Pissing Blood

Pissing Blood: Work Sucks
by Abbey Volcano

This is a story about anger, “non-profits,” and pissing blood. I was in my fifth year working at an independent health food store run by religious fanatics in a suburb outside of the city and I needed more money. I started off part-time at a cultural center, working the events. I would mainly be there at night, during performances and exhibits—taking people’s tickets, helping the artists set up, serving hors d’oeuvres, cleaning the toilets, etc. I was paid $12/hr to do this work and it was the most I had ever made in my life and it was the only job that wasn’t in the service industry, so I was pretty excited. Pretty soon after I started they asked me if I could take over the secretarial position. This was a full-time desk job. I really needed the money, especially because the health food store was closing down since a Whole Foods had moved into town. I took the job since I couldn’t have really done much better as far as pay went.

I know some people think that non-profits are non-capitalist or are somehow better for society and people who work there and so on. People who work in management positions at non-profits tend to be kind of smug because of this. The place I worked didn’t really operate much differently from any other job, so if there’s a non-profit difference, I didn’t see it. This job had been salaried before I took it but they switched it to hourly and they had me work 10-5p instead of 9-5p so they could opt me out of health insurance, sick days, vacation leave, or bennies of any variety. At first I was happy about being able to start working later in the day (I’m a nocturnal insomniac) and I had never had insurance through a job before, so didn’t think much of it. But I realized pretty quickly that this was bullshit. Everyone else in the office was on salary. Sometimes I felt bad for them because if they worked longer hours, they still received the same pay, but I was mainly upset that I was the only unsalaried person. Others clocked in: the janitor, the tech people, part-time people, but I was the only one in the office who had to clock in.
Pretty much everyone mostly just fucked around on the job. Now, I’ve done my share of fucking around on the job. I’m all for fucking around on the job. It beats actually working. But in this job, other people would get mad at me if I needed to do something that meant they had to do some work instead of fucking around on the job. My job made me the first person anyone calling or coming into the cultural center made contact with. If I wasn’t there, someone else had to take calls or questions, or give tours, or the worst: make their own copies and fax their own memos. The other people in the office would be pretty pissed if I wasn’t there on time, or if I was in the bathroom, or late, whatever. They weren’t mean to me, but it disrupted their regular schedule of fucking around in the back and I could tell it annoyed them.

So there was me in the front office and four people in the back: grant writer, administrative person, accounts manager, and the executive director. Everyone else had a lot of flexibility, like you would expect at a salaried job at a cultural center to have. When they had dentist appointments, doctor appointments, their children were sick, they were sick, or anything that required them to be out of the office, they were allowed to go without penalty. Now I didn’t have health insurance like the rest of them, so I didn’t need to worry about getting time off to go to the doctor or dentist. Lucky me! I was pretty bitter about these dynamics, especially since we were all supposed to get along and be friends and what not. I found myself pretty focused on the fact that they had access to all these things and I didn’t. I’d see them laughing and joking around and I’d just think to myself how much easier it is to put a smile on at work when you at least get bennies. (Of course, work sucks, full stop. Fuck work.) So I hated my job, I hated almost all my co-workers because they were smug and on power trips. The executive director—that’s another story all its own; she is a character. A character you love to hate. She’s a rich liberal who thinks she’s a radical. Gross.

Here’s a brief story to demonstrate her fake radicalness, her loyal opposition. The executive director seemed to fetishize me as a radical. She knew my politics since I had been cooking with Food Not Bombs for a couple years and we used the center’s kitchen. So we had chatted a bunch and she considered herself a fellow radical. I’m not sure why she thought this of herself, but she did. When I first started the secretarial position, it was not explained to me that I was to be both a secretary and a personal assistant to this woman. One of the first things she had me do was look over a schematic she came up with that demonstrated how the office was organized in a non-hierarchical manner. She asked me to look it over and offer her suggestions—I think she wanted to pass these out to the office workers to boost morale, but I’m not really sure. The only suggestion I could offer is that it was completely untrue. She was interested in why I thought this, so I took the time to explain to her that the office is not organized in a non-hierarchical manner, as she had clear authority over tasks and the division of labor, she clearly made about $50k more than the other salaried employees, and as looking at it from my own standpoint, I didn’t even have insurance, sick-leave, vacation days, nor salary. It wasn’t just pay that divided us, but the division of labor was clearly and rigidly set by the board and the executive director who also established the various rules and regulations (formal and informal) which we were all to follow. It was really gross to have my boss try to convince me that we were working in a cooperative, non-hierarchical office situation. I continued to oppose everything she offered to support her argument, but she eventually dropped it and just laughed it off. I never saw that schematic again.

So one day I felt like I had a urinary tract infection (UTI) coming on. For those of you unfamiliar with this particular malady— congratulations because they are the worst. It causes you to have to pee constantly, but when you try to urinate it doesn’t really work, and it feels like razor blades are coming out of your urethra instead of urine. It’s awful. Vaginas are more susceptible to them and if you’ve had one, you’ll likely have another since it causes scar tissue, which causes more UTIs, which causes more scar tissue, etc. There are some over-the-counter drugs to ease the pain, but you need to take an antibiotic to clear up the infection so you can pee normally again. When you have a UTI, you can’t really leave your house. It’s awful. A 5-minute ride to work can be too much to handle. When I say you have to pee constantly, I mean it. Sometimes you just sit on the toilet waiting to pee. Sometimes you wear a pad so you can let out little bits of pee. Perhaps I’m getting a little TMI. But the point is, holding in your pee, even if it’s a miniscule amount, is pain that no one can bear.

So I had a UTI coming on and I knew it. I did whatever I could to try and address it with natural things so I didn’t have to go to the walk-in clinic. I drank incredibly expensive gallons of 100% unsweetened cranberry juice, I drank more water than I thought possible, and I also took incredibly expensive cranberry extract pills. That will usually steer me clear and take care of things, but not this particular time. I had symptoms for over a week. I was incredibly uncomfortable and in a lot of pain, but I knew that I didn’t have money to pay for the walk-in, to pay for the meds, and especially to take time off from work and lose those hours.

One morning, about eight days into this ordeal, I woke up to go to work and realized I was now pissing blood. UTIs that get bad enough to piss blood are rare. They’re rare because most people wouldn’t put up with the amount of pain and length of time it takes to have an untreated UTI develop into one which causes pissing blood. Pissing blood is kind of the last straw. So I was pissing blood and knew I had to get to the walk-in as soon as possible. I reluctantly called into work, explained the situation, and told them I’d get there as soon as possible, but that I needed to go to the walk-in first. This was a pretty difficult task since I also didn’t have a car at the time since mine had been stolen from that same job (wee! And also my wallet was stolen off my desk at one point). So I borrowed a car, went to the walk-in, they confirmed I had a UTI and scolded me on waiting so long to treat it, gave me a prescription, and sent me on my way. I went to the pharmacy, got my pills, and drove to work so I could at least make some money that day.

UTIs are treatable and one of the most common infections—all you really need is to take an anti-biotic for a few days and it’s over. My co-workers were shocked that I was pissing blood, they were very concerned and asked why I waited so long to take care of things. The women, especially, winced when I told them the pain I was in. They even told me to go home for the day. At this point, I had pretty much lost any ability to remain calm. I explained to them that I couldn’t afford to take time off of work, I couldn’t afford the walk-in clinic, and I couldn’t afford the prescription, and that was “why” I waited so long. I stayed the rest of the day, of course. I didn’t speak to anyone and my eyes were daggers.

The fact that I had to be pissing blood in order to justify taking off a few hours from work is bullshit. When smug well-off women at “non-profits” are shocked and ask you why you waited so long to go to the doctor when you have a UTI, you pretty much want to kill them, and anyone else, hell, everyone else. They couldn’t understand what it meant not having insurance, not having sick-leave, and not having the ability to even get to a doctor without borrowing a car. They were so used to their salary, their benefits, their vacation time, that they seemed unable to understand the problems I was having and why I didn’t do things the way they would have. I didn’t mince my words, so they started to get it a little. Then they just walked around in a kind of guilty manner the rest of the day. These are the same people who could’ve made my job full-time, offered me benefits, etc. They made the choice to change the job when I took it. I think they knew I’d take it since I was desperate and they weren’t worried about filling the position, so why not screw me over? Worst is, 35 hours in my state is considered full-time and I believe I was entitled to sick leave. Trimming my position to 35 hours/week made them feel better about taking away any benefits, but it wasn’t legal. They felt guilty when they found out how their decision to change my job had affected me, but not so guilty as to pay me more or provide me with health insurance. Fuck liberals, their useless guilt, and their loyal opposition. Furthermore, like I said, fuck work.

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10 thoughts on “
Pissing Blood

  1. jones

    Nice work, Abbey.
    I wish I’d written about all the years I’ve worked in the restaurant business (cash under the table, no bennies).
    I’m glad you had the guts to write it. We’re the tip of the iceberg too, with all the workers in Asia and the global south. I’m with you.

    Fuck work, bosses and all.

    jones (chicago).

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Finding Our Revolutionary Agency: A Review of Peacock Rebellion’s “Agen(c)y” | Advance the Struggle

  3. Frank Edgewick

    Abbey, thanks for writing this. The situation where I live is a bit different, but I think you did a good job outlining the bind (which is the same in Canada, except for paying the doc).
    This is really well written. I like the way it sets up the contrast between the boss’s ideology, the coworkers’ guilty consciences and the economic and practical reality of it. Again, thanks!

    Reply
  4. Cyan

    I’m glad Frank actually identified some good potential lessons from your story. I’m curious why you didn’t elaborate on what you learned from this experience. Unless “fuck work” is really the only thing you want readers to get from your post, you ought to consider how it comes across especially to workers less fortunate than you.

    This actually makes me really upset, and not at the injustice you faced at work, but that you’re complaining about your office job. You’re complaining about your $12 an hour 10-5 M-F office job. Yet despite getting 35 hours a week at 12 an hour, you couldn’t bear to risk your credit by going to a walk in clinic? Or worse, you might have to apply for charity care at the emergency room… and get medical care… for free. Worst case scenario, you go to the ER and if you don’t qualify for financial aid, you get a bill which they will allow you to pay off $10 a month.

    Oh, and if you say that what they did to you wasn’t legal, why didn’t you do anything about it? Do you enjoy wallowing in self-pity while other people in this world die in a factory fire, or watch their children starve?

    Frank pointed out some things that are really worth talking about, but your story just makes you sound like a privileged brat. Please think about this next time before you complain about your job.

    Reply
  5. Nate

    hi Cyan,

    I think you’re being unnecessarily harsh and I don’t understand why. Seriously, I don’t see anything constructive at all in your comment. Frankly, that’s really annoying.You’re basically like “I don’t see any point in writing something like that.” If that’s how you feel about the piece, fair enough, but in that case, I don’t see any point in writing something like THAT. I mean, you’re like “other people have bigger things to complain out, like dying at work, and starvation.” Sure, But that goes for you too – if you want to be like “you’re complaining about something that doesn’t matter!” then why waste your time complaining about a story you didn’t like on a blog that is in large about people complaining about their jobs?

    As for this job being relatively better than others therefore what’s the point in complaining… what’s the threshold below which people are allowed to complain about their jobs?

    Nate

    Reply
    1. Cyan

      Hi Nate, Abby and others,

      You’re right. It was definitely an overly harsh criticism and I ought to be more constructive. I’m sorry it included a personal attack. Please delete it if you want to. I don’t want to be a troll, so I’ll try to express my issue with this article in a better way.

      I was extremely upset that this article was posted on recomp because it doesn’t include anything inspiring or empowering while many other articles do. Instead of reading gossip about her coworker/boss “the character you love to hate,” it would have been more appropriate to elaborate on the differences between the author’s radicalism and her bosses’. I thought that was really insightful.

      I think some organizers (including myself sometimes) focus too much on complaining about their workplace rather than the positive change they want to see happen. It ends up being really depressing.

      In fact, (please don’t see this as an excuse, but an explanation) the depressing, angry, venting tone in the author’s article really made me upset and want to be angry right back in my response. That wasn’t right, but it definitely contributes to feeling of being burnt out with the union if this kind of venting is considered appropriate. Who wants to be a part of that?

      My issue with this blog post isn’t meant to be a personal attack, but a comment on the activist-y scene in general. People tend to be angry at the world, but then leave it at that. Although everyone needs to let off steam every once in a while, I think the author really could have illustrated a positive vision of what would be just in a better society.

      Anyway, I don’t want to be a hater too, but I really felt this was inappropriate (on this blog, not a personal one) and I want to know why this article was written the way it was and why it was included on this site that is usually pretty encouraging.

      Reply
  6. Sabo Cat

    Abby, this is a fantastic piece, and 100% accurate. I am a veteran of the NGO sector, and can account first-hand for the way in which workers are exploited and burnt out. I am in the process of writing an article on my own experiences at a unionized NGO, and will be sure to post to Recomp. when it is finished.

    And I also echo Nate’s critiques of Cyan. The NGO is full of people who basically martyr themselves for their employer, because there are especially strong taboos about speaking out against non-profit employers (especially those organizations who serve clients). Workers in this field have to think about reaching out to clients if they are willing to resort to job action, because you can bet the bosses will use the disruption of service to clients as a major weapon against worker militancy.

    Reply
  7. F Cecilia Adamson

    I agree with Cyan’s specific criticism regarding the discord between this piece and the general thrust of Recomposition articles, which I don’t believe are largely “about people complaining about their jobs.” To be honest, I kept waiting for the part that reads, “so this is what we did about it.”

    Personal testimony and experience is powerful and invaluable to revolutionaries, and expressing moral outrage (fuck the boss, liberals, work, capitalism, etc) can often help illuminate struggle. Obviously, as workers we’re all subject to a system that degrades our human dignity in myriad ways. As a worker and a workplace organizer I’ve become accustomed to multiple heinous narratives constantly running through my head including the effects capital has on me and my family and the effects it has on my co-workers and my class. In fact, it’s more accurate to say that there’s only one narrative and it’s the effect capital has only all of us.

    Abbey, I have a few questions about your piece.

    1. Was there something that you were trying to get
    across or convey with this article, beyond expressing
    moral outrage?
    2. Can you clarify what you mean by “radical.”
    3. Are there any lessons or insights that you gained from
    this experience that might inform collective workplace
    struggle?
    4. Were you able to organize at this workplace?

    Solidarity

    Reply
  8. Don Gato

    Hi Cyan,

    You say “it doesn’t include anything inspiring or empowering” like that’s a *bad* thing. Often times, work isn’t. And I’m happy the folks here are cataloguing that experience of working class life.

    I’m sorry you didn’t like it, but I think pulling out the privilege stick and referring to people as “brats” is a much more disempowering and uninspiring form of communicating ideas than describing why work under capitalism sucks ass.

    Reply

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