Fascinating courtly intrigue and bloody power games set on a generation ship full of secrets―Medusa Uploaded is an imaginative, intense mystery about family dramas and ancient technologies whose influence reverberates across the stars. Disturbing, exciting, and frankly kind of mind-blowing.” ―Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Big Business Is Doo-Doo (And Not In a Good, Fertilize-the-Crops Kinda Way)

I've heard it since the 1960s, and some of you may have heard it since the 1930s: Big Business is no friend to the worker. This is a Commie attitude, but it's also true – it can't be denied. The goal of any big business is to hire as few people as possible to do as much work as possible for as little money as possible. If the Big Business model is to be realized in its purest form, there should also be no benefits to go along with any job, other than the privilege of having it in the first place: no sick days, no insurance, no overtime, no paid holidays or vacation (in fact, no time off at all), no breaks, no limits to the hours worked daily, and no compensation for injuries received on the job. After all, if you work hard enough for your pittance, the quality of your character and your own native intelligence should shine forth and cause you to advance in the ranks until you become prosperous, right? After all nepotism, cronyism, and pure greed never factor into the equation at all.

But that's old news. All of that has been said before, and much better, by others. I've got my own argument for why Big Business is doo-doo. It comes from an experience I had at Borders, the big book chain that bit the bullet back in 2011. Prior to the sinking of that ship, we were engaged in rearranging the deck chairs, and at that point the doo-doo had become so thick, we were slipping and falling into it.

Things had become particularly nasty in 2008-2009. A new CEO had been hired, and though he resembled Mister Rodgers, he was actually the malignant doppleganger of that guy. He decided that we had to become relevant to our venders (the publishers who provided us with our product) by turning selected titles into bestsellers. (Personally, I think we would have become more relevant to them by paying them what we owed them, but that's just me.) The best way to do that, according to him, was to recommend these titles to absolutely everyone who came through the front door, regardless of what they were looking for.

So we all had to sit through training films on the computers in the back office to prove we could sell these select titles to people. In the films, a Borders employee would pose as a customer and ask the other Borders employee (posing as herself) for a book. Invariably, the sort of book they wanted was exactly the sort of thing we were promoting that month. We all electronically signed our initials at the end of these programs to indicate that were were enlightened as to the technique of selling books people didn't want and hadn't asked for.

One month, our selected title was in the Zombie Classics series. I don't recall the exact title, but for the sake of argument let's call it Jane Zombie. So, here I am at the information desk, answering phones and desperately trying to think up ways to insert the subject of zombies into the conversation without sounding like a nut case. A guy walks up and asks, “Do you carry the Chilton manuals for car repair?”

In the old days, I would have said Yes and walked him back to the car repair section, then helped him find the title he needed. Under the new regime I was obliged to say, “Yes sir, it's called Jane Zombie. It's the story of an undead governess who eats brains and repairs cars.”

Okay, I didn't actually say that, but I was sorely tempted.

That CEO eventually utilized his golden parachute and quit the company, moving on to another field where his techniques at mental torture might actually advance national security (or so I imagine). His methods for saving Borders from destruction did not work (because, as I mentioned earlier, they did not include the method of paying our bills). Borders went down, and a good many people drowned or died of hypothermia. Another Big Business success story (at least for the executives who managed to squeeze fat “retention bonuses” out of the dying carcass).

I'm not trying to say none of that crap goes on at the small/medium business level. There are plenty of self-made men and women out there who will bite your head off if you ask for any time off, who can't afford to offer insurance, or who may fire you because you're good-looking and that may threaten their marriage (or hire you for the same reason).

But the funny thing about good workers is that they really are hard to come by. Smaller businesses tend to have bosses who interact with the workers and who are involved in daily operations on the ground level. They notice who is competent, and reliable, and honest. Big businesses are managed from an extreme distance, they don't know or care who works for them unless the margin moves perceptibly, which it may do for any number of reasons. If there are hundreds of small businesses operating in a given town, you have choices where to work. If there's only one, and it's Walmart – god help you.

Here, let me recommend a book that may help you with your plight. It's about a zombie governess who eats brains and earns extra income through stock investments.

Once again, I have plundered Ernest Hogan's stock of wacky illustrations, which somehow always seem to fit the tone of these posts. I have probably used some of them before, but that's just a bunch of tough noogies. 

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