Happy Steal Something from Work Day! Every April 15, on Tax Day, when the government robs us to pay for the police and bureaucrats who extort us, we observe Steal Something from Work Day. On this day—like every day of the year—millions of workers across the country smuggle whatever we can out of the workplace in a modest attempt to reclaim a little of the time and effort we are forced to sell. It’s a paltry substitute for the freedom we deserve, but pending revolution, we’ll take what we can get.
This year, in honor of all the workers whose stories are never told, we present the testimony of one wage slave who recalls his misspent youth in the stockroom of an upscale clothing store and recounts how he exacted his revenge, ultimately calling into question whether there is anything worth taking from the world of work at all.
More resources for the pilferous toiler:
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
Out Of Stock: Confessions Of A Grocery Store Guerrilla—A former Whole Foods employee recounts his efforts to run his employer out of business by means of sabotage, graffiti, and insubordination, reinterpreting William Butler Yeats’ line “The falcon cannot hear the falconer” from a bird’s-eye view.
Steal from Work to Create Autonomous Zones—The shocking true story of how a photocopy scam nearly escalated into global revolution.
And there’s more! Steal Something from Work Day videos, corporate media coverage, and even a journal (pdf, 4.3 MB).
What Became of the Boxes
My friends in high school though I was joking. I’d gotten a job at Express, an upscale Armani-Exchange-type clothing store in our suburban Texas shopping mall. How could they allow the sight of me in my duct-taped Chucks and Clockwork Orange hoodie? It made more sense when I explained that I worked in the back, in a stockroom where no one could see me. Occasionally my manager would pop in when the front was slow to tell me about a Rob Zombie concert, but other than that I was left alone with the clothes.
My responsibilities in the backroom were twofold: new stuff comes in, old stuff goes out. I wheeled in the boxes of new clothes delivered daily from the hidden passageways that run behind the stores of any proper indoor shopping mall. If you’ve never been inside, think of it like the modern equivalent of the walkways under the Roman Coliseum where dudes, or tigers, or gods from the machine pop out from trap doors all day to keep the crowds happy. The khakis, and cardigans, and skirts, and chamois got opened, sorted, shelved, and most importantly, security tagged. This made me, essentially, the first line in loss prevention. That was a mistake.
Pretty soon into working there, I figured out that I could steal whatever I wanted by just going for a walk out the back door, down that gloomy hallway, and out the door into the sunlight, to stash merchandise underneath a bush to grab after I got off. It was pretty easy, since the other half of my job was to take the trash and empty boxes out. In fact, looking back on it, it was laughably easy, and it felt nice and vengeful in a workplace where we were all marched out one by one through the security sensor at the end of each night and had our bags checked to boot. I started stealing jeans and coats for my friends who wanted them, but I never took much for myself. Partly because Express Ltd. didn’t really cater to my teenage punk fashion sense, and also because my Mother, who still did all my laundry, also worked there as a second job (which was embarrassing on multiple levels) and would totally bust me if she noticed a sudden influx of expensive pants.
After a while, my friends had their fill, and I didn’t really know enough about eBay to set up some sort of fencing scheme. Stealing from work can be an exciting break from the drudgery, but, in all the jobs I’ve ever worked, it can also be a huge drag. Every time I go to a college dining hall, I walk in the door with big ambitions: “I’m gonna eat for the next two days, and then fill my bag with all the food I can carry!” But half an hour in, when my second plate of pasta hits me and I’m comatose with mediocre nutrition, the very though of bringing all that crap home with me makes me wanna ralph. Work’s the same shit. Even if they’re expensive power tools or building supplies, the thought of bringing the things you’ve been stuck with in a warehouse for 12 hours home with you can be revolting. It’s just hard to get excited about it. You feel a little cheap acting as if the stuff that the company has or makes could somehow compensate for the emotional toll work takes on you.
One particularly grueling day, when I was feeling that kind of nausea with the job and the boxes seemed endless, I had a stroke of genius: it would be a lot simpler to combine my two responsibilities into one. Why not just throw out the new boxes of clothes? No sorting, hanging, or tagging, and no smuggling or fencing, either—just garbage, straight to the dumpster. It was exhilarating: all of the fun and none of the baggage. As long as I didn’t throw out too many, it would never be noticed till next year’s inventory, and I (correctly) assumed that I would probably be fired for some other reason by then anyway.
So it became a routine: some time after lunch, I would load up the little dolly, roll it down those hallways, and heave ‘em into the big dumpster never to be seen again. They looked just like empties anyway.
Was this theft? I don’t know. I mean, if I got caught, I would have been charged with that, but it just seemed different when I didn’t keep or even want the stuff. It was my time, my effort, and some sense of control that I was trying to steal back. All that shit was just trash to begin with.