March 22, 2010

Thoughts On Zeitgeist (2)

After school it was only natural to start looking for a job. Before that I was drafted in the military which was in late 1989 and still a common practice in those days. Of course I felt it was my duty back then since my brother and father had also joined and completed their service with honor. One of the odd things I noticed while in service was my first paycheck, it was stunningly low. Back then it was 800 guilders (for a normal soldier) per month, not even €400 by todays money. I also had to pay for my own food of course and even rent for the bed. Had I worked a normal job (like a warehouse employee) around that time I would have easily made 1200 guilders and probably more. So 21 years ago I already came to the conclusion that I was a cheap labor force - more or less used by the government and ok for defending the country but not ok in economic terms. During my service I happened to lay my eyes on the paycheck of the battalion x.o. who had the rank of major. That chap made 7500 guilders a month, around €3400 in today's money. Not a bad salary even today. (All the amounts I mention are after tax.) That stung me back then. The guys that do the actual work got the bare minimum, the guys who made up the chain of command got the maximum.

After finishing my military service I found a job. In 1992 I started working in a warehouse that supplied pet shops. The owners were all family and in key positions. Think a lot of people will recognize such a corporate structure. Nonetheless I got along fine with the owners and even put in a lot of overtime when the situation demanded it. Couple of years later the company was bought by a business man who put his partner in charge and everything changed. New rules and less pay for overtime which was funny since I found out that the director charged the company 5000 guilders in "management fee" for being one day abroad. I had a friend in the office who accurately warned me, he said; 'the new management is corporate mafia.' And right he was. The new rules were implemented harshly and guys that had worked at that company for years were fired over minor transgressions such as being a day late from vacation or if they overslept one time. Naturally my number came up. I refused to work overtime on a friday evening (which the management said they wouldn't do on that day). Next monday the owner sought me out - clearly seeking the confrontation. I reported in sick and the owner fired me on the spot. Got my lawyer and after a month or so the owner paid damages to me. In retrospect this was a hard lesson of how the corporate world works.

Jacque Fresco, the man behind the Venus Project, put it wisely. 'The moment you step in a company, you walk into a dictatorship.' That's what it amounts up to, and my experience with that company also showed me that. What also stayed with me was the inequality. The rules were implemented but just as easily broken by the management when it suited their needs. Later on I heard from a former colleague that the director was fired (by his friend and partner: the owner), over hiring prostitutes and sending the bill to the company. The director quickly found a new job working for the competition, a thing he had forbidden in the company rules that he himself had made. Later on the owner moved the entire company to another part of the country and a 120 people or so were fired.

As Zeitgeist correctly mentions, companies are purely there for profit and you're at the mercy of those in charge. A company works for its own self interest. Rules are constructed but are just as easily broken should the self interest of the company be compromised. The economic pyramid structure is once again present. The lower base who does the actual work gets paid a minimum with a bunch of rules to abide by (just as in the military) and the higher up you travel in the pyramid, the more money you earn by keeping the structure in tact and rules take on a different format. You can bend them more easily. Maybe workers in the lower part of the pyramid are just economic soldiers...?

(More on this later.)

Me during a shooting exercise.

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