We Are Not Disposable People
My tie is too tight and I can barely breathe. I gag as I loosen it a little. Even though the waiting room is plush, immaculate and air conditioned, it still feels unnaturally hot. As one of the corporate suits walk by, I quickly straighten out the collar, making sure that the tie is perfectly centered. He doesn't see me and walks past, carrying a bunch of reports and talking about profit margins. Once again, I have to gasp for air. It is like this at every job interview.
There are about ten other people in the waiting room. All of them look as uncomfortable in business suits as me. A few have their hair slicked back or recently cut. Almost no one dares to look up. I size them all up. Who is younger than me? Who will work for less? How many fancy cover letters are in those spotless briefcases? Who is more qualified for this job than me? There is one man who is sitting back reading a two month old issue of Newsweek. He looks especially confident. And why does he have to be here? Doesn't he know how important this interview is to me? Can he just go?
I don't know what it is about the man. Why he seems like a threat to me? I don't know anything about him. Is he thinking the same thing about me? That I want to take the job from him? Strange, on any other day we'd either walk past each other without a second glance. Maybe we could even share a beer and talk about Game of Thrones. I don't know. But I do know that despite my better judgment, he feels like an enemy.
A secretary comes out from the far hall and calls out a name. It isn't mine. Someone gets up, grabs a briefcase and walks into the back. I lean backward and swallow. My throat presses against the tie and I start to gag again. The man comes out a few minutes later and walks away. I wonder if a short interview is a good thing. I try to think back to that CNN special on landing a job, but my mind draws a blank.
The next name that is called is mine. I quickly rise, comb back my hair and straighten out my suit. I follow the secretary to the back room and enter. The older man shakes my hand and invites me to take a seat. I do so and make sure to look him straight in the eye, but not too much, that might show I am overconfident. There is a procedure to follow for these interviews after all, even if I can't understand any of it.
Then the ritual finally begins and we both play our parts to a tee. Pleasantries are exchanged. I hand over my resume and a cover letter. I look over the resume as I take it out of the folder. A rush of thoughts come up - Is there an inconsistency? Did I follow the accepted format? What is the accepted format? When I give him the resume, I wonder if my chances for the job were just ruined.
The game continues. He asks me a bunch of the expected questions. I give the expected answers. I try not to sound too confident. That's a turn off. But I have to make sure that I don't undersell myself - there are still nearly ten people out (Will they undersell their credentials?). When we get to the specifics of the job, I try to feign interest. I force a smile. I make a few hasty links to past employment – about conscientious I am and how I am a good company man. The interviewer nods and seems impressed. But I don't know. Am I standing out too much? Or not at all?
The hardest question he asks is about why I want the job. I really don't want it. I hate this office. I hate the atmosphere. And I hate those suits most of all. I don't want to sell this product. I don't want to work in this office. I don't want to be a cog in their machine. I know exactly what companies like this do and it isn't what the sign on the outside said (something along the lines of “making a difference”). I just want A job. Any job.
How do I tell him that I am a recent college graduate and have applied to several hundred jobs over the last several years. How do I avoid having to explain to him that I am “overqualified” for the position? I went to school for something else, I received specialized training in a field that no one will hire me in. It doesn't matter that I have two degrees or graduated “summa cum laude.” Do I tell him how many hundreds of resumes I have sent? No one cares. And although I know exactly why, I also don't know why. How do I tell him that my current job is completely degrading, exploitative with no room for advancement. I am treated like trash there (and by any account, I'd be treated like trash here too). I can barely pay for the necessities of life and if I didn't have the help of family, I don't know what I'd do.
I don't tell him any of this. I can't. His face. That suit. This office. It all goes to show that he doesn't care about that. He wants some bullshit answer about hard work or ambition. I try to give it to him. He thanks me for the interview and we shake hands (was my grip too firm or loose?). I grab my things and walk out. I know that I won't be hired. Deep down I just know it.
When I open the car door, I place a hand against my face and let the tears come out. I just want a job. I want to be able to provide for myself. I want to be able to wake up with some dignity. But no. It will be the same. The family who will look upon me as a failure. When I am out with friends and they all talk about work and I will gently try and change the subject. And those unpaid bills will still be at home waiting for me.
I know that it isn't my fault that I don't have a job. I know how capitalism works. I know that the system creates masses of unemployed people by design. We compete with one another for work at the lowest wages. It doesn't matter that the other worker is not too blame for me not getting a job. The media and the bourgeois politicians teach us to blame the “illegals” or “minorities” or some other scapegoat, some group worse off.
Or is there something wrong with me? What did I do wrong? I know that the millions in my position are asking the same thing. Yet we aren't lazy. We want to be able to provide for ourselves or our families. We want to feel useful. As much as we may hate work, we hate not working even more. None of us wants this. And when we give up and stop applying for work, then fall off the unemployment rolls, the latest job report will go on about how the unemployment rate went down and that we are “on the road to recovery.” And those people off the radar will just be disposed of.
We are not the problem. We are not disposable people. And it is not our fault that we don't have work. The blame is to be directed upward at the ruling class and system-wide at capitalism with its drive for profits and merciless exploitation of those “lucky” enough to have work. This is not how things should be.
Some of the well-meaning types will come up with plans to guarantee jobs for all. But it is all a pipe dream. Unemployment is a permanent feature of capitalism in both good times and bad. Full employment would alleviate the threat of workers of being without a job. They could demand greater wages and benefits, possibly cutting into the profits of business. Thus putting into place full employment, could potentially threaten the very profit-making logic of capitalism. No, this system is by its very nature putrid and vile – and is incapable of providing for human needs. It needs to go.
And in its place, a new order should emerge – one that will provide meaningful jobs for all. One that will put the needs of human beings first. For this system in its pursuit of profits sees workers not as people, but as something to be used and cast aside when convenient. It is high time to say - “No!” We demand dignity. We demand meaningful and fulfilling work that this system is incapable of providing. Our enemy is not another worker looking for work. It is not “illegals” or another convenient scapegoat. It is this this sick capitalist system, which treats us as disposable people and should be razed to the ground.
This essay also ran in Kasama Project.
Doug Enaa Greene is an independent communist historian living in the greater Boston area. He has been published in Socialism and Democracy, LINKS International Journal for Socialist Renewal, MRZine, Kasama, Counterpunch, Socialist Viewpoint and Greenleft Weekly. He was active in Occupy Boston and is a volunteer at the Center for Marxist Education in Cambridge. He is currently working on a book on the French Communist Louis-Auguste Blanqui.