Everything Depends Upon The Job

‘You are free and that is why you are lost’ – Franz Kafka

Whether causal or coincidental, I have happened upon a trough of relative disillusionment and fatigue at about the same moment I endure a spell of inactivity.  I’m sure I will exit this phase, but for now my hobbies and passions are on hold, and I am existing almost without purpose.  The love of my partner is perhaps my only significant motivation.  A rather dreary opening paragraph, but never fear!

Evaluation

Regarding my lack of writing, I feel there are multiple reasons for this, a few from the top of my head are:  Lack of confidence in my ability to write knowledgeably on a given topic; Lack of a given topic in which I am currently deeply involved and that may be of interest to other people to read about; lack of energy and money; lack of structure and discipline; feeling too much pressure and trying too hard to write something that is worthwhile (this can inhibit anyone from writing anything at all); lack of a justification for spending time writing and reading when we are poor and money is not gained from such activities – and the feeling of guilt that stems from dedicating so much time to such artistic and intellectual pursuits when money is what is needed.  Time for spending with family, friends and loved ones is also in demand – how can I write when my love wants to spend time with me on her day off?  The grass needs to be cut too, and I almost always forget to hang the clothes up for drying.

I have stopped playing music.  Stopped listening to music.  Stopped learning German. Despite my socialist viewpoint, I have become less active with politics.  I have become lackadaisical with my reading, and much else.

At the moment, I am frustrated by all this, but, as yet, I am not too worried.  Firstly, I am developing my perception and approach to writing.  Ironically, this facilitates less writing as it requires more reading.  Also, I am using this period of personal uncertainty to question and re-evaluate my life-goals.

An Existensial Crisis?

Most pertinently, I am waiting to start a new job.  Hopefully, it will be the beginning of something new; I know that the recent few years have been consistently disappointing and that my jobs have not been very fulfilling, to say the least.   I have worked too hard, tried too many things, and I probably expected too much.  I put far too much effort and time into some areas, and not enough into others.  I was naive and too ambitious – if one can be too ambitious.  Perhaps my priorities were unwise, but I based my dedication upon the passion and ambition I had for different interests so that I might be successful with them – I was working towards a dream.  In that sense, I think it would be too harsh to say my priorities were completely wrong.   Nonetheless, I needed to slow down and reassess some things.

The first step in resuming activity will be Monday, the first day in the new job.  I pray it will not be as disappointing as my recent roles.  I am not so naive as to think that the disappointment of my recent jobs was not to do with the larger economic and political conditions of Ireland (and Europe) which allow for such exploitative and low-paying positions to be created by employers.  Employees suffer in uncertain and worrying limbo – I am not so naive as to think that my new position will not also be subject to external forces.  Nevertheless, I hope my next employer at least provides the foundation upon which I can begin to live my life in a more fulfilling and ambitious way again; enabled to try my best.

I’m not lost because I’m “free” – I’m not lost at all, though I may feel like that.  I’m simply trapped, grounded by very real circumstances.  It is clear what I need: reliable job, decent money, definite structure, relative security, defined purpose, hobbies, random fun and relaxation.  Society provides the means of achieving those things and can do so depending the economic and social-political conditions.  You are not lost because you are free, you believe you are “free” because you are lost.

Despite the aforementioned, one must do one’s best when the opportunity arises.  I hope that after Christmas, I will have money and that my new job is consistent and (as far as such a position can be) rewarding.  That’s step one.  Step two is establishing myself in the role and my first month’s pay.  After that, I aim to develop more structure in my life, and therefore with the life of my partner whom I love and am dedicated to.  Upon this improved structure I can build goals for my job, my career, and my hobbies.  I can develop my talents and interests further and therefore write about them.  Who knows what will happen?

But everything depends upon the job.

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On The Minimum Wage

Originally posted on my old blog ‘anotheranonymouslife’, March 24 2015… Lookng back, this article is a little “ranty” and was written hastily, but I think it’s nonetheless an important reflection of how it feels to be working on the minimum wage, or low wages. 

On the Minimum Wage…

The Anti Austerity Alliance (AAA) and SIPTU have called on the minimum wage to be raised significantly, initially at least to €11.45 per hour (from €8.65) with a view to making it €13 per hour.  This is calculated at €13 per hour with a 39 hour week; obviously, having consistent hours are key to earning decent wages and maintaining a  healthy work-life  balance too.

According to some, a low minimum wage is said to be good for “creating jobs” and maintaining “economic recovery”, however…

Some call them poverty wages.  Others might say wage slavery.  On the minimum wage, it certainly feels like slavery under another guise.  Indeed, after I wrote the draft of this article, a colleague of mine mentioned to me in conversation how he felt like a slave.  He felt “shocked” that our employer has the gall to pay such low wages.  He has a ‘level 8’ honours degree in tourism and hospitality.  One cannot say that he hasn’t worked or studied hard, or that he is some sort of “layabout” who deserves no better.  He is a qualified and ambitious person, typical of most workers.

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There is some talk, that raising the minimum wage would be detrimental for the “recovery” at a time when the most important thing is ‘job creation’  – much of the time, the jobs created tend to pay poverty wages, often to highly qualified graduates such as my colleague.

But what is the point of such poverty-wages for those who earn them and for society as a whole, if there is not enough earned to be spent, saved or taxed in the so-called real economy?  Remember, the detrimental impact of paying poverty-wages are not just restricted to those who earn them, as welfare supplements and allowances funded by tax payers are effectively adding to the profits of employers too, and taking away from the other public services that money could be spent on instead.  Relatively better-off family members, housemates, friends and others are also impacted by poverty-wages, as those working on minimum wage are often dependent on their financial support and assistance.

Does society really benefit from the creation of such precarious positions of employment?  What then is the point of such poverty-wages, except of course to make extra profits for the companies that employ people on them?  At the end of the day, a minimum-wage worker is making massive profits for their employer at the expense of their own well-being.  Where does it end?  It is a downward spiral, a race to the bottom.

In actual fact, it is not true that low wage jobs in turn allow the creation of more jobs, or that higher wages negatively impact on job creation (also see The Seattle Times findings of the impact of the $15 per hour minimum wage on local restaurant businesses here).  It has been shown (not just among the left, I had a right-wing college lecturer who argued the same point) that higher wages among the general population will result in more money being spent, boosting the economy, increasing profits, tax revenue and potentially create more jobs.  It benefits almost everyone to have a fairer economy where everybody enjoys a comfortable standard of living, spending more and generating more taxes – benefits everyone except of course large businesses who may have to sacrifice some short-term profits and some control over their browbeaten and exploited workforce.  By paying poverty wages, wealthy entrepreneurs, business owners and companies enjoy making massive profits on the backs of those workers.

Many who argue in favour of the continuance of a low minimum wage (or for removing a minimum wage altogether) cannot relate to it, because they have no experience of what it’s like, or, because they fear that economically it will undermine their more privileged position within society.  They cannot empathise.  It’s no good to say to someone like a radio presenter or tabloid journalist (who are so quick to share their opinions on such topics, despite their privileged positions) to “do my job for a week, and you’ll see what it’s conditions are like” because they still could not relate to it.

To truly empathise with minimum wage and so-called “flexible” shift workers, that person would not only have to work for that pay and in those conditions for several months on end, to really let it sink in, but would also have to completely abandon their previous career and position in society, and all their wealth and other trimmings.  They may then realise that they cannot just go back to their more advantageous job – they are trapped in this stagnant position for an indefinite period out of necessity.

They would have to know what it is to not enjoy those connections they have among their family and friends (or class) that would act as an escape route to a better social position and career; to not enjoy the same level of nepotism (or “networking”); to not have the ability to take out loans because they don’t earn enough to be allowed (authorised) one by their bank; to not afford to advance their education meaningfully regardless of their skill or intelligence because at the end of the day, money talks, not previous grades; to not have a healthy sleeping pattern because they’re working a night shift and are back in later that day to work the afternoon; to not to be able to work a second job (as if that’s even an ethical option?!) because the hours of your first are so unpredictable that it would be unfeasible and the hours are so tiring that it would be physically impossible; to not have respect from customers, management, and large sections of society for the work that you do, because your job is deemed the “lowest in society”; to know what it’s like to hope every month that nothing in your car or home breaks-down because you cannot afford to fix them, let-alone keep up their maintenance; to know that it’s not just your car, or your home, or your clothes, but also your health that’s suffering, as you put your own physical and mental well-being on the long-finger, because you cannot afford the heating or medication, and you have not the time for a healthy diet or exercise; and to do all this for an unrewarding job because it has become the only option available.

The likes of George Hook and co., with their right-wing radio rantings cannot understand the hopeless mundanity relieved only by the incessant exhausting physicality of such low paid and under appreciated work – work which is paying for their economic “recovery”.

What is conveyed by a company who pays its employees poverty-wages despite massively increasing its profits?  Does it not suggest that a company would pay lower if it were not legally obliged to pay an €8.65 minimum?  Is it not an insult?  Does the company seem uncaring toward the well being of its employees, lacking at least in its respect toward them, lacking in understanding for the level of service that it asks of them without giving them fair compensation for it?  Does it even know that it’s causing such harm?  Do the directors and board members look into what kind of living conditions €8.65 will entitle a worker to?  Does it not say much of a company which is satisfied to only provide a minimum level of service which just about gets them by, rather than strive for the real excellence that it claims to charge customers for, by ensuring the working conditions that can provide for that excellence?  Does that company see pride in its own purpose if it does not take pride in its staff?  Or is that company happy to be a veritable Thénardier?

We know that some minimum-wage paying businesses have doubled their profits in recent years!  However,  regardless of how busy or quiet it is, employees will still be paid the same minimum wage.

So here’s the bottom line.  We cannot afford our own reliable cars to get in and out of work, or get small bank loans to buy better ones (the public transport service to my job is awful, although that hasn’t stopped the price of a bus ticket being raised significantly).  We cannot survive independently on such wages and conditions in Ireland.  Without help, we cannot afford rent, groceries, healthcare, education – these are basic things, not luxuries, which should be available to all!  In short, we cannot afford to live.

Poll: Should You Judge A Book By Its Publisher?

Oxford and Penguin paperback versions of The Táin.
Oxford and Penguin paperback versions of The Táin.

Browsing through some classics in my local bookshop, I noticed that there were several versions of the same writings, including The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli,The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I realise that with the former two, one could argue that the translations are different, and therefore of differing qualities or significance, and thus influences the overall price.

So let’s take the example of Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, which needs no translation for this Anglophone market so all versions contain the same text.  Of Wuthering Heights, there were three versions by three different publishers; Wordsworth, Collins and Penguin.  Respectively, the prices for each of these were €3.75, €3.15 and €11.  All were paperback editions.

Personally speaking, I like the quality and presentation of Penguin’s books with their black spines and white borders which look neat and consistent on the bookshelf.  Penguin generally has good notes, introduction, historical backgrounds, bibliographies and other such useful extras included which enhance the experience; the paper quality and binding also feel good.  But are these extras worth three to four times the price of paperbacks of the same story from other publishers?

On this occassion, I could not justify paying this much extra for Penguin’s paperback even with these extras, especially when finances are tight, to say the least.  Finally, I decided on the Wordsworth Editions’ version of Wuthering Heights due to its more comfortable size (Collins’ paperback classics are rather small and the font too close to the end of the page for my liking – my thumb gets in the way of the text etc.), and its seemingly in-depth and expert introduction, which seemed more useful and interesting to have than the random dictionary that Collins include at the back of their edition.  I would have preferred the Penguin edition, and, if I was wealthy enough, I probably would have bought their version given its superior quality, extras and appearance.

But my experience got me thinking, and I thought it would make for an interesting and fun poll.  So what do you think?  Would you spend more on a different publisher’s edition of the same story in paperback, or is it all the same?  (I realise that it’s not really a straight forward question, but feel free to leave any qualifying comments, or just general comments, below)

Distressing Naivety: Are We Being Bought-Out With Extra Crumbs?

Are people being bought out for a few extra crumbs by the Government coalition in this week’s budget?  I’m fairly confident that most are not that naive or superficial. Polls are not very accurate, but at least they offer a rough indication of trends, and in one poll, 44% said they were unhappy with the budget, while 41% said they were “happy”.  The rest had “no opinion”.  However here are two comments from social media which left me astounded by their naivety:

I’m chuffed with the extra tax credit I’ll get. It’s allowing me to earn a little bit more before I get taxed. I started my business thanks to the social welfare, and S—— wouldn’t be where it is without it. I’ve a long way to go, but I’m satisfied for now. More arts funding would’ve been great, though.

Is the above comment an indication that the government’s use of this budget for electioneering purposes before a general election has worked in at least some cases?  Perhaps that young commenter does not realise that all of their annual €550 “increase” will be wiped out in a couple of months should their landlord increase their rent by a couple of hundred euro; the Government has still not introduced rent controls and seems reluctant to.  It would also be wiped out by an increase in the water tax to €500 – if that particular commenter chooses to pay it.  Price increases may also null it; such is the nature of capitalism.  I wonder if the commenter is insulated from the harshness of the current economic environment in other ways, that they may feel so confident in making such a comment?  – I’m quite certain it does not reflect the broad opinion of the working class generally.

Another similar, more innocent comment below:

I’ve €264 more to play with next year…… Not great but
I’ll not turn it down

This comment conveys the sense that the commenter in question may not realise that they have not necessarily been “given” €264.  That sum actually represents just some of the money that was taken from them a workers years ago through austerity. Concealing this point is the media’s portrayal of the budget asWe don't want a bigger piece of the pie we're taking the whole fucking bakery a “giveaway budget” despite the fact that it offers little, if anything, to people who earn average or below-average wages.  Graduates, students and young unemployed people have been conspicuously ignored by it.  It has served to increase the inequality gap even further too, and the modest increases that people have received generally should be viewed in that context.  Those on low incomes will continue to suffer, while those on slightly higher incomes will be pushed further down, their temporary “benefits” received from this budget cancelled out.
James Connolly’s We Only Want The Earth came to mind:

Some men, faint-hearted, ever seek
Our programme to retouch,
And will insist, whene’er they speak
That we demand too much.
’Tis passing strange, yet I declare
Such statements give me mirth,
For our demands most moderate are,
We only want the earth.

“Be moderate,” the trimmers cry,
Who dread the tyrants’ thunder.
“You ask too much and people By
From you aghast in wonder.”
’Tis passing strange, for I declare
Such statements give me mirth,
For our demands most moderate are,
We only want the earth.

Our masters all a godly crew,
Whose hearts throb for the poor,
Their sympathies assure us, too,
If our demands were fewer.
Most generous souls! But please observe,
What they enjoy from birth
Is all we ever had the nerve
To ask, that is, the earth.

The “labour fakir” full of guile,
Base doctrine ever preaches,
And whilst he bleeds the rank and file
Tame moderation teaches.
Yet, in despite, we’ll see the day
When, with sword in its girth,
Labour shall march in war array
To realize its own, the earth.

For labour long, with sighs and tears,
To its oppressors knelt.
But never yet, to aught save fears,
Did the heart of tyrant melt.
We need not kneel, our cause no dearth
Of loyal soldiers’ needs
And our victorious rallying cry
Shall be we want the earth!

Reformism or Revolution?

reformismSomething I have noticed every now and then, in some form or other, is the fundamental question: Reformism or Revolution?  This subject cropped up most recently in a blog by a teenager who has become politically engaged.  I left a brief response on their article in relation to this topic, which I think is worth sharing here.  I have my own opinions on this ideological concept which I left aside from the comment below.  However, I am likely to return to this subject in greater detail in the future.

‘Firstly, you have a very good blog here. Although you are 16, it seems that your thoughts are quite advanced – your articles evidently have much consideration put into them.

However, I would like to ask a few questions based on the above article that I think are worth considering. But, before that, I also have to ask, are you suggesting that it is better to reform capitalism or fix it?

If we are suggesting the task is to ‘fix’ capitalism, we must ask ourselves, what is broken with it? Therefore, what is capitalism, and is it worth fixing at all?

If we can answer those questions, we may come to one of either two conclusions: Capitalism is a generally good thing, which has gone awry, and therefore, worth fixing, or, capitalism is generally a bad thing, in which case it is worth changing. If we come to the latter conclusion, we might consider one of two things: Reforming capitalism over time into some other form of organising and running society (reformism), or, a revolution which would bring about more immediate change.

When coming to your own conclusions on this, I would consider the history of capitalism throughout the world since its emergence around 250 years ago. What has been its general social, economic, and political trends? I would also ask the same questions of reformism and of revolutions throughout this period, in such places as France (which has had many), Germany (1918-1919), Russia (1917), Spain (1936), Ireland (1916- c. 1923). In reference to the comment above about Stalin, Mao Zedong and that ‘communism might just be best left on paper’ – this is a cliché and lazy answer which ignores the reality of why social movements and revolutionary movements come about, and what they mean or what they are. One might ask instead, “what is communism, and has it ever been achieved?”…’

– See more at: http://www.politicalpeopleblog.com/revolution-no-thanks-political-reform-yes-please/#sthash.mRXbIYg4.dpuf

A Little About An Anonymous Life – In Limbo

In Limbo

History repeats itself, ‘first as tragedy, then as farce’.  Revolutions are ignited and betrayed.  Class oriented economies boom and bust.  For ordinary people, events and experiences repeat themselves, almost cyclically; one thinks they are reaching new heights, only to be plunged again by some circumstance.  At the bottom, situations we have experienced earlier – even mediocre ones – appear fantastic.  We are reaching out for fulfilment, desperately trying to escape the quagmire we are caught in.  Each time, we may settle for a little less of the dream, if only to escape the dizzying path through purgatory.

I made the somewhat extreme decision to delete my previous blog the other day.  Actually, the decision wasn’t entirely my own – what decisions are entirely our own?

My previous blog had somehow vanished due to some bug or technical issue which is too complicated and irrelevant to discuss at length here.  I had started to find my style as a writer and there is at least one article which contains sentimentality for me, gone forever.   I could possibly have retrieved my content with some effort and time, but I recognised this as an opportunity to start-over again, in a more focused and purposeful way.

I suppose I am prone to take the more progressive choices – riskier – but perhaps more rewarding, if they succeed.  Every cloud has a silver lining, doesn’t it?  Meaningless clichés, said before.  Or is the anonymous life punctuated by perpetual swings and roundabouts, ups and downs?  They say when one door closes another opens, but one has the impression we spend our existence just going in and out.  We think we’ve been here before, and it’s not as good the second time around.  Most of us are sidelined, unable to contribute to the game on the field just in front of us.  Nonetheless, we continue to attend training week after week.  Are we progressing, retrogressing, are we repeating?  Are we trapped?

Like a baby in a cot, staring up at the unalterable mobil, going round and round.