Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Workers' inspire us every day we shouldn't forget it.

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I was just in a local Starbucks where I get my newspapers, the Wall Street Journal and the local paper, because no one knows what a newsagent is anymore; you can’t find one. I stood in line for about fifteen minutes watching the workers interact with the customers.

There was a lot of hustle and bustle as coffee-starved people stopped by to get their fix on the way to work.  I go to a local coffee shop and have never really been fond of Starbucks coffee anyway.  Wanting to spend my money at a local community business is also a reason as it is with many of us.

The woman at the checkstand knew everyone’s name in line except mine. She went down the list saying hi to everyone as she took the order from the customer in front of her.

When it came to my turn she didn’t know my name but that didn’t change her approach or demeanor:

“What can I get you sweetie” she says with a beaming smile on her face that I would have to say was reserved for everyone, not just me.

“I just have two papers” I replied.

“Oh, that’s so sweet of you.  You coulda just left the money and took off” she said,  Next time let me know honey OK” She followed it up with a “And you’re so cute too”.

Well, I liked that. I glanced at her name tag and it was Jennifer so I started singing that old Donovan song, “Jennifer Juniper la, la la la la”

She shifted in to motion mode and started to dance in place as she drew my papers past the code reader.

“Yeah, sing it” she said with a smile.

“Do you know that song?” I asked her as she swayed back and forth.

“I do now honey” she answered.

We had a little bit of a banter as I explained there was some French in it and I couldn’t speak French and resisted it because they invaded my country in 1066. They were Vikings really but who cares. I made it clear I love the French language, film, food.  How things change.

I have seen her and the other workers there making the experience a pleasant one for the customers.  Today, she was advising them what was the best deal at Christmas and stuff like that.

I thought about her and her co-workers.  They aren’t well paid although Starbucks does offer benefits from what I hear. If most workplaces are anything to go by I am sure that overall it’s a fairly oppressive atmosphere in general.  But overall, workers try to please customers. The bosses, like those at the big supermarket chains have indoctrination meetings where they coerce workers to ask the customer if we need help or “Can I show you where to find that? “ or the sickening “Have a great day”, or worse, “Have a blessed day.”

Human beings do this naturally, some of us more than others obviously as some of us are less shy or more extroverted or whatever; plus, capitalist society encourages us to distrust everyone, fear everyone; destroying working class culture is big business. But we are collective, social creatures.  The workplace is oppressive, it is where unpaid labor power is extracted from the worker; it is a place of organized exploitation.  Under exploitive conditions, where the customer is also a victim, it is more difficult to do relate to each other in a humanistic way, something we do naturally, so the bosses have to coerce us, manipulate and threaten us in to behaving under oppressive conditions how we behave naturally of our own free will.

I was reading about the minimum wage in a money magazine the other day and an argument was being made that if workers get higher wages, more security, benefits, etc. the lazier they'll get. We become shirkers.

In other words, we become like them.  They think we are all thieves like them.  This is their view of humanity. They want to smash the public sector unions for this reason, job security, decent pay and benefits doesn’t encourage enough desperation, we get too comfortable.  Insecurity and eternal fear of destitution is the qualification needed for the competitive war we are in with other workers for our means of subsistence.

When you think of the rich, they don’t do their own gardening, they don’t do their own repairs, they don’t fix their own cars, they don’t walk their own dogs, they don’t take care of their own children, their kids don’t fight wars and they call us lazy.  Workers do all this and go to work where the owners of capital pay us less in wages that the value we produce and we are shirkers.

As I left the coffee shop I thought to myself that someone somewhere, not just the head CEO of Starbucks, but all the other hangers on who live entirely off the profit of capital which means the unpaid labor of people like Jennifer and others like the women workers of Bangladesh for example, are earning money without working. It’s called letting capital work for you.  What it really means is letting someone else work for you. Capitalism only differs from slavery and feudalism in the method of exploitation and the social structure needed to support it, not the essence of it. They buy our time, our life activity, and only pay us for part of the time they use it; the rest, they get for free and it’s all legal---legalized theft.

The anti-worker propaganda in society is powerful, especially as there is no objective social force of any significance that counters it. The heads of organized labor soak up the bosses’ ideology like a sponge and provide no serious counter to it although they have the resources to do so. They fear the working class.

But if we think about our work lives, every day we help each other, pull our own weight as we say, and we don’t respect workers who bootlick the boss or who don’t do their fair share, whether you’re a teacher of a plumber. We have an obligation to those workers that receive our services.  Yes there is a lot of confusion due to the propaganda and the push for competition on fear of homelessness or death that is designed to undermine our solidarity and inherent hatred for exploitation and the coupon clippers.

Our class instincts may be weakened, undermined by their war on working people and our lack of a political leadership and voice, but what I experienced this morning is more the norm, is more reflective of workers’ attitudes than the 1%’s propaganda implies and as they increase their offensive and force workers to act, there is a tendency for us to seek class allies, to overcome (though it may be temporary) the sexism, racism and other social divisions they use to divide and weaken the working class, this is historically the case I believe.

When the class struggle breaks out in to the open, how successful it is, how the movement develops and whether it will grow or decline depends on the leadership and that leadership’s program, strategy and tactics.  It is at times like this that leadership is crucial.

Meanwhile, let’s remind ourselves of how we are constantly helped and treated with dignity by other workers, workers whose security, wages, benefits and general conditions of existence might be much worse than our own. This is a more accurate reflection of what we are as human beings and a democratic socialist society will allow this nature to flourish not suppress it.

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