What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hiking for free!

So I'm at work at the hiking store the other day and I finally get my tax paperwork and such in and ask: so when is pay day?  It's every two weeks, 1st and 15th is the response.  BUT, due to a warm winter with no snow and the growing/planning pains of a new store, they didn't do much business over the winter and struggled to stay afloat.  So they are right now only going to be paying for February!  ........  yes, a moment to digest....  Now, I can only assume that means that on this 15th they will pay February, and then the 1st will be March and then the next 15th finally to April when I should get some cash.  What?!?!  So I was hired in mid April and won't get paid until mid June?!?  Sigh....

Now yeah, anyone reading this blog regularly is going to understand that I am certainly not in a position to have to wait so long to get paid.  There are also a few people that know me going back that know that this isn't the first time that this has happened to me.  When I was in Prague I was working in a much different situation and position, but under similar compensatory circumstances.  I was a big part of a small company there (working pretty much as the chief operating officer) and was going to be getting a small percentage for all my work and sacrifice.  As we looked for an investor I was not paid much of anything for months and was owed thousands of dollars.  I was trapped then.  They had stalled my visa process so I couldn't get a different job and they owed me money.  I couldn't either justify or actually leave with so much invested.  Not to mention that I had a lot of me personally invested in this company trying to bring medical evacuation services to Iraq and Afghanistan.

This situation here is different.  I am trying to take New Yorkers with disposable income hiking in the Hudson Valley and I have no personal stake in the company other than the energy I bring to work that day.  I am just a laborer, working for the man, and I should be paid by the man.  Yeah, that may sound a bit mercenaryesque, but isn't that the problem of it all?  We take for grated in so many ways the rights of management and ownership.  Ownership takes it for granted that they can ask us to wait to get paid.  There are only so many jobs out there, so they hold a certain amount of power and control over us.  I don't know how much cash the company has or how much the owner is taking for himself.  But few people today think to look at that company itself and shame them for having the audacity to ask their workers to make such sacrifices.  If I don't just acquiesce my loyalty comes under question.  Will I continue to get hours?  to have my job?  How many people immediately question the employers "loyalty" to their employees and to society?  In a hierarchical work structure, it is always about being "loyal" to the boss, the owner, whatever.  If we were all truly seen as equal, no one would be asked to be loyal to anyone over the other.

I am sure the owner is paying his rent.  And all told, he did offer to give me something as an advance if I was really hurting, but who is he to "offer" such a thing?  Where does he assume his power to do that comes from?  As if his situation or business is somehow presumptively more important than whatever it is that I have going on?  Like we are a team or something with equal shares in victory?  I wish we were a team - all equally working towards one goal, but we are not.  We are laborers working to make him money, to make his company grow, his ownership and capital expand.  Yes, we get our wages but hold no stake in the ownership of the means of this production.  That is the system we live in.  We are the tools he will use to hopefully get rich.  So why should we, or how can he ask us, to make sacrifices not commensurate with our relationship with this entity? 

I mean, I don't really hold anything against him personally.  I definitely like him.  He's a good guy just trying to keep his business a float.  But I've been in that position before at another retail store in New Paltz, NY as well.  I worked and worked and worked for them on the floor, making them money, probably holding their store together for a time.  I tried to offer marketing and industry specific advice (I'd worked in other successful stores in that industry), but it went unheeded and the company went out of business a few months after I stopped working there.  So it is tough to see familiar things and have little power to change them, yet still be asked to make sacrifices as if I had power to change something within the company.  I think at minimum he should have mentioned it to me when I was hired.  At least then I could have factored it into my decision making and/or planning/budgeting.  But he didn't, he just left it unsaid.  There is certainly little integrity in that.  

That however is perhaps why he didn't.  He needs people to work for him to help his company move forward.  He can't do it all on his own and he is apparently losing two people that have been with him for a while.  I don't know why, but it is easy to speculate regarding a lack of both payment and even probably work.  I was also just informed, that while I was originally told that I was being hired for both retail sales and as a guide, that I really wouldn't be doing much retail work.  And as I see the demand for the tours, it looks like I am really just a standby guide depending on the number of people on the tours (i.e. the company and his ability to market - the same downfall faced in New Paltz). 

So the gist of all this here is that I am caught in another powerless dilemma that illustrates how little control most workers have over their lives.  What play do I have here?  I can say I'm not going to work anymore until I'm paid, but then I'm causing "a problem" and then if he wanted he could just cut my hours/not schedule me.  That would actually be the prudent business decision if he couldn't afford to move that expense forward a few weeks.  I would also become the guy that isn't "loyal" or isn't a "team player."  After all, he holds the power, it is his opinion of me that matters as to whether I work for him.  If I do keep working, he gets me more and more by the balls, the more and more that he owes me as the less apt I am to leave him and run the risk of losing everything I'm owed.  This is what happened in Prague.  I knew that if I left the company, we would never get any investment and I would never get paid what I was owed for the months I had worked.

What we all don't realize is that this is the intended dilemma of capitalism.  There has to be the "excess labor pool" of willing but unemployed workers that owners can always go to to replace "bad" or "uncooperative" employees.  They can thus act in their own interests as employees are mostly dispensable.  If I want to keep this job, and maintain any chance of my getting paid as a business priority or even in general, then I have to do what he tells me.  For if I stop working there he is certainly going to pay other bills and workers before employees no long with the company.  I am powerless.  I have to have a job, and I want to get paid for the time I've already worked.  So I can't leave and I can't really cause any commotion.  One person told me I should start picketing out front of the store and that I'd be paid by the end of the day!  Yeah, and then that would be my last day.

The point of all of this is, that this system as it exists today is not functional.  Why should a worker have so little power?  Because they "didn't take a risk?"  Maybe they didn't have the same opportunity to take a risk, or the same capacity to be able to take risks, or education on how to create a niche and plan through taking on both the risks and the business.  The fact is, that without average everyday workers, laborers, businesses can not and would not function.  Our system requires both managers and the managed to do their tasks for businesses to succeed.  Why then should one side of that equation be so powerless?  Why should it be so unbalanced?  I go to work, I do my job, and I get paid.  That is one of the general principles of capitalist production that little to no one would argue over.  So why then am I not getting paid?  And why am I so powerless to do anything about it?

A system with such disparities of power is not sustainable for one reason: because intrinsically we all are equal and thus all have the same amount of power.  Any system that alters that and skews it so blatantly in one direction or the other is unsustainable, and can only be viewed as temporary.  The question we face is just how long are we going to allow ourselves to be so powerless?  To be subjugated.

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