Sunday, May 27, 2007

You deserve a break today

A group of well-to-do busybodies in England are petitioning the Oxford English Dictionary to change the definition of "McJob" from "an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector."

"We believe this definition is out of date, out of touch with reality and most importantly is insulting to those hard-working, talented and committed people who serve the public every day in the UK. As the namesake for this derogatory term, this prejudice is felt most sharply by the 67,000 people who pursue careers and jobs at McDonald's in the UK."

"It is time the dictionary definition of "McJob" changed to reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding and offers genuine opportunities for career progression and skills that last a lifetime."

In a related story, a group of serial onanists are petitioning the editors of the Cockney Rhyming Slang Dictionary to remove the term "Merchant Banker" as they feel associating their their sensual pursuit with such people is demeaning.

"At least our hobby brings pleasure to someone, even if it is only to myself," said Hans Innis-Pahnts, spokesperson for Onanists Organized Over Orwellian Humbuggery.

"This lot obviously has too much time and not enough meat on their hands. Uh...I mean to say, Sir Digby obviously hasn't spent a lot of time flipping greasy beef, stuffing it between buns and slathering it with....uh, excuse me for a few moments," said Innis-Pahnts, who could not be reached for further comment.

In a related development the White House announced it would petition to have the definition of "corruption" changed to "a win-win situation" and "incompetence" changed to "doing a heckuva job." Other proposed changes include "Up" being defined as "Down" and "Black" being defined as "White."

The late George Orwell could not be reached for comment, but journalists visiting his grave reported hearing a definite whirring sound.

I've had my share of jobs in the service sector working in kitchens and classrooms where everything has been time-and-motion studied to death and all actions, attitudes, attire and thoughts must conform with the manual. It seems that according to the authors of the aforementioned letter -- Sir Digby Jones, late of the Confederation of British Industry and David Frost, director-general of the British Chamber of Commerce and about a dozen others who have probably never flipped a burger, scrubbed a hotel toilet or read from a call center script-- the problem with demeaning, soul-destroying low-wage jobs is not that people are forced to smile while working long and hard at tasks that would bore the shit out of your average farm animal, but that the Oxford English Dictionary acknowledges that fact in its definition of "McJob."

I'll give him the hard-working part, not that most service sector workers have much choice. Slack off when you're feeling tired and you'll be replaced by another faceless cog in short order. "Talented" -- well, it's called "unskilled" labor for a reason. Any half-bright cro-magnon can be trained to do most McJobs - I know, I've done them. Most consist of very simple, very repetitive tasks -- the more repetitive the better from a management point of view, because then employees can specialize and get really good at cleaning toilets or pulling french fries out of the grease in the manner laid out in the manual. "Committed" -- yeah, more than a year at most McJobs and you'll feel like you're ready to be committed to an asylum. There is a reason the employee turnover rate at Micky D's is over 300% and it isn't because good help is hard to find.

"Stimulating" -- yeah nothing is quite as stimulating as choking on the rancid fumes while cleaning out a grease trap, taking crap from arrogant teenage customers who think it's funny to leave your tip in the ketchup or having some stressed out yuppie unload his rage on you because his burger has pickles, but not tomatoes instead of the other way around. "Rewarding" -- ooooh, $6 whole dollars an hour, assuming your area has an enforcible minimum wage law. And you can progress from fry cook to crew chief to assistant manager to the lofty pinnacle of manager in just a few short years, making almost enough to move out of Mom's basement.

I will admit that learning to repeat "Would you like fries with that?" or "Your call is important to us" like an automaton and getting the hang of smiling at customers and sleeping at night while knowingly selling an obviously inferior product do have wider applications in life. Likewise significantly increasing the saliva and mucous content of an annoying prick's take-out order can be satisfying, but I suspect that isn't what Jones, Frost and company had in mind.

I think a quick poll of the 67,000 people working at McDonalds in the UK would indicate that barring the trainable mentally handicapped and the brainwashed cultists from Hamburger University, most would say the definition is entirely accurate. Just ask these folks if they are "lovin' it."

And it isn't just McDonald's that is guilty of exploiting its employees; most fast food chains and other low wage franchise and chain service businesses like Molly Maid, Wal-Mart and most supermarkets stay in the black by paying as little as the traffic will bear. That why companies like McDonalds and WalMart hate unions or anyone who rocks the boat and demands a little dignity -- there just isn't any room for that in the manual or the budget.

If you've worked enough of these kinds of jobs you know they are a tough slog and means to an end, not a career choice. I'm not talking about middle-class teenagers working part time for a little spending cash- being on the exploited side of the equasion might actually teach them a little humility - I'm talking about adults who take these jobs because they need work and can't find anything better. Someone will always have to do these jobs, but shouldn't they be entitled to decent treatment and a living wage? If you think people in the service industry are just lazy and should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, go read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America while I get your take-out order ready Mr. merchant banker.

(cross-posted from the Woodshed)

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