Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Elephant In The Living Room

by AJ/Skald

Isnít it time we attacked the biggest, meanest, most tyrannical oppressor of all? The presidential campaign danced around the issues of Iraq, healthcare, social security, and unemployment. But no one addressed the ìsingle greatest source of miseryî (Hakim Bey) in our lives: Work. Everyone talks about unemployment but what about employment? What about the degradation? What about the invasions of privacy? What about the long hours? What about the power hierarchies? What about the monotony?

In France they are moving to 35 hour workweeks while by all media accounts Americans are working harder and longer for less pay. No wonder the French sneer at us. Politicians always talk about jobs in a positive sense- skirting the truth that we all know: most jobs suck! Who in their right mind would work a job, for example, if they were financially independent? Whatís the first thing people fantasize doing if they win the lottery: ìtake this job and shove it!î. Most jobs suck and thatís true of service jobs, office jobs, white collar jobs, executive jobs, manufacturing jobs, and manual labor jobs. In the end you are always doing someone elseís work-- always at the end of someone elseís leash. We all know this but its the great taboo- the Elephant in the living room that no one dare point to.

More than we need a political insurrection we need a work insurrection. Bypass the middle man and take it straight to the corporations. This can take many forms. Traditional unionism is one strategy, though a rapidly deteriorating one. Most unions suffer from Democrat-disease-- their leadership is bloated, fat, corrupt, and lazy... and in bed with the billionaires.

But fear not, there are many anti-work strategies available to the would be hobopoet. The first, best strategy is to radically simplify every aspect of life. Live cheaper. Jettison cumbersome possessions. Pay cash for reliable used cars or have no car at all. Cut up credit cards. Wear cheap, practical clothing. For the more radical this can go as far as moving into a van. Iíve done it and if done properly it can be quite comfortable (also see Stefanís posts re: living in a re-fit ambulance). Eliminating rent and utilities goes a long way towards establishing a high level of financial freedom. Another option, which Iím currently employing, is to move to a country that has a much cheaper cost of living.

Simplifying oneís life is really the core strategy for freedom, as the less you need a job, the less hold the boss has over you. Of course, you may still have to work... at least part time or seasonally- so how to limit the damage to your psyche? A general principle is to always seek the most pay for the least work with the most autonomy. Learn to interview well. If you gotta be a slave part-time, might as well make as much as possible.

Once you land a job, never buy into the company line. Never forget that they are the enemy... the ìprecise target of our rebellious wrathî. Do the least amount of work possible while still keeping an income. Come in as late as you can get away with. Leave as early as you can get away with. Seek out other slackers and malcontents. Cover for each other. Help each other dodge work. Never squeal. Iíve always sought jobs that allow me a good amount of personal time on the job. For example, I was a security guard at a nursing home for many years. I was ìworkingî but my eight hours was mostly spent reading, writing, and watching movies on the big screen TV. Not bad as jobs go. I also helped myself to plenty of free food in the kitchen and thus saved a lot of money on food.

For those with angry anarchist temperments, on-job sabotage is another option. This can be garden variety vandalism of the Fight Club variety.... or pranks.... or seemingly innocent mistakes that cost the company time and money. I ìaccidentlyî deleted a database while working as an office slave at IBM, for example. I also milked them for tons of money while doing almost no work. For more ideas, do a google search for the ìALFî or ìAnimal Liberation Frontî- theyíve got some general purpose anarchist suggestions.

Donít underestimate the power of these sorts of actions... labor history is full of effective ìwork to ruleî, ìsit downî, and ìwork slowdownî campaigns. These are often more effective than a strike-- you continue to make money and fill a position but the company suffers. If you have a number of pissed off compadres, organize your efforts... always doing just enough not to get fired but making as many mistakes and working as slowly as you possibly can get away with.

If you work in a place that is commiting blatantly illegal or immoral acts-- try to document the abuses. Copy files. Take notes. Take photos. Tape record conversations. Then leak the info (and copies) to newspapers, government agencies, and the companyís competitors (anonymously is the smart way to go). Or use it as blackmail. Keep detailed logs of anything that could be construed as sexual harassment- then threaten to go to a lawyer (or actually go to one).

Your primary goal in all of this (other than revenge), is the very practical goal of turning the tables on bosses. You want them to be afraid of you. You want them to be intimidated by you. That way, they bother you less and you do less work. Another practical goal when you must make money is to always be job searching. Keep responding to ads. Keep sending out applications and resumes even while working-- that way youíve always got other options should the boss fire you or should you wish to make a stand.

Finally, the best solution to income generation is to become a FT or PT freelancer. As a freelancer you have no bosses, only clients- who you can accept or reject as you see fit. As a freelancer you set your own schedule, your own priorities,.... you finally start working for yourself instead of doing other peopleís work. My advice is to start small. I write freelance articles and sell them. I also teach English freelance. When I need or want a bigger income, I look for a job as an English teacher. However, because my living expenses are so low and because I have a small freelance income- I in no way feel bound by my jobs. I can afford to be picky about which ones I choose and have no qualms about leaving immediately when my mercenary purposes are met.

Combined together, the techniques of simplifying, slacking, sabotaging, boss intimidation, and freelancing produce a powerful synergistic effect: an intoxicating feeling of greater autonomy and freedom. None of us particularly want to work: but when you have to its best to stack the cards in your favor.

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