In response to my previous diary, where I talked about working twelve hour days without a lunch break or a coffee break, one of my followers on Twitter wondered whether or not my employers were breaking the law. It gave me pause. If they were, by not quitting, I would be complicit, not only in my own oppression, but in the oppression of others. I would be enabling wage theft. Fortunately, since I want to keep my job without that extra little bit of guilt hanging over my head, but unfortunately, since working twelve hour days without a break really does suck more than all you nice middle-class people can imagine, they are not. New Jersey doesn’t require lunch or coffee breaks for anybody over the age of 18.
Q. Are breaks and lunches required by law?
A. The mandatory break law only applies to minors under the age of 18 and they must be given a thirty (30) minute meal period after five (5) consecutive hours of work. Company policy dictates break and lunch periods for anyone over the age of 18.
Nevertheless, any company that makes it a policy not to give lunch breaks and coffee breaks is not a company any self-respecting individual should agree to work for. The answer of course is to find another job. Perhaps I’ll work as a dishwasher through the Summer, quit on Labor Day, then use the money I’ve saved up for cloths for interviews, and train fare into the city. I’ll send out resumes through the Fall. By Christmas, I should have a “real” job with health insurance, lunch and coffee breaks, vacation days, stock options, regular hours, and an office Christmas party. But who do I think I’m fooling? The first two diaries in this serious have been, what for lack of a better term, I could call a “humble brag.” I’m an intellectual with a shitty menial job just like Charles Bukowski and George Orwell, the implication being that I’m too moral for the world of the bourgeoisie. I may be fooling you dear readers, but I’m sure as hell not fooling myself. I’m not working as a dishwasher because I’m too much of a rebel for a white collar job. I’m working as a dishwasher because I have huge gaps in my resume, no references, and a history of quitting jobs in anger. It will be no different in the Fall than it is in the Summer.
I honestly don’t even know what kind of “real job” I even want to apply for at this point in my life. In my 20s, I worked for a publishing company in Manhattan. I stayed at the same entry level job until I got fired, never showing any inclination to get promoted, doing only as much work as I had to to my check at the end of the week. In my 30s, after a few years of menial jobs like the one I’m working at now — Starbucks barista, fish gutter, office temp – I managed to work for a few years in the IT industry. The economy was good. They were hiring just about anybody, and I knew enough Unix commands to get hired as a systems administrator for a series of marginal, always poorly managed, and always failing tech companies. After 9/11, when the economy went back into a long, low-level recession, I went back to working at low level office jobs. Then I finally said “fuck it. I’ll do what I have to do to write full time.” I failed at that too. Now I’ve hit bottom. I’m a middle-aged man with a spotty work history and a long stretch of, mostly voluntary, unemployment. Attempting to justify my decision to work with for nine dollars an hour no lunch breaks or coffee breaks with the argument that “well it’s not the kind of job I’m going to do for very long” doesn’t make me a rebel. It makes me nothing more than another sucker who can’t wake up from the “American Dream,” a prisoner who doesn’t feel his chains because he’s grown numb with conformism and obedience.
If capitalist societies like the United States don’t “need” secret police – note that I didn’t say they don’t “have” secret police – it’s mainly because they have job interviews and credit checks. Most people understand, at least on some level, that a labor union is a combination of employees against employers. A group of workers band together and make it impossible for any corporation to hire anybody in their field under a certain level of pay. Strikes, intimidation, even violence, it’s all part of the game, part of the reason why so many capitalists want “right to work” laws giving the state the power to enforce the “right to undersell” your fellow workers. Most people also understand that a socialist party is a political organization dedicated to representing the interests of the working class as a whole. The British Labor Party, before it turned to neoliberalism in the 1990s, once used the democratic process to nationalize large industries, build council housing, and insure that all British citizens had the right to health care.
What most people don’t understand is that the “hiring process” in any capitalist, and even in many socialist countries, is the final result of a long and well-entrenched combination of bosses against workers. A resume is the secret policeman’s report every proletarian writes about himself. References are the people we give permission to snitch on us to our potential employers. Upward mobility is the behavior a good wage slave is expected to conform to as a productive member of (capitalist) society. It is a process so deeply entrenched in our culture that even people on the “left” rarely question its genuine purpose. I once knew a self-proclaimed “anarchist,” for example, who bragged about how he kept two resumes, one for his “career,” and another for his “activism.” The resume of someone like me, a 50-year-old college graduate who has demonstrated no inclination to climb up the corporate ladder in any particular “career,” who has jumped around haphazardly from field to field, who has always thought of work as “something you hated but you needed to do to survive,” is the most damning secret policeman’s report imaginable. It is a black mark stamped on top with the classification of “social undesirable, fit only for low-level, menial jobs, and perhaps, eventually, a FEMA camp.”
It is the price I have to pay for not having followed the rules back when I was young enough for it to matter, and even then it might not have mattered. There are, after all, plenty of 50-year-old college graduates who followed all the rules in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, only to have gotten kicked out of the economy during the “great recession” after the financial crisis of 2008, and in spite of all their “good behavior,” wound up in exactly the same position I’m in today. Nothing will change until we begin to organize together as a class. I have no option, therefore, but to stand and fight for my rights right where I am. Sadly, I don’t know how to to it. I don’t have the guts to do it, and if I tried it, I would probably get myself fired. So for the foreseeable future, therefore, I will almost certainly continue to work twelve hour days with no coffee or lunch breaks and for nine dollars an hour. I’m not doing it because I want to be. I’m doing it because I’m stuck.