Friday, February 18, 2011

What a way to make a living? Or, 20 percent unemployment is a good start.

I know I don't usually get all personal on here when I write -- I try to keep it strictly business, as they say -- but it's been a fucking shitty last couple of weeks at work for me. Partly because of that, I haven't really been inspired to start on any of the new writing projects I've got bouncing around in my head right now (I think Jon Riley may have a couple things in the works if we're lucky, though). So when the classic 90's photo series below came across my phone this afternoon as the boss clock ticked down towards quitting time, it couldn't have come at a better time.

I suppose the montage goes without explanation. We recognize it immediately. Both it's form and it's content. No détournement required on this one, Situs, thank you. The series perhaps comes at a relevant time as well, or perhaps emerges as a meek but important counter-point, as we watch the tens of thousands gather in Wisconsin in a rearguard action in defense of their right to organize against capital and to keep the few paltry crumbs that warrant the absurd label "Cadillac" these days, that alone speaking volumes about how far we have fallen since the capitalist counter-attack began in the late 70's, early 80's.

So, three years into economic collapse and now well into the austerity measures that we all knew were coming from the get go, the best we get is a zombified union movement, rising from the crypt to sell us out again, paired with Democratic recuperators so chickenshit over a fight that they flee the state. One keeps hoping for a break in the terrible dance between capital and it's mild-mannered gentle critics on the American Left. We scan the skies for any sign of an emerging fightback that defies the acceptable boundaries.

Of course, lurking behind the scenes is the terrible step-child of the labor movement -- the refusal of work. The human desire to be done with the whole mess that lives in the space between working and unemployment. That terrain denied us in reality for the most part as well as in the popular dialog that delineates the borders of polite discussion. Have you heard any of those party hacks or union negotiators utter one word about it? All out in defense of work!

But we know, we remember, that fleeting feeling, before cold capitalist reality sets in, when you almost cheer for a second after you get that pink slip. The feeling of buying your buddies a round at the bar with your last paycheck. Maybe tossing a brick through the boss's Mercedes window on the way out. You know us, we're the ones who don't apologize for being on unemployment. The ones who love it. When I was on unemployment it was one of the most productive and enjoyable times in my life. This is not to repeat CrimethInc's naive mantra from the last decade about poverty and doing it right. It's just to remember a time of freedom that appeared unexpectedly and to lament it's eventual loss.

I mean, I get it: let's by all means defend ourselves from the capitalist coup de grace. Maybe push them back, snap victory from the jaws of defeat. I'd fight, too, if they tried to cut my pay or take away the benefits I fought hard for. But, still, I can't help but think that the most radical thing that could be asked in the middle of the conflict is, "Do you like your job?" It's certainly never come up that I've heard of. And it's of course precisely the misery of work that is captured so clearly in the Al Bundy series below (Bundy being, along with Homer Simpson, the classic working class hero/foil/numbskull all rolled into one), revealing at the same time, I think, the sheer poverty of the struggle taking place now in Wisconsin. Surely, somewhere, someone camping in that square tonight is thinking, I hope this thing at least goes through Tuesday so I can get an extra day off out of this.

In an age that is increasingly looking like it will be defined by permanent unemployment for so many who thought themselves previously immune (i.e., white, middle class), will the issue finally get forced on the agenda? Or will it further feed the already blazing anti-immigrant mania? I heard today a story on NPR alleging that what migrants remain in Arizona are having an easier time getting work than citizens. True or not, that's the kind of thought that creeps behind the eyeballs of white workers even in good times. One shivers, thinking of it's power now to rally the reactionaries. And how about the government workers? Will endemic unemployment continue to be turned on those few who still manage to hang onto to decent pay and benefits packages, a class eating itself before the lustily leering eyes of the capitalist pornographers. Enter the Tea Party again, stage right.

That said, will ten or twenty percent unemployment ever seem like a good start rather than a social ill to be remedied with stimulus and austerity? Some of us remember Paul LaFargue's "Right to Be Lazy" and Ivan Illich's "Right to Useful Unemployment". And of course that party pooper Bob Black. Or hell, even the Smith's singable "I was looking for a job and then I found a job and heaven knows I'm miserable now"! Or, I suppose, "Take This Job and Shove It" is reaching back just as far, expressing without fear that good ol' American desire not just to shirk work but to be done with the whole mess entirely. To wipe it off on your jeans and drive off in your F150, flippin' the bird. It seems like so much of this has been co-opted by the modern day concept of the entrepreneur, having polluted so much of what might otherwise pass for resistance in times of class struggle's low ebb. Even our musicians and sports heroes are not untouched. Not escapte artists -- entrepreneurs! Venture capitalists. Self-employed. Such a tragedy.

Perhaps I've said this before, but one of the things that Italian immigrants said about America when they came over in the 19th and 20th centuries (most to return home some years later) was that to them this was the land of bosses and clocks. That interminable clock on the factory wall, always ticking. Enforcing capital's narrative one unbearably painful second at a time. Coming from peasant villages and towns, they had no concept of the time card or the regimented work day.

Here's another thing I may have said before: when I worked at the post office the clock was divided into 100 segments per hour. Not sixty. Taking our fifteen minute breaks, we had to think in 36-second increments. We called them clicks. Naturally, you clocked in early, at 41 clicks, because if you hit 42 you were late. Like the laundromat near my house that offers washes at 99 cents but only lets you put money on your "laundry convenience card" in one dollar increments, there was no way to hit 15 minutes on the dot on those clocks. Always over or under. Those seconds were just plain stolen from you right before you eyes. Every day. Sure, you'd get a shop steward there with you when you got written up, defending your rights but doing nothing about the abominable 100 click clock. Looking at that damn timepiece every day, it often struck me how much I would have traded a million shop stewards for just one sturdy baseball bat almost any day. Of course, when the layoffs came, I was convinced. Naturally I had just rented a new apartment.

Of course now, thanks to the satellites hooked into our cell phones, the boss's clock stares at us all day, everywhere, working or not. All the clocks say the same thing now, for everyone. The discipline of capitalism consumes everything eventually, but most of all time, as I think perhaps Marx wrote a bit about once or twice.

So, as you can perhaps guess, after six years of letting us keep track of our own hours, with a decent amount of flexibility, my work started making us log in and out. Not on a time clock, yet, but in a book. Write down the exact time you show up but don't let it be before seven. No work before seven, we are told. Linger around, waiting, if you're early. Here's what actually happens: my co-workers sign in as if it's seven and begin their day at 6:57 or 6:58 anyhow, giving two or three minutes of their lives to the boss for free every day. And, although it seems illogical, ours is work that we'd just as soon have over, and sitting there staring at it, waiting for the clock doesn't help anyone, not even you. You just get done later.

Of course, not me. I'm coming in late. I don't give my time up for free. So, anyway, this little montage has been making its way across the tubes today and I figured since I didn't have anything else, I may as well write a little bit about it and post it up in the hopes that others out there may appreciate it the way that I did, and to maybe give a little context about why I did. It always strikes me that, along with the scratching record and the ticking clock, the sound of the end of day whistle at the factory still sticks with us in this society, even though they have been purged from most people's lives almost entirely. Maybe it harkens back to a certain analog universality, an experience we all shared and still do, even if now it has been digitized and internalized.

Anyhow, quittin' time!


Unknown said...

Hahahah - seriously? I quit my job today, too. My last two blog posts were about some of this stuff and I was planning on writing a concluding one now that I've let myself finally be fucking done again.


Unknown said...

Um - make that Jared "Squee"

btw ...if you haven't noticed my blog it's @

Phoenix Insurgent said...

Thanks for the comments, buddy. I'll add you to the links. Fuck work.

Unknown said...

Getting laid off might have been the best thing that ever happened to me. For four whole years I hoped that I'd bet laid off, I even begged my boss on several occasions. My puritan work ethic and bills would've never let me just quit.
Next month marks a whole year of being unemployed. I should throw myself a party!