Hell Is Not a Room With a Chair In It, It’s a Supermarket With Seven Proselytising Fascists.


I go to work. The cleaner is high on Valium because the working conditions are too revolting to manage without the comfort of prescription drugs. Someone less materially minded, perhaps a middle manager or a mindfulness apparatchik psychologist, might think the cracked tiles and instant coffee-encrusted bench tops of the tearoom are acceptable. Have you tried not thinking about it? Actually, they don’t really bother me, or anyone for that matter, as much as the music. The songs repetitively drone some bullshit about dancing at parties or being chained to the rhythm. Somehow this seems more sadistic than coincidental. It’s between 8 degrees and 13 degrees in the winter and in the summer the insects fly like a plague around any sink. All these arguments rather fall flat on a manager who lives, or aspires to live, in a comparably revolting but infinitely cleaner Brighton mansion.

          The boss is, of course, an asshole. I’ve never met him, and it is invariably a ‘him’, and invariably white. A real philistine, no doubt. Paid in shares, millions of dollars’ worth of them each year. Most of the middle managers are drinking deeply from the corporate delusions of the mediocre-grandeur fountain and fantasising that one day they will be commuting to the head office in helicopters.

          Flying cars—a good friend of mine archeologically uncovered flying cars a few months ago in disappointment. A funny thing. I’m Haunted by flying cars.

          Good heavens, I can only assume they dream of these things. They of course know they never will but that’s not especially relevant to the story one tells oneself. Who knows what promises their conscious minds make to justify this. We, without much choice, are all masochists. The global exportation of capitalism across the planet has turned us all a bit masochistic. When a masochist is given a position of power, they become a sadomasochist.

          In the diversity training ‘modules’, management more or less explicitly say that it’s not bullying if your boss does it. A notable absence from the diversity training is guidance on how to deal with a Hindu Nationalist bullying a Somali Muslim along racial lines. ‘Your country has never given the world anything.’ Everyone is miserable, but outwardly calm, as much as that is a contradiction. The joke about how bad things are is invariably the spirit’s pilot light for most people who have the bad luck to find themselves working here. Two simultaneously contradictory positions can be held. I’ve heard the same people who laugh about the leaking sewage pipes above the self-checkout speak of how ‘lucky’ they are to get to live in Australia while working over 50 hours a week in these conditions and getting paid less than forty thousand dollars before tax, in a city with a median house price of 1.1 million.

          Most of the people I work with look at me like I am out of my mind whenever I suggest that a better world is possible. Some argue that I am dangerously naive or grossly entitled. Often even the mildest demand of improvement to our workplace is seen as quite rude to bring up. Capitalism in Australia is not yet at crisis point. Despite the inequalities of wealth being at a 70-year high, most of the working class are both somewhat willing and somewhat able to work for 70 years to pay off a home. Those of us under 40 today who have been priced out of owning homes, perhaps other than small apartments, are still working to pay off these debts. The system is, in short, working as it should and looking after exactly who it is intended to. Sadly, that is not you, me, or certainly anyone I work with. This will change as the workers who have been stuck doing hard physical labour for the last ten or more years become increasingly unable to do it and also unable to find suitable other employment. At present our myopic politicians do not seem to have any meaningful plan for easing the pressure on workers, or the coming crisis of these growing inequalities. Some workers attempt the Paul Keating Method, buying investment properties as a way of dealing with the untenable long-term nature of much of the working-class job opportunities in Australia. This is also becoming more or less impossible for most as viable investment properties are outside of the grasp of anyone without intergenerational assistance or an income well over $100k. Since the 1980s union accords, Australia has become a place where investing and prospecting is more profitable than working. This leaves anyone who immigrated or was born after 1990 in a very difficult place financially.

          A CEO makes about five million dollars a year. Over 100 times the average full-time worker at retail store level. Absurdly it’s nothing compared to the fortunes Australia’s super rich amassed over the twentieth century. Not that I’m overflowing with sympathy for CEO conditions and wages, but briefly allow me to make the point that Gina Rinehart could employ a former CEO as a court jester at their previous wage for 600 years before she ran out of her $30 billion fortune, paying them out of her father’s accumulated capital.

          The share accumulations and dividend reinvestment of CEO salaries seem like a likely place where the supposed economic growth of Australia in recent years is ending up. Certainly not anywhere around here.

          Money makes money. That is to say what Marxists call exploitation, Capitalists call investment returns and Muslims call usury.

They have cameras, over 100 of them in most supermarkets. Management of course claim it’s for theft and safety. Particularly bold middle managers will illegally warn, or rather, confess to workers that the store managers are watching their performance on the cameras. Even if half the cameras are as hollow as the CEO’s soul they mean more or less the same thing: a reminder of your being under observation.

          I once saw a Punjabi truck driver have his truck hijacked by a nightclub security guard. The security guard found his Porsche 4WD blocked in its parking spot by the truck. High on cocaine and in a rage, he took matters into his own hands, throwing the driver from the truck and taking off the handbrake. Not exactly a night of witnessing the finest working-class solidarity. Clearly being working-class doesn’t mean much without class consciousness and seemingly nothing erodes class consciousness like owning a Porsche. The driver chased the truck, got back in, and put the brakes on before the rolling vehicle killed any of the Saturday morning CBD party goers, of which there were plenty, it’s something of a miracle nobody was hit. Bok choy, spring onions, apples, and oranges, brightly coloured and abundant, lay scattered across Little Lonsdale Street. As the four of us gathered what we could of the produce, the truck driver told us in broken English that he had only been in Australia two weeks. No charges were made, the truck driver clearly didn’t want to re-enter the labyrinth of state bureaucracy and risk his job and visa. Fair enough, I suppose the cops are useless. The next day, one of the other workers tried to report the event to the police. Upon being shown videos of the security guard doing all these outrageous things—the highjacking, his verbal threats to smash us, kill us, report us to the police (his words not mine)—the cops declared to my co-worker that they themselves had to be the actual victim of the crime for the police to press charges. The cops clearly didn’t want the extra workload.

They do not make it easy to move to this country. And the processes are deliberately telling you that the great Australian state-apparatus panoptic project is breathing down your neck. Take this, four pages of forms for a casual worker to access a couple of hundred dollars of sick pay from the government due to work missed by coronavirus. All the while unemployed Australian citizens were being paid to stay at home.

          I have a vivid memory of John Howard saying from the television in 2001 that the government of Australia, and not the migrants themselves, would choose who could migrate to this country. And how. See paragraph 67 of the following speech.

          Since then it seems the Liberal Party have been true to their word, doing their best to invite who they saw as desirable and good immigrants. Many migrating bring with them at least eighty thousand dollars to donate to the university degree that they may or may not have any interest in, or willing to shell out tens of thousands to immigration lawyers, a group I’d imagine in which Liberal Party donors are over represented. Sadly, this power of the government to pick and choose the most financially viable options for migration means the deck is stacked in a certain way. That is to say, the migrants I work with are overwhelmingly from backgrounds that have much in common with the immigration lawyers charging them such exorbitant fees.

          That is, middle class migrants come from very comfortable positions within their home countries’ society. I have worked with the drop-out son of a high-ranking Filipino politician from a political-aristocratic dynasty. He proudly described his great-great-grandfather as, ‘A man who won a sword fight with the Pablo Escobar of the Philippines and civilised the crime world of the country’. I didn’t believe him at first until he showed me photos of his ancestors, fifteen of them, posing on the lawn of an impressive house all clothed in richly embroidered military regalia and western tailored suits. I’ve worked with a woman who is the child of a Pollywood film magnate who has significant holdings of privatised public transport and farming in Punjab state.

          And I have worked with more than a few vitriolic Hindutva who, consistent with the histrionic victim complex inherent to all fascistic movements, had to leave India and immigrate to Australia because too many ‘low caste people’ were taking all the spots by way of affirmative action begun by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in an effort to erode the Indian education system and destroy the country from within. Nehru holds a place in the RSS cosmology similar to that which Hollywood Elites occupy in alt-right or Qanon conspiracies. The one European migrant I have worked with was a Belgian nationalist who denied that the Holocaust had ever happened.

          These conversations, by the way, are not ones I particularly seek out. Actually they are topics I try my best to avoid. In March last year, hyper-nationalistic media coverage of coronavirus prompted many people towards the worst version of themselves. Since then, I have been pretty seriously trying to keep my union talks exclusive to better wages and avoid talking about anything political, as any activist or organiser will tell you this is one of the least effective issues to organise around. But it’s the only one at present where the conversation doesn’t have a serious risk of someone who—by the way, wasn’t even Turkish—telling me that Atatürk was secretly Jewish and secretly plotted the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. This was the long answer to the seemingly innocuous question, ‘What have you been doing in lockdown?’

          Solidarity is a new experience for middle class migrants. Their experience of workers’ strikes previously would’ve been from the other side, frustration that the workers are not going back to work and that their investments are not returning healthy profits. This middle-class sensibility held by the newly working-class results in the erosion of class solidarity to their own detriment. If a boss doesn’t like a worker, they just fire and replace them. However, if workers don’t find a way to get along with their colleagues, the fights can go on for years. This makes workers’ solidarity very difficult to achieve and makes the individual workers easier to exploit. Individuals become isolated, alienated, and angry. The workers often place their rage on each other rather than rightfully where it belongs. This exploitation benefits the shareholders and board members of Big Business, reinforcing everyone’s place in the global neo-colonial order. An outcome the Australian Federal Government and their Big Business donors would be very much in favour of.

          A formerly middle-class person who finds themselves in a new country and a new class can be won over to a collective point of view and class consciousness. Committed fascists cannot.

          At the beginning of the pandemic the company had the luxury of high unemployment. They hung onto the bootlickers they liked the most and let go of the casuals for who they didn’t feel such affection. Tellingly, management kept and promoted a particularly racist and misogynistic Hindutva. The Belgian nationalist was moved and promoted after abusing a Bangladeshi Muslim. Fascists are very hard workers. They are not good workers, they break things, lots of things, they are extraordinarily dangerous in their ways of working, but the sheer amount of energy that they muster is remarkable. It’s not that I hate fascists all the time. They don’t make good middle managers, however even the worst can be oddly kind on occasion. They are really very right wing and, justifiably, I am quite afraid of them politically. I hope fascist density is not this pronounced in other parts of Melbourne. Somehow I think this is more than likely one of the worst pockets, which is some small comfort. But just a couple of bad people can really make for a hard day’s work for everyone.

          While it all seems pretty bad, everything keeps moving along. I took a walk a few weeks ago with a friend of mine around the city. They were thrilled to see how everything had recovered. I was a little appalled, telling them I was far too pessimistic to see all of these shops opening back up as much of a good thing. The return to normal is hardly much to smile about if the workers in these shops are having such difficult lives.

Reference list:

The first half of this work’s title takes its inspiration from a stage direction in the Withnail and I screenplay, which paraphrases Dostoyevsky.
Robinson, B 1996, Withnail & I : the screenplay, The Overlook Press, Woodstock.

Howard, J, ‘2001 Liberal/National coalition election speech’, The Museum of Australian Democracy, viewed 8 May 2021, < https://electionspeeches.moadoph.gov.au/speeches/2001-john-howard>