Wednesday, February 18, 2004
At Christmas they look purely chaotic, but otherwise easy, wiling away work hours in a music store, in an industry that markets itself with a skilfully honed ‘yoof’ image. It seems like an ideal ‘McJob’ for people seeking temporary employment. But just as advertising can be deceptive about the nature of a product, so too can the facade of a music store deceive and hide manipulative work practices. Recently finished in college and active in the Dublin Grassroots Network, Cormac found a job in HMV as a means of paying rent and subsisting before heading off to work in Australia.
He describes how ‘they had complete ignorance towards basic workers rights, the team leader structure and the way the three floors in the building were divided, created an air of division, the people who would be empowered with some puny token position were very patronising and authoritarian towards the people who were supposed to be below them, even though they were performing the exact same task in the shop on daily basis.’
With a team leader taking advantage of his position, ‘taking his individual moods on a given day out on the workers.’ The need for a union became apparent. ‘I noticed there was a definite air of, well I wouldn’t say oppression, but definite intimidation at the very least within HMV. I was being searched on an almost daily basis, almost several a times a day on some occasions. I was getting pissed off and other people were pissed off.’
In recent issues of Workers Solidarity, we’ve been paying attention to the development of the Independent Workers Union and the harassment its members have faced for union organising. Cormac came in contact with the IWU at a ‘protest somewhere’ and picked up their leaflet ‘and read it and upon reading it, got the feeling that they Weren’t another arm of the state, like SIPTU and the ICTU have become. They don’t seem to believe in the same methods of operation in engaging with the state in promoting the partnership agreements and that. They seem to actually be more about direct action and the power of workers, which is what a trade union is meant to do at the end of the day.’ After coming into contact with the organization, he put his efforts into organizing his shop floor.
‘Basically on my floor I approached people on a verbal basis, a conversational basis. Also I left IWU flyers in the staff areas and I also instigated a campaign of toilet graffiti which was basically aimed at stirring peoples consciousness into play. Such as on the back of the toilet door I’d write ‘Why do season workers receive only a €10 bonus where as other workers, even part timers receive a €150 bonus for Christmas?’ Other things like, W’hy is there no holiday pay for seasonal workers?’
‘We had a kind of semi informal meeting in the staff room to look at the leaflet and I explained to them what the IWU was about and what a trade union did for workers, what your subscription money went towards then the Friday of that actual week there was an incident involving a security guard where he started shouting at me on the shop floor so I walked off the shop floor politely and went to management about the incident. Following up on that I actually got fired for standing up for my rights, or whatever you want to call it, for accusing security of intimidating workers. So I got in touch with Ray O’Reilly (an IWU organiser) immediately and the IWU were in the next morning and met with HMV management. So the IWU did a super job and I got my job back/’
Having breeched employment legislation by dismissing Cormac without any notice, HMV waited for three weeks so they could legitimately dismiss him. ‘There was 25 or 30 people laid off on Christmas Eve and I was the first to be informed of my laying off. They didn’t like my attitude, basically I was on time every morning, I did my job, as best as I could within the parameters of what I was supposed to do, I was friendly to customers, in fact a lot of customers went and said I was friendly, this and that and had done a good job. They definitely laid me off and one of my fellow employees who I was very good friends with, and openly so, and they knew we were good friends on the floor, he was also laid off by association, they didn’t actually have anything on him. So he lost his job as a result of his friendship with me.’
A HMV employee in another branch described how the contract structure is used to drive wages down. She was let go at the end of a seasonal contract and then re-hired a week later as a part timer, having lost her entitlement to an increased hourly rate. Part timers where Cormac worked still haven’t received their holiday bonuses. Being in contact with a union ensured Cormac got his job back, but to his management it was a clear sign that he identified himself as having very different interests than his employer. ‘HMV have created a facade of hip or grooviness, or whatever you want to call it, or fashionable image people really want to get a job there, people didn’t want to jeopardize their job by raising objections. If you do obey what orders you are given and don’t rock the boat there is a constant reward there, there’s a reward scheme or structure whereby people who adhere to company policy and wear the HMV logo with pride will be rewarded i the fact that they’ll receive some facade of a promotion, be that team leader or in the case of seasonal workers, being kept on for a longer period.’
Originally published in Workers Solidarity.
About Soundtracksforthem specialises in iconoclastic takes on culture, politics, and more shite from the underbelly of your keyboard. A still-born group blog with a recent surge of different contributers but mainly maintained by James R. Big up all the contributers and posse regardless of churn out rate: Kyle Browne, Reeuq, Cogsy, Chief, X-ie phader/Krossie, Howard Devoto, Dara, Ronan and Mark Furlong. Send your wishes and aspirations to antropheatgmail.com
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