Thursday, November 12, 2009

I am gonna strike on you, baby, gonna strike on you

The following conversation is not verbatim:

I was standing in the entrance to the break room talking to Harold and making mushy faces to hide the fact that I had to take a shit.

Harold and I were old friends from high school.

I say we are old friends, but it's a little more complicated than that.  We didn't really hang out much in high school.  We attended a few party's together where he watched me get drunk and embarrass myself.

Sometimes I think Harold does not like me very much.  He has never said the words, "I don't like you" to my face, or to anyone else we know for that matter.  But I get that feeling anyway- every time I talk to him.

It's like I am auditioning to be this guy's friend or something.  Sounds bad, but talking to a guy you've know for 20 years shouldn't have to be as uncomfortable as talking to a girl you just met on a blind date.

"So what do you do for a living?"  Blind date girl asks.

"I don't do shit you think is important.  I scan groceries.  I ride the bus to work.  On the bus  I stick my earphones into a dying MP3 player that no longer plays the vocals to any of the music it plays.  So I have to hum the words to myself like some kind of retarded monkey." I tell her.

"I bet you're satisfied to know all that?"  I demand to know.

Sweat is collecting in my fat rolls.  It drains down my armpits and collects around my rib cage.  I can only look at the dinner plate wishing I had bought something less expensive.

Broccoli spears are staring back at me, mocking my pathetic outburst.

In my head I know she is judging me for my choice of dating attire.  I am wearing jeans torn at the cuff, and an outdated short- sleeve button-up collared plaid shirt.

"Fuck! If I knew I things were gonna go this bad, I would have taken you to Wendy's instead of the Pita Jungle."  I tell her.

I feel a clay colored bowel movement coming on.

"We are going on strike next week."  I tell Harold.

Harold response sounds excited.  "Yeah.  I had heard something about that on the news."  He tells me.

I take a sip out of my Super Sized Thirst Quencher of ice tea from Jack in the Box.

"Are you a co-worker?"  The voice is that of my manager.  She sticks her head between Harold and the Snicker's Bar I am holding in my right hand.

Harold looks over at her.  He seems a bit stunned by the question, but he gathers himself enough to say, "No.  We used to be co-workers.  I was just talking to him."

"Oh."  My manager says.  Then she walks off my assistant manager.

"She must have thought I was a Union Representative."  Harold infers.

"I guess."  I say.  "That was a bit weird."  Then I say, "I can't wait to go on strike, baby!"

"Aren't you nervous about going on strike?"  Harold asks.

"I am."  I tell him.

I don't tell him how I have 11 dollars in my bank account.  That my phone just got shut off, and I am avoiding going to the dentist or doctor because of all the co-pays I can't afford.

"At some point." I tell him.  "You just have to take a stand."

Harold nods his head at me.

I unwrap the Snicker's Bar from its wrapper.  "You don't mind if I eat while we talk do you?  I only get 10 minutes for a break."

"I get here late in the afternoon."  I tell him.  "I work through normal eating hours, so I just try and grab something to keep me going."

"It's dinner time."  He replies.

"Packed with peanuts."  I pause and rub my belly.  "Snicker's really satisfies."

I have no idea why I say stupid stuff like that.

"So what are the issues your company is fighting over?"  Harold asks.

"Same old shit.  Companies want to ring out every dollar of value they can from the working man.  They want to get rid of our health care.  They want to start a third tier of wages for new employees.  They want to start the new guys off at minimum wage."

"Jesus."  Harold sneers.

"This job used to be a blue collar job that provided a middle class lifestyle."  I tell Harold.

"I just thought the strike was over the company forcing you guys to pay a 5 dollar co-pay for your health benefits."  Harold parrots the reports he hears from local newscasters.

"That's all you hear on the news."  I tell Harold.  "But as usual the Main Stream Media leaves out the context of the argument."

"28 years ago the meat cutters got hired at a higher pay than the meat guys do... TODAY."

"It's really fucking crazy."  I tell him.

Talking to Harold has revved me up.  I always get emotional when I start talking about the way the working class gets screwed in the country.

"I was at the union meeting this Monday."

I want to tell him how a few times I could not control my outbursts.  How I used the term "ruling class" in one of them.

I was never the kind of Marxist who felt comfortable using Orthodox Terminology.  It always sounded conspiratorial to me.  Also, I thought the working people I shared my breaks with would never accept that kind of ideological thinking.

It was fine to discuss Hegelian Dialectics with my communist friends at the CPUSA meetings, but you had to reach the working class with different strategies than the kind you learned in work shops with 60 year old hippies who think The Battle in Seattle really changed anything. 

"At the union meeting hall it really all came in focus for me."  I tell Harold.

"The workers in grocery stores have seen their wages disappear."  I tell him.  "They made a bargain you may not have made, but one they feel comfortable with.   The bargain they made was to allow their wages to drop, so they could keep their health care.   The health care they so desperately need."

"You see."  I explain.  "Health care gives people  the security of middle class attainment."

"Just a year or so before I got hired the starting wage at the store I work at was $4 more than I got hired at." 

"So you see, it's not that the 5 dollars a week co-payment for individuals, or 15 dollar a week for families is so bad.  It's that workers have accepted DRACONIAN cuts in pay to keep their health care free."

"I see."  Harold nods his head and looks at his watch.

I ignore his hint.

"But that's just the start of it."  My voice raises a bit.

The customers in the magazine aisle are looking over at us.  I think my assistant manager has run over to the DVR control room to record my behavior.

I will get a citation for this I am sure.  But I have to keep going.  I have to explain why it is important that he is on our side.  That he understands the stakes.  That he understand what is going on.

"The company is running commercials telling people that the union is trying to ruin the company.  That we want to strike over 5 dollar co-pays."

"NOTHING could be further from the TRUTH!"  I shout.

"What the company does not tell you is that they are done funding the health care program.  They plan on dropping their support for the fund by 50% in the second year of the agreement."

I grab at the white sheet of paper clipped documents that my employer has given each of its employees.  I shake the paper in Harold's face.

"It's right here in BLACK & WHITE!"

My voice has not reached a crescendo, but it is attracting attention.  A crowd has gathered.  And some of the people are saying, "Yeah!" And "That's right man."

But some of the people are confused still.

"But doesn't the offer we are getting from the company say that current employees don't have to pay extra for health care?"  A voice in the back asks.

"It does."  I yell towards the voice.  I search out the faces for the person who offered up the question.  The faces that look back at me are scared and angry.  Their faces match my blustery, red cheeks.

I wonder after all the corporate shenanigans of the last few years.  The savings and loan bailout, ENRON, oil price fixing, the current Bank bailouts.  How can anyone trust corporate executives to care about anyone but themselves?

Harold has no idea what he is still doing here.

"What the company fails to mention is that the agreement has a clause.   The clause states current employees won't pay co-pays as long as the fund has enough money." 

"But."  I remind the growing audience, "The company has already declared its intention of decreasing their funding by 50% in the next two years."

"Do the math people."  I tell them.  "You will seem premiums go up.  They did in California.  Premiums have doubled so that they families are spending 120 dollars a month to get the same coverage."

I have to get on a roll here.  I want a few of the wanna be scabbers to rethink their position.

"Premiums go up, coverage will go down.  And we get lower wages."

I am shaking my fists now.

"They will take away your health care by making it so unfordable.  We all might as well work at WalMart."

I point up at the sky.

"Billions for wealthy in bailouts!  Millions in compensation for the executives!"  "But what about us?"  "Why must we be made to feel like we are greedy for asking for some basic protection in the world?"

I don't want to say what I am going to say next.  But it is the truth.

"This is WARFARE."  Plain and simple.  "Class Warfare!"

"Why is it when cuts need to be made, the executives always come hunting for your HEALTH CARE?"

"Why do the Vampires feast on our wages?"

"Greedy Boss-Man is dead labor," The ghost haunting capitalism  whispers in my ear, "He is vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor, and lives the more, the more labor it sucks!"

"He will."  Answers the crowd. "Until we say NO MORE!"