Monday, September 04, 2006

Maximumrocknroll #278 July 2006

A parade of expensive-looking single-speed track racing bicycles zipped past me down Market Street in San Francisco, like a stampede of gazelles startled by a hungry Cheetah. A cavalcade of toned calves with clever tattoos formed from likenesses of bike chains, sprockets, and punk logos glistened with sweat. Italian caps perched just so, the peaks upturned in a parody of Suicidal bandana chic. Messenger bags bulged with dumpstered muffins and Slingshot calendars. Suddenly the lead rider appeared to see something on the ground below – some sort of clue, perhaps? Too late. As he craned to read the word on the street he failed to spot the tram track just ahead – the sworn enemy of San Francisco bike rider and skateboarder alike. Too late to see what was coming – even if he had, this bike has no brakes – his front wheel jammed into the slot in the street and buckled. His near-weightless aluminum frame crumpled like a Pabst Blue Ribbon can. One by one he took the others with him. By the time the emergency services made the scene it was too late. It was a gory sight and many still weep small, wet tears at the thought of the hundred-bike-punk pile up of '06. That night This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb played a free memorial show. Thousands of bearded, underfed countrypolitan punks from college towns across the USA made the pilgrimage to pay their respects. A pyre of discarded eighties Alva skate decks with Life's Halt stickers burned long into the summer evening.
Did you know there's a holiday in the US called National Boss Day? I just found out about it myself. I'm reading all about it on Hallmark's website. Curiously, I've never seen anyone give his or her supervisor, manager, or CEO a card on Boss's day. I wonder why it doesn't seem to be catching on?
People like to talk about the evils of faceless corporations and the way they're taking over America and making life impossible for the small local businesses. I am not going to argue that Wal-Mart (for example) is not utterly evil, but I have to say that one of my better working experiences has been within a large-ish corporation. I was paid better than I ever have been before or since, I received full health benefits and paid time off, and I was treated like a responsible adult – no time clocks to punch – as long as my job was done well and within a reasonable timeframe, no one really cared what time I came or went. Of course, this freedom was ripe for abuse but apparently if you treat people like adults they are apt to behave in kind. I'm not saying I didn’t leave early here and there but over the course of the four and a half years I had that job I think I probably ended up putting in slightly more time than was expected, not less. Of course it wasn't perfect (I quit didn't I?) but I'm only mentioning it to compare it with some of my other job-related experiences, almost all of which have been working for small businesses, with bosses that consider themselves to be 'cool' or right-on or 'one of us'. This type of boss likes to stress how little money they're making and how badly the business is doing as a smokescreen for paying you shit money and giving you the bare minimum of benefits and time off (if any at all).
I used to try to spend as much time unemployed as possible, simply because I feel I have better things to do with my time than selling my labor for buttons so that someone else can get rich. Don't mistake that statement as a sign of laziness or a lack of a work ethic – when I do have a job I take it seriously and work hard. I find it pointless to half-ass things especially when it's my coworkers who will have to take up the slack. Every job I've had in at least the past ten years has told me I'd be welcome back when I quit. Anyway, once I left school and fell out of further education after two years with nothing to show for it, I settled in to life on the dole. Unfortunately they were starting to crack down on that kind of behavior and soon I was dispatched to various youth training schemes under the threat of my dole being cut off if I failed to attend. Luckily one evening a friend of mine who worked at the local recording & rehearsal studio/music venue/vegetarian café told me they were going to take on a Youth Employment trainee, and would I be interested? I immediately dropped out of the 'start your own business' trainee scheme I'd been on (at the end of the scheme you got a thousand pound loan to start your own business. I think the guys from Sedition did this to put out their first 7", "Dealing With Clichés - Or Dealing With Death?" and never paid back the loan, claiming the business failed. Brilliant!) and started working at the studio. The deal was they were getting paid by the government to teach me a skill (recording) and I was getting an extra tenner a week in my dole check. The important thing to note is that the right-on groovy business wasn't paying a penny out of its own pocket for me to be there.
Week in and week out I showed up, booked bands in and out of rehearsal and recording sessions, hoovered practice rooms, and soldered guitar leads. Despite regularly asking to sit in on recording sessions just to watch and try to learn something, I didn't see the inside of the recording studio until my band recorded there. I guess I made too many disapproving noises about soldering leads all day, because eventually my friend who 'hired' me (not any of the three vegan, 'anarchist-sympathizing' owners) took me to one side and told me they were letting me go. The reason? Apparently I wasn't keen enough.
Ironically, the studio/bar was destroyed by water damage when one of the units upstairs caught fire. Despite how it might come across in this column, I was heartbroken at the loss of what was still the epicenter of my life in Glasgow even though I no longer worked there.
I only use that as one example of how small-business bosses aren't necessarily better than the corporate variety. Given the exploitative nature of almost any boss/employee relationship, I have to think that if you actually want to be a boss, you must be kind of a dick. Why would you want to be a boss, and why do we need bosses? Or do we just think we do? How did we get to this point, where we volunteer to be told what to do? OK, there's a certain amount of coercion and force involved - for most of us, individually, it's a case of get a job or starve, or get a job or live on the street. But how did we ever let society get set up this way, for the work of the many to benefit the few?
Of course, it's been proven that we don't really need bosses. There must be thousands of worker-owned cooperatives and collective businesses currently running worldwide, some of them for many years, and their numbers are growing. Here in the Bay Area one can buy everything from pizza to organic vegetables to vibrators from companies that operate without bosses. Co-op workers have no bosses but at the same time they are all bosses, and as such they have a lot of extra responsibilities. As it turns out, they are up to the job. Are you?
OK, so I've never actually worked in a co-op, and the experience I've had with collectives hasn't been stellar. I know it takes a lot of work and commitment to do it and I'm not sure I can get along with other people enough to make it work for me. But it's a nice idea, no? I'm sure the many MRR shitworkers who work at some of the local co-ops could chime in with more informed opinions. For more information on worker-owned cooperatives you could start at the US Federation Of Worker Co-Operatives,
As for the first paragraph of this column, who knows? Blame it on the caffeine.

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