Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Working Under Capitalism

This description of what it's like to be a chef in a fancy restaurant is an almost perfect encapsulation if what it's like to work at nearly every job in America nowadays:
It's competitive. Can't keep up with the work? One hundred applicants sent their resumes yesterday—if you can't do the job then someone else surely can. The restaurant industry at any level is fierce. In fine dining, it's amplified. Cooks were constantly reminded that we were in an elite and highly coveted position that every other cook in the kitchen was vying for. That the people working next to you gave up everything, moved to NYC, and worked at this restaurant for a chance to work the job that you currently have. Can't handle it? I'm sure the guy over there would love the opportunity to do the job just a little better than you. That attitude was pervasive, so cooks would form miniature alliances and networks of teams to help each other succeed while making sure certain people had no shot.

Exhausting. Every Monday, I worked a double, arriving around 6 a.m. to prep the entire station from scratch, worked lunch service, broke down the station, prepped for dinner, set up, then worked until midnight. At most, I took one 15-minute break to shovel food into my mouth. When the night was over, I would take the subway home, arriving home around 2:30 a.m., sleep until 6 a.m., wake up, and go back to work. That's how my team and I started every single week. The constant pressure to perform drives cooks to work at a level most people would consider insane. Showing up hours before schedule to prep—unpaid of course—just to handle the work load. Or clock out, pretend to go home with the team, walk around the block then go back in the kitchen and work for free for hours.

Poverty. Nobody made enough to pay rent, food, transportation, AND save. We worked for the experience. It wasn't about the money—it was about working, learning and feeling like we were each part of something greater and bigger than our individual selves.

I wouldn't trade the experience I had for anything.
This same "please sir, may I have another," attitude is pervasive in architecture too. Jobs like this are considered a "calling" so employers can squeeze and exploit workers nearly to death and keep the profits for themselves. And the worker' attitudes just feed into it.

Bargain basement wages, brutal overwork, and a hundred other people lined up behind you if you don't like it. And, of course, like a good American worker, he is "thankful" for the opportunity and wouldn't change a thing.

Man, the wealthy must be laughing their asses off at us every single day.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. That the wealthy "work harder" or are "smarter" or somehow "better" than the rest of us is one of the main canards that make American capitalism function, along with the Just World Fallacy, the Horatio Alger myth, Survivorship bias, the lottery mentality, and Responsibility Assumption. Whenever a right-winger brings this up, I can tell that they have never actually met or worked for a "rich" person in their life. In fact, the main reason wealthy people are wealthy is through social connections to other wealthy people. That, and choosing their parents wisely.

  3. Yes, wealth is ALL about social connections! And all of these Horatio Alger myths and the dumb shit right-wingers say has me pissed. I NEVER LET right-wingers off the hook. I make sure I tell 'em where they can shove their shit.


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