(Article originally published in POOR Magazine’s “Revolutionary Worker Scholar” column)
I believe in Miracles
Since you came along
You sexy thing
–You Sexy Thing, Hot Chocolate
It is 7:15 AM and I’m standing guard at a supermarket. The shelves are stocked with soups, toilet paper, cereals—everything. It is cold and I begin pacing back and forth. I think of tigers in cages. I feel a brotherhood with them although I am not locked in a cage. Music is piped into the store’s overhead speakers. Suddenly I hear the famous guitar riff of the 70’s hit “You sexy thing” by Hot Chocolate. The song was featured in the movie, “The Full Monty” where a group of unemployed steel workers in England—some of whom work as security guards for lack of anything else—devise a scheme to make big money as strippers. The final unforgettable scene shows the group dressed in security guard uniforms stripping at a club before an audience of screaming women.
I look at my uniform and want to dance—to tear my uniform off and dance while cans of soup and other items jump off the shelves and into the pockets and outstretched arms of people who walk right out the door and into the sunshine—no questions asked. I am jolted out of my daydream when the manager calls for a price check over the loudspeakers. People begin filtering in—I acknowledge each with a nod. They are elders, youth and migrants. I’m the first person they see.
My job is to be a deterrent to shoplifting. Would-be shoplifters are supposed to look at my uniform and see me as a symbol of authority–making a 360-degree turn and heading out the door. When I take my 10-minute break I go to the bathroom. I look in the mirror. I don’t see a symbol of authority but a symbol of a bad economy.
It’s been almost 20 years since I last worked as a security guard. To work as a guard you have to be licensed by the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. I got my “guard card” by taking a class provided by a security officer training school in Oakland. I remember the bold words captured in a frame in one of the school’s offices:
Those who adapt
Those who don’t
Those words made me think of dinosaurs. I sat through the “powers of arrest” and “duties of a security officer” sections before watching a video on the security implications of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The class was a cross section of elders, migrants, people of color and ex-military folks. One young man was given an ultimatum by his father, get a job as a security guard or join the marines. Another young man had ambitions of joining the California Highway Patrol. I sat in back of the class next to an elder from Fiji. We looked at each other, he nodded—he knew.
It’s 8:10 AM. More and more people filter in. Many are migrant Raza with families, many are African descended, Chinese and Russian elders. I am part of what is known as Loss Prevention—LP for short—making sure the store doesn’t lose potato ships, toilet paper, and freeze-dried noodle soup. But what of the losses that come through the door, each with a face that tells a story? The list of losses include:
Do those losses count–do they ever count? I stand at the front entrance and nod in acknowledgement.
Private security is one of the fastest growing industries in the US. 34 billion dollars a year is spent on private security services to protect private property. This reflects upon the rampant privatization of public safety services, shifting from protecting people to protecting property. In a report by http://www.themorningcall.com, between 11,000 and 15,000 companies employ over a million security officers—double that of police officers. According to Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the occupation of security officer has a turnover rate comparable to that of a fast food employee. In an economy that is spiraling downward, it is ironic that the only job many people can get relates to the enforcement of laws governing property rights. Prior to my security job, I worked as an employment counselor for a local non-profit. I helped low-income people find work and take part in community organizing campaigns. Now I work as a guard—it’s the only job I can get right now.
There were several candidates applying at the security-company that eventually hired me. All were African descended, a couple elders. One fellow had worked in the Tennessee prison system and had failed the test to become a San Francisco Police officer. His eyes lit like pools of flame when he talked about the starting salary of a SF cop. Another applicant was a woman who wore brown polyester suit with fingernails a deep shade of red. She looked like a muni bus driver but could have easily been my auntie. She expressed frustration of ageism in her job search. She then talked about her daughter who was attending classes at UC Berkeley. “My daughter is so smart,” she said, her face beaming.
It’s 9:50 AM and the traffic in the store is picking up. A houseless man walks in. According to my post orders, I am to ask all undesirables to leave the premises. Our eyes lock. I nod and wait for “You sexy thing” to come over the loudspeaker.