Abolish Restaurants: An Interview with Prole
Full disclosure: PM Press published my pamphlet, Self Defense for Radicals: A to Z Guide for Subversive Struggle.
PM's latest pamphlet, Abolish Restaurants: A Worker's Critique of the Food Service Industry from Prole.info, has called "a beautifully illustrated guide to the daily misery, stress, boredom, and alienation of restaurant work, as well as the ways in which restaurant workers fight against it. Drawing on a range of anti-capitalist ideas as well as a heaping plate of personal experience, it is part analysis and part call-to-arms."
What is/Who is Prole.info?
Prole.info is a website and here's how they describe it:
"For those who aren't up on how the kids these days are talking, "prole" is a shortened form of "proletarian." Proletarian is a word used by Karl Marx to describe the working class in a capitalist society. We are the people who have no property we can make money off of so we have to look for wage labor—a miserable, and alienating situation that creates a tendency to struggle. So basically, the website is information for angry workers. It was originally set up by two people several years ago as an archive of some interesting communist and anarchist texts, and since then, it has been a place for me to put up my analysis, critiques, manifestos, drawings, etc."
My Conversation With Prole.info
Planet Green: The most common complaints about restaurants relate to price or cleanliness or service. Your critique takes a much different approach. Can you sum it up briefly?
Prole.info: Abolish Restaurants is not primarily a critique of restaurants. It is a critique of capitalism in one specific place: restaurants. A similar critique could be written about most workplaces. The point is to show how the everyday shit that your average worker has to go through is not just someone's bad luck.
The stress of the dinner rush, the fights with co-workers, the split shifts, the lousy tippers, the aching backs, the shit from the boss... it is not just random individual misfortune. It is a functional and necessary part of a larger system that creates similar conditions everywhere. It's business as usual. And just as importantly, the alliances that are made between workers fighting against these conditions point in the direction of what could be a larger subversive force. Capitalist society is built on class struggle and Abolish Restaurants is trying to put forward the perspective of one side in that struggle.
PG: I really like the idea of debunking the "bad luck" myth. The oil spill in the Gulf is not bad luck. The rising extinction rate is not bad luck. People's unhappiness with their jobs and finances is not, as you say, "random individual misfortune." What do you see as a path towards more people recognizing this and then, of course, doing something about it?
Prole.info: I'm skeptical of the approach that people need to recognize something or see something clearly and then they will start trying to change things. People's consciousness is a very contradictory thing...even people who have very well-thought out political views on things. In most workplaces I've ever worked, everyone steals from work. At the same time, the people stealing from work, if asked, would probably say that of course they're for private property and are likely to be in favor of harsher sentences for people caught stealing. The point is that I DON'T think that "consciousness raising" does much of anything.
PG: So, in your view, how can change occur?
Prole.info: I think the starting point of a radical critique has to be self-interest. Being working class means struggling, even if it's just struggling to survive. Just standing up for our own interests brings us into conflict with capital. Your average wage worker has any number of problems that are the same as everyone in their workplace and similar to those that workers have all over the world. By fighting together, against the boss, we can begin to see each other as allies. The stronger the struggle, the more we will see as possible. Of course, we need to put forward our ideas in the clearest and most coherent way we can, and argue for them strongly, but much more important than that is to make concrete contributions to the struggles that happen in our workplaces, neighborhoods, cities, etc.
PG: What led you to write specifically about restaurants in this pamphlet?
Prole.info: When I wrote Abolish Restaurants, I had been working in restaurants for years. I wanted to write something that would hopefully resonate with the experience of other restaurant workers. But also writing about my workplace helped me get my own ideas clear in my head.
PG: Do you think with the current economic downturn and a growing sense of one's carbon footprint, this is the ideal time for readers to truly hear the roots of your critique and act more on their class interests than in chasing manufactured needs and wants?
Prole.info: I don't really think there's a right and a wrong time for critique, as if there are right ideas waiting out there for conditions to latch on to them. I think the ideas that we come up with reflect our own experiences and those are influenced by the times. Economic downturns are bad, real wages fall, jobs are hard to find, life is tough. But it's just a different kind of miserableness. During the height of the boom, most proles are working long hours, at stressful, boring, repetitive jobs, and giving most of our money over to the landlord or the bank for a mortgage. An economic downturn where people are losing their houses or their jobs could lead to people asking fundamental questions about the economy. It could just as easily lead to people longing for their shitty jobs back, or fighting with each other. The important thing is not to take an individualist or a moral approach to things. You can't oppose "good" jobs to "bad" unemployment, "good" green energy to "bad" greenhouse gas creating energy, "good" fair-trade, organic, free-range food to "bad" sweatshop, pesticide-filled, factory-farmed food. Capitalism is not a malicious bad guy. The capitalist economy produces for a profit and therefore produces whatever is profitable. No amount leftist moralizing or individual lifestyle changes can change that. The only thing that is a real threat to the system is a class movement—working people coming together, fighting for our interests, refusing to work, blocking the flows of commodities, fighting the powers that hold this society together and finding other ways to produce and live collectively.