Life under low-wage capitalism
Reflections of an unemployed youth
Published Jul 21, 2010 2:21 PM
As a consumer I have discovered that so many workers, such as clerks, food
service workers or bank tellers, have to take on a second job. It seems every
worker in these increasingly deskilled and low-paid jobs is now a salesperson,
in addition to the drudgery of the dull, unforgiving work they already have to
When I walk into the bank to make a deposit and keep myself from getting
further overdraft fees, I have to spend 10 minutes listening to the bank teller
urging me to buy a special “rewards debit card.” I don’t want
this card because it will cost me $25 a year and have even stricter fees for
overdrafts and penalties. He tells me he wants to give me this new card because
he thinks it will be in my best interest.
He isn’t fooling anyone. This bank teller’s job used to consist of
taking deposits and handing out cash withdrawals. But now he and his coworkers
depend on the commission from the number of cards they sell.
No longer can I walk in, make a deposit and leave. Now I listen to a teller
lecture me for 10 minutes while I try to do a two-minute task. He uses all the
classic salesperson tactics. He asks me about my life, as if he cares. He tries
to make small talk while trying to get me to buy something I really don’t
I don’t blame the teller. His wages depend on it. He’s probably
making less than $15 an hour before the commission. If he wants to pay his
mortgage, car payments, health care balances and other living expenses, he
needs people like me who go to the bank to make a deposit to be convinced they
“need” to buy a new card.
Car dealerships used to be the place for this kind of sales tactic, but now
it’s the case practically everywhere. You go into an electronics store,
and the worker who greets you depends on you purchasing the most expensive
stereo, with six-foot speakers to boot, if he or she is going to walk away with
more than minimum wage at the end of the shift. You just want to buy
Even McDonald’s workers are trying to convince me to buy a $6
“value” meal when I only want some water. When I check out at a
grocery store, I practically have to argue with the check-out clerk not to sign
me up for an “advantage card” or “rewards program.”
It seems that capitalists have discovered that any public service job can
easily be transformed into a sales job to further increase the
capitalists’ profits. The worker is made to do the sales pitch and strive
to make a few more bucks.
The sad thing is that workers who used to make $12 an hour as a bank teller are
now making $8 an hour and acting as salespeople, hoping to lure you into buying
enough products or “banking programs” so they can make less than
half the wages that generations before made and took for granted.
Are you psychologically fit to make coffee?
It seems I’m required to take a bizarre test for nearly every job for
which I apply. The tests, interestingly enough, are not tests of my knowledge
or intelligence but of my “attitude” and my “comfort in the
I can understand a psychological test for some jobs like child-care providers
or security guards. However, the positions that require psychological tests for
employees are now jobs like “barrista,” maintenance/custodial
worker and sales clerk.
When I applied at a local book/record chain outlet, I had to answer questions
like: “When I am punished it is usually my own fault. True or
false?” I used to expect the person who sells me a CD to have lots of
body piercings and chew gum loudly. Now it seems the requirements for the job
are to have the psychological make-up of a fourth grader with Republican
The questions sound almost hilarious: “The people who supervise me in the
work place are usually much smarter than I am. True or false?” or
“It is good to listen to people with knowledge, rather than acting
opinionated and drawing only from your own experiences. Strongly agree, agree,
unsure, disagree, or strongly disagree.”
I wonder who makes up these tests. I wonder if it works to simply answer the
questions pretending you are Rush Limbaugh or if the test makers and scorers
have a way to see through this.
Will they be able to tell I am a communist who seeks to overturn this kind of
wage slave/wage master relationship? Or will I be able to fake my way into a
job where they’re testing and looking to hire only the most compliant and
With five applicants for every job, they will have plenty of people to choose
from other than me.
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