The decades pass, the executives get richer, and those of us who put in our time and our creative output to keep them going generally get something between jack and shit. Even those who get paid above and beyond hourly rates get stiffed pretty reliably in direct proportion to how much they focus on creating good work instead of playing corporate politics.
If you're reading this blog, you probably already know this right down the the marrow of your bones.
But what justice there is can usually be traced back to somebody whose work was valuable, who somehow did build a certain reserve of their own wealth and power, and who is a sufficiently stubborn son of a bitch to refuse to accept "I'm sorry, we seem to have lost your letter on this matter; please send it again for our consideration" as a sufficient answer.
Right now Harlan Ellison is doing this. You can read about it here. Star Trek would never have done as well without his writing and he's demanding a fair accounting of all the products they've derived from his work, from a Christmas ornament that plays back lines he wrote to a series of books entirely built around characters he created. They've been giving him the runaround about this since Shatner had his own hair and will keep doing so forever unless this suit wins.
To which I say, GO HARLAN! All of us who have ever written for pay, all of us who have ever seen our creative output of any sort treated with off-handed contempt upon reception, recognized as lucrative internally, and then bent, folded, spindled, and mutilated for their maximum gain while the actual creators aren't even invited to the table to play a role, let alone get paid anything proportionate, should be willing to do whatever it takes to help. He is fighting for everybody who sells the products of their mind or even who has previously and now finds themselves getting nothing while gladhanding, seatwarming, frat boys congratulate each other on how much they've screwed us thinkin' folks yet again.
Once, years back, I took on a really nasty consulting job for an English magazine group that was launching a cooking magazine in the States.
The company IT manager has carried only two things away from his punk youth, expensive tattoos, and a very brownshirted insistence that everything be done his way, despite New York being just slightly different from London in, well, everything from supply relationships to voltages and software release dates. But being the young idiot and compulsive fixer I was I worked away at it anyway.
But somehow, as the weeks turned into months, once my first bill had been covered, I still wasn't being paid any of the rest. The New York office said I needed to talk (on the phone, mind you, in the early nineties) to the relevant people in the London accounting office. Those people, knowing perfectly well what each call was costing me, kept saying "the person you need just stepped out. How about you call again later?" When I finally got them on the phone they said that they needed more approvals from the folks in the New York office. And back and forth and back and forth. By this time the gig was over and, as far as I knew, my leverage was nil. And I was thousands of dollars behind, not even including expenses they were now disallowing entirely. Their lies and betrayal were leaving me unable to pay my rent.
For a while I stewed uselessly but then I talked to Martha Leinroth, a designer and photographer I knew from a consulting firm we both used to work for. She was older than me, more established, and generally more endowed with both perspective and experience about this kind of thing and she told me a story. Now, Martha was always a very elegant woman. She spoke and acted with grace and I had seen her stay composed and clear thinking through some pretty tumultuous times. So when she said that once, after a client had just absolutely refused to pay a bill, she had walked into their office, up to the relevant person's desk, kicked everything off the desk, and stood on it looking down at these weasels, saying that she would come down only when a signed check was in her hands, I believed her. And when she said that the check was soon in her hands, I understood her point.
Now, not being an elegant, black-clad, near six-foot tall, female college professor, I figured my approach should be a bit different. So I went to the magazine's offices and said that I wanted to talk to their bookkeeper about the delay in my check.
I was told that she had an appointment. I said that I would wait. I was told that it would be a long appointment. I said that was okay, and opened my bag, showing my notebook, some product literature I needed to review, and at least three books. That's fine, I said; I have plenty to keep me busy. The receptionist threatened to call security if I wouldn't leave and I said that was fine. I would then call the police and file charges of felony theft. She said that, well, then I could wait there after all. The entire exchange, mind you, spoken in plausibly polite tones.
I was still there at 6:00. I was back at 9:00. If I remember correctly, it took me about four days over the course of a little over a week. (Lost a few days to other gigs.) But eventually, a little after I had settled in for yet another day in their lobby with my copies of MacWeek, my books, my daytimer, their bookkeeper came out to the front and insisting that this had just been a trivial misunderstanding (though still trying to somehow pin all the delay on me), walked out and handed me a check. Not for the full originally promised amount, I'll grant. They got away with chiseling about a thousand of various expenses and such. But, nonetheless, most of my money and sure as hell money I wouldn't have seen at all if I had waited "politely" for them to be "reasonable".
My friend Sara Stewart and I wonder sometimes, when did it become assumed that being a progressive meant being everybody's doormat? What ever happened to all that the unions worked for to create a just fury among those who get screwed by the kind of people who take dinner dates with judges and host benefits for legislators? What softened away the righteous willingness to stand up and say that we've had enough to the faces of the scam artists who seem to be behind so much these days?
We know many of the answers to that. Corporate structures that hide every decision behind layer upon layer of "customer service" desks and 800 numbers where we're supposed to accept them as the authoritative and sufficient voice of the corporation when they're saying offensive things to us but be polite to them no matter what because, after all, "it's not their fault, they're just doing their jobs".
In person, for what it's worth, I'm not terribly big on literally raising my voice as a way to get things changed. I've generally found it more effective to calmly, implacably, refuse to go away."I'm sorry, but I can't accept that. May I speak to your manager, please?" "your manager is away? I see. Who is the store supervisor at this time. I see. Then I'll speak to them. They're busy? That's okay. I'll wait. No, I don't need a seat. I'll stand right here" (in the middle of their busiest aisle). Or sometimes, as I'm told I need to sign something or check something, to simply walk away and force them to either yield the point or need to physically attack me.
But we all need to to do this. We all need, sometimes, to refuse to "sit back down and not disturb the other customers". We all need to, as I did yesterday, walk up to the sales desk at Comcast and tie up half an hour of their time going over how it's illegal to sabotage downloads (it's called "throttling") as they have been found to do and that I will be changing my service soon. Feels good. I've had a good rant to clear my head and they'll be a little more reluctant to hang onto those jobs as corporate stooges.
Y'all mostly know about my DIY Manifesto. You know that I fight for the big battles, too. To change zoning codes and how kids are raised and how people are taxed and regulated and punished. But this stuff is crucial, too. Once you yield to a bully, you betray not only yourself, but everybody who will deal with that bully after you. And which is more polite, being calm and "understanding" while somebody fucks you over, or defending not only yourself, but those who will come after?