Life under low-wage capitalism: Reflections of an unemployed youth

By Caleb T. Maupin

Cleveland FIST

As a consumer I have discovered that so many workers, such as clerks, food service workers or bank tellers, have to take on a second job. It seems every worker in these increasingly deskilled and low-paid jobs is now a salesperson, in addition to the drudgery of the dull, unforgiving work they already have to do.

When I walk into the bank to make a deposit and keep myself from getting further overdraft fees, I have to spend 10 minutes listening to the bank teller urging me to buy a special “rewards debit card.” I don’t want this card because it will cost me $25 a year and have even stricter fees for overdrafts and penalties. He tells me he wants to give me this new card because he thinks it will be in my best interest.

He isn’t fooling anyone. This bank teller’s job used to consist of taking deposits and handing out cash withdrawals. But now he and his coworkers depend on the commission from the number of cards they sell.

No longer can I walk in, make a deposit and leave. Now I listen to a teller lecture me for 10 minutes while I try to do a two-minute task. He uses all the classic salesperson tactics. He asks me about my life, as if he cares. He tries to make small talk while trying to get me to buy something I really don’t need.

I don’t blame the teller. His wages depend on it. He’s probably making less than $15 an hour before the commission. If he wants to pay his mortgage, car payments, health care balances and other living expenses, he needs people like me who go to the bank to make a deposit to be convinced they “need” to buy a new card.

Car dealerships used to be the place for this kind of sales tactic, but now it’s the case practically everywhere. You go into an electronics store, and the worker who greets you depends on you purchasing the most expensive stereo, with six-foot speakers to boot, if he or she is going to walk away with more than minimum wage at the end of the shift. You just want to buy batteries.

Even McDonald’s workers are trying to convince me to buy a $6 “value” meal when I only want some water. When I check out at a grocery store, I practically have to argue with the check-out clerk not to sign me up for an “advantage card” or “rewards program.”

It seems that capitalists have discovered that any public service job can easily be transformed into a sales job to further increase the capitalists’ profits. The worker is made to do the sales pitch and strive to make a few more bucks.

The sad thing is that workers who used to make $12 an hour as a bank teller are now making $8 an hour and acting as salespeople, hoping to lure you into buying enough products or “banking programs” so they can make less than half the wages that generations before made and took for granted.

Are you psychologically fit to make coffee?

It seems I’m required to take a bizarre test for nearly every job for which I apply. The tests, interestingly enough, are not tests of my knowledge or intelligence but of my “attitude” and my “comfort in the working environment.”

I can understand a psychological test for some jobs like child-care providers or security guards. However, the positions that require psychological tests for employees are now jobs like “barrista,” maintenance/custodial worker and sales clerk.

When I applied at a local book/record chain outlet, I had to answer questions like: “When I am punished it is usually my own fault. True or false?” I used to expect the person who sells me a CD to have lots of body piercings and chew gum loudly. Now it seems the requirements for the job are to have the psychological make-up of a fourth grader with Republican parents.

The questions sound almost hilarious: “The people who supervise me in the work place are usually much smarter than I am. True or false?” or “It is good to listen to people with knowledge, rather than acting opinionated and drawing only from your own experiences. Strongly agree, agree, unsure, disagree, or strongly disagree.”

I wonder who makes up these tests. I wonder if it works to simply answer the questions pretending you are Rush Limbaugh or if the test makers and scorers have a way to see through this.

Will they be able to tell I am a communist who seeks to overturn this kind of wage slave/wage master relationship? Or will I be able to fake my way into a job where they’re testing and looking to hire only the most compliant and non-questioning employees?

With five applicants for every job, they will have plenty of people to choose from other than me.



  1. Caleb,

    I spend time at this website from time to time looking for answers. I believe when two people have a different point of view then an open discussion can help bring the two sides together, even if it results in them agreeing to disagree. What I took away from your post is that you have problems with employees who are now more salesmen than hourly workers. What you described is that they make a base pay and then receive monetary rewards for selling additional products or services. While it can be complicated to argue what a fair base pay is (due to so many factors involved) I don’t see why it’s a bad thing to encourage employees to increase sales this way. Yes, it can be very annoying as a customer. Very annoying. However if a customer buys that expensive stereo that you mentioned, both the company, and the employee benefits from the purchase.

    My main question to you is this: what would be your solution to the situation? If the employee does well selling the goods or services then they normally make a lot more money than they would if they only worked on a salary. If the company increased the hourly rate they pay the employee then they risk having to lay that employee off if sales drop (like we’re seeing now across the country). Lower hourly rates would at least allow the employee to bring in some sort of income while always having a possibility of having another big commission check in the future.

  2. PJ you asked Caleb what his solution would be but from what I’ve seen and heard from Caleb is that he’s more about cursing the darkness than lighting a candle. In this article he uses poor recruiting methods to justify him not taking a job. In an article in Celveland Scene he uses the fact that students “only want to get a grade and job” to justify him dropping out of school. So what you have here is a non-prductive member of society spouting off opinions. Not that I want to shut someone down for givng their opinion, I just wanted to put the valdidity of the opinion in context.

    • Kevin,

      My point for asking questions on this site is mainly for two reasons: 1) to get people to really think for themselves. It’s easy to complain about problems, but it takes a real man (or woman) to come up with solutions. 2) I’m completely for making a better world, so if someone can actually come up with a good plan for a socialist society (or whatever you want to call it), then more power to them. I believe a perfect world would actually be a more socialistic world, but so far none of the socialistic ideas in history have been able to touch a capitalistic society.

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