November 3, 2010

Background Story

People sometimes inquire why I became a Zeitgeist/Venus Project supporter and it's not something that simply fell out of the sky. I guess the most adequate answer I can give is that my life's experiences and much internal deliberation led me to support the ideology of the Venus Project. It's not that I watch the news and think 'what a nasty world,' I've been through some nasty things myself. I would like to share a story that transpired a long time ago and what was a real eye-opener for me in how the world works.

Some 20 years ago I finished my tour in the military. Lots can be relayed about that period in my life as well, such as the low pay for the common conscripted soldier and the high pay for incompetent (professional) officers, but that's something for another story. After the military I started working for a company that dealt in logistics. I'm going to be a bit vague here with names and places since some of the things I will say are inflammatory and there's no real need to confront some people with skeletons in their closets.

Anyway, I started working for that company. It was a family-owned company, meaning that relatives were in all the high places of the corporate structure. Even in those it was already understood culturally wise that working for such a company entailed hard work and limited advances. Nevertheless, I had a great time. The work was diverse and I got along great with most of my colleagues. Aside from getting screwed once by one of the family owners I got along great with them as well. I even organized a big party for all of the employees. The pay wasn't that great, the overtime salary was however generous. Business was booming in those days so I worked a lot of extra hours. Quite often I worked 2-3 evenings in the week besides my normal hours. Friday evening was reserved for going out. I don't know how many times we visited restaurants and bars. Truly a fun time.

It wasn't meant to last. The owner of the company and head of the family was already well into his sixties and decided to call it a day and retire. He sold the company to another business man who I will call M. M was already a multi-millionaire, owning several companies including one large national transport company bearing his name. Everyone was introduced to him during a meeting and M introduced the new director (whom I will call) D who would head day to day operations. D happened to be a friend of his, at least so I was told.
After the new ownership everything changed. A reorganization program was immediately initialized and the entire corporate structure was put upside down. This lead to work falling behind. I and many others picked up the slack by putting in a lot of overtime, even working on saturdays and sundays. D, the director, was also quick to alter company rules. He made and handed out to everyone a booklet which we had to sign for - agreeing to the rules. D had also promised we wouldn't work on friday evenings which was fine by me and other folks since we were still going out and having a good time. One change D made was not received with enthusiasm, he cut down the overtime pay so much that it wasn't even profitable (after taxation) to do it.

To my shock some people were getting laid off, fired, after minor transgressions such as accidentally sleeping in or being a day late at work after a vacation due to car trouble and not calling it in. These people weren't slackers or regularly being late on the job, they were good folks - good workers who more or less just had an accident. D, the director and M the owner of the company, couldn't care less. They had the same attitude towards managers. In a 3 month time period 3 managers were replaced in succession (in the same department).
At the time I had a friend in accounting who had observed all the changes just like me. He shared with me some amazing information. D had to go to an exhibition for one day in Germany, leaving in the morning and returning in the evening. The next day he drops a note on the desk at the accounting department requesting a management fee be paid to him of 5000 guilders for one day abroad. I was absolutely flabbergasted at the time because this was the same guy who had announced that overtime pay was to be severely cut back and here he was filling his pockets. The word got out which led to even more disgruntled employees.

Of course, my number also came up. One friday work was behind. I had already done lots of overtime the previous weeks despite the lower pay and we had plans going out. Besides, the management had stated we wouldn't work on friday evenings so I walked out the door meeting owner M on the way out (without saying something to him). That was before Easter weekend so on tuesday we had to work again. Rather quickly I bumped into M who ordered me to do another job and added that I left 'early' the previous friday. Should have noticed that he was already foaming at the mouth and when I countered his argument he fired me on the spot. In my country an employer has to have solid grounds in order to fire someone. The next day I received a letter from the company claiming I was guilty of 'work refusal.' Naturally I got a lawyer, told the story and that I did no such thing. What was advantageous for me is that I had a witness who was standing right beside me when M flipped. After a month or two in the legal battle the company offered to pay me damages and I accepted, although had I taken it to court I surely would have won. There were also legal pressure games played at the time and one day I had to make a decision within an hour. Thought it was best to move on.

I stayed in touch with my former colleagues and the happenings of the company. Other (former) colleagues went through the same thing I did. Some of them got fired for no (legitimate) reason and also made a legal issue out of it and the company again paid them damages. Even the previous owners, members of the family who stayed in the company were fired. Couple of years later I ran into a colleague who told the ultimate story. D, the director and friend of M, was fired. He had enlisted the help of prostitutes and had send the bill to the company. D started working for the competition, something he had explicitly forbidden in the company rules he had formulated.
Five years after I left that company M decided to have another reorganization and moved the entire company to another part of the country. All the people were fired without any restitution. Couple of years later an ex-colleague told me that M had died from colin cancer and added; 'it went too quick, he died in a week, I wish he had suffered more!'

In closing, nobody has to tell me the world can be corrupt or morally bankrupt. I've experienced these things first hand myself. People in a position of power can make rules which they don't follow themselves. They can say you should receive or get paid less while they do the exact opposite at the same time. Business people like the ones I encountered are basically mafia types. The only thing missing at that company I worked were a couple of muscle guys shoving me against the wall after work, reminding me I should behave. Luckily, such matters are not tolerated in a democracy. Other business tactics however, are seemingly tolerated to a large extent. Not one government official or institution intervened on behave of the workers of that company while I know for a fact many requests were made to investigate the matter. Nothing was done.
Experiences like these constantly remind me that the world should be a better place. Maybe now you know why I find other kinds of ideology, where there would be no money or corporations, appealing.

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