I missed a mandatory meeting at work on Friday. I knew about the meeting beforehand and was pissed when I learned that it was at 8:30 in the morning when I show up to work at 3pm. Given that I have no means of transportation other than MARTA, it will mean that I pay $2.50 each way. So if I attended the meeting and went back home before work, I’d spend $10 all day on travel. Of course, I wouldn’t do that, I’d hang out at a cafe and do work, but it was a matter of principle for me. I’ve never been one to make time for work other than my designated shifts. I never come in when called, having only done mandatory overtime when already on the clock. I usually make my excuses or just suffer the consequences, including termination.
I don’t have to say why this is fucked up. We all know why it’s fucked up; because we give so much of ourselves to our jobs every day and the little time we have to ourselves (even smaller when we consider the necessary reproductive labor we do at home enabling us to go back to work) we want for ourselves. It is right to want it for ourselves. It is right to want all of our time for ourselves. But it is never enough for your employer. You can be a company man (or woman) your whole life and maybe you’ll get promoted and become management if you can look yourself in the mirror. Even still that is no protection from being fired. Capital moves by its own impulses–CEO’s get fired.
I’m really good at interviews. So is my partner. We talk about this a lot; how great of bullshitters we are when it comes to job interviews. We tell them everything they want to hear. That we will do overtime, that we will report theft, that we will leave our problems at home (ignoring the elephant-in-the-room irony that work is our problem). We say whatever we have to to get our foot in the door. This isn’t unprincipled. You can’t tell a manager of capital how you really feel or you’ll never be employed, you’ll never even have the opportunity to try organize against them if everything is a question of principle. So interview bullshitting is a tactic that workers employ to get in.
Once we’re in, it’s a different story. We get comfortable, we develop attitude, we cut corners, we continue to do what we have to do to survive. Oftentimes, interestingly enough, these aren’t always tactical decisions. They become principle. Getting an attitude with your boss isn’t always because you think you can have some leverage over them if you do it, it’s because you are sick of their bullshit and are tired of hiding it. This is part of our experience as workers. But we can’t always do that. We eventually have to fall back into tactical thinking in order to preserve our jobs…unless of course we’re at a breaking point with our current employer and we say “fuck it” (also a principled decision) and walk the fuck out feeling that fleeting since of freedom that we can at least tell them to go fuck themselves if needed. It’s how we maintain some kind of dignity.
So yesterday I got called into a meeting with my boss and the general manager of this fake, bourgie, proto-civil rights establishment restaurant I work in. My instinct was to fall on principle, to get an attitude because I just wasn’t feeling it. When I discovered that I was going to have to meet with the general manager as well, I quickly thought about the fuller implications of what a bad attitude might land me. I started thinking about what would happen if I get fired. I thought about my partner (who also works in the same restaurant) and what kind of situation I would put her and us in should I make the wrong decision.
I started thinking about how I was alone, how I was not involved in any on-the-job organizing and so I had no collective leverage to use. All I had were my own devices, my own cunning, to get me through this situation. I began running through various quips I could employ that might spare me my job. I would not beg. Let me be clear, the thoughts I had were not the kind that would in any way mean throwing dignity to the wind. No. I would make a tactical decision where my forces were weak and overpowered by the forces of management.
I was told to go into the GM’s office before he entered. I didn’t sit in the chairs. I took off my apron and I chose to stand, hands crossed in front of me. Body language is important; if you let them corner you, lean into you, or lead the conversation, they have the advantage. The GM entered, my boss in tow, and he asked me to have a seat. I sat down and leaned forward my hands folded on his desk. Before he could utter much, I interrupted asking politely if I might make a short statement. He seemed okay with this and instructed me to go ahead. I’ll paraphrase what I said below:
We all know why we’re sitting here. We’re sitting here because I made an err in my priorities on Friday morning. I missed a mandatory meeting. This reflects a critical lapse in judgment and is an affront to the needs of this company of which I am apart. I want to be clear, this err is mine solely and I accept the full consequences whatever those may be. I understand that I am a part of a team, that I play a critical role here, and if one of those roles is compromised, it comprises the entire operation. My main concern, and I want to be completely forthcoming about this, is that I don’t want this reflect on my general attitude toward my employment here. I take my job very seriously and I appreciate the opportunity I was given when hired. I hope that whatever decision management will need to make regarding this poor decision, that they will take those things into consideration.
While talking, I looked him in the eye and would often turn and look my boss in the eye as well so he could see the appearance of my sincerity. It caught the GM off-guard. The dynamic in the room changed. I wasn’t passive and supplicating but the difference was that I became the offense rather than the defense. He told me he appreciated my candor and thoughtfulness and he agreed with me that I took my employment very seriously. I had in my palm. Of course, this is what is so important about this tactic. While I had him, he thinks that I think that he has me. That’s what was important. After that, he gave me a twenty minute speech about company priorities. This was my turn to listen. It was equally critical that I do this. Had I continued to try to dominate I would have turned from offense to offensive as I would be not allowing the GM the opportunity to still look like he was in control. So I listened, maintaining eye contact, and periodically nodding to show that I was really listening and interested in what he was saying.
He then concluded the meeting, shook my hand, and I walked out, my king standing, his in my pocket. The only reason I won is because I let him think he did.
Of course, if I fuck up again, I can’t use the same tactic. If I miss another mandatory meeting and use the same approach, he’ll know I’m full of shit. And I know he’ll know and I wouldn’t even try. Likely, I would fall back on principle and just look like I don’t give a fuck. So now I’m locked into another mandatory meeting in October and if I miss that one, I’m fucked for real.