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[whitespace] Raj Jayadev
The Temp's Life: Raj Jayadev, a temp worker at H-P who fights for the rights of short-termers in the computer industry, is profiled in 'Secrets of Silicon Valley.'

Digital Chasm

The promises of future tech ring hollow in 'Secrets of Silicon Valley'

By Richard von Busack

DESPITE THE TITLE, the premise of the documentary Secrets of Silicon Valley is no real secret to the people who live and work here. There are two Silicon Valleys, really. First, there's the valley of the superstar investors and engineers, so beloved by the plutocratic media. Second, there's a larger, poorer, hidden population of workers who barely get by greasing the valley's machinery. The connections that bind these lives are what East Bay directors Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman sought out. Unfortunately, Secrets of Silicon Valley is too brief (at 60 minutes) and scattershot to do this huge subject justice. Housing, pollution and transportation--other aspects of the bad side of the valley's success story--are all only touched upon.

Nevertheless, Secrets of Silicon Valley has two charismatic stars. One is Magda Escobar, the executive director of www.pluggedin.org, a nonprofit aiming to get disadvantaged citizens of East Palo Alto onto the Internet. The other is Raj Jayadev, an $8-an- hour temp whose efforts to expose the working conditions of long-term temporary workers led him to testify before a California State Senate investigative committee. His protests also got him fired from his temp job at Hewlett-Packard.

Escobar's efforts to extract financing for pluggedin.org out of the valley elite include participating in the annual Sand Hill Challenge, the world's priciest soapbox derby. Her story is dispersed through an account of Jayadev's efforts to try to get better safety equipment on the assembly line at H-P. Like a few other local companies, Hewlett-Packard hired long-term temp laborers as a stopgap. Jayadev claims that some temps at his work site had been there for as long as four years without being hired on full time.

Snitow and Kaufman contrast the slender earnings of the assemblers and box-packers--"mostly female, mostly brown," as Jayadev puts it--with the compensation of Carly Fiorina, H-P's CEO, worth $70 million in stock. Escobar and Jayadev's tales are linked when, at the end of the documentary, Fiorina turns up as a guest at Bill Clinton's visit to pluggedin.org's new temporary headquarters. Thus Secrets of Silicon Valley shows how public charity hides the economic hardships under which the likes of Jayadev work.

The film arrives at the right time, anyway. The disillusioning economic downturn and power shortages make the most evangelical voices about the digital future ring a little hollow today. This documentary contains snippets of cyberpie-in-the-sky interviews with the likes of Gerald Levin, CEO of Time/Warner, who compares the Internet to "the library of Alexandria" (let's hope it all turns out to be less flammable this time). Venture capitalist John Doerr repeats the old prophesies of "sustainable clean growth," which sound dubious in an area littered with a generous portion of Superfund sights. The directors return again and again to images of antique machinery, pistons and spindles chugging. It's a visual reminder that no matter how advanced the technology, it still rests on the same Gilded Age-style base of underpaid manual labor, whose best hope of better working conditions lies in organizing. Secrets of Silicon Valley is a great subject only adequately handled. However, seeing the subject handled at all is a surprise.


Secrets of Silicon Valley (Unrated; 60 min.), a documentary by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman, plays April 24-26 at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the April 19-25, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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