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(en) Workers Solidarity #84 - Working in a Music Store Who'd Have Thought Exploitation Could Be So Hip?

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 6 Mar 2005 08:48:46 +0100 (CET)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
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Apart from Christmas, when they're manically busy, workers in a
music store look to have it easy, whiling away the hours in an industry
that markets itself with a skilfully honed 'yoof' image. It seems like an
ideal 'McJob' for people seeking temporary employment. But just as
advertising can be deceptive about the nature of a product, so too can
the façade of a music store deceive and hide manipulative work practices.
Recently finished in college and active in the Dublin Grassroots
Network, Cormac found a job in HMV before heading off to work in
Australia. He describes how "HMV had complete ignorance towards
basic workers' rights. The team leader structure and the way the three
floors in the building were divided, created an air of division. The
people who would be empowered with some puny token position were
very patronising and authoritarian towards the people who were
supposed to be below them, even though they were performing the
exact same task in the shop on daily basis."

With a team leader taking advantage of his position and "taking his
individual moods on a given day out on the workers," the need for a
union became apparent.

"I noticed there was a definite air of, well I wouldn't say oppression,
but definite intimidation at the very least within HMV. I was being
searched on an almost daily basis, almost several a times a day on
some occasions. I was getting pissed off and other people were pissed

Enter the Union

In recent issues of Workers Solidarity, we've been paying attention to
the development of the Independent Workers Union and the
harassment its members have faced for union organising.

Cormac came into contact with the IWU at a "protest somewhere" and
picked up their leaflet "and upon reading it, got the feeling that they
weren't another arm of the state, like SIPTU and the ICTU have
become. They don't seem to believe in the same methods of operation
in engaging with the state in promoting the partnership agreements
and that. They seem to actually be more about direct action and the
power of workers, which is what a trade union is meant to do at the
end of the day.

"IWU members are not just people that pay a subscription and the
costs of the union, members actually control the union because it
works on a non-hierarchical basis from the bottom up. There's only
one paid employee in the union and every single member has access to
facilities in the office on North Strand Road, computer, fax and

"The members are what makes a union and the members aren't just
subscribers, not just people who pay the cost of the union, and the
people in the IWU have been politically involved as well on various
levels in both left wing and more liberal circles and they understand the
issues involved in approaching and taking on multinationals, I think
there's definitely a vigour involved in their operation, a passion that is
lacking in other unions."

Uppity Workers

After coming into contact with the IWU Cormac put his efforts into
organising his shop floor. "Basically on my floor I approached people
on a verbal basis, a conversational basis. Also I left IWU flyers in the
staff areas and I also instigated a campaign of toilet graffiti which was
basically aimed at stirring people's consciousness into play. Such as on
the back of the toilet door I'd write "Why do season workers receive
only a E10 bonus whereas other workers, even part-timers receive a
E150 bonus for Christmas?" Other things like, "Why is there no
holiday pay for seasonal workers?"

"We had a kind of semi-informal meeting in the staff room to look at
the leaflet and I explained to them what the IWU was about and what
a trade union did for workers, what your subscription money went

"Then the Friday of that actual week there was an incident involving
a security guard where he started shouting at me on the shop floor so I
walked off the shop floor politely and went to management about the
incident. Following up on that I actually got fired for standing up for
my rights, or whatever you want to call it, for accusing security of
intimidating workers. So I got in touch with Ray O'Reilly (an IWU
organiser) immediately and the IWU were in the next morning and
met with HMV management. So the IWU did a super job and I got my
job back."

HMV Retreat

Having breached employment legislation by dismissing Cormac
without any notice, HMV waited for three weeks so they could
legitimately end his contract. "There was 25 or 30 people laid off on
Christmas Eve and I was the first to be informed of my laying off. They
didn't like my attitude, basically I was on time every morning, I did my
job, as best as I could within the parameters of what I was supposed to
do, I was friendly to customers, in fact a lot of customers went and said
I was friendly, this and that and had done a good job. They definitely
laid me off and one of my fellow employees who I was very good
friends with, and openly so, and they knew we were good friends on
the floor, he was also laid off by association, they didn't actually have
anything on him. So he lost his job as a result of his friendship with

A HMV employee in another branch described how the contract
structure is used to drive wages down. She was let go at the end of a
seasonal contract and then re-hired a week later as a part-timer, having
lost her entitlement to an increased hourly rate. Where Cormac used to
work, part-timers still haven't received their holiday bonuses.

Being in contact with a union ensured Cormac got his job back, but to
the management it was a clear sign that he identified himself as having
very different interests than his employer.

"HMV have created a façade of hip or grooviness, or whatever you
want to call it, or fashionable image. People really want to get a job
there, people didn't want to jeopardise their job by raising objections. If
you do obey what orders you are given and don't rock the boat there is
a constant reward there. There's a scheme whereby people who adhere
to company policy and wear the HMV logo with pride will be rewarded
in the fact that they'll receive some façade of a promotion, be that
team leader or in the case of seasonal workers, being kept on for a
longer period."

This page is from the print version of the Irish Anarchist paper
'Workers Solidarity'. http://www.struggle.ws/wsm/paper.html
We also provide PDF files of all our publications
for you to print out and distribute locally
This edition is No84 published in Jan 2005

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