Desperate even for McJobs

A McDonalds’ hiring day event “was marred by a brawl between jobseekers in the car park, which left three people injured. Two women fought each other inside a car causing it to jolt into reverse, ploughing into bystanders.”[1] “The company [was] making a well-publicized push to hire 50,000 workers Tuesday. However, McDonald’s usually staffs up for summer anyway. A spokeswoman says last year, McDonald’s hired 50,000 employees throughout April.”[2]

So every year, McDonalds hires tens of thousands of people in April. Imagine how the company must view those human beings. They’re just turning a routine happening into a public relations stunt, attempting to “to change the perception of the term ‘McJobs.’ It might be a tall order for a word that even the Oxford English Dictionary defines as ‘an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects.'”[3]

I’m remembering my first job after graduating with an A.A. degree in Business Data Processing in 1979. I was commuting from Reno to Atlantic City where, when I started, Atlantic City had only recently legalized casino gambling and there were still only two casinos open. The third, Bally’s Park Place at the Boardwalk, opened while I worked for Bally Systems Division on a slot machine monitoring application. The casinos closed at night, an unfamiliar phenomenon to those accustomed to the scene in Nevada—I remember my boss mentioning that Harrah’s had closed for a day when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

One morning, the beginning of a three day weekend in Atlantic City, the streets outside the casinos were filled with people, waiting to get in when the casinos opened at 10:00 am. I couldn’t even guess how many people that must have been. And I remember my managers joking with casino managers, laughing about all those human beings as if they were cattle to be slaughtered.

I didn’t feel so good about myself for working in an environment where that attitude prevailed. And I was to end up on the other side of the matter after I burned out as a computer programmer and began a long and unpleasant odyssey through a working class existence.

I remember going to work for an airport shuttle company in San Francisco. The vans were in terrible condition, I paid to lease one for ten hours, most of which I spent waiting in a San Francisco Airport parking lot, waiting to be called up to the terminals to get a load of passengers. It’s called “gas and gates.” Drivers pay for gas—in poorly maintained vehicles—and they pay their gate, a lease fee that covers dispatch services, insurance, and the vehicle. Any money they manage to earn above that total is theirs to keep. It is a standard arrangement in the taxi and airport shuttle businesses that shifts virtually all of the day-to-day business risk to desperately poor people who can ill-afford to take that risk. I wasn’t making very much money at all and the situation was so awful, I went to management with a list of demands.

I remember Yellow Airport Shuttle owner Marty Smith responding, “What’s in it for me?”

I replied that he would get to keep me as a driver. He laughed.

I remember driving cab and watching as drivers would come to work, not last very long, quit, and disappear. The turnover was incredible. Company management didn’t care. Drivers were infinitely replaceable and the company made its money by leasing cabs to drivers rather than from the service the drivers provided.

I saw that at a few taxi companies. I came to understand that most ground transportation businesses are extremely corrupt. Most of those who last for any length of time are those who learn to navigate a world of graft which makes it possible to get the business that makes it possible to prosper. Management largely turns a blind eye; their interest is in preserving the appearance of fairness rather than an actuality of fairness, and when some drivers don’t succeed, there are always plenty of desperate people, waiting to be hired.

Hence the McDonald’s hiring day. Hence 50,000 infinitely replaceable people, grateful to have jobs, any jobs, even if the wages make absolutely no sense in terms of actual living expenses.

When I hear about strongly anti-union policies and practices at Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Whole Foods, and other employers, I understand that the capitalist class is desperate to avoid ever being dependent upon workers as individual human beings. It isn’t just that no one should be irreplaceable, but that every worker should be replaceable at the drop of a hat. This preserves a power relationship in which employers are fully empowered and employees can only meekly submit.

My heart goes out to those who will soon think themselves lucky to be hired. They are losing their souls, being reduced not to machines, but parts of a machine, just doing what they’re told, for as long as they can bear it.

  1. [1]Haroon Siddique, “McDonald’s hiring day attracts thousands of US jobseekers,” Guardian, April 20, 2011,
  2. [2]Associated Press, “McDonald’s Hiring Spree Seeks To Change Perception of ‘McJobs’,” Huffington Post, April 19, 2011,
  3. [3]Associated Press, “McDonald’s Hiring Spree Seeks To Change Perception of ‘McJobs’.”

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