Yesterday’s Butchers Today

by bicyclemark 8 Comments

Part of coming to Portugal and visiting my grandparents means taking them to a supermarket. With my help they can pick up all the supplies they need to last them a month or more, that way they don’t have to ask help from friends or neighbors.

Living in a tiny town in what I like to call the middle of nowhere, we tend to go to the nearby bigger town to frequent their supermarkets. In the last decade the amount of supermarkets has mushroomed from 1 to as many as 4 or 5.

As I push the cart down the aisles, and my grandparents struggle to take a good look at the type of meats behind the meat counter, I  take a few minutes to watch the people behind the counter.

Sharpening his blade, I watch a gentleman who must be in his late 60’s, joking with one of the other employees behind the meat counter. His white coat full of blood stains, I noticed the ease and skill with which he does his work. It became clear that this man had been a butcher for most of his adult life. Yet the supermarket has only been there for 6 or 7 years, so where was he a butcher before?

My mind continued to wander, 7 years ago… hell.. 14 years ago.. he was probably a butcher in a local butcher shop, now long since closed down. As I glanced at the back of the store, I watched the fish lady tending to customers ordering fish. Here again was someone who knew her job well, and before the days of the supermarket, had surely done her job in a local fish market, many of which have been scaled down or simply closed.

Both the fish lady and the meat man seemed to be doing ok on the job, here at the big supermarket. I could speculate that their wage is probably pretty small and the amount of rules and regulations they’re subject to, would have to be greater. But the question that kept coming back to be is this: Are they better off? Are we better off as a community and a society, with this brave new world where our local shops and specialties are replaced. From the wages to the working conditions to the human connection of feeling like your job is valued and valuing your work, is this new way sustainable?

As we collected our things and made our way out of the shop, I took one more look at the butcher. He was explaining to a younger kid how to properly chop some kind of meat. I wondered about what his job used to be like… the changes he’s seen.. the life he leads.

A cycle? Or an explosion?

by bicyclemark 2 Comments

I often listen to my own podcast. Might sound strange, but one of my rituals, besides losing most of my nights sleep preparing a podcast, is to listen to it the next day as I ride my bike through town. I listen to try and hear what others might hear; an idea or an experience that teaches me something, gives me a new idea or leads to deeper questions.

Lately I’ve noticed a common thread; through all the podcasts about work, income, quality of life, and history. That common thread is the question of whether or not things are happening as part of a cycle or have we reached some kind of major confrontation.

I’m referring to the strikes but I’m also referring to the inequality in the world. I’ve read the reports, looked at the statistics, and listened to individuals tell their stories and their evaluations about this moment in history. The strikes around the world, pitting people struggling to make a living against companies or governments who also struggle to do what they think is necessary for the future. Pension cuts, job cuts, contract negotiations collapsing, governments against workers, corporations against workers, public opinion against strikers, the conflicts and alliances go on and on.

Of course I’m too young to make some bold statement that this is some unique moment in history. Whenever I ask more experienced people they give me a mix of reactions, that these things happen in cycles and this is just the return of old stuggles as old as time itself.

In a recent interview for a forthcoming podcast, I asked a very excellent journalist who covers labor, if he thinks we’ve reached some climax in the struggle to make ends-meat. He didn’t see it as a climax, yet he did talk about what a huge boom of interest there is for his work now more than ever before. More and more individuals want to know about their rights as working people, and have a clear idea of their wages and benefits and they’re using the internet to find out about these issues.

Still I’m left wondering… is this truly a unique moment in history? Is this more of the same or the return of some age-old cycle?

bm226 Dishwasher Pete on Work and Workers

by bicyclemark

In his quest to wash dishes in all 50 states, Pete Jordan was seeking freedom, adventure, free food and whatever peaked his interest. Many of his objectives have to do with the very human desire to find some form of freedom within a structured work place. In this podcast we talk about his experience with work, labor unions, different cultures, and more.

Pete’s website
His Book: Dishwasher

We discuss:

– Pete’s early thoughts on working
– Responsibility, avoiding it
– Freedom to think and quit
– Labor Unions for Dishwashers
– Decline of Labor or the Return of Labor?
– Cultural Differences in the workplace, Netherlands vs US

Dishwasher Pete and Personal Politics

by bicyclemark

Last night was one of those classic Amsterdam nights that involved a whole lot of things to do, places to be, and people to spend time with. The kind of night that helps to remind oneself why oneself lives in this place.

The highlight of the evening was attending a reading by my friend Dishwasher Pete, who’s book is flying off shelves everywhere. Over at the American book store, Pete treated the crowd to free artisan brewed beer and an opportunity to ask him questions, get your book signed,and of course – hear him further explain some of the adventures included in the book.

While it is probably often considered comedy or travel if you look it up on some Amazon type site, I see this book as something far more important – political. By political I mean personal-politics, the most important politics one has.

As I read this book it was his personal politics that jumped off the page for me, at least the way I read it. The idea that a job is not the most important thing in your life. Or even beyond that, that no job that makes you miserable should be kept. The power of your feet, to walk out, walk away, and walk on when some force threatens to destroy or damage your mental or physical quality of life. Typical societal values would call such a philosophy “lazy”, but then again, typical society is miserable, in debt, uninspired and hoping to drag everyone else along with them.

Nowadays many of us live the reality of this “new economy”, which is a fancy name for a world where jobs come and go, and people have hardly any employment security or financial guarantee in the future. Hopping from 6 month contract to 6 month contract, accepting low salaries in exchange for the empty promise that it will significantly increase.

Yet being so disposable brings some of the very benefits that Dishwasher Pete realized more than a decade ago; the freedom and power of using your feet. Just as jobs use todays workers, todays workers are learning how to use jobs. They are no longer paranoid of losing their longtime jobs, instead often looking forward to an upcoming resignation. For those that understand and believe in their ability to find something else when needed, like the dishwasher, todays workers can also say goodbye to the irrational or incompetent boss. And of course, there are more and more of us that love to find ways to steal naps or wander off during the day.

My point today is more of a theory. And as I live my day-to-day, I see a connection between Pete’s marvelous thoughts and wisdom, and personal politics of today’s young “professional.”

Or maybe I should just replace the term “young professional” with “ME”.