A week last Friday, as I was watching The Big Bang Theory, sprawled on the sofa and eating grapes, my phone went a bit mental. A music blogger had retweeted my post about being made redundant, and within the hour, 5000 people had read it. The next day that increased to 25,000 and the New Statesman and Gizmodo had published it. My twitter was bleeping every minute with replies and there were more comments than I could respond to. I have never experienced anything quite like that. So many of the comments were incredibly nice about what I had written, and I was amazed that so many people would send well wishes to a complete stranger. There are some truly lovely people on the internet. The whole thing also provided a nice opportunity to catch up with some people I used to work with and hadn’t spoken to for a while, in particular the aforementioned Ev.
Being fascinated by the fact that people were actually reading something I’d written, I began to explore the WordPress Stats page. Dangerous page. As well as providing frightening charts that show you exactly how many times your blog has been visited, it provides a list of all the referral links to your page. And there began a two hour period of reading business and employment threads, social commentary blogs and the Guardian’s comment section. All places where people had linked my blog as a response to the conversations they were partaking in. All places where people had commented on my blog, and more to the point, my job.
Many commenters said I should have just got a new job. This made me angry. I tried that. I actually spent the whole of 2009, and a decent portion of 2010 on a seemingly hopeless quest to find a different employer. I was signed up to several temping agencies, went to the job centre almost every day and spent countless hours applying online. I would have taken anything. The fact of the matter was that every time I applied for a position, so did 300 other people. Because I wasn’t the only person who had been made redundant. And the army of the newly jobless just joined the ocean of people who were already in the same position. There were more of us than there were jobs.
The next accusation made me so livid that when I read the first comment that contained it, I had to pace around the living room for a few minutes, telling myself I’d only hurt my foot if I kicked a wall. ‘It’s your own fault,’ the commenter told me. ‘Trusting your income and future to a minimum wage job in a failing sector is unwise to say the least, and if you determine to go from one of these posts to another, do not be surprised when you find yourself in debt and jobless.’
Told me. Of course, I hadn’t realised that because I was stupid enough to work in a shop, it was all my own fault. But then as I, perhaps unwisely, read more comments, I discovered this person wasn’t alone. In fact, quite a lot of people shared his bigoted opinion. I don’t know why I was so surprised, and angry. For the last two years I have worked in a five star hotel. The majority of our guests are quite lovely. But some of them check in, certain wealthy business men or women, with designer briefcases and expensive shoes, and will possess an air of arrogance that only comes from never having to struggle for anything, and a determination not to understand those that do. A pitiful look at the concierge as their suitcases are taken, the disdainful look at the boy further down the reception desk, who has clearly had to save for months to bring his girlfriend to stay. These people will be rude, belittling. Once I was checking in a man and he told me to shut up. ‘I don’t want to hear your voice,’ he told me. ‘Just shut up and give me the room keys, right now.’
Because I am in a minimum wage job, I am less. I am unintelligent. By the logic expressed in some of those comments, I deserve to be poor, and spoken to badly. It is the same logic that caused one awful MP, last week, to say poor people are more likely to be fat, because rich people know how to look after themselves better. This is from a person who is helping to lead our country! It is the logic that sees some wealthy people arguing we should throw away the benefits system, just like that. MAKE THE POOR PEOPLE WORK. Because if you are poor, and can’t support your family, you must be lazy, and stupid and playing the system. And you’re probably fat.
There is no shame in having a minimum wage job. It doesn’t make you a lesser person. It doesn’t mean that businesses are entitled to screw you over, and it doesn’t mean that you deserve to be in debt. It doesn’t mean that you are wasting your life. I would love to have a job where I am doing something I love, but the fact that I feel I should be doing something different has nothing to do with how much money they pay me. The worth of my employment, and the worth of me, has nothing whatsoever to do with money, and there is the inherent problem with our society. The worth of everything is measured by money, and that is wrong, twisted, distorted. Of course, this is all stuff that goes without saying. And obviously, the majority of people are good people who believe in equality and justice, regardless of how much money they have. This is not a go at people, just because they have wealth. That would be as wrong as those commenters. But the attitude of individuals who measure me, and millions of other people, as less, because we earn less, or depend on a welfare system, or work in service industry, or cannot get out of unemployment, etc, etc, makes me furious.
At the very least, who would serve all those rich people in the shops, when they decide to spend all their money?