heard from someone who was involved in the early days of biometrics. Some school children got free school meals, others had to pay. A teacher used to monitor the pupils and check who was/was not meant to pay for the meals. Because this showed up the kids who had free school meals, someone thought this might not be a good idea. The school got involved with a project to scan the eyeball of each child, and automatically record who had what.

    It used to take the teacher 2 seconds to "tick the list" as the pupils came past. With the new technology it took about 10 seconds. They introduced a second eye scanner which helped, but was still slower.

    At the end of the trial, the school decided to go back to the paper way of doing it. The company with the equipment said they learned a lot from it, getting the developers out into the field. For example these developers learned that children are of different heights, and so their equipment needs to handle this. Obvious once you see it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Free school meals

      “ The company with the equipment said they learned a lot from it, getting the developers out into the field.”

      So they sold immature tech to the school and got their development funded by tax money. Nice.

      What comes to a teacher ticking boxes for kids entitled to free meals, why not to tick everybody? Two rows, one for free, one for paying. Nobody would have known who’s paying and who’s not, since everybody is being ticked. Instead, they decided install to an eyeball scanner, oh man.

      P.s. Fucking agile Apple. From now on I attach this thank you message to my every post until they fix battery drainage problem they introduced in iOS 14.4.2.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Free school meals

        " why not to tick everybody? "

        At my kids school, meals are paid for via thumbprint with a pre-paid account for those who can afford it, and free school meals for those who can't. None of the kids or even the serving staff need to know who has free school meals.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Free school meals

          Eye scan, thumb print, DNA analysis next time…?

          Notice how the key feature here is the somewhat iffy enforced imposition of biometrics (slight overkill for a school dinner queue) on those least able to object to it (and thereby grooming them to accept it as "normal" as they grow up and become adults). There are valid use cases for biometrics, but this is creepy.

          1. JeffB

            Re: Free school meals

            The college where I work all of the students have electronic ID badges which can be used to pay for goods, those eligible for a bursary (free meals) get it added to their account automatically

          2. onemark03 Bronze badge

            Eye scan, thumb print, DNA analysis next time…?

            Or ID cards for pupils.

            Some schools do this.

            Because technology makes it possible.

          3. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Free school meals

            Schoolkids are of course renowned for never forgetting anything, so there's no chance there'd be a bunch of kids leaving their school contactless card at home...

            When I was in school - decades ago, now - we had smart cards for buying lunch with. Forget your card, you might as well forget about lunch given how long it took to get a temporary replacement.

            1. knottedhandkerchief

              Re: Free school meals

              They wouldn't get into my daughter's school/sixth form/college without their Id pass around their neck, so forgetting it is not an option... straight back home. East end of London, may vary elsewhere.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Free school meals

              Dumb process built by the dumb kind of smart people. Use a damn barcode on the card, and just print a list of students into a booklet and park it at the lunch counter. Works for produce at the grocery store too. Heck, load some funny sounds on the barcode scanner and the kids may line up to scan their ID themselves.

              And you can print a replacement in less than 5 mins, less if you just make a temp an print the barcode on a label printer.

              But I'm sure the vendor suggested something sane like implanting the smart card chip in the kids foreheads instead.

              1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

                Re: Free school meals

                Sometimes you want to use an ID for which a photograph of the ID is not a convenient substitute.

                I use a bus ticket app on my phone which displays a QR code.

                About every 10 seconds, the QR code changes.

          4. JulieM

            Re: Free school meals

            And this, I fear, is the real aim of the project.

            Universal free meals would cost no more than the present means-tested system, there would be nothing for kids to forget, in fact it's almost a no-brainer .....

            Except you don't get to normalise intrusions into privacy that way.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Free school meals

              "Universal free meals would cost no more than the present means-tested system, there would be nothing for kids to forget, in fact it's almost a no-brainer"

              But, but <sputter> socialism! We can't raise no dirty sinking commies!

              All too often, we see situations where we'll pay more but claim to be saving money) just to be sure "they" don't get a free ride.

              1. uccsoundman

                Re: Free school meals

                >>All too often, we see situations where we'll pay more but claim to be saving money) just to be sure "they" don't get a free ride.

                In a modification of 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (which at least in America is a root-level national policy, beaten into us as Children) "For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not PAY, neither should he eat."

              2. JudyV

                Re: Free school meals

                Wouldn't mind the universal free lunches for all the kids if the food was edible. Most of it ends up getting thrown in the trash. I end up paying twice as it is now. Once for the free school lunch and once for the food I have to buy to send with them so they actually have a lunch they can eat.

          5. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Free school meals

            Yeah, in a school they could literally do the same job with QR code. No biometrics needed. But I'm sure the winning bidder hand a really cool powerpoint. Same as the company who installed the metal detectors at my high school. The false positive rate was so bad that they literally had turned them off after the first couple weeks. Pure theater for the next couple years. But it was still a excuse to selectively pull the black kids out of line for a wand down and backpack search.

            Cause you know the walk through metal detector that was turned off somehow new they were bad people that were up to no good, right? One of my favorite memories of high school, right up there with watching the fine white dust blowing out of the attic access stairwell in the back of the computer lab when the guys in the white suits were hauling out the Asbestos.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Free school meals

        "From now on I attach this thank you message to my every post until they fix battery drainage problem they introduced in iOS 14.4.2."

        At least that'll be one AC we can recognise.

        1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: Free school meals

          At least that'll be one AC we can recognise.

          Unless he's Spartacus.

          1. BenDwire

            Re: Free school meals

            He can't be. I'm Spartacus.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Free school meals

              I thought you were Sfartapoops.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: At least that'll be one AC we can recognise.

          Unless others also post as Anonymous and copy that message, of course!

          From now on I attach this thank you message to my every post until they fix battery drainage problem they introduced in iOS 14.4.2.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: At least that'll be one AC we can recognise.

            You forgot the thank you message, “Fucking agile Apple”.

          2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

            Re: At least that'll be one AC we can recognise.

            How is iOS 14.5 for you?

      3. EarthDog

        Re: Free school meals

        Why not make all lunches free?

        1. John Arthur
          Trollface

          Re: Free school meals

          No such thing as a free lunch!

        2. JulieM

          Re: Free school meals

          Because there is an idea going around that nobody should ever get anything without paying for it.

          1. not.known@this.address Silver badge

            Re: Free school meals

            "Because there is an idea going around that nobody should ever get anything without paying for it."

            Everything has to be paid for, or nothing at all can be paid for. If I work 40 hours a week and you do nothing, should I get anything as a reward for working? Or what if it was the other way around - you worked for 40 hours a week and I did nothing - should I have the same as you even though I have made no effort at all?

            "To each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities" sounds very good in theory but it relies on people behaving in an 'honourable' way.

            Not all leeches are invertebrates.

        3. Zarno Bronze badge
          Holmes

          Re: Free school meals

          They should be free, since public school is paid for by taxes.

          If the child wants an extra Cosmic Brownie, soft pretzel with cheese, or a Slush Puppie, charge them for it, that's fine.

          The school taxes keep going up, "Because it's needed for the children!", but oddly enough the money never seems to do anything visible.

      4. idiot taxpayer here again

        Re: Free school meals

        @A/C

        What the fuck has Apple to do with this article? But just to let you know, I have no problem with that update. Now go find a post about Apple and post there. And I will answer you, oh, I forgot, you are a/c...

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: Free school meals

          You miss the point. It's all the AC's posts. This just happens to be one. Whether this gesture is of any point from someone A/C is a nother kettle of ball games.

    2. JulieM

      Re: Free school meals

      And I bet all this technology, just to determine who is and who is not eligible for free meals, ultimately ends up costing more than it would cost, just to make free school meals universal. Then you only need *one* system, and you are not chasing many small sums.

      But Tories would rather spend thousands of pounds on shiny crap than give away one penny to someone who might not be "sufficiently deserving".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Free school meals

        "And I bet all this technology, just to determine who is and who is not eligible for free meals, ultimately ends up costing more than it would cost, just to make free school meals universal. Then you only need *one* system, and you are not chasing many small sums."

        Of course - it's the norm to develop systems to save money that cost more than they save. I recall visiting many businesses where a significant proportion of their purchases cost more in admin (to ensure they weren't paying more than necessary) than they could ever save. But try and change that...

        In Scotland, momentum is building regarding the Universal Basic Income. Those who are earning will refund theirs in taxes/NI and pensions; there will be some who decide not to work and try to live off their handout but the overall cost to the system will be less as the cost of administering the benefit system is slashed.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Free school meals

          Oh yes. I've had to work with school purchasing systems with procedures designed to prevent small amounts of potential fiddling that cost far more in admin time than they could possibly save.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Free school meals

      Sounds like an xkcd 583 situation.

  4. cosymart
    WTF?

    Where's The Story?

    Read this waiting for the story/punch line.... Slow news day this week?

    1. TimMaher Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Where's The Story?

      Were you waiting in the lunch queue?

    2. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Where's The Story?

      "I once fell overboard and was almost eaten by a shark which had a head shaped like a hammer."

  5. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    Bullshit Jobs by the late David Graeber.

    1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      How about a linky?

  6. Pete B

    Users never want to change.

    One of my biggest headaches - it doesn't matter how much more efficient/easier/faster a new process is they will still wan tto stick with the old one they know.

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Users never want to change.

      The best system or process is always the last one, not the current one. Users will moan like heck about a system but the moment you change it they'll be, "Can we have the old one back?"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Users never want to change.

        I've been through many iterations of a holiday day management interface, and honestly I think each one is worse than the previous one. I never thought I'd be one of those people keeping a personal record - in Excel FFS!

        Currently I enter my days off in Workday. Cancelling days off was a 50-50 proposition the interface was so unclear. Its difficult to find a calendar presentation of future days off, and I've given up looking for last years starting amounts. Colleagues working half-time don't know if they have to take off a half day or a full day.

        Maybe I'm just seeing the problem from a higher level as time goes on, but in the old days whatever the system said was obviously true. Now I wouldn't trust a holiday system to add 1 plus 1...

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Users never want to change.

          Now I wouldn't trust a holiday system to add 1 plus 1.

          I wouldn't trust it either until I had hacked it to give the outcome I wanted, especially if it was also integrated with the worktime/overtime system.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Users never want to change.

          Workday was the rare case where the new is accepted as better than the old. I don't remember what our old system was, but Workday was an improvement.

          Well, improved w.r.t. vacation requests. The rest is your typical new HR software that seems to be built with the philosophy of "these new millennial employees like Facebook, right? Let's make our software just like Facebook!". I don't need another "news feed", I already have 5 places that want a profile picture. Get off my lawn, etc.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Users never want to change.

            Ugh. Your Facebook comment reminded me of having to renew my vehicle registration.

            Go to the website, hit the "renew registration" button, no big deal. What pops up is a chatbot. Seriously. "I see you want to renew your vehicle registration, I'm going to help!" (Me: Where's an EMP when you need one...) Where's the nice form they used to have? It then proceeds to ask for all the information in a bot-asks-question, user-presents-answer format, with brief pauses between each question, instead of a properly sane form. Basic stuff, like license plate number and last few digits of VIN. Verify my address hasn't changed, ok. Verify my insurance hasn't changed, ok. Verify that the address I want my new sticker sent to? Uh, the same one? No, have to re-enter it. Now for payment: What's the card number? Ok, now what's the CVV? Ok, now what's the expiration date? Ok, now what's the name on the card? (Same as the vehicle registration!) Ok, now what's the address? (SAME AS THE VEHICLE REGISTRATION!)

            Why did they replace the simple, easy-to-use form with Clippy? Didn't we banish that thing in the 90s?

    2. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip

      Re: Users never want to change.

      You need to sell the advantages it will make to their day, not to the company's benefit.

      Easier or at least more enjoyable is a definite benefit. If it provides them a new transferable skill, that's also useful.

      Faster or more efficient is not necessarily an employee benefit. If you're employed 9-5 and paid the same amount no matter what you do, getting through work faster so you can be handed more work (and possibly more stress) is not a benefit.

    3. stu_san
      Joke

      Re: Users never want to change.

      Old joke:

      "An IT guy is walking through the office and stumbles on a whole room of people with large swaths of paper adding numbers across and down. He went up to the manager and said, "If you give me a week to train your people to use a computer spreadsheet, they'll be much faster and accurate."

      The manager replied, "No, I can't afford for them to take a week for training. They're too busy adding numbers across and down."

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Users never want to change.

        It might be an old joke. But I know places (especially schools) where this goes on.

        At least part of the management mindset behind this is that while administrative staff are expected to know and may even get training in using the tech, frontline staff who need to use the same tech are somehow not seen as needing to know how to use it- as if those reports, analyses and so on will write themselves.

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

    I was once on a team contacted to create a document management application that would allow lawyers to, well, manage their documents more efficiently.

    One would think that lawyers would appreciate that kind of functionality.

    Here I was, explaining that the application could easily track the contributors and the changes, and all the filing would a quick press of a button. What I did not get was all the questions about whose name was going to be on the document and could the secretaries take care of it.

    Once we had lost the deal, I twigged to the root cause : these guys didn't want to touch a computer, they wanted their secretaries to do the work. What I was proposing was that they had to do some work, instead of enjoying expensive lunches at fancy restaurants.

    Obviously, that was not acceptable.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

      "What I was proposing was that they had to do some work, instead of enjoying expensive lunches at fancy restaurants."

      Until some more entrepreneurial firm realised the advantages, took their work and ate their lunches.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

      My Daughter is a reasonably senior lawyer in a large law firm. She usually works at least 60 hours a week and often works through the night to meet court deadlines. The concept of overtime is completely unknown and she is expected to be available 24/7. She nis very well rewarded financially for this but the idea that any professional these days has time for expensive long lunches is just a fantasy

    3. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

      What a bizarre conspiracy theory. You presented a supposedly labour-saving system that in fact put secretarial work on the shoulders of the highly valuable professionals who employed secretaries to get rid of that kind of thing. It may have taken less of their time than of their secretaries', but that's hardly the point.

    4. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

      Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

      Old-timey suit wearers grew up in a world where only minions typed, and rarely male minions at that. It would be a huge loss of status to become a typist.

      1. Keith Langmead

        Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

        And a huge waste of time. Those "old-timey suit wearers" have likely never needed to learn how to type, so why would they start now? If you're a < 10 WPM one finger typist who can afford to pay someone else who can do the same thing at least 10x as fast then why wouldn't you? In situations like that you want systems which streamline things like dictation etc to make your current workflow faster, not binning it all and trying to learn a completely new skill while dealing with a massive drop in productivity.

        1. batfink Silver badge

          Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

          Back in the stone age when I started in IT, this was exactly the case. I came out of my schooling & IT degree (not called that then of course) with no idea about how to type, because boys didn't do that. We had to write stuff down on coding sheets and give it to the typists, who could enter it (twice - basic error checking by diff) while all simultaneously chatting with each other, all in less time than it would have taken me to peck it out on a keyboard myself.

          So yes - it was faster, more efficient and cheaper to get the specialists to do it. I can't really see why this shouldn't still be the case.

          After only <mumblety> years I'm now a fair touch-typist, but I still miss those dips in the typing pool...

          1. nintendoeats

            Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

            "I can't really see why this shouldn't still be the case."

            This is a joke right? I can understand how this would make sense in the cretaceous era, when everybody was timesharing and it was very important to ensure that your (presumably very short) code was formally correct before it got anywhere near a real computer. That's not how things work now though. If somebody had to do my typing for me, it would literally be a matter of me sitting next to them saying "put a curly-brace, then this variable name...actually, I don't like the readability of that, lets move it down a line and put the declaration here. Ok, press F5 and lets see what happens. Oh, compiler wants an explicit type-cast here, lets just fix that."

            Introducing another person between keyboard and chair would massively reduce programming productivity.

            1. anothercynic Silver badge

              Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

              Except that's what pair programming apparently looked like at an organisation I used to work at. I know... that's not that it was meant to look like, but that's how it did. Crazy.

            2. idiot taxpayer here again

              Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

              @nintendoeats

              Bet the chefs love you when you visit a restaurant

              1. nintendoeats

                Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

                And what do you mean by that?

            3. batfink Silver badge

              Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

              "Presumably very short" - er, no. These were the days when you actually thought through what you were writing, instead of creating something approximate, pushing the button, then sorting out what was wrong with it.

              And you've not been reading - this wasn't looking over somebody's shoulder, this was them inputting your written code.

              1. nintendoeats

                Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

                We agree. My point was, modern programming involves a lot of creating something approximate, pushing the button, and sorting out whats wrong with it. Having a seperate typist would mean looking over somebody's shoulder, rather than having them input your written code.

                Then somebody is going to say "the old way was better, we had more correct code!" to which I respond, "no there was still lots of incorrect code, but it took 100 times longer to create and was much harder to modify".

        2. uccsoundman

          Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

          In defense of the suit wearers: I took typing in high school when typing was still done by girls in typing pool. I actually had to get SPECIAL permission from the school's principal to take the class since that was designated as "girl only" (like shop class was boy only). I also got my manhood questioned and received a few beatings from the jocks to remind me to stick to boy-stuff.

          1. idiot taxpayer here again

            Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

            @uccsoundman

            I had the same problem when I was learning shorthand. But for the time it has saved me since learning, the grief was worth it

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

            @uccsoundman: I hope that being the only guy in the typing class would have resulted in at least some "extra-curricular" interest from at least one of your classmates?

            (Assuming that's what floats your boat, of course)

      2. Imhotep Silver badge

        Re: High-level manglement can be just as much a nuisance as unions

        Towards the beginning of my career, our small department had two secretaries who did our typing from dictatapes.

        There was also a steno pool, a huge room filled with typists, all typing from hand written sheets.

        When I left less than ten years later, the steno pool was gone.

        I'm afraid I helped put them out of a job with some programs I had written: quantities keyed in on a pc generated detailed, multi-paged equipment bids that were sent directly to a printer.

        Previously each item had been written down on a yellow tablet, the individual price entered and the amounts totaled with the help of an adding machine. Steno pool no longer needed for that.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    PCB Assembly

    I worked in a factory that made PCBs which had a fair amount of hand assembled components on them as part of customizing them for specific customers. The operators worked from A1 assy drawings that were not only too big for their work areas but were a pain from a config point of view and we had too many cases of either the wrong stuff being built or changes not promulgating either up or down. Our efficiencies were much worse than a sister plant (in the same country, but about 400 miles away) and this was blamed on these customizations, not the poor work practices. As part of a cost reduction project we developed a system to put a PC on each workstation so they could work with the latest drawings and routings. We assembled a test set-up and the operators used it for a while and loved it, as did the production engineers, and the efficiencies improved. Then the unions, who had been involved from the start, insisted on a new grade structure and pay rises cos the operators were now IT staff as PCs were now a fundamental part of their job.

    You know the rest: the PCs were never installed, the work was transferred to the other plant about a year later and about 30 people lost their jobs.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: PCB Assembly

      Sometimes this - deservedly - backfires on the unions.

      For some reason the union representing scientists in the NI Civil Service (a) seemed to have more money than those for the general service grades and (b) was quite complacent about the fact that we were paid less than the equivalent general service grades and had crap promotion prospects.

      One day they inveigled everyone to take a day off which wasn't quite called a strike because pay negotiations were going badly. Afterwards it transpired it wasn't even our pay that was being negotiated, it was general service grades'. A union official came to try to pacify the staff and got roasted. In this case the staff kept their jobs but the union must have lost at least 30 subscriptions members.

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Sometimes it backfires on the Unions

    A print firm my old employer did some work for had a very heavy union presence. Most of the machinery was really ancient, and required an extremely high workforce to run. It was only kept running and not replaced with modern kit because of the union action to protect the members jobs.

    We made several attempts to suggest quite small modifications, that would improve the quality of the output as well as taking some of the strain off the machines. All were of course blocked by the union. In a sense we benefited directly from this, as our company did all their machine repairs (including dealing with the sabotage, when some guy fancied a lazy night shift).

    It will come as no surprise that the printers eventually went bust as the quality of their work fell further behind current standards, along with turnaround times - so not many jobs protected there.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Sometimes it backfires on the Unions

      There's no IT angle here, just musing that a few years ago the staff of the factory where I work freaked out over something, whipped up by a militant union (the CGT, if you know French unions) and almost everybody downed tools for two hours to make their point.

      The next day, management cancelled the bridge we were supposed to be having between a public holiday on a Thursday and the weekend.

      Result? Union +2, company +7.

      Stupid crap like this carried on a while until it became clear to most of the non-union people that while they might have had a valid point, their methods were generally making things worse and antagonising relations between employees and management.

      In an extraordinary meeting, a large group of employees went to talk directly to management. The union people were pointedly not invited.

      Having somebody who didn't scream endless unjustified demands meant that both sides were able to actually talk. Some stuff improved, some didn't, but the best thing of all, the employees elected somebody from the CDFT (a much more moderate union (France has many unions...)) to represent them. The CGT was done. Goodbye and good riddance.

    2. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

      Re: Sometimes it backfires on the Unions

      The print unions were among those that gave the whole union movement a bad name. The clashes as new rules and new technology forced them to stop trying to drive the bus were epic. This was of course the '80s.

      Sadly the sane unions, who negotiated in good faith on behalf of their membership (and weren't on News At 10 every other month) got castrated along with them.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        Re: Sometimes it backfires on the Unions

        Unions can have a very valuable role, stopping employers making stupid mistakes. Unions can also be ways in which union leaders exploit the masses. Sometimes the two can be simultaneous, but more commonly the latter predominates when the employers aren't generally making lots of stupid mistakes.

        Ultimately, in the UK, the more prominent unions are now parasitic, rather than co-operative, hence why union membership is at a nadir.

        1. anothercynic Silver badge

          Re: Sometimes it backfires on the Unions

          Have to agree there. And I pointedly look at three unions in particular who seem to be hellbent on blaming everything on the private sector than, heaven forbid, take some responsibility themselves.

        2. nintendoeats

          Re: Sometimes it backfires on the Unions

          It is worth remembering that unions didn't come into existence for nothing:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangle_Shirtwaist_Factory_fire

          And in today's Tesla thread, somebody called out a very nice quote about how capitalism rarely produces safety; regulation does that.

          1. anothercynic Silver badge

            Re: Sometimes it backfires on the Unions

            Well-managed unions are a godsend. Mis-managed ones are a hell pest.

          2. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Sometimes it backfires on the Unions

            It's worth remembering that unions pre-date that incident by two centuries or more, the factory workers were unionised, and that there was a relatively early example of scummy fake-union bosses exploiting a tragedy to their own ends.

  10. wyatt

    Business my dad was at was in danger of going bust, so many were taking time off 'sick' that there were no staff left. The union reps were called in and warned that they would be redundant soon if it continued, an agreement was reached where the problematic staff were called in for a meeting and offered assistance or be retired off (don't know the exact details but this is the gist).

  11. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Silver badge

    I made a friend at my last job (Stryker / Abrams HQ) that was a janitor (cleaner), along with some of his friends who did maintenance (mostly A/C and boilers), all union.

    Naturally, all the "blue-collar" guys in the prototype shop, especially the "high bay" driver-mechanics [1] were all union with the big one: UAW (United Auto Workers).

    Whenever the UAW agreements were up for renegotiation, the others quickly followed. Thankfully I never had to cross their picket line, because without contracts us engineers had zero solidarity [2] lest we be shown the door, and management remind us of this every time.

    Janitor Friend kept me in the loop the last time this happened before I left for good. His union had been protecting bad apples and company management knew it. The union could have everything they wanted THIS time, but they were warned that the next time there would be no negotiation -- the contract would be finished and all the union janitors would be let go for cheaper non-union, probably outsourced to a cleaning company.

    I've been at my new job 3 years now, so I'm sure the trigger has been pulled on my friend, the Good Guy of the cleaning crew. It's sad that those with proper work ethic get burned by association.

    1. Union driver-mechanics actually built and drove the prototype vehicles -- us engineers just got to occasionally direct them if we were nice about it. I learned some of their names eventually; they trusted me because I knew my $hit and didn't act arrogant about being a white-collar engineer.

    2. Us engineers still got at least one tangible benefit: the unions around Detroit, UAW especially, still push for a full week of paid holiday between Christmas and New Year's Day -- owing to the strong Catholic Polish/Italian and Lutheran German local populations -- so naturally everyone in the company got it also. Without the shop, maintenance, janitors, etc. it wasn't worth it to stay open. (In this new job, I have to spend vacation time instead, but I get more of that to use; it's a wash.)

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Thankfully I never had to cross their picket line

      My father worked as shop steward in a union in a hospital in the 70s. People went out on strike for all sorts of bogus reasons (often relating "coincidentally" to the football schedules).

      Eventually my father got fed up and drove the minibus full of the non union temporary employees through the picket line. His logic - if everybody was out here protesting, who the hell was looking after the patients?

      Didn't make him very popular though...

      My mother refused to join the union. It caused years of headaches because paying dues was obligatory. In the end, everybody came to the agreement that the hospital would pay the union and the union would donate the money to the RSPB (I think?), and she'd be a sort of phantom union member. There on paper, but not in person.

  12. nintendoeats

    Being an educated professional with a non-specific job is very different...

    When I look at this kind of thing, my first thought is usually "these people are nuts, there are always lots of things that need to be done. It doesn't matter if you get rid of one task".

    I have to remind myself that not all jobs are like that. We are fortunate to have such flexibility in engineering type roles. Further down the food chain, people's livelihoods really do depend on a very narrow set of tasks they have been contracted to do (to move to another task, they would have to re-interview for a new job). While I don't support avoiding increases in efficiency/quality just to artificially keep people in work, I do understand the paranoia, and I can't blame them for not really caring that they are making things worse.

    In contrast, I am actively trying to impart certain skills I have to co-workers so that they don't need to come to me all the time. Completely different mindset.

  13. Sequin

    Our team put in a system for tracking Immigration statistics at various ports and airports around the country. We had to build in "adjustment factors" agreed by the unions and management so that some locations didn't look bad in relation to other ones, with all sorts oof wooly explanations to justify fiddling the figures.

  14. Sparkus Bronze badge

    I have as standard question

    that gets asked during difficult engagements;

    "who has to retire so that we can get this job done"?

    Sometimes it works, sometimes it signals the end of an engagement.

  15. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    I once worked in a factory in which wooden desks could only be moved by carpenters and metal desks could only be moved by tinsmiths.

    Came the day when we had to relocate to "temporary" office space in portacabins.

    And they discovered we had a metal desk with wooden drawers.

    Instant demarcation dispute.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Many years ago, I was involved in setting up a new SCADA system for an electrical utility. Unlike their previous system, this one was supposed to not merely monitor the generators, but control them. It couldn’t turn them on, that required a crew on site, but could run them up and down, and shut them down. Which meant that instead of needing a crew for each generator, the company would need a crew for each power station, to turn the generators on and to be available in case of problems. One power station may have had as eight generators. The union took one look, and announced that they would strike the instant anyone even thought about installing the required remote units. After much screaming, a compromise was reached: the devices would be installed, but the crews retained and allowed to gradually wither away by normal attrition. No-one got fired, but crews were gradually consolidated into one per station and gradually resized over a few years. If the station crews had gone out, the people at System Control and the line crews would have gone with them.

  17. newspuppy

    Unions... double edged sword.

    Unions were very much needed. To ensure that ‘those in charge’ would not take advantage of the workers..

    Unions helped bring freedom to Eastern Europe with Poland’s Solidarity…

    yet.. there is a time and place for everything.. and it is tragic how Unions can stop/retard progress..

    Today we are talking about self-driving Lorries ( https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56332388 ) and ‘autopilot’ on consumer cars…..

    Whilst the low hanging fruit in transport automation is left dangling.. as it would impinge on union labour.

    Why do we not have an automated underground in London? The vehicles are on rails, and automation would solve the issues of human error ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moorgate_tube_crash ) as well as reduce costs.

    The same question can be begged for all the railways..

    Automation would ensure that operator error would not kill people ( https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-train-crash-idUSN0152835520081002 ) and reduce costs.

    Yet no one is even attempting to automate, as the unions are too strong.

    This is NOT what unions were supposed to do, and that is the crime that few are willing to speak of, or do something about.

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

      Re: Unions... double edged sword.

      I've worked in 2 union shops.

      First for the government... union did a good job there for the staff,... sadly not for the pay

      And the other was a private company where the union rep was very well paid and rewarded..... so he'd always take the company line as they made sure "any trouble and you'll lose out"

      If you're pointing out the value of automation in the railways, then yes you have a fair point of avoiding the SPAD accidents and things like Moorgate.

      Sadly in the event of Clapham where a signal tech cross wired the signals resulting in the light staying green where it should have been red, no amount of automation would have stopped the train in time before the crash.

      drivers are there for the unexpected(sheep on the line etc) just like airline pilots.

      Because they could do away with those too....

      1. yetanotheraoc

        Re: Unions... double edged sword.

        I would never be a passenger on a plane without a human pilot, nor a passenger on a train without a human engineer. The pilot/engineer has the same incentive I do in ensuring a successful trip. The automation has different priorities.

        1. andy k O'Croydon

          Re: Unions... double edged sword.

          I'd avoid the DLR then. Personally I like it because you can sit at the front and pretend you're driving. Yes, I am legally classed as an adult. And yes, pretending to drive includes miming a steering wheel, despite being on rails.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Today we are talking about self-driving Lorries

      Yes, we're talking about them.

      They don't exist, and it's not because of unions.

      They don't exist because nobody has found a way to ensure that the on-board detectors will be reliable enough to make a difference between sun glare and an actual stop sign, not to mention how the system can go completely haywire when it's snowing.

      I'm all for self-driving vehicles. I would love to get in my car, program the destination and lay back with a book and a drink (if the time is right) while the car takes of getting me to where I need to go. But that does not exist today and it won't before a long time. Because to have a proper self-driving car, you need to program the damn thing to be efficient in all weather conditions, over bad roads and inexistant signage, and, possibly even more difficult, worn-out road marks.

      We're not there yet. When we get there, then we'll see how unions react.

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Today we are talking about self-driving Lorries

        Not to mention the other road users behaving with total irrationality, random pedestrians and unexpected occurrences like trees falling into the road.Can the kit detect, identify and react appropriately to these things yet? Would it be able to realise that a nice colourful ball rolling/bouncing into the road may have a small child running after it?

    3. Mog_X

      Re: Unions... double edged sword.

      You can't mention London Underground and unions without linking to this song -

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UymKurTBdhw

    4. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: Unions... double edged sword.

      Automating rail systems sounds simple, but isn't. Mainly because rail systems are all basically custom jobs, so any automation has to be created specifically for that system.

      Train drivers are cheap. Automating complex systems as a one off isn't.

    5. vogon00

      Re: Unions... double edged sword.

      Automation would ensure that operator error would not kill people

      That is the ideal. The reality is that a combination of the lack of upfront system design (not guesstimation), the 'lowest cost' software development methods and people combined with hubris would do the killing.

      At least with a human at fault there is someone to blame, rather than some faceless megascale company/corporation. Most humans will at least understand human error - It's hard to accept that a piece of software somewhere is responsible and and forgive it .

      It's also hard to specify and code for 'safety critical' systems. I've done stuff like that in the past, and the best motivation has never been the salary or desire to please the boss or beancounters, but rather how I would feel if my code or a system/subsystem I'd specified was demonstrably responsible for 'n' deaths or life changing events.

      It's tough to give enough of a shit these says.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My son was a tech support student at the local high school - and given the level of skills demonstrated by the staff (especially those who ran the district mainframe), it was a paradise for the students. My son back-channeled the system, setting up a private group chat/game network - I think the district, with two high schools and multiple middle/grade schools, had one of the first e-sports leagues - each school well represented. The administration was not happy to find out about this, 8 years after the fact ;) I would say that it probably still goes on.

    And the person who headed up the high school tech division wasn't too bothered by what he had to know (as long as there weren't efforts to hack grades and private accounts - I mean the network had to be stress tested after each update and repair. He said once that what really bugged him was his ex tech's showing up a few years later to show off their new sports cars to him after landing $$$$ jobs in the industry. He was a good teacher.

  19. ecofeco Silver badge

    Been there, seen that

    Not just unions. Almost any group. Changes to the status quo, even when it benefits them, is fought tooth and claw. Because somewhere, somehow, someone is benefiting from the status quo and to hell with everyone else.

    And that's why we can't have nice things.

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