Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Dignity Of Labor

Wanna job making nine bucks an hour? First, you need to submit a urine or saliva sample so perfect strangers can examine it. Casinos take a hair clipping, which enables them to detect drugs you may have taken as long as three months earlier. Then you have to take a personality questionnaire. Here are some sample questions:
The following statements apply more to me:

•I often like to have a lot of people around me.

•I am easily distracted.

•I find it easy to approach other people and establish new contacts.

•I often make impulsive decisions.

•I prefer to be in the centre of things; I have lots of friends and love action and company.

•I like to organise my leisure time actively and together with others.

•I never leave others in any doubt about what I think and what my point of view is.

•My feelings are like me - lively and spontaneous.

•A club holiday or travelling with a group of good friends is just the right thing for me.

•I prefer to discuss problems with others.

Or this:
The following statements apply more to me:

•I need a lot of time alone.

•I can concentrate on the matter in hand.

•I am more the reserved type and approach new relationships carefully.

•I think things over intensively before I act.

•I am not one for large parties; I prefer a quiet evening with just a few good friends.

•I like to spend my spare time alone and to daydream.

•Very few know what I really think.

•I am not easily worked up.

•My idea of a dream holiday is more a solo trip; perhaps to a lonely island or a trekking trip in the mountains.

•If something weighs on my mind, I would sooner try to sort it out for myself.

It is not big government that imposes these intrusive procedures, nor is it union thugs. It is Big Corporation that wants to get into your head and your bloodstream and control your behavior.

If, after all that, you are deemed by the powers that be to have the right stuff to be a grocery clerk, you are given a job working twenty-nine hours per week. Anymore than that and the company has to pay benefits. You must not be on the premises prior to fifteen minutes before or more than fifteen minutes after your shift. You must not punch in early, you must not punch in late. You must buy the uniform from the company, but it is not required. You may wear a white collared shirt instead. And don’t even think about getting a second job. Your schedule changes from week to week, making it impossible to balance anything else around it. If you don’t like it, there’s the door. You are quite deliberately kept down.

You watch a threatening video warning you that theft is a crime and will be prosecuted by the company. “Think of the shame it will bring upon yourself and your family,” it says. The narrator is stern and coplike (he also does paid advertisements for Scientology). The place is hostile and authoritarian to the core, and management makes no attempt to conceal its disdain for you. They treat you like a retarded sixteen year old. I heard one of them talking to a recently promoted employee. “Now that you’re assistant bakery manager, Judy, you have some autonomy. Do you know what autonomy means, hmmm?”

They even tell you exactly what to say to the customers in every situation. “If the customer says this, you say this, etc.” You’re supposed to learn the customer’s name and always refer to them by it. You get if off their Club Card; if they don’t have a Club Card you offer them one. If they don’t want one you are instructed to resort to more devious strategems to fish out their names. The company makes a few helpful points on how you might go about this: “Wonderful day we’re having, aren’t we, Miss …?” Or, “Wonderful sweater you have on, Miss …?” That kind of thing.

They also want you to snoop at their purchases so you can make ‘helpful’ product suggestions: “I see you have peanut butter, did you remember to get the jelly?” Or, “Gee, Mrs. Smith, I noticed you’re buying Adult Depends, have you also tried Metamucil?” If the weather is bad, you are ordered to be solicitous of their comfort and safety. “It’s really raining cats and dogs, Mrs. Jones, be sure to bundle up and drive safe, mmmkay?” The company sends mystery shoppers around to make sure you do all things. It’s sick. It’s inappropriately intrusive and more than a little sinister. Oh yeah, they also teach you to be a snitch. If you notice people buying too much cough medicine your supposed to rat them out because they might be using it to make speed. The register locks up if you try to buy more than five bottles of Nyquil.

People who sing the praises of corporate America ought to be required to see it from this level. It is the very definition of tyranny. You need only see how they treat their employees to see what they think about the rest of us.

This was at Safeway, where I worked during my college years. Back then it wasn’t so bad. The union was strong and it was a good job. Raises and promotions came quickly. Management, though strict, was fair and civil. If you were good to them they were good to you. I liked my bosses.

It’s not like that anymore. Years later, when the big recession hit, I found myself quite literally destitute. I fell behind in all my bills. Out of desperation I applied at Safeway, figuring I could get on because I had three years experience, although it a was a long time ago. It was exactly the unpleasant prison camp like atmosphere I described above. The union is thoroughly corrupt and in bed with the company. It does absolutely nothing for the workers but take their money. The president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Jack Loveall, flies in his own private jet. They’re scum. As a lowly worker you serve two masters, and both of them are equally crooked, greedy and mean. You are treated like a rotten piece of meat.

I knew a guy who used to manage a Lucky. He said his superiors would point out the older employees, the one’s who made the most money, and ordered him to find excuses to fire them. It was a part of his job. Barring that, they just slashed their hours in half to make their lives so miserable they would quit.

It ain’t Norman Rockwell’s America anymore. You don’t start out bagging groceries and wind up running the company. It doesn’t work that way. And your bosses are not kindly, avuncular old men who take a genuine interest in your career and well-being. An ice cold managerial class of MBAs runs everything. You ain’t shit. To work there is an exercize in pure humiliation. You might become a manager, maybe even a district manager, but by that time you will have dangerously high blood pressure and a hole in your stomach. Their lives are also terrible and someone once pointed out to me that they never retire, they either quit, get fired or die.

I walked out after four days.

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