Arbeit Macht Freimart: The Blue Apron Brigade of Nefarious Labour, Slave and Save
What’s big, fat, blue, and annihilates real differences while gobbling up your town with its surfeit of corporate righteousness? That’s right: the fabulous commercial gulag of our times: Wal-Mart. Hang that price placard around the necks of the populace and continue rolling back the value of human life!
I patently refuse to step inside the place: The poor ventilation which makes me lightheaded, the omnipresent aural terrorism of quasi-Muzak designed to anaesthetize my critical faculties, the glaring panlit arena of fluorescent lighting to illuminate the bric-a-brac manufactured for pennies under the most degrading of working conditions in China, the plaster-cast smiles of propagandized apostolic employees, the vacuous signifiers of SAVINGS mixed in with the clutter of equally hollow corporate mottos, the revenge of the homogenous Pac-Man that dizzies its pursuers with spinning numbers...A truly disastrous kingdom of savage and foul hatred centralizing within a diabolical power nexus designed to proliferate itself in viral fashion across the globe...Wal-Mart, or what I will now forever associate with its more revealing appellation, Arbeit Macht Freimart.
It is no secret that department stores, in league with the same aims as corporations in general, have a singular desire: to be totalizing entities that appropriate and assimilate everything within its purview all under one dominant business rhetoric. The appeal of “everything under one roof” allows all differences to be subsumed within one stable and defined structure so that we may all delight in “one-stop shopping”. What reason is there to go elsewhere when Wal-Mart has virtually anything you need (or so the illusion holds)? Whatever is not within its structural sheaf you don’t need anyway, right? Wal-Mart not only attempts to be mimetic, but it seeks to become even more and better than life, a glorious self-contained world of order and bargain-bin values (both financially and morally). It is the triumph of Aristotle with his categories, and everything is in its right place—and that which Wal-Mart does not stock is too muddied or risqué a product to have within its collection of organized odds and ends. Moreover, what the selected stock suggests is a prescription of what one truly needs, and to forego seeking anything that deviates from what is housed there. Obscure and esoteric tastes, be it in music, clothing, or anything else, need not enter its vast sterile portals. What’s wrong with you that you could not find true happiness within its boundaries of forced choice? And, if one gets a bit peckish, most Wal-Marts have an in-store McDonald’s—the ever-wondrous artery-clogging, Auschwitz for animals. Don’t worry about scandalous items at Wal-Mart: the clout of this corporate giant holds as well the moralizing tendency to reject at its doors anything potentially anti-family values. Of course, it’s only natural for little Billy to ogle Jessica Simpson and have his mind rotted inside out with vapid over-merchandised dreck designed to mollify the kids to ease the military recruiter’s job.
But let us consider our labouring brethren who by bad luck, ignorance, ridiculous enthusiasm, or confusion have ended up pledging their labour for meager pay and uniformity uber alles.
Following the traditional Protestant ethos, it was common to find the slogan, Arbeit Macht Frei, which was emblazoned upon the entrance to Auschwitz, written in that staunch German script. Yes, work will set you free. Free from what? Indeed. Marx already knew this as the ongoing capitalist bourgeoisie joke: “well, sure, my little labourer, you are working your proverbial fingers to the bone while I rest fatly upon my haunches absorbing profits as I drive down your wages...but, get thee to a Bible, and see there the words of Christ who said that a camel will pass through the eye of a needle before a rich man gets to heaven.” Slave now and save later. Marx identified this as ye olde religion as the opiate of the masses, the lie issuing from that opulent ideological superstructure to keep the workers languishing in a life of bestial nothingness. If one cannot distinguish the deep commitment Wal-Mart has to the Protestant motto, then one needs to cast a more critical eye. Need we trot out the evidence of the overcoding Christological narrative? Pregnant Barbie doll—nicht! The right of a pharmacist to deny filling a prescription for birth control (especially grievous in those small communities where Wal-Mart has the only pharmacy in town), discrimination against women and minorities (plenty of testimony on that score).
When one enters the homogeneous chop-shop of slave labour love, one is immediately encountered by hired greeters—usually elderly folk who either have extremely limited pension plans or who need to feel useful and productive in a world where they have been conditioned to believe that work defines life. We need not invoke Bob Black here, who is perhaps categorically correct in attacking this alliance between work and the value of existence. The first order illusion is that of a human personal touch: I am being personally greeted as an important person by this hired porter as if somehow to quell any suspicion that this department store experience will be as alienating and coldly sterile as it actually is. The majority of the employees are usually the first victims of Wal-Mart in some form or fashion. Wal-Mart privileges itself in granting employment opportunities in those communities whose industries have long since bottomed out, breathing a new life to said community by absorbing a certain share of the unemployed. I find this same tactic in hospital terminal wards and in developing nations—namely, that Christian parasitism of preying upon the vulnerable in order to win adherents to a system of ideological domination and suppression. It’s a neat trick when you think about it: parasitism in its finest garb...Take away the employment opportunities and shuffle the labour under your own control. Huzzah.
There they all are, milling about, in their blue aprons and their mandatory on-garb flair. With more cameras trained on the employees than the customers, there arises a Bentham panopticon of perpetual surveillance suggesting a fundamental distrust between the employer and employee. Although Wal-Mart answered serious allegations about illegal immigrant employment and lack of employee benefits, the numbers they provided in their recent ad campaign beg to be qualified. That is, how many of the employees who receive benefits are on-floor or in-warehouse, and not management? The lack of transparency to disclose this information is further insulted by its propagated illusion of being open to disclosure. How many of these employees are given capped hours to prevent them from receiving benefits, and why does Wal-Mart attempt to blockade attempts at the formation of unions at every juncture? How does Wal-Mart respond to the allegations of cheap outsourced labour in China? I would easily pay an extra few dollars on a pair of socks if I was guaranteed that the one who made them is not being penalized for not working overtime, in grievous and cruel working conditions. Given that most of us understand, or are at least mildly aware of the inequities at the level of production, why do so many people continue in their complicity to shop there?
Low prices. Yeah, it really sucks that people are being horribly mistreated to bring me bargain boxers, but I simply don’t make enough money and those people are so far away...yadda-yadda-yadda. Need it be said that justifying exploitation with a pocketful of shabby excuses only perpetuates and implicitly gives consent to such practices? Wal-Mart nets over 250 billion USD per annum, has 1.3 million employees, making it one of the most formidable corporations in history (if one needs further proof, Microsoft Word already has Wal-Mart in its spell-check repertoire). By utilizing predatory pricing, Wal-Mart sinks its prices lower than that of local businesses, and once these businesses close shop, the prices are ballooned once again. Oh, but it’s all licit capitalist competition, free market whatwhat...We need not display the painful facts of its barely licit operations when such information is widely available on the internet. Rather, let us focus on the use of propagandistic techniques upon Wal-Mart’s employees.
Let us not conflate historical periods or their respective individuals—Wal-Mart is not Auschwitz any more than Wal-Mart employees resemble the imprisoned Jews. Wal-Mart does not exterminate its employees, it has no crematoria, and no (official) racist mandate. What it does have in common, however, is the underpinning meaning behind a slogan that we may transport from one era to another; namely, that work will set one free. Surely, it would be facile to point out that the employees work at virtually a slave’s wages, that Wal-Mart effectively eviscerates and exterminates communities and local small businesses, and that Wal-Mart employees are forced to be recognized by their unmistakable blue uniforms, and to somehow make too firm a connection to the horror of the Nazi death camps. What we can say, however, is that Wal-Mart is a different and more polite application of a Protestant investment in the connection between work and value. We can euphemize all day that the employees are actually “teammates”, ‘associates”, “family members”, and so forth, as if such nominal grants can actually defuse the awful reality of its working conditions. Given the alienating nature of actually working for Wal-Mart and its slaughter bench upon which is sacrificed individual differences in favour or bolstering a corporate empire, let us dub these labourers “Walmartians”—estranged from their own labour, and unwittingly supporting the estrangement of other labourers abroad who manufacture these “fine” products.
Do not be fooled by the sunny-side assessments by either brainwashed clerks or latte-swilling execs who occasionally emerge like groundhogs to allay suspicions that the department store giant is operating in illicit manner. Pay close heed to the rhetoric they liberally dump on its employees and the accumulated shopper-brigade of suburban SUV caravans. The mantra, to be repeated as the Hail Mary of the corporation, is “always low prices”. Never you mind to inquire how or why. Pay a visit to their site and discover: "The secret of successful retailing is to give your customers what they want. And really, if you think about it from your point of view as a customer, you want everything”—thus spake Sam Walton, the second most diabolical mastermind next to Ray Kroc, appealing to the gluttonous greed of half-witted collection fetishists who want to stock up their basements for the Final Judgement. Now that Wal-mart has cashed in by encroaching upon the internet sales racket, they contend that the “goal at Walmart.com is to bring Mr. Sam's culture and philosophy to the Internet.” Affectionately dubbed “Mr. Sam” makes him as innocent as “Uncle Joe” Stalin, and we have quickly seen what Mr. Sam’s “culture” vision actually is. It is not merely about providing bottom barrel prices on gimcrack products they shill as “quality” or the furnishing of a “pleasant shopping experience” as if one is speeding by the wonders of nature in one’s horse-drawn carriage—No, Mr. Sam’s culture is indeed Wal-Mart uber alles, a totalizing force that seeks to absorb and sanitize the environs of any dissident notion, any contrary value, any predilection toward questioning or unionization. Mr. Sam’s culture appears to be the enslavement of a lower-income labour market and the slotting of an entire diverse cultural plenum within a network of categorized aisles for the gibbering ragabash poltroon with wallet in hand. Ultimately, Wal-Mart has stepped up as one of the first successful faith-based economies, making itself a kind of moneyed corporate theocracy that champions the moral majority and the tired work ethic. Believe or be cast out of the temple. With these Wal-Mart temples springing up just about everywhere they can be fit, and a desperate workforce being titrated and siphoned into its foul moral matrix of rhetorical blindsiding and narcotizing mantras, there seems to be an adjunct phrasing that fits the Wal-Mart regime: shopping will set you free.
Dr. Kane X. Faucher,
Freelance Writer, Scene Magazine.
Co-editor, The Raging Face.
Co-editor, The Drill Press
Co-editor, Sorrowland Press
Interview Editor, Ditch Poetry
Author of Urdoxa (2004) Codex Obscura (2005) Fort & Da (2006), Calqueform, Astrozoica, De Incunabliad (2007). Jonkil Dies, The Vicious Circulation of Dr Catastrope (2008)
Visit him at http://www.geocities.com/codex1977/