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Being the bigger person

By FW Liberte Locke - originally posted at libcom.com - December 29, 2011.

Union organizer with the IWW Starbucks Workers Union dispels the sentiment that 'being the better person' must entail living as a doormat.

I’m so sick of being told to be the bigger person. I get all the scrutiny. I should forgive the unforgivable. I should move on with my life, let it go, drop it, stop being confrontational, stop rocking the boat, stop holding grudges, and be the bigger person. When did “being the bigger person” mean just accepting being treated like shit?

I’m told not to create an “us against them” feeling between worker and employer. I did not create that. Employers created it and long before I was even born. It has always and will always be us, working ourselves to near death, against them, not lifting a finger to help but reaping all the spoils.

I fight this system of oppression because of all the love I have in me. It is because I’m capable of great love that I am able to meet a coworker and know that I will fight for them regardless of who they are, the size of their families, where they are from, how they do their job, what languages they speak, and traditions they keep. Even if they can't fight for me, I will fight for them. It is because I think we’re all truly worth something that I fight. Not everyone thinks like me. In fact, I think most people in American society are taught to never trust anyone. Everyone wants something from you, every boyfriend will cheat, every friend betray you, every parent leave you, every coworker steal credit for your work, every person asking directions will eventually ask for change, too. I don’t see it that way. Every person that I meet I make a concerted effort to trust their words, listen to their stories, and give them the benefit of the doubt. Despite popular belief, I do this with bosses, too, to some extent.

Now, giving everyone the benefit of the doubt does not mean sticking your head into the lion’s mouth just because you haven’t met this particular lion. The lion is still hungry. When it is a coworker you are on equal ground and not much is at risk in giving them a chance. As for bosses, the lions in this scenario, everything about that relationship puts you, as a worker, at risk while the boss risks nothing. As a union organizer that’s been around a while I’m too aware of the tricks they use against us and they tend to set off alarms in my head when I see them. Union busting has its buzz words and slogans just like advertising. “Hi, how ya feeling today?” That is called a ‘health check’ in the Creating the Starbucks Environment course management is required to take that discusses exclusively what you are supposed to do when there is union activity in your store. The ‘health check’ is meant to be done to every worker. It is supposed to give the impression that they truly are concerned for each individual. It’s meant to open up a possible line of communication between manager and worker where the worker can state any random work issue, the boss then can pretend to take it to heart and will promise to get back to them. This stalls the worker. The worker feels that their concern has been heard and something is being done about it. Somewhere, behind closed doors, in meetings we can’t properly imagine, this concern is being taken very seriously and the people paid the big bucks will surely find a solution. They often times wait weeks to hear back from the boss, if ever, and the issue is never resolved. The ‘health check’ already served its purpose. It gave the appearance of caring while letting a worker vent, which is usually where most concerns end. Also, it means the boss heard the concern so it can hopefully die as an issue before it reaches the ear of a unionist who may have the skills to blow the concern up and rally workers to that cause. Thus creating the greater problem of workers uniting for real change on the job and possibly gaining a victory from their own collective efforts. One victory undoubtedly leads to several others. Several victories lead to worker control. Worker control makes the boss obsolete.

There are many other phrases that a manager will say that make it clear to me which side they have decided to be on. The majority of middle management, in my experience, is conflicted. They have usually been a barista, grew up working class, and maybe their folks are in unions. Those managers just don’t use the buzz words as much. Sure, they must know them but I think the words probably taste bitter in their mouths so they rarely, if ever, say them. I can have some respect for that. They should still not be bosses, under any circumstance. Having been homeless before I would choose that over becoming someone’s overseer, and also I rarely, if ever, have seen it come down to those two choices. There are other ways to pay bills besides being a boss. They are more difficult but that is part of “being the bigger person” in my mind.

There are people who feel I must spend all my waking hours dwelling on my hatred of bosses. I must be so full of hate and rage that one day it will turn to cancer and take my life. They say to let it go, “be the bigger person”, forgive and forget. They say my rage is hurting me, hurting others unnecessarily and bad for my health. I can say without a doubt that I spend way more of my time laughing with my friends, having awesome consensual safer sex, and just being a listening ear for comrades from all over the world than I waste time dwelling on those that have hurt me, period, bosses included. Bosses are thought of and discussed in strategy discussions and meetings. They are brought up only when they’ve hurt someone, went back on their word, or failed to do their job properly. They already control so much of my time in relationship to work that I don’t see the point in wasting much time thinking about them when I’m at home. When a boss is fucking up a lot, hurting a lot of people, yes, they take up more of my time but their actions are out of my control. Anyone who wants me to stop talking about them must take it up with Starbucks management. Tell them to stop being so hateful, to “be the bigger person”, to treat workers with respect, to drop it, and to move on.