Part three of ‘Dude, Where’s My Class?’ – a series of stories by Andrew Gladman, looking at the forgotten British working class.
The following is a work of fiction based on too many true stories.
I take a proper deep sniff and the glob o’ snot that’s been clogging m’ nostril up shoots back into my ‘ead, lettin’ the smell a stale piss just fuckin’ hit me. I wanna retch but just sorta scrunch muh face up in disgust, like I always do goin’ into the work loos. As the piss stink hits me, the cold phlegm gets all sorta curdled in the back a my throat. I cough it up, spit it into the bog and take a piss. Always nice to get a breever, no mattah ‘ow vile the air you’re breeving is. Feel so fuckin’ rushed in ‘ere, man. Bosses get so pissy if yer pissin’ too long. Regional manager’s in n’ all today, no idea what that’s about. So I squeeze it out quick, flush the bog, wash my hands wivvout soap still – they said they’d get some in ‘ere – dry ’em on muh trousers, cos we still don’t ‘ave a dryer or anything neever, and get back out on the shop floor.
Got a load a new stock in, just shovin’ it all on the shelves at the mo, stickin’ the li’l size cubes on the ‘angers. Pain in the arse, man. Pain in the fuckin’ hand at least, forcing a dozen a those things on, jabbin’ yourself with the hanger tips every time.
“Where the fuck are your staff? I’ve got customers wandering about looking lost as fuck, wandering back out, it’s costing us money! It’s not good enough.”
I look up, n’ there ‘e is, hissin’ through his whitened teeth at my manager. Fuckin’ middle-aged dragon in a tight jumper and pricey jeans, tryin’ t’ cling to ‘is twenties, covered in enough ‘air gel and cosmetics to keep the Boots across the road in business on ‘is own. It’s like someone took a proper council ‘ouse nutter and dressed ‘im up as a Love Island contestant. That’s Stephen, the regional manager, ‘aving a go at Mike, who’s actually alright as managers go. Mike’s apologisin’ in that quiet, dreary way ‘e’s got. Stephen don’t look pleased, ‘e’s shakin’ ‘is ‘ead, hands on ‘is ‘ips, gettin’ proper agi.
I force the last size cube inta place n’ grab a bunch a the t-shirts, takin’ ’em over to the rack where they go. I shove ’em all on, forcin’ ’em back onto the bit a railing. It’s always a squeeze, shovin’ more on there than fit. ‘XS’ is glarin’ at me from the front hanger.
“Oi, Joe.” Sam taps me on the shoulder.
“Alright, mate? ‘sup?”
“Y’ got a minute?”
“Quick chat in the break room?”
I glance over at Stephen, stood behind the counter, surveyin’ ‘is domain.
“Can’t right now, mate. Just stepped out for a piss a minute ago, don’t want to get a bollockin’ off a them.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure. Cool. Bit later, yeah?”
“Yeah, sure, mate.”
Sam’s a decent bloke n’ a proper hard worker n’ all. Well overdue a promotion.
So anyway, a little bit later, when I’ve got through all the ‘angers n’ there’s a bit ‘f a lull, I follow Sam to the break room, givin’ it a quick check Stephen and Mike ain’t about.
“How’s it going? You doin’ alright?”
“Yeah, yeah, mate,” I tell ‘im, squatting into into one of the low plastic seats. “What’s goin’ on?”
‘e leans back against the sink as ‘e talks t’ me.
“Basically just tryin’ t’ chat to everyone about maybe joinin’ a union.”
“Union? What you on about?”
“So, I just signed up wiv one, right? Union of shop and something something workers, can’t remember if off the top a my head. But anyway, I’ve been chattin’ with ’em and basically it’s somethin’ it’d be really worth us all gettin’ involved with.”
“Yeah?” Gotta admit, don’t really know much about this stuff, unions n’ that. Thought that was all for train drivers and postmen and teachers n’ that. “What they do?”
“Watch our backs, basically. If we’re not paid fair or Stephen n’ that treat us like shit or mess us about or whatever, they can ‘elp out wiv legal support n’ stuff, or even get us involved with strikes if shit is, like, bad in a whole bunch a shops n’ that.”
We don’t get paid fair and we do get treated like shit.
“Can’t see it doin’ a whole lotta good ’round ‘ere, mate!” I laugh.
“Might do though. If they’re ever tryin’ a mug us off, y’know, bendin’ rules n’ that. It’s just a bit a proper legal support n’ that sorta stuff. Otherwise there’s really fuck all we can do.”
“Yeah. Sure. Alright, might look into it.”
“Got a sign-up form if you want one?”
Grabbed this form off a him, thought I’d take a look at it later, so I shoved it under the desk as I got on till duty. Like I say, din’t know all that much about unions and all this legal shit, but might be good, doin’ somethin’ t’ make sure we ain’t totally screwed over. Probably won’t even use ’em, y’know, but good to know I got the option.
Anyway, the shift goes on, n’ muh particular lack a skills’re needed elsewhere, so someone else takes over on till and then someone must a taken over after them an’ so on. Anyway, I must a left that form lyin’ around, cos when Stephen’s calling us into a meeting, a few ‘f us at a time, I can’t find it anywhere and ‘e’s ‘oldin’ one that looks just like it.
“Look,” ‘e’s sayin’ and y’ can basically see that ol’ dragon smoke swirlin’ about be’ind ‘is teeth, “there’s nothing I can do, officially, about any of you signing up with a union. You really want to, you can go ahead, you’ve got that right. But if I find anyone with one of these forms, I’m not going to be happy. Yeah? And obviously, if I do find people taking part in potentially disruptive, non-work-related activities that I deem to be interfering with their duties,” ‘e waves the form a bit as ‘e says it, “you can be damn sure there will be consequences. Am I making myself clear? Yeah?”
And that’s that. Y’know how it is. End a the day, what can you do? Y’know? What can any a us do?