The indignity of service work | My experiences as a fast-food worker | Part 5

Previous part is available here. In it, I describe how different games can pit workers against each other, thus obscuring the true social relations of the hegemonic order in foodchain. Also, I expand upon why the games played by front of house are unfair.

This article continues by looking at more methods of worker control, in particular, surveillance and monitoring.

 

A discussion about the effects of limiting the creative potential of workers as one of several effects of inculcating the value of propriety and obedience is beyond the scope of this essay. However, for those interested, the work of Michel Foucault is particularly enlightening when considering the constant examination of working class people such that it becomes part of their idea of what is normal. Perhaps this is why many of the methods of control employed in low wage work jobs like that at foodchain are usually met without much resistance, often in fact with resignation and too ready a willingness to acquiesce one’s rights for the sake of employment.

 

The topic of acquiescence of rights for the sake of employment as indicative of more generalised domination shall be returned to soon in an upcoming essay by contributing writer Dylan Yoki. In future I may also write about the subject of workfare- a UK government scheme in which certain employers receive free supply of labour from vulnerable people on jobseeker’s allowance, a scheme which if (currently unemployed) workers refuse to participate in results in benefits sanctions.

 

Returning to this redux of my undergraduate essay about my experiences of working for a fastfood chain a few years ago, I will now describe some of the methods of surveillance used for worker control.

Firstly, even at night where workers may have been granted a little autonomy during closing shifts (another symbolic reward like those discussed in the previous part of this series), enabling the manager to get on with other duties such as the daily count, they were monitored on CCTV which pointed inwards. This was justified by management as protecting them by ensuring if any accusations about stealing from the tills were made, footage could be checked to clear one’s name. However, beyond this obviously being used to monitor worker productivity, it hinted at a disdain towards the trust of employees by the employers and managers (who in situations like this were effectively the same side).

Another way in which higher levels of the corporation oversee and regulate employees is through regular visits from corporate representatives. During these visits, the larger hegemonic regime was made more visible as both managers and managed would cooperate at their best. At foodchain, this solidarity born of the need to survival, again indicative of even wider societal domination, was tense and frustrating. Workers and management were aware that corporate representatives had the power to recommend a store they considered not up to standard should be closed, so for the sake of all of their jobs and livelihoods, submission was relatively easy.

There was a wider solidarity between different stores too, as management from various stores would usually warn others about inspections, which usually happened within a few weeks of each other for the local area, once one visit had happened. Despite this solidarity which came and went like the corporate reps, managers didn’t seem to realise their position as fellow dominated worker once the inspections were over. In fact, I believe that ironically, this infused their desire to advance their career, to have even more power over others and not have the shameful experience of being dominated again. I can only offer my anecdotal experience and speculation about this however- the managers were as domineering and authoritarian as ever for a short period after those kinds of visits, enjoying the taste of power that they had just been humiliated with.

As previously mentioned, I believe that the uncritical acceptance of such methods is a result of the inculcation of values of propriety and the normalisation of examination (practices which are so generalised in modern society, they led Foucault to call it “the disciplinarian society”). Having eyes upon you, whether of the state or one’s employer (in reductionist terms, both can easily be conceived as collaborators in class domination, hence enemies/dominators of the working class and so indistinguishable in that regard) is just a part of daily proletarian life in contemporary British society.

 

Following the (somewhat poor) structure of the undergrad essay this series is based upon, in the next part I will be examining the concept of emotional labour and returning to the idea of dramaturgical analysis as useful for thinking about service work.


2 thoughts on “The indignity of service work | My experiences as a fast-food worker | Part 5

    1. Thanks so much!

      I’m hoping to have the final 2 parts of this series out in the next couple of weeks. I am just finishing up another article about some more personal reflections on my psychological experience of social class after re-reading Diane Reay’s “Beyond Consciousness? The Psychic Landscape of Social Class”.

      Like

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