Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I'd have run out of breath anyway.

I used to work part-time at a slightly upmarket supermarket (we don't have Waitrose in the North West, just Waitrose adverts) and as many of our customers had an overblown sense of entitlement, myself and colleagues were often on the receiving end of a barked "I pay your wages". Here's what I never had the guts to reply:

Yes, yes you do. You are the provider of a miniscule portion of the total revenue that this company receives from its millions of customers. You would therefore appear to be in a position of authority over me, as I rely on another miniscule portion of that revenue for my livelihood. However, this subservient position is one I share with a few thousand other employees, including admin staff, supervisors and management, as well as all of our suppliers and the advertising agencies and other outside contractors this company employs. Let us also, in the hierarchy, not forget our many shareholders. At the same time, you share your position of authority with every other person and company who buys from us which, considering we shop here too, encompasses most of those same people whose wages you claim to pay.

Now, in case you've not considered this economic system in its entirity - this system which you are citing as reason to be rude to me - have a think about where else this vast workforce (and management, and shareholders) spends its money. Please don't forget to take into account the money they pay in taxes, national insurance payments, interest on loans, contributions to pension funds. Can be sure that you are in no way - past, present, or future - a recipient of any of that revenue? Because the economy is not a hierarchy of payers and paid. It is a bafflingly complex web in which there is no straight up and down, no absolute authority or servitude, and in which collectively everyone at some point pays everyone else.

But do not despair, dear customer, for there is another system in place by which we can determine how to treat another human being, despite such a bewildering set of interdependencies. It's known as common fucking courtesy, and if you want me to do as you ask and carry these two packets of organic fat-free rice cakes out to your car for you, you're going to have to show me a little thereof.


  1. I work for a publicly traded company. Every so often people say to me, mid whinge: "I'm a shareholder in your company" - Ironic thing is, we were all given shares when the company floated.

  2. "So who do you work for? Really? Wow, I pay your wages too! BFF?"

  3. I've always thought that "I pay your wages" is an unspeakably vulgar thing to say to someone.

    It's almost an implicit claim of ownership, in a way, I suppose - certainly a sign of a belief that somehow money trumps everything else, including common decency.

    On a wider scale (people moaning about the BBC, say) it also betrays a certain self-centredness, where people assume that a whole organisation must bend to their will, conveniently ignoring everyone else who pays.

    As far as I'm concerned, anyone who uses this as a way to address another person diminishes themselves.

  4. I can surely empathise. To borrow from David Harvey, people often think they have a moral responsibility to their friends and neighbours, but rarely ask themselves what their responsibility is to all the people that put breakfast on their table.

    Or somethng.