Until recently I worked as a Product Demonstrator. Actually over the last year and a half I spent half my time as shift supervisor of a crew doing Product Demonstration.
Our job was to get people to try and buy mostly food products that were often overly processed, full of sodium, high in fats and carbohydrates.
We were a non-union shop. As workers we were exploited. We were held to under 30 hours a week so they would not have to pay benefits because we were considered part timers.
Every day people went out on the floor they were given quotas set by establishing the sales done on the day one week prior and multiplying them by 3.5. If you sold 350% of the previous weeks sales you received points towards a bonus. If you sold less than 200% you got fewer hours. Minimum sales were 20 units. Considering the amount of traffic on a given day these quotas insured bonuses were rare and competition for good products with high sales and low quotas was pretty cut throat.
I say this because the pressure was on us to sell those products no matter how bad they were for you. This meant we had to be liars and look sincere in our lying.
We were/are the lowest rung in the hyper retail hype world.
The labor that creates products is paid as little as possible in order to create surplus value. Yet the surplus value created by the gap between the costs of production and the price the product is sold at is pretty meaningless if no one buys the product.
If people only bought the things they needed or even actually wanted then the high flying world of free market corporatism would end with a resounding crash.
I actually try to buy used when possible. I look at things like cars and ask questions like: Do they get decent mileage and does that corporation actually have at least assembly plants in the US?
One has to ask one very important question though. Why do those who hype products in the media get paid so much while those who make the product and those who work in the store that sell the products earn so little?
Because of this I would never buy a sport shoe (the shoes I mainly wear) that had an athlete’s name on it or that was specifically endorsed by a professional athlete. They already make more money in one year than I will in a life time.
I built our latest computers rather than buying one off the shelf. It cost as much, perhaps even more yet I know what parts are in them and that they have a high enough wattage power supply.
Many magazines and most of television is strictly speaking a media of the spectacle that uses hyper realistic unreal imagery to trick people into thinking the impossible is actual reality. I punches up adrenalin and fear to sell us a police state. It creates a fictitious violent reality that sells fear and image as well as the fiction that you too can be that super ninja action hero. Then it taps into a thought process that has already suspended incredulity to sell you something be it luxury (usually aimed at women) or something that will enhance the inadequate masculinity of the male viewers.
Guns and big gas guzzling cars are but two items. Clothes that cost more than I earned in two weeks come to mind.
I sometimes wonder if the biggest threats from Hippie and from the Eco movements aren’t getting people to question mindless consumption.
Many years ago I was in the Macy’s in San Francisco looking at make-up and a beautiful blond hippie guy whispered to me when he walked by. “Buying make-up won’t give you better orgasms.” I arrogantly shot back, “Buying make up is like an orgasm.” He looked at me and said, “look in the mirror, you are beautiful. You don’t need to hide it behind make-up.”
So much of what we are sold is hype. They create insecurities or fears and then sell you a product that is supposed solve those problems.
Perhaps we would be better off consuming less. Maybe we wouldn’t have the oil spill in the Gulf if we had opted for more fuel efficient cars. Maybe we would have more trains to as well as better public transportation.
I first crossed the US in 1967. Every city was unique. They may have all had McDonalds but they also had stores and businesses that were one of a kind. Now the countryside seems like one big mall with shopping opportunities in stores that are owned by the same companies and look identical every few miles. Heaven forbid, one be overcome with a desire for something that one saw a billboard or heard an ad for and they not be able to immediately purchase it.
It seems as though if we were to stop buying for one day the whole system would go into a tail spin.
Maybe it would take longer. But think about what sort of power we “consumer” should have. If we could only stop fighting among ourselve.
I bet we could get the Japanese government to end the murder of whales if we were to get enough people to stop buying all Japanese products for a couple of months or so.
Want Same Sex Marriage? Target one of the huge corporations and stop buying anything they sell.
Start buying used stuff… The tree is already dead. Used book stores are wonderful magical institutions. Consider buying used instead of new.
Stop using credit cards so often. Say no when someone offers you yet another credit card.
If a union goes out on strike boycott the products of the corporation being struck.
Learn the power of saying, “No Thanks, I’ll pass on that. I don’t need it while you are continuing to do _____…”
Instead invest in and buy things based on value instead of flashy ads and hard sell hyper retail marketing.
Fuck the advertising business and all their lies. Evaluate value not associations with advertising and selling of image.
July 13, 2010 at 4:52 am
The issue at the heart of this post is very close to me these days.
In Canada, our largest food retailer, Loblaws, has just had a majority strike vote. “More serious” discussions are supposed to be on come of this.
In recent years, I’ve watched it create two-tier wages, and, in its superstore–created in response to Wallmart’s incursion into food retailing–have no union at all. Loblaw’s is not majority unorganized.
A woman I know, who was in the top tier, took a buy-out, took training, and now has a new career as a library technician.
Over the years, I’ve watched as its major competitor, Steinberg’s, disappear, an early victim of Conrad Black. In my local mall, Billings Bridge Plaza, there used to be both a Steinberg’s and a Loblaw’s. The Loblaw’s now there really isn’t a Loblaw’s anymore, it is a private, separate employer, though it is supplied by Loblaw’s and remains filled with President’s Choice products.
When it changed “shingle,” they changed the layout; after 25 years of knowing where things were, I’m still not quite sure where everything is several years later.
Today in the mall, there is a Cole’s Bookstore, the original Canadian chain, and the foundation for what is now the Chapters-Coles-Indigo chain including the Chapters superstores; I work at the Ottawa flagship Chapters. My mother was, for a short time, secretary to Cole, the founder of the Cole’s chain, at the end of World War II.
Up until about 2000, there was another small, local chain store, Prospero, the Book Company. The owner of the Chapters chain already owned Prospero when she bought Chapters, so, when she became the owner of virtually all Canadian bookselling, the Competition Commission required her not to have stores within geographical limits; so Prospero’s had to leave Billings Bridge.
I watched the growth of Chapters.
I saw it not only take over virtually all bookselling in Canada, I saw it take over the largest book distributor in Canada with the result, rather like Wallmart, it controls even what it doesn’t own, i.e., Canadian publishing. Its effect on Canadian publishing was also a matter in the Competition Commission’s ruling when the current owner bought Chapters.
I never really expected to be working in the belly of the beast. But, in bilingual Ottawa, it is one of the few retailers that doesn’t require completely fluent bilingualism of its employees.
What is my point for all of this?
I’m not convinced of the effect of personal, individual choice to stop, or even slow, the inexorable march of the political economy and its oppression.
When I was an undergraduate, in the early 70’s, a young woman whom I was very attracted to, left school for a commune. In those days, the commune out of which Perth County Conspiracy was formed also flourished–you can get its record, a beautiful collection of songs, on YouTube.
I don’t own a car, never have.
I don’t buy water in plastic bottles. Its not because of the dependence on oil, and its detrimental effect on the environment, nor the thought of selling water to, well, you Americans, among others; its simply the idea of selling something that is part of the Commons, even to Canadians. The whole idea disgusted me, decades ago, it seems–and still does.
I remember watching Ground Zero of 9/11 how, in an earlier age, barrels or trucks of water would have appeared, but then there appeared “boxes” of water bottles; I’m sure someone received a tax credit for providing a “commercial good.”
My current computer was a gift from a friend who built it–though with mass produced parts; I don’t thing there are computers built with handmade chips, etc.
What is my point in writing this?
I think the model of individual action works less when there is no competition, when elites have crafted a world in which there is no competition, the world of late capitalism in which we live–and cannot leave.
This is hard to conceptualize, particularly for those raised on the ideology of competition–that no longer exists or includes them.
I have no details, but I struggle with what must be the new model, one whose very conception is militated against by the very fabric of what/how we are permitted to think.
It will have to be a collective model.
July 13, 2010 at 2:06 pm
What you say is appropriate to the USA also.
Only one little quibble — in many places in the US, due to the practice called “fracking”, much of the tap water is becoming unfit to drink.
Recently saw a documentary named “Gasland”. It describes how certain chemicals are used to free natural gas in various shales. Water is terribly degraded by the practice.
We may soon have enough cheap energy — at the cost of our water, our lives, and future.
Meanwhile, various water companies are bottling and selling water that belongs to the people — Ozarka is only one.
There is less and less of the commons. Heck, the way it stands, we are totally owned.
So, what is the answer? How do we reverse this insanity?