The ides of April are here again: Steal Something from Work Day! The bane of corporate consultants and security guards, Steal Something from Work Day is responsible for taking a couple years off poor Glenn Beck’s life and putting food on the table for underpaid employees around the world. If it’s good enough for executives and heads of state, stealing from work is good enough for the rest of us. This year, April 15 falls on a Sunday, but that won’t stop people from participating—thanks to the shift from production to service sector employment, more people than ever find themselves working every day of the week. And in the wake of the financial recession, with millions struggling to get by, can you imagine how much worse off working folks would be if they didn’t steal from work? Here are some resources with which to help your community celebrate Steal Something from Work Day:
Steal Something from Work Day website Steal Something from Work Day video and follow-up video Frequently asked questions about stealing from work Steal Something from Work Day theme song by Test Their Logik Steal Something from Work Day journal: color reading PDF (4.3MB) and imposed B&W printing PDF (2.3MB)
We also send a shout out to the Steal from Work tumblr and to the book, Steal Stuff from Work. In addition, let’s take a moment to remember the 25 people killed in the chicken processing plant fire in Hamlet, North Carolina in 1991, as a result of the owners keeping the fire doors locked for fear that employees might pilfer a little of the food they were packaging. We observe Steal Something from Work Day because human life is more precious than capitalist profit.
To mark the occasion, we present this narrative of resistance from an insurgent service worker, Out Of Stock: Confessions Of A Grocery Store Guerrilla.
Out Of Stock
Confessions Of A Grocery Store Guerrilla
This narrative is dedicated to the courageous individuals who attacked the Whole Foods during the general strike in Oakland on November 2011; whatever the papers say, many of us employees would be overjoyed if you paid a visit to our workplaces.
My Name Is Carlos
I am twenty-eight years old. I am wearing a black apron in the canned food aisle of the well-known corporate natural foods grocery store at which I work. I’m staring into nothingness, reflecting on the decisions that have put me here. I am beyond depressed; I’ve reached that juncture where depression meets anger. I am hostile, reactionary, and dangerous.
I’m so lost in thought that I’m honestly unaware of the shoppers scuffling around me—until a customer interrupts to ask a question I had already heard many times since I had clocked in. I turn my blank stare upon her: “What?” She repeats the question and I cut her off, pointing to the empty space where the product should be; below it is a sign that announces, in very large decipherable letters, “Out Of Stock.” She commands me to go check in the back, obviously annoyed at my poor social skills.
I’ve been asked this question about a dozen times already; I let out a sigh through my clenched teeth. This customer isn’t happy with my reaction and asks for my name, since I’m not wearing a name badge like all the other employees. This is a threat. “My name?” I answer, drawing on all my resentment. “My name is Carlos. I work in the Bakery Department.” Two falsehoods.
Confused by my response, she heads straight to the customer service booth to submit a complaint. This is not the first time this has happened; I disappear to my hiding spot. Thus begins the career of Carlos, grocery store guerrilla and ghost in the machine, the shadow employee known throughout the store for disobedience, obstruction, and customer service performance art.
Death to Loss Prevention
I had been living in the same city for almost five years already and hadn’t yet made contact with other anarchists. It was an incredibly isolated phase of my life. Between the hours I spent working and recovering from work, I schemed plan after spectacular plan to break free from my loneliness, only to have them crushed when I stepped back through those sliding doors.
I often saw customers shoplifting; a shoplifter myself, I’d try to give them space, but I wasn’t the only one watching. The Loss Prevention Agent (LP) stalked the isles, attempting to blend in among the shoppers, though not much good at it. LPs are the scum of the retail industry, the vilest of would-be cops. I saw many taken into custody by these bounty hunters and eventually couldn’t stand passively by anymore; I began competing with the LP to get to the shoplifters first. This was incredibly risky: not only was I risking getting fired for preventing their apprehension, but I had to be secretive enough not to attract attention to any of the shoplifters I was attempting to make contact with.
One distinctive group that shopped infrequently at the store wore all black and weren’t particularly subtle about stealing. Often they were lucky enough to come in when the LP wasn’t working, but one evening the LP began creeping behind them from a distance. Somehow the middle-aged rent-a-cop did not attract their attention. I was desperate to approach the would-be shoplifters in black, but I knew that could mean getting caught myself, so I decided to start with the LP instead.
I walked to the back of the store and used the intercom to call for the LP by his first name, asking that he call me back at that number. Then while the LP attempted to return the call I headed to a different phone at another location in the store, from which I called for the LP over the intercom again. Miraculously, this little stunt bought just enough time for the shoplifters to leave untouched by the confused loss prevention agent.
Afterward, the LP and the store manager questioned me as to why I had called twice and never picked up. My answer was simple and easy enough to believe: I was trying to contact him about the group of shoplifters I had seen. When he didn’t answer in time, I decided to follow them and called from a phone in another location. This put the blame back on the LP. A few months later, I met those same shoplifters in black outside my workplace and told them about what had transpired. They are my friends now and although I no longer work at that store, I do what I can to keep them safe when we are together.
Sabotage on the Dairy Floor
Anyone who’s worked in a grocery store knows how miserable the dairy department can be. You’re stuck in a claustrophobic freezer room for eight hours, terrified you’ll be accidentally locked inside. No matter how many layers you wear, the cold creeps in and reminds you of all the things you’d rather be doing. On top of that, you’re forced to listen to terrible muzak blaring from the speakers, occasionally interrupted by a shrill voice to add to your aural torture.
Everyone was expected to work at least one dairy shift a week; although I did my best to evade it, I was often stuck stalking the dairy floor. On one of these shifts, I broke one of the large metal sliding doors by slamming it too hard in a fit of rage. I quickly found out that if one of these dairy doors stopped functioning correctly, I didn’t have to stock that particular door.
I wasn’t content reserving my anger for the dairy doors. My second target was those deafening speakers. On one of my closing shifts, after my bosses had left for the day, I took the opportunity to paint the connecting wires with clear nail polish I had pocketed from the beauty section. I chose this method instead of just cutting the wires because I was already under suspicion for the dairy doors. After that, to my great relief, I didn’t have to hear 80s music anymore, as none of my coworkers could figure out what was wrong with the dairy speaker system.
Following several broken doors, a new speaker system, and a long list of health code violations, I was taken off dairy duty.
The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer
In the course of my final days as an employee, I took it upon myself to leave messages throughout the store. Armed with a permanent marker, I wrote anti-capitalist slogans under items, on items, on the bathroom stall doors, on baby diaper boxes, and on all the self-help customer computers, being careful never to get caught on the security cameras. The most notorious of these slogans was “the falcon cannot hear the falconer,” which I heard repeatedly discussed by both customers and employees. It’s a line from a William Butler Yeats poem describing Europe after the Second World War; I used to say it to my boss at a different job many years earlier when he asked me to do things I didn’t feel like doing.
Despite all the amusing things I wrote, this was the only one shoppers seemed to notice. Customers would simply ignore graffiti cursing work or capitalism as if it were just another tag on a shelf; but wherever I put up “the falcon cannot hear the falconer,” I’d witness customers staring at it, trying to decipher its meaning. Of course, any item that was written on became “damaged,” and employees were allowed to take home damaged items—so not only was I detracting from corporate profits, I was also improving conditions for us workers. And walking around the store with my permanent marker was one of my many ways of looking busy while doing as little work as possible.
The Damage Done
Aside from breaking the dairy doors, writing graffiti, and carrying out psychological warfare against my employers, most of my antics consisted of petty vandalism and general bad behavior. My acts of indignation would probably have gotten me fired on the spot or arrested if it hadn’t been the affinity I had developed with my coworkers around our hatred for work. Most of the grocery team would mark off items to bring home or just blatantly put groceries in their bags as they were leaving for the night. Only a few of my coworkers were “good” employees, and those were widely loathed; after my first week working at the store, I was informed of who they were and warned to avoid them.
All good things come to an end, however. Cameras were installed throughout the store, most of them in the back stock area where my team usually worked. Though we were able to find a few spots outside the camera’s view to continue our pilfering, the store managers initiated mandatory bag searches at the end of our shifts. My reign of terror came to a close soon after when upper management ordered my boss to get rid of me. In a generous gesture, my boss instead informed me of the decision and offered me the option to turn in my two-week notice. I put in my two weeks just in time for summer and took the opportunity to spend my free time making connections with other anarchists, fostering friendships that were only possible because I was no longer giving my time to that terrible job.