Not just here for the money

Short Cuts by Paul Myerscough in the London Review of Books tackles Pret a Manger’s recent sacking of a worker at a London outlet. Was it for being insulting or for forming a union?

“Work increasingly isn’t, or isn’t only, a matter of producing things, but of supplying your energies, physical and emotional, in the service of others. It isn’t what you make, but how your display of feeling makes others feel. This won’t be news to mothers, nurses and prostitutes, but the massive swelling of the service economy means that emotional availability can no longer be dismissed as women’s work; it must be seen as a dominant commodity form under late capitalism.

And it has to be real. ‘The authenticity of being happy is important,’ a Pret manager tells the Telegraph, ‘customers pick up on that.’ It isn’t clear which is the more demanding, authenticity or performance, being it or faking it, but in either case it’s difficult to believe that there isn’t something demoralising, for Pret workers perhaps more than most in the high street, not only in having their energies siphoned off by customers, but also in having to sustain the tension between the performance of relentless enthusiasm at work and the experience of straitened material circumstances outside it.”

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