Friday, December 30, 2011

Busy Signal

By Nicholas Stix

Calling Rockland County:

"Hello, this is Michael Greenberg from Teledope, Inc., a national opinion pollster, and we have been asked to do a poll of Americans' opinions ... Have you bought a VCR during the past six months, or do you plan on buying one in the next six months?"


So what, if my name isn't Michael, and the firm I work for does marketing surveys, rather than opinion polls? If I said it was "market research," even fewer people would answer the interminable, 25-30 minute questionnaire I put them through, and I'd be out of a job.

"It'll only take five minutes."

As it is, I lose a lot of cooperative people, because it turns out that they too work in market research, and are thus ineligible as respondents. More and more people are working during this depression, asking other penniless Americans what they are buying or plan to buy in the immediate future. A more realistic survey might go like this:

"Have you had your hours shortened during the past six months?

"Have you lost your job during the past six months, or do you expect to lose it during the next six months?

"Have you been forced to apply for public assistance, or do you expect to have to ...?"

Tonight, three people who had been scheduled to work were sent home. The bosses had overscheduled the shift. If this was meant to show the rest of us how tenuous our jobs are, it was very effective.

I've worked at worse places. One of them, "Telinfo," pays for piece work, rather than an hourly wage. You used to be able to earn good money there, $7-8 an hour, but recently I had some nights where I didn't make a cent. "Telinfo's" rules stated that you couldn't leave before your four-hour shift was up. "If you do, don't come back." My work friend, Tanya, and I would kill time in the break area, munching on peanut butter and cheese cracker packs. Tanya's Mom took care of her baby boy, Steven, while his mother was out not earning money.

The worst place of all was at "Time Sales," where I shilled for one day, selling radio time to Brooklyn businesses. A 15-second propaganda message (e.g., "Just say no to drugs!") would precede the sponsor's spiel.

Time Sales made me an attractive offer: 12.5% commission on sales, plus a $400 bonus, payable after one month of employment. So far, so good. If I made "my nut" selling the required $10,000 of time during an 80-hour month, I'd earn $2,050, including the bonus. With some free-lance writing and a night job, I might just get by.

I got a little leery, when the guy who interviewed me for the job showed up smelling like a brewery, and had slurred speech -- at 9 in the morning! Then he had me sign a contract stipulating a few exceptions allowing Time Sales to welsh on the bonus. If I was 15 minutes late three times, ever had a week in which I sold a penny less than $2,500 dollars in advertising time, or missed a single four-hour shift, no matter what the reason, I would forfeit the bonus in its entirety.

My first day at work at Time Sales, I found out that none of my colleagues had ever made their $2,500 weekly "nut." At half of the Brooklyn businesses I called that day, a recording said that the phone had been disconnected. The bosses at the other places all said they were just trying to hang on, while hoping for better times. It goes without saying, that I didn't make any sales that day.

The next day on the way to work, I got them "walkin' blues." I got off the train before my stop, and sought to call my boss to tell him I wouldn't be coming in anymore. There was no number listed for Time Sales. I guess he figured it out on his own.

My savings ran out about two months ago. My mother exhausted her savings paying my rent this month. Some friends who are still doing a little better than me have offered to help with next month's rent. In the meantime, I've negotiated a rent reduction from my landlord.

Mr. Bush has finally figured out what us "telephonies" have known for about two years -- that the economy is in a free fall. In English, the word is "depression."

Calling Boston: "Hello, this is Michael McMahon from ..."

* * *

I wrote the above piece in either 1991 or ’92, during a terrible recession, about jobs I was actually doing, and published it in my magazine, A Different Drummer, in spring, 1993, by which time I was doing better. In order to make the story look current, I changed the numbers, to keep up with inflation. The real numbers 20 years ago were:

Minimum monthly sales: $5,000
Monthly earnings, including bonus: $1,025

By the time I wrote the essay, the New York Times had announced that the recession was already over, just like it and the rest of the MSM again did two years ago, regarding the current depression. Truth be told, there never was an economic recovery to the recession that began in 1990 (or the one that hit in 2001). If I’m not mistaken, that was when someone coined the term, “jobless recovery.”

There’s no such thing as a “jobless” recovery. The whole point of a “recovery” is that the unemployed go back to work. When I was a kid, if there was a period of high unemployment, and you suddenly told the American people that although most of the people thrown out of work were still jobless, the economy was in “recovery,” they’d pelt you with rotten produce or worse.

It took years of propaganda to wear down the public, to where it permits propagandists to get away with such nonsense. The main methodological innovation was developed by the Clinton White House: Bill Clinton’s Department of Labor dropped people whose unemployment benefits had run out from the ranks of the unemployed. It was as if they’d found work.

What we have seen for the past 20 years is the continuous dispossession of ever more millions of American workers from the economy. Thus, it makes perfect sense that we need to import the entire Third World to work at jobs that somehow don’t exist for Americans…. Huh?

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