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Class struggle in the service sector
The Team is Real
step one: Wear the button when you’re at work. Hook people up (discounts, freebies, extras, etc.)
step two: Wear the button when you go out. Get hooked up. Remember to ask your teammates where they work.
step three: Build the team. Talk to your friends and trusted co-workers. The more people on the team, the better.
We are line cooks and bartenders, waitresses and bakers. We sell produce at farmers’ markets; we operate cash registers, we stock shelves and make espresso drinks. We take commodities, rearrange them and move them around, adding value so that our employers may make a profit. We are workers in the service industry, in essence no different from those who work on construction sites or in the few remaining factories of our post-industrial cities.
Unlike our industrial counter parts, most of us have been ignored by organized labor. We are excluded from collective bargaining by assertions that our work is too precarious, that we can’t be expected to stick around long enough, that our workplaces are too small. Yet when we confess to our more securely employed acquaintances that we work for minimum wage, we never fail to hear the refrain, “Sounds like y’all could use a union.” Not that we morn the official union’s lack of interest in our exploitation. We don’t need more boredom, bureaucracy and control in our already stifled, suppressed lives. But we could do with a bit more money at the end of the month, a few more groceries in our pantries, a dose of complicity in our friendships, and a sprinkling of agency in the places where we spend most of our waking hours.
In the absence of a formal organization with pretensions of representing our interests, we are forced to supersede the union form and take directly for ourselves that which we are denied by the market. Along with workplace sabotage, slacking off instead of hustling, and the occasional sick day when it is just too beautiful outside, workplace theft constitutes our everyday practice of class struggle, our faceless resistance. Even those of us who work for “responsible,” “ethical” businesses find ourselves looking for ways to take home some extra food or to slip some bills out of the register. And when we can, we give freely of the commodities we produce, transforming them from objects with value (a price tag) to objects for free use (nourishment, intoxication, fun...). In this way, we subvert the commodity form on a daily basis by giving free food and drinks to our friends, but we do it in a limited and isolated manner.
The Team is an attempt to coordinate and elaborate that subversion: to spread it beyond the circumscribed boundaries of friendship while at the same time creating new relationships based on a common material condition, that of exploitation, and a common practice of rebellion, that of re-appropriation. Essentially The Team functions by the use of a common identifier – a button, a pin, a t-shirt or hat, anything that could be used to alert a stranger to the presence of a fellow member. The identifier should be unique enough to be easily distinguished, yet not so explicit as to tip off the boss. The deployment of explanatory cards is an optional compliment that while adding a potential risk also provides the opportunity to interject a more explicitly anti-capitalist theme. What do the kids say these days?
Everything for Everyone!
With only a few months of practical application, The Team has proven to be a moderate success in at least one average-sized Midwestern city. Almost two hundred buttons and cards have been given to enthusiastic young service workers. Some of us have enjoyed a trip to the grocery store with no bill upon checking out. Others have been able to feed their caffeine addictions for another day with no exchange of currency. Soon we hope to be riding city buses and partying in hotel rooms. Perhaps one day something will "fall off the truck" into our laps. In the meantime we are finding that social activities that normally leave us feeling isolated from those immediately surrounding us are now enveloped in an atmosphere of excitement and purpose. Knowing head nods and revealing conversations have once again found their way into the air around us. One story reached us of a twenty-something barrista whose adolescent dreams of a network of free coffee suppliers has, years later, found resonance with our little union of thieves. We are finding that even apathetic hipsters and seemingly hostile liberals are making themselves at home in our attempt to do class struggle.
The Team, of course, is not a perfect system. There are many
flaws, the exclusion of workers who can not directly seize what they produce
foremost among them, yet we believe that for every obstacle we, as a class, are
capable of finding a creative solution. Some have suggested a central warehouse
for things like toilet paper, soap, light bulbs, and office supplies -
commodities that most jobs provide access to. Others have expressed interest in
a directory of free social services. In the end, the point is not to establish
some sort of alternative economy where we all just go on working our miserable
jobs, but rather to help create a climate of subversion, to plant seeds that
may manifest in various untold forms, to experiment, and above all to begin to attack
the sources of misery.
In our fantastical visions of the near future, we see ourselves reclining on patio furniture while savoring lattes, stocking our larders with the finest of produce from local markets. We are enveloped in sensations of pleasure foreign to our proletarian tongues as we drink freely of the bourgeoisie's wine. When we travel, we are greeted by friends and strangers with gifts of bounty and luxury. And when guests are received by us in turn we show them a night on the town like no other. A cornucopia of goods, freely taken and given, all at the expense of those who would exploit our lives, all in the spirit of the negation of capitalist relations.
These words have been written with the hope that others, beside ourselves might take up this project and make it their own.
- Committee for Attacks Against the World of Work (CAAWW - Birds of the Coming Storm)
- The Team, Local Union Zero