Tomorrow, April 15, is tax day: the day by which you are required to file income tax returns so the US government can extort some of your earnings, the greatest part of which traditionally goes to funding the military and police without which such banditry would be impossible. Thanks to the tax breaks available to the wealthy, your employers may pay less in taxes than you, even as they take more profit home. Many corporations—like Citigroup and Bank of America—pay no federal taxes whatsoever.
In addition, April 15 is a nationwide day of protest under the banner Fight for $15, aimed at winning workers $15-an-hour wages and the right to unionize. Now, we’d love to think that a few protests would suffice to make corporations treat their employees better, or to make the government that exists to protect those corporations suddenly change sides… but we’re not holding our breath. If you’re participating in those actions, we wish you success; just don’t get so comfortable negotiating the details of our exploitation that you come to take it for granted. Even $150 an hour couldn’t justify the humiliating jobs many of us are forced to hold. Real dignity isn’t a question of getting higher wages to do the same thing; we deserve complete self-determination, not better compensation for squandering our lives.
April 15 is also the sixth annual Steal Something from Work Day. Whether or not your employer raises your wages or permits you to unionize, you can conspire with your fellow employees to expand your take-home pay yourselves. You can that do right now, on your own terms, without waiting for legislation, without opening negotiations with your enemies, without the assistance of paid organizers or condescending nonprofits, without struggling to get the attention of politicians who answer to the highest bidder. Sure, stealing from your workplace is dangerous, but it’s no more dangerous than the kind of pressure campaign it would take to win a living wage for everyone nationwide—consult the bloody history of the old US labor movement if you want to know how people won the right to unionize in the first place. And what is more likely to equip us to move towards a real revolution, collective illegal activity or legal reform campaigns? Not that you necessarily have to choose—try both, if you like.
This Steal Something from Work Day is dedicated to the memory of over 1200 Bangladeshi garment workers who lost their lives in the Tazreen Factory fire of 2012 and the Rana Plaza collapse of 2013—two factories that served Walmart, one of the targets of the Fight for $15 campaign. The same corporations and market forces that steal our lives piecemeal in the US steal them wholesale overseas. Rather than just negotiating for a better deal with these butchers, we should treat them the way they treat us—taking whatever we can by deception or main force, in hopes of one day getting rid of them entirely.
The law has never been on our side when it counts. Those who want to help should defend and expand the protest activity workers are already involved in, including forms as invisible yet pervasive as workplace theft. As Emma Goldman said, if stealing from your boss changed anything, it would be illegal.
Tomorrow, we’ll get what we deserve—thanks in advance. In the meantime, here’s an array of resources for those curious about Steal Something from Work Day.
Steal Something from Work Day: Theory
Frequently Asked Questions about Steal Something from Work Day—A classic, along with the Submedia video
A Theft or Work?—A grad student brings poststructuralist theory to bear on time theft, why the master’s degrees will never dismantle the master’s house, and how to resist work when it has spread so far beyond the workplace
Indie Rock arguments for stealing from work
The Church of Christ in Galway, Ireland argues strenuously against Steal Something from Work Day
Steal Something from Work Day: Practice
Out Of Stock: Confessions Of A Grocery Store Guerrilla—A former Whole Foods employee recounts his efforts to run his employer out of business
Steal from Work to Create Autonomous Zones—The shocking true story of a photocopy scam that nearly escalated into global revolution
What Became of the Boxes—Another story of working-class revenge
…and here’s a new brand narrative for this year’s Steal Something from Work Day:
Like Most Workplace Thieves, I Am an Exceptional Worker
My name is Ann and I am a successful small-time career criminal. I’ll start the story with some background information about my lifestyle. I have lived out of my car and in squats alternately for the past several years. I live remarkably cheaply, but I do use some money. My main expenses are my car, my storage unit, my gym membership and my coffee and cigarette addictions. Nobody’s perfect. I have more affluent tastes than the vast majority of homeless people but after having been on the streets off and on, I’ve learned to live without a lot and how to source a lot of things for free.
My last job was at a (relatively) small corporate retail chain specializing in greenwashed products for rich people to appease their consciences over their consumption habits. My boss was a sexist jerk who knew way less about the products we sold than I did, but had a background in management (in another field) so he got to be in charge. I am an artisan craftsperson who’s seeing my trade being completely industrialized and my skill being made obsolete and relegated to being a niche curiosity for wealthy people. The main push from management was on sellership and creating ambiance, which I hate. Efficiency increased dramatically when I was alone in the shop.
It took a little while to gain the trust to be left alone in more often, but like most workplace thieves, I am an exceptional worker. Part of this is obviously in the MO, but I think the joy of padding one’s own paycheck helps combat the lethargy and meaninglessness that most low-level employees feel from their job. Part of it may also be that clever, hard working people are more inclined to combat their own class oppression than apathetic people are.
The register setup was perfect. I could cancel a transaction and pop the drawer open without customers seeing anything. I have a natural aptitude for mathematics and just kept a tally of how much in cash transactions I had canceled out until the shop was empty and I could take it from the drawer. I started out small, like $5-$15 per day but as the ease of it hit me, and as business picked up through the summer, I eventually moved to taking as much as they were paying me. I gradually learned some issues this posed to me regarding money management. The first was with the supply of change in the register. Even though the balance at the end of the day matched the register tape, the change would be drastically depleted. I started carrying a wad of ones and fives and a handful of coins in my purse to refill the drawer at the end of the day. The second issue was when I noticed that I had been depositing all of my paychecks without withdrawing any money for anything and just living off the cash I took. I started withdrawing some money from the bank just so my records wouldn’t look so strange, but this was leaving me with a quickly growing bail of cash. Paranoia set in just a bit. I took out a storage unit to keep my money (and a few possessions) in.
Business (and therefore my cash flow) was declining towards the winter. The boss installed a new POS [point of sale] system in the register to keep track of inventory. The next day a customer came in and bought something really expensive that we only had one of and paid in cash. I think it might have been a setup but I couldn’t resist. One time I worked somewhere where the supervisor was stealing and the boss knew it but didn’t fire him. He wanted to catch him in the act so he could press charges and he made me participate in trying (unsuccessfully) to trap him. I stayed up late into the night wondering if there would be cops there for me the next day. I decided to call in that morning with some bullshit story about having just been injured in a bicycle accident and never went back.
At the end of my employment, I had saved up about ten grand in six months, roughly half of it stolen cash. I’ve been unemployed for eight months now. I’ve volunteered at a local youth drop-in center, and started a Food Not Bombs chapter and another free grocery distribution project. Giving back to my street community is important to me. I do a lot of resource sharing—clothing, sleeping gear, etc. I’ve taken up several hobbies, started a regular workout routine, traveled, and read lots of educational literature in that time. I bought myself a few nice toys, but mostly just lived modestly off the money. As I write this today, I am still sitting on five grand.