Misery Breeds: How I Became a Wobbly by W.H. Glazer
I started working when I was sixteen. I grew up in Baltimore and had learned how to sail as a kid, so I managed to get myself a job working as a deckhand and sailing instructor at this fancy boat club on the Inner Harbor. It was a sweet fucking gig. I got to work outside on the water, there was free beer in the fridge, and I got paid A LOT of money. I was expecting to get paid minimum wage, so when the boss told me I’d be making nearly twice that, I was ecstatic. For a kid with relatively few expenses and a free bed at home, this was an absurd amount of money. So absurd, in fact, that I wouldn’t make anywhere close to it until two years after I graduated from college.
I moved to Minnesota for college in 2008, and had a number of work-study jobs while on campus. They weren’t awesome, they weren’t terrible. They give me a bit of extra cash, and in turn took up about twenty hours a week of study time. I went home for the summer after my first year and worked as a camp counselor making minimum wage. All in all, these jobs signaled a somewhat precipitous decline on the income front. Despite this, though, I was always considered an exemplary employee. Never had a bad review, never got written up, never threatened with firing. Not once.
Immediately after finishing college with degrees that qualified me to do nothing, I began to work at the Whole Foods Market near campus. I took the job because (a) it paid significantly better than a lot of the other menial jobs I could find, (b) it had a vaguely liberal, Prius-driving feel to it that I really appreciated at the time, and (c) the employee discount made it almost affordable for someone making $10 an hour. I started off strong there and built some nice relationships with my coworkers and regular customers. I was good at raising money for Whole Foods’ various charity campaigns (which were in fact supremely questionable microloan schemes), and was generally on-board with the whole organic food thing.
About three months into the job, though, things started to change. I started getting called into the office at least once a week for various infractions- not smiling enough at the customers, checking my phone for texts, putting my foot up on the bag area and thusly displaying too much of my crotch to the customers (that’s a real one). I was told that my coworkers felt that I had an air of superiority about me, that they were complaining about my constant sass and sarcasm. When a customer told me to fuck myself, the bosses asked me to just take one for the team and keep quiet. The weekly office visits became daily, and my bosses were concerned about my happiness on the job (bless their hearts), and wanted me to know that they weren’t trying to “beat me down” as they called me into the office for the fourth day in a row. I was asked to finish a shift after I got a concussion (undiagnosed, but what else makes you start slurring your words and feeling dizzy after you bang your head?). Because I had too many absence points and would lose my job otherwise, I had to do a full shift with a high fever. You know, cause fuck food safety.
It was a pretty rough time. My feet and knees hurt constantly from standing on mats that provided almost no support. My wrist and back hurt from scanning groceries and bending over the conveyor belt. I started smoking a pack a day, I was drinking too much. Even when I wasn’t at work, I couldn’t stop talking about it and absolutely dreading going back.
About seven months into my tenure at Whole Foods, a mentally disturbed customer made a very creepy and, for all we knew, serious threat of violence towards one of my coworkers. Again, the bosses told us to simmer down and get over ourselves. A coworker of mine, who as it turned out was the Wobbliest Wobbly who ever Wobbled, organized a meeting after work to talk about this issue. He tried to whip up anger and frustration, but most of the folks at the meeting were concerned about their job security, and advocated a cautious approach. I don’t remember what I said at the meeting, but apparently it was radical enough to encourage this FW to talk to me a bit more openly. He gave me a copy of Think It Over, and I devoured it. Everything made sense. “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.” Fucking right. We did a 1:1, and I imagine selling me on joining the IWW was the easiest thing he’s ever done.
I joined up soon thereafter, and have Wobbled ever since. My friend and I tried to organize Whole Foods without any success, but I’m weirdly grateful for that awful job. They say misery breeds contempt, but in my experience it bred radicalization.