Mike Straight
1127 s. 51st, street West Philadelphia, Pa. 19143

Thoughts & Stories of Mike Straight #82

    The alienation of labor—the separation of what I create, from what I control—that is the basic gist of it all. Lately, it all has been driving me mad—taking over my thoughts—beating me down. The sense of frustration...anger, and basic disgust of how this society is founded. The values of wealth, the hierarchy imposed on all aspects of life, a direct  result of poor working conditions - an economic system that not only rewards selfishness and ruthlessness, but encourages it, forces it. When a person does not carry these values, they are supposed to carry a feeling that they are the failure—they are near worthless—they are the lower class of the species—because they don’t want to play the game of exploitation of others. Awww,  and how I sell my labor—it just makes it worse when I sell it to someone who cares little for me and when it is someone I don’t even respect.
    My years of self-employment have spoiled me in ways, knowing that no one is directly exploiting my labor. See I make/sell stained glass jewelry - crystals and pentagrams — mostly to small, independent wiccan/witchcraft stores — as wiccans are one of the few American sub-cultures that make an effort to support artisans. But in the last couple years, trying to make ends meet through my stained glass business has become harder and harder (one reason being the flood of imported stained glass, another consequence of globalization. Lower tariffs in the 1st world, along with exploited sweatshop labor in the 3rd, leads to a flood of inexpensive imported goods that make it nearly impossible for any crafts-person in the US to financially survive). As it gets harder to live off the stained glass trade, I look for other ways of work, and that is how I started to work for “Bossman”.
    Overall Bossman is a good guy — a former squatter/gutter punk, who quit drinking booze, started doing construction, and five years later has his own crew doing rehab in West Philly. During one of PigPen’s sober/productive phases he started working for Bossman, and because the reserve army of the unemployed has a habit of sitting around my kitchen table drinking coffee - Bossman would call over anytime he needed extra hands. I am not sure how I gave him the nickname – maybe it is the bizarre change of events that let the guy from 1505 that used to pass out on my floor - become the major employer in my punk neighborhood was ironic enough to earn him the name “Bossman”.
    Even though he calls most West Philly activistism/politics “wienerism” he is one of the most progressive places to do construction work. Bossman is fair to us, understands and respects us, and is willing and wants to teach others skills. He has an understanding for his workers needs, sometimes one needs to miss work for a show or to hop a train. He likes his work and is good with it. Not many people can take the shell of a building and get it up to livable shape in a few weeks like Bossman. I respect and like him, so it was only natural that I joined the crew when he needed more people.
    I started working with Bossman’s construction crew for a couple of reasons — I want to learn more carpentry skills cause I would like to buy a house one day and I know that anyplace I could ever afford will need work and 2) I like doing the work.. There is something satisfying about transforming a gutted building into a living space again. Masonry especially holds something for me — the idea of laying brick has its own rewards. I like working for Bossman. He isn’t a “barking orders” boss, but a more “this is what needed to be do” type coordinator which is how I like to be treated and how I like to work on projects. And, most importantly, Bossman is working along side us and would never ask us to do anything that he would not do himself. Bossman is more of a coordinator and a teacher, than a boss — the exact type of person I am willing to work for.
My biggest moral problem with this job is the guy whose property we are working on. He is a developer, kinda new to the game, but he has money (capital) to invest, and he wants to be one of the big boys. He periodically drives over to the work site in his BMW, makes some comments before he leaves to look for other properties to “invest” in. He visits like a feudal lord looking over his “investment”, compiling how much he will profit off of our labor. As a worker, this is a lovely feeling — to have some “master” pat your head, before they jump into some warm car, and you go back to your 10 hour shift in the freezing cold. Then, last week, Mr. Capital, told Bossman that he wants to Pimp the building. Yes, that is what he said “I want to pimp this building for what I can get.” It is a calculated aspect of capitalism—how can I pull the most profits from this building. How can I exploit everyone the most. How can I buy it the cheapest, how can I pay the workers the least, and how can I extract the most money from the tenets.    
    The asshole actually said pimp.
    Here I am foot soldier for this guys investment — and it feels like shit.
    I know what is going on, I know this game of gentrification—and I hate it. I hate working for it—what makes it sad is I know exactly what is going on. I made a conscious decision, years ago as an urban planning student, not to work for developers or state institutions—not to profit or help others profit from inner city real estate speculation—and now to find myself doing the dirty work on this guys investment. It’s sad. Yea, a sad state of affairs.
    What’s really sad for me is I like working for “Bossman” and the crusty construction crew. I like the camaraderie, and even the work itself gives a certain self-satisfaction. What sucks is that we should be working on a different project—a community center, homes in a cooperative. I wish we lived in a state, a system, that gave out decent grants for projects like this. Last winter I was doing drywall on the LAVA (Lancaster Avenue Autonomous) space. A new Anarchist based space in Philly, which was rewarding, but, putting drywall up there unfortunately doesn’t pay my rent.
    Nothing bothers me more then knowing that someone is profiting - exploiting my labor. I believe most people need the sense of accomplishment that building a physical project can provide. The sense of togetherness, the struggle for a common goal, are what solidifies the cohesion of a group. When the opposite is true — the output of a group does not stay with the group, but instead is taken by another party — resentment becomes commonplace. When different levels of management are in place, the workers themselves scramble to get a better spot on the ladder. Resentment and anger rise but instead of aimed at the owner it is instead shot at the manager—the “Bossman” who is seen and dealt with every day. The middle manager is trying to improve themselves in the eyes of the owner. Overall productivity lowers, as the alienation of the workers from their work continues—the profit goes to someone else, the decisions are made not as a collective, but as a top-down decision, a top-down hierarchy, based not on knowledge or experience, but, because someone has the capital, the money, that they get to be top dog. This powerlessness that workers feel, caries over into other aspects of their lives, beats them down — leads to frustration and depression. This is one way capitalism destroys our lives.
    Now, how can I be motivated to work hard on this project, when I see the “owner” just stop by and loom over me.  How can I be motivated knowing he is going to “pimp” this building out, for whatever he can get. How. How?
    This is what I have been thinking about in the last days

ENDNOTES:
- So I am putting together a Slug & Lettuce benefit CD. This idea came to me one day while at a punk fest in Liege and when I returned to the US, Chris was telling me of the financial woes of S&L I realized that this comp needs to be done! Yea folx, ad’s are just not cutting the cost of doing the free zine, so a comp of all great bands that support the message and ethics of Slug & lettuce is needed. The output of willing bands has been amazing, and pretty much every band I have asked is putting something on. Here is a list of all the bands that are on the compilation so far — BAD DUDES, BEHIND ENEMY LINES, RAMBO, WITCHHUNT, BALLAST, CCSS, COMPLICATIONS, LIMP WRIST, SHOTWELL, ERIC PETERSON, DOOMSDAY CAULDREN, FILTH OF MANKIND, DIE SCREAMING, ARTIMUS PILE, FEAR IS THE MINDKILLER, NUX VOMICA, ENDLESS NIGHTMARE, NAUSEA, MACHINE THAT FLASHES, and DYESTEMINA. So in the next months keep an eye for this compilation and distro’s contact me for more info. And thank these bands for helping keep this zine out.
- Oh so I got myself in trouble with my last column. After writing “Why Greg & Tony insist on hiring Philly’s hardcore meatheads as Pointless fest staff is beyond me”, I got an irate call from Greg, saying “Yo, Straight, one more comment about my guys in S&L and I send them over to the CatBox to break your little zine writin’ fingers”... Actually, Greg is a pretty mellow guy and just commented how hard it is to do security at a big punkfest and to find people to do the job. Where I agreed it must be a pain in the ass, I still think he needs new people cause his guys suck, as I almost got into fights with bouncers the last two years and I’m not even a fightin’ type of person. Greg, being a quick whited guy then says “So straight, why don’t you do security next year?” Now, I have certain rituals for pointless fest each year — Seeing people I haven’t seen in a long time, having conversations about the dire political situation in the US, critiquing new punk fashions, and then drinking my bottle of Le Fin du Monde that the Born Dead Icon guys sneak over the border for me — in none of these plans does “do security” come up, so I decline Greg’s offer with a “Hell no”.
    But then later that week, Wilder and I went to see a screening of the Gilman street documentary. During the interviews with the bouncers, talking about what they do — Wilder whispers her commentary to me, “Too bad they’re such dicks.” I laughed, thinking of my time at Gilman, and of my old roommate in Oakland - Jeremy Spew. He was a bouncer at Gilman, who I believed, loved having that power. Then I though of all the people who take on these positions of “authority” in punk scenes and the characteristics they have. I start to question - what kind person wants to be a bouncer? Is it people who crave power, or is it more of a case of power corrupting? Often, I’ve seen instances where a person with a certain mentality will seek out positions where they will have power. It is ironic that even in a scene which goes against this mindset of positions of power, I have seen some people (mostly men) take on these very roles — becoming. Shall I say .. “Dicks” wielding power to negative consequences. (Like at the last two years of pointless fest having some bouncers telling you what to do without explanation or reasoning for what actions are appropriate.) If I am unwilling to take someone barking orders when I work, I am sure as hell not going to take this abuse when I am at a punk show.
    So it was then that I realized that I needed to (a) stop just talking shit and (b) do security at next years pointlessness. I was planning to be back in Europe for the “Liege- Faust hike” it looks like I will be there sooner for the queeruption in Barcelona, so in the hot August sun I will be in Philly, making sure everything runs like clockwork at pointless fest. Where I see why it is needed to have someone take money at the door and keep underage drinking away from the showspace — I believe that these activities can be done with respect and without showgoers feeling belittled. This is an autonomous Anarko-punk culture — people going to shows should be treated with respect. This is my plan, and after telling this to Greg, he—well—he just started laughing. He doesn’t believe that I can keep this mentality for a four day fest. He thinks that after the first day I will be dragging kids into the back alley, for all “the stupid stuff they do”. I disagree, and I am going to try it differently this year. I am trying to put together a group of mixed gender people to do security-type activity for the fest. If you are the type of person who can treat people with respect, but be firm with the things that needed to be done (like collect $ from the door, break up fights, stop underage drinkers) drop me a line.