My Marxist Pizza Moment

Another in my series about my adventures with pizza, including Pizza and Me, (8-17-11), Steak Film and Back to Pizza (8-21-11), and Pizza Success (8-23-11):

In general my time working with pizza from Village Inn Pizza to Rocky Rococo’s is an example of learning the business side of the restaurant business as well as the operations.  I was in “management” nearly the whole time, did nightly, weekly and monthly books, was proud of keeping my labor and food costs below the goal, and consistently had the best record for low labor cost percentage.  Yet it was there that I had what I have to call a “Marxist moment” – a time I got so pissed at the corporate capitalist structure that I struck a blow for the workers by allowing free pizza and even beer after close.   I then backtracked and decided that wasn’t the thing to do.   Looking back, I think my basic instincts on politics, ethics and economics can be seen in a microcosm in that experience.

I was still 18, had not started college yet, and in my first months as supervisor.   We were told that the big boss (I forgot his name) was coming from Spokane, Washington, for an inspection of whether Warren had fixed the problems the store had been suffering.   We had to clean the store spotless.     As we worked I started to hear Warren and the assistant manager talking about hiring a prostitute.   They needed to find someone attractive, sexy and not sleazy or scuzzy.   “Hard to do in Sioux Falls,” was one comment.   I just kept working; generally I’m not judgmental so it didn’t seem a big deal.

I also noticed that it was being paid for from the till, and that somehow it seemed the books were being manipulated to cover what the expense was for (“corporate will cover this,” I heard Warren say).   I wasn’t quite sure — I was trying to be observant, but obviously this was done with office whispers, glances and signals.   “What’s going on,” one worker asked.   I shrugged.  “Getting ready for the big boss.”

Finally, the “big boss” arrived.  He was quiet, sneered at the workers, and was fat and ugly.   After being introduced (he muttered something to me, not shaking my hand) I recall walking through the door.   “What’s the big boss like,” someone asked?   I made a face of general disgust.   The guy was gross.   We made little jokes about him (eating the profits, keep him out of sight of the customers or it’ll drive business away, etc.) as he walked around the store, muttering things now and then, but generally seeming to be sort of a dick.

Finally Warren came up to me and said “we’re leaving, the store is yours.”   As they left I heard the big boss asking Warren about “the girl” and assuring him that the money would be “taken care of.”   Warren didn’t seem especially comfortable with all this, but clearly had no choice.   Finally they were out the door.    I waited a few minutes and then took some trash to the dumpster.   The cars were gone.

“God, what a pathetically horrible excuse for a human,” I said loudly as I walked back in.   Everyone laughed, though I was the only one who knew about “the girl.”    We made jokes about his girth and poor social skills as we worked, and I bit my tongue, so tempted to spill the beans about the prostitute.  The next week the assistant manager told everyone the story; my silence had been unnecessary.

I was getting angry thinking about the guy.   He was ugly, gross, and buying a prostitute with Village Inn money, getting wealthy on our work, while we sweat and get paid minimum wage or slightly above.   What’s fair about that?   Who gives that wretched excuse of a human the right to come in, force us to scurry around, please him, and then let him get rich off our work?

“You know what,” I said at about 10:30, “we’re eating on the house tonight, make up a couple large pizzas.”

“Really?”  I think it was a guy named Steve I was working with.   “Cool!”  Steve started making pizzas.   “Why?”

“I’m pissed off at the big boss (I’m sure I used his no forgotten name at the time).”   He’s disgusting, I want to take away some of his profits.”   This was before I had studied anything about political philosophy so I wasn’t really using Marx or any one to justify this, it was an emotional reaction.

“All right!”  The crew was enthused.   We made the pizzas and all of us (about five people at that time) chowed down free of charge (usually food was half price).   After close we even had a few beers.  I realized at that time I was on a dangerous path.  If Warren found out I’d be in big trouble.   “OK,” I said, “this is a one time thing.   Just to spite the big boss.”   There was disappointment at that pronouncement, and others tried to get me to do it again.   I was surprised Warren never found out — or perhaps he did and decided to ignore it that one time.

As I reflect on it, I think the emotion of disgust combined with the realization that a$$holes like the big boss were living pathetic yet wealthy lives on the work of lower paid folk, is the moment I realized that structural force exists in the system.

Yet, the knee jerk reaction to just try to take back value — in this case pizza — to compensate for the exploitation is misguided.   “Workers of the world unite, revolt against the oppressors, take back the means of production” — it was the reaction of 19th Century socialism, a revolt against the system — at least in its logic.   Yet I realized quickly that this was a path that made no sense.   It just wasn’t right.

Maybe the system is unfair, but it’s what it is.   And while the big boss may have been disgusting, he isn’t the whole corporation or system.    There may be exploitation going on, but there is also opportunity.   My ability to get hired and quickly promoted — and reasonably well paid for a high school senior — was testament to what the system could offer.  Compared to other parts of the world, that’s pretty good!    Some might say I stole those pizzas — but I had worked off the clock to avoid overtime enough that I’d contributed free labor to more than pay what they cost.

I determined that my ethics as a manager would be to always respect and treat workers well, and not act like the grotesque blob I thankfully never saw again.    I still think there is a lot of exploitation, and the wealthy use their status to manipulate the system in their favor.   That’s why despite my belief in markets, liberty and individual initiative, I still am not a free market capitalist.  I don’t trust capitalism any more than socialism or any “ism” – human behavior is too complex to be captured by an ideology.

The disgust I felt at the time to me symbolizes the legitimate disgust hard working Americans have about the fat cats — the financial bankers who gamed and rigged the system, the ponzi schemers who manipulated the real estate market, manufactured AAA rated crap derivatives, and pushed us into a global recession.    Yet like most workers, I don’t trust government to come in and equalize things, or to steal from the rich to give to the poor.  Rather, the system needs to provide equal opportunity and block the wealthy from using their status to enhance their opportunities at the expense of others.

Nothing is perfect, and what we have is pretty good.   Rather than destroy it in the quest for some ideal, it’s better to work with it, and try to improve it over time.

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  1. #1 by Black Flag® on August 29, 2011 - 23:57

    You stole those pizzas.

    IF you were owed money, you should have confronted your boss for pay.

    Stealing because you think you deserve it is theft – and clearly this is where you ‘figured out’ your politics

  2. #2 by Black Flag® on August 29, 2011 - 23:59

    Capitalism is not a ideology – it is a consequence of the free market.

    Socialism is an ideology for it cannot exist without force and violence.

  3. #3 by Jeff Lees on August 30, 2011 - 00:17

    I’m always surprised that we prize ourselves as being the pinnacle of democracy, yet our economic system is grossly undemocratic, and the corporate structure is, in my opinion, one of the more anti-democratic forces in the modern world.

    • #4 by Scott Erb on August 30, 2011 - 03:17

      There are theories out there about bringing democracy to economic relations. Alas, it appears that such is only possible if those with economic clout agree, and they see no reason to do so.

      • #5 by Jeff Lees on August 30, 2011 - 04:57

        Have you ever heard of a “B-corporation?” It’s a new class of corporation, which has gained recognition in a few states, where the share-holders not only hold the company to make a profit, but also can legally hold it to a standard of social responsibility, where they have to treat and compensate their workers fairly, and be environmentally friendly. It’s a very recent development, but the idea of a company that is bound by law to be socially responsible is an excitingly new idea!

        http://www.bcorporation.net/

  4. #6 by Jeff Lees on August 30, 2011 - 00:24

    So Black flag, capitalism is “natural,” as you seem to purport, and therefor it is better, or more moral? Democracy certainly isn’t a consequence of the “free market,” serfdom and tyranny is a consequence of the unfettered free market.

  5. #7 by modestypress on August 30, 2011 - 00:30

    Some comments sound as if they are coming from an automated ideology-generating computer program that generates cliches. I am sure the PERSON who writes those comments is a commendable person who lives up to his comments.

    I have had experiences such as the ones you describe. I am also put in mind of Orwell’s find book about working in an exclusive restaurant Down and Out in London and Paris.

    To me, at least, Orwell is an example of a person who to a large extent transcended “knee-jerk” ideologically cliche-mongering.

    In one case, I worked for a start-up company (in high-tech) where the president of the company to make a sale promised delivery of a job in 24 hours that could not be reasonably done in a week. My crew and I worked more or less around the clock to deliver the job in three days. [I should add that said company president was close to being an alcoholic who often made executive decisions while sloshed in a bar.] At the end of delivering the job, I bought a couple of six-packs of beer for the crew (making sure a person driving each team was not drinking.

    The president came in to thank us for fulfilling his (irresponsible) promises and then started screaming at me about providing bottles of beer.

    I am not a “socialist,” but the “free market” is a slogan and an abstraction and its use in the comment above does not convey much useful information to me and I suspect to anyone else reading these post.

  6. #8 by modestypress on August 30, 2011 - 00:32

    I should add that I found your post interesting, both as a narrative and as an example of nuanced thinking.

    • #9 by Scott Erb on August 30, 2011 - 03:16

      Thanks, modesty, I really appreciate the compliment!

  7. #10 by Jeff Lees on August 30, 2011 - 00:53

    I’ve been in a similar situation, only as the one who was the recipient of the kindness of a lower boss. We were given a task that was completely outside of our job description by the head of the organization, and we were asked to do it in terrible weather (we were working outside). After working for a few hours in miserable condition, our manager directly above us told us to go home early and clock in for a full day. I’ve aslo worked with bosses with drug addictions, and all the managers below that boss weren’t willing to call the drug user out because they were afraid of getting disciplined or getting prejudicial treatment from the boss. It’s all too dehumanizing to be in situations like these and the ones described above.

  8. #11 by modestypress on August 30, 2011 - 04:19

    In respect to that, on my shelf to finish reading (though I am too much bewitched with Hitch-22 at the moment to deviate in my usual ADD/HD reading style, is Real Wealth of Nations by Riane Eisler, a serious attempt to address issues of what is a legitimate economic system that avoids the cliches and sterile mutual insults of “socialism/statism” vs. “capitalism/free market.”

    Perhaps I should genuflect when I utter the latter holy phrase. Just to be on the safe side. [sarcasm], a label necessary to add in case any people suffering from irony deficiency are reading this blog. Not you, Scott. I am better than a scorpion, I hope, and I strive not to sting frogs that ferry me across the river.

  9. #12 by Black Flag® on August 30, 2011 - 07:43

    Mathius,

    a very recent development, but the idea of a company that is bound by law to be socially responsible is an excitingly new idea

    No one in their right mind would bind themselves to legal cosequences to such a subjective idiotic mush called “social responsibility”

    • #13 by Jeff Lees on August 30, 2011 - 20:25

      There are 444 registered B-corporation. Many (I’d like to think most) people in business actually do live by a moral code more strict then “increase profits at the expense of everything else.”

    • #14 by Black Flag® on August 30, 2011 - 21:07

      Jeff,

      444 company founders who are not in business of doing business, but are doing something else then business, but making business their excuse.

      Business exists to make money.
      Business stays in business by successfully solving human problems.

      Few businesses ever operate on profit at the expense of everything else, simply because that is a very unprofitable way to operate.

  10. #15 by Black Flag® on August 30, 2011 - 07:45

    There are theories out there about bringing democracy to economic relations

    Socialism – which is “democracy” to economics is a disaster.

    Those that do not earn benefit and take and steal from those that do will always end badly for society, regardless of its politics

  11. #16 by Black Flag® on August 30, 2011 - 07:55

    Jeff,

    So Black flag, capitalism is “natural,”

    Yes, it is Jeff.

    Who invented it?

    No one…..

    It is a CONSEQUENCE (one of many) of the Free market – private property and the use of the property for profit.

    People like Scott depend on their living to teach the ignorant falsehoods – that Free Market and Captialism are designed. They depend on this belief for it gives them rationalizations to impose violence and force to direct such designs.

    But they are not designed by any human brain. Free market exists by the aggregation of billions of individual choices and Capitalism derives as a consequence of such things.

    as you seem to purport, and therefor it is better, or more moral?

    “Better” or “Moral” are subjective to a person, and are as irrelevant to describe nature

    Freedom does not make you a good man. Freedom does not make you rich. Freedom does not make you happy.

    Freedom is the ability to chose your actions. It is your choices that determine your merit. It is your choices that benefit or degrade you. It is your choices that bring you joy and sadness.

    Freedom is the vital component to human life because we do not know who we wish to be tomorrow – we cannot know the future, so the requirement of freedom of action allows us to change us.

    Without Freedom, nothing else matters.

    Democracy certainly isn’t a consequence of the “free market,”

    Nope, it is a consequence of belief there exists legitimate violence on non-violent people – and is completely contradictory to freedom (and hence the free market)

    serfdom and tyranny is a consequence of the unfettered free market

    Bizarre!

    You claim violence is the consequence of non-violent trade!

    People are so mind-muddled by people like Scott, I often find it amazing society even holds together.

    • #17 by Jeff Lees on August 30, 2011 - 20:31

      A) Private property, the foundation is a “free market,” isn’t natural. Private property is an institution protected and guaranteed by the modern state. Without the state to protect it, the supposed free market wouldn’t function as it does.

      And I would ask, Black Flag, why freedom in its absolute is desirable? When as it produced anything beneficial for mankind? You’re only argument for the absolute freedom and the free market seems to be because it’s “natural,” or just that the value of this freedom is self-evident. You call Scott and I ideologues, yet you see only value in absolutism.

  12. #18 by Black Flag® on August 30, 2011 - 07:58

    Jeff

    I’m always surprised that we prize ourselves as being the pinnacle of democracy,

    It is no prize to glory yourself with.

    yet our economic system is grossly undemocratic,

    Thank God! If it were, well, we’d be like much like North Korea – equal at starving to death.

    and the corporate structure is, in my opinion, one of the more anti-democratic forces in the modern world.

    Corporations are the spawn of government – and exhibit all the deficiencies of its parent.

    • #19 by Jeff Lees on August 30, 2011 - 20:35

      If you think anything about North Korea is democratic, you need to consult a dictionary. And I’ve always been confused by the libertarian (or in your case, anarchist) argument that the amassing of wealth by a few in the corporate sector is actually a result of government, not a produce of lax government regulation. I would like to hear how the absence of government intrusion into the economy would stop the amassing of wealth and economic power into the hands of the few.

  13. #20 by Black Flag® on August 30, 2011 - 08:37

    I have a boss who is utterly cruel and heartless.

    He demanded incredibly long hours of work – most of the time 30 hours on, 12 hours off for weeks.

    He never cared if I was tired, sick, hungry…. he demanded I show up to work regardless.

    A slave driver.

    I see him in the mirror every day.

  14. #21 by Scott Erb on August 30, 2011 - 22:44

    Black Flag, I don’t take your posts seriously. Your rants are irrational assertions, ideological cliches and repetitive silliness. You are the equivalent of some religious fanatic posting all sorts of assertions that the world is going to hell or Allah is the only God. The question for me is how much of that kind of crap do I want to have polluting my blog. I let the Allah post stand in the last entry, but that was one comment. I’m tolerant even of non-sense (and of course of anything that has intellectual value, no matter how much I disagree). You’re making yourself into a caricature, someone very easy to dismiss with a roll of the eyes. If a religious fanatic tried to hijack my blog with massive meaningless posts, I’d delete them. You’re in the same category.

  15. #22 by modestypress on August 31, 2011 - 05:37

    Scott, I agree with your evaluation of Black Flag’s posts, but as an admirer of Voltaire and of Roger Williams, I vote for letting him r/a/n/t/ speak to his heart’s content. Let him have the last word as far as comments go. We are not going to convince him of anything; is there any danger of his convincing us (or anyone who does not already agree with him)?

    For that matter, Black Flag; this is a serious question: why do you post your comments? What do they accomplish?

    I just glanced at YOUR blog. I read:

    “As the economic conditions deteriorate, more and more blogs that I post as a guest begin to censor me.”

    Are you trying to be a martyr?

    • #23 by Scott Erb on August 31, 2011 - 15:12

      I see your point, but I think he’s becoming essentially a spammer. He isn’t really interacting, just using the blog comments to repeat his propaganda. It’s not much different than if some religious fanatic came and posted long repetitive diatribes constantly. Not only that, but its often insulting and shows no effort to really converse. I don’t want somebody to hijack my blog to try to spread propaganda and stifle real interaction. I want open conversation, but I don’t want the equivalent of a spammer who simply wants to repeat the same BS over and over. If I had people over for beers, and we were debating and one guy got loud, insulting and obnoxious and repeated himself over and over, trying to dominate the conversation, I’d ask him to leave.

  16. #24 by Black Flag® on August 31, 2011 - 12:09

    Modesty,

    No.

    I do not post for you or Scott.

    I do post for silent others who do read you or Scott.

    The crackpot theories that Scott has based his entire career in support are collapsing. He does not know why.
    Others want to know why.
    Maybe they will find a path to an answer.

  17. #25 by mikelovell on August 31, 2011 - 14:40

    When I worked at this little cafe in small town southern Missouri for a few months, it did not take me long before I ran the kitchen after lunch and through suppertime to close. By the age of 23-24 I had already amassed more restuarant experience than the owner and management (her daughters) combined. Everyone was expected to keep busy all the time, no matter what, whilst the management and owner often times just sat around in a booth yapping away. when they attempted to do actual work, I think they spent more time bitching and moaning than anything. And if it ever got busy (and busy for this place during the supper shift meant like 6 tables came in at once), none of them could handle the heat in the kitchen and keep their shit straight. I on more than one occasion kicked the manager out of the kitchen becuase all we did was cross paths to get to the orders we were working on, and she constantly freaked out. Just let me do the line, and I’ll have the dishwasher run my fryer items for me, and we’re good.

    In the kitchen we made $5.15/hr, the minimum wage. The servers made their minimum wage of $3.10 or something near there. I only served once on the lunch shift in an emergency, after having worked the breakfast in the kitchen and doing the supper shift in the kitchen later that night. Those of us in the kitchen got to eat for free, but it was expected that the servers write up a ticket for themselves and they still paid half price. Given how busy we usually werent, but still expected to run around doing things as though we were actually busy, I often told the waitresses to tell me what they wanted to eat, and save the paper (both the ticket, and their minimal tips). I didnt see the point in letting those of us who made actual minimum wage eat for free while charging the even poorer ones for eating. So I didnt. And I never heard one bit of fuss out of anyone for it.

    There were a lot of things wrong with how the place was run, prices included, nevermind its out of the way from damn near everything location. But I did see employee pricing menu as a big problem. Only made the owner look like an even bigger b*&%^ than she already was, which I wouldve thought would be pretty hard to do anyways.

    I left and came back to Iowa, and within a year that place had shut down. I told my friend who let me know about it closing that it was clearly my peronality and practices that kept the place open, and only the reputation of me having been there allowed it to survive as long as it did! Of course I know better, but it sounded good.

  18. #26 by modestypress on August 31, 2011 - 19:47

    Black Flag, I don’t have much time right now, but when I get a chance I will read your blog and the comments there on. If I post comments on your blog that are not in complete agreement with you, will you allow me to post them? At what point would you delete them? Is there a certain number of comments, or a certain amount of disagreement, or some other characteristic or behavior that would cause you to delete them? Just wondering how you sauce your geese and ganders…

    • #27 by Black Flag® on August 31, 2011 - 19:59

      Modesty,

      Absolutely post away!

      My only rule is regarding profanity – it will be edited out, but if unrelenting, I will block.

      But I as I’ve read your posts here, I cannot see your posts being an issue, ever.

      Cheers!

      • #28 by Stephen Kahn on September 1, 2011 - 03:50

        I have read a number of your posts, but not felt much urge to reply yet.

        The profanity rule is fine with me. I don’t care one way or the other, but I am not addicted to using any *#@! language.

        I will finish reading your blog as I get time and feel so inclined.

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