WORKING, by Studs Terkel (BOOK Eight – Part 2 – The Age of Charlie Blossom)

No, not that Whiplash!

Whiplash is defined as: “a sudden change of direction, resembling the motion of the tip of a whip when it is cracked.” In which case, the first interview we have serves to illustrate the art of thematic whiplash as we go from a leftist spiritual hippy to the publisher of the Capitalist Reporter who is also a devoted Christian.

Steven Simonyi-Gindle (Publisher)

How Christian is this guy? Well, he has a “large “Jesus Loves You” button” (447) on his shirt for starters. Despite what you’d think the magazine doesn’t actually report on the Jeff Bezos of the 70s but instead reports on people who are up and coming in the world of business. Still unfortunate but at least it slightly subverts what I’d expect. The magazine focuses on “How to start out on a small investment, how to invest outside the stock market and get a rich return.” (ibid) Climbing to the top of the inhumane system that capitalism is doesn’t strike me as an enticing read, but there you have it.

Simonyi-Gindle, an immigrant from Hungary after the revolution says that the magazine does what it preaches. He took out thousands in loans (that doesn’t sound smart to me, but OK) and is currently under-capitalized and employees are doing “the work of two or three” (ibid). So yeah, the magazine definitely seems to live by its own inhumane philosophy!

To the credit of Simonyi-Gindle the circulation of the magazine is growing and he has over 100,000 subscribers. But just like with capitalism you have to wonder how sustainable it all is.

Then again with Simonyi-Gindle’s work ethic…

I went to work when I was nine years old. I used to get up at three-thirty in the morning and deliver four hundred newspapers. I was bored by school and left in the last year. I was never afraid of working. I always enjoyed the challenge I always enjoyed the reward.

Ibid

This is the kind of person I have trouble imagining. Someone who not only enjoys work but lives and breathes it. There’s something wrong with this picture but it’s hard to put my finger on it. This person is happy with their life but having to fill the void with constant challenges and rewards speaks to a larger boredom that could just as easily be filled with relaxation and reward once in a while, if not much more often than that.

Why was Simonyi-Gindle bored in school? What pushes a person to not only want to get up that early in the morning and deliver that many newspapers? How could that possibly be fulfilling for anyone, let alone for the amount of change he got as a 9 year old? I just don’t know the answer to these questions nor can I really understand the person who makes me ask.

Luckily, anti-work advocates don’t really need answers to these questions as far as I’m concerned. All we need to do is accept that these people exist and that they may always exist. Workaholics aren’t necessarily bad people, it’s the incentives around them that get them to push their energies into toxic fields like magazines that praise the capitalist order we live under.

Think about all of the good people like Simonyi-Gindle could do if he didn’t believe in capitalism and put that energy into anti-capitalist efforts? If that’s really what he wants to do and it’s what makes him happy then how many of us would complain? We might tell him to relax once in a while, but the revolution does take a lot of effort, like it or not.

I thought this bit was agreeable:

There’s little security in a job, working for somebody else. I like to control my fate as much as possible.

Ibid

The irony here is that everyone who works under this publisher is in the same situation that Simonyi-Gindele just decried.

And even weirder is this next part:

I don’t believe the answer lies in making money. It didn’t for me. By the time I was twenty-one I was driving a Cadillac and I could afford a fifteen-hundred-dollar-a-month seashore apartment in Florida, go to shows, and spend two hundred dollars a night and take my mother out, my grandfather, and live like a king.

But I was more frustrated than when I was making thirty-four cents an hour delivers for a drugstore in Toronto.

I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t happy.

Happiness is not related to money.

Ibid

Okay…then why have the Capitalist Reporter?

Why do any of this and implicitly encourage people to invest more, make more money, engage in stocks and value money? Simonyi-Gindele’s answer is that success is the measure of a man (no inclusion of women, naturally) and being able to stand on their own two feet without anyone’s help.

Now this is some capitalist bootstraps nonsense! I wonder if Simonyi-Gindele realizes the irony of this when he’s taken out thousands upon thousands of dollars in loans just to get started. How would he have been able to do much of anything without this money? If the point of life isn’t money but success and success is measure by how independent you are, then Simonyi-Gindele isn’t doing well.

But that likely wouldn’t be an issue for him because he has God.

Look, I’m an atheist but I’m not Richard Dawkins or new-atheist and I’m not interested in preaching against someone’s faith unless it seriously impacts me. So he found God and Christ and whatever? Cool, fine. There’s a lot of passages about that and I’m just going to skip over them, by and large.

Unfortunately, it also ties back to capitalism eventually:

There is a spread between what it costs you and what you sell it for. That’s what’s called a profit. I don’t know a fairer way of rewarding a man than by a profit. What a man sows, so shall he reap.

448

The problem is that the profit you are making isn’t just from your own effort but also all of those employees who are working under you. The same employees you would rather not be because you know it’s a bad deal. And yet you keep perpetuating it anyways, interesting!

Simonyi-Gindele claims he’s moved on from a previous guideline which told him whatever he could get away was right. I believe that’s still his guideline, he hides behind the bible to make it seem legitimate.

And it only goes to show when one of the next paragraphs talks about a huge exposé on strikebreakers but Simonyi-Gindele tries to hide the word strikebreaker with doublespeak: They just help a competitive system of management and labor continue. Simonyi-Gindele tries to make it seem like he’s cool with strikes as a form of labor protesting but then he does that “sneaky” thing where management also has the “right” to keep going as if nothing is happening. Weird how both of these rights can somehow exist at the same time even if they seem counterintuitive as heck!

If you’re curious about the company they are highlighting:

…[they] take photographic evidence of physical violence on [scabs], and takes them to court to restrain them…

Ibid

In other words, they use the power of the state to back up the power of corporations; no big surprise there. And no matter what you think about scabs or physical violence against them (I think it’s an inefficient tactic, at best), introducing the physical violence of the state isn’t an answer and just adds more violence into a situation where you claim violence has no place.

A co-worker (co-manager? Terkel doesn’t say) claims unions are only deserving of a “mild distaste … because they’re bureaucratic” (449). Wow, I wonder if he’s ever seen the inside of a corporate firm! It’s true that some unions are bureaucratic, especially ones that cozy up to the state or the boss with their own management or union bosses. But there are also decent unions like the IWW that run much more independently than that.

Then again, I don’t expect someone at the Capitalist Reporter to know that.

Simonyi-Gendele remarks that he gets hippies who want to buy in because it’s “become a fashionable thing now to be successful.” (ibid) But by his own definition the hippies aren’t being successful because they, at least partly, not standing on their own two feet to get further in life. They are relying on the Capitalist Reporter to tell them where to invest and how, aren’t they?

This is another interesting bit:

What a lot of young people rebel against is having to go into corporations where they have to spend thirty years of their lives and come out as a wornout human being on a pension. They say, “Why on earth should I do that? There must be something more to life.”

It’s more challenging to strike out on your own.

449

There’s truth to all of this but “striking out on your own” doesn’t exist how Simonyi-Gindele envisions given he had to take out thousands of loans, rely on workers and other people to have stories to print to begin with. Not to mention the distributors and the subscribers he depends on.

I think I get this philosophy of the workaholic because it depends on the old religious lie that “Work makes a person noble.” (450) But then right under it, “This is a lie about meaningful work.” (Ibid) So I’m not sure if Simonyi-Gindele really believes that or not. If he does, then what exactly does nobility look like and why does it matter? If he doesn’t believe it then what does work really matter? It seems to be bundled up in personal effort and meaning; if you do your best it’s worth it, if not, then it’s not.

But look, sometimes I don’t give 100% to my job with dogs which isn’t to say I don’t attend to their every need as often as I think necessary or appropriate. But rather there are some aspects of the job that my managers say is crucial but I disagree about. I’d rather stay in the break room and watch Netflix or read a book than clean the entire building at 2 AM during an overnight shift. I’d rather listen to my D&D podcast than constantly play or distract the dogs, that’s exhausting and uninteresting to me.

But I still feel glad in the effort I did give. You can be happy with something even if you didn’t give everything you had. And sometimes, believe it or not, it’s difficult to impossible to give everything you have. Some people are his firm aren’t pulling “their weight” (ibid) and so need to be replaced. Simonyi-Gendele says this is painful but more than anything it again belies the lie that underlies (wow) capitalism: There’s no bootstraps in real life.

Their weight? What do you mean? I thought success was measured by how much you don’t rely on other people? Why would you need to replace them if you are so successful in your business? I have many questions.

Surprisingly (or maybe not at this point) Simonyi-Gendele doesn’t bring his work home with him. He says he wants to be in control of his work and not the other way around. But given his position on unions, strikebreakers, what success looks like and what work means, I’d say it already does.

Tom McCoy (Proofreader)

McCoy’s interview is a lot shorter at only 2 pages and there isn’t much to say. So I’ll give a couple highlights though and then a few comments:

It bothers me when the boss is there. He’s usually in during the day. In the evening there’s no supervision and I won’t be worrying how I look. It’s really pleasant. When the boss is around, if he sees you reading a newspaper or something, it grates him and he’ll find something for you to do. That’s the part of the job I dislike the most, having to look busy.

451

If I make a little mistake, I’ll say, “That’s too bad. I’m sorry it happened.” This [older co-worker] will freak out cause his career is dangling there. Consequently, the boss doesn’t have that power over us, really. The tables are sort of reversed. We have power over him because he doesn’t know how to persuade us. We do the job and we do it fine. But he doesn’t know why. He knows why the older guys work—they want to get ahead.

He doesn’t know why we work.

452

The end of the interview also has a brief section where McCoy discusses sticking up for other co-workers who sit in the “big boss” (452) couch when it’s night and there’s nothing to do and take a nap. McCoy declines telling them to knock it off on behalf of the boss and tells him to do it himself.

Now see?

That’s the real McCoy right there!


If you want to be the real McCoy, donate to my Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *