My body, my rules: a case for rape and domestic violence survivors becoming workplace organizers

My body, my rules: a case for rape and domestic violence survivors becoming workplace organizers

Liberté Locke, a Starbucks Workers Union organizer, writes about how violence at work and in our personal lives are similar, how domestic abusers and bosses use the same techniques of control and that we need to fight both.

TRIGGER WARNING: sexual violence

(Cet article en français)

I was raped by a boyfriend on August 18th, 2006. The very next day I held back tears while I lied to a stranger over the phone about why I was unavailable to go in that day for a second interview for a job that I desperately needed. When I hung up the phone I saw a new text message. It was from him. “It’s not over. It will never be over between us…”

The next day I went in for the second interview. It was inside of the Sears Tower Starbucks in Chicago. I took the train to the interview constantly looking around me and shaking. I needed work. I had just been fired from Target two weeks prior and had no prospects. I knew I would have to go through a metal detector in order to enter the building so despite every instinct in my body I did not bring a knife with me.

“What would you do if you caught a coworker stealing?”

My mind is racing. I’m thinking that I risked my safety by leaving my house for a stupid job that pays $7.75/hr. Aren’t I worth more than that? Aren’t we all worth so much more?

“I’d tell management right away, of course. I’ve never understood why someone would steal from work…”

I tell them what they want me to.

I started working at Starbucks on August 22, 2006. That was a little over five years ago. Every year we have annual reviews where I generally get to argue with someone younger than me who makes significantly more than do about why my hard work, aching back, cracking hands, sore wrists, the bags under my eyes, the burns, the bruises on my arms, the cuts on my knees, the constant degrading treatment by the customers, the “baby, honey, sugar, bitch”, the “hey, you, slut…I said NO whip cream!”s, the staring, the following after work…I get to argue why all that means I’m worth a 33cent raise rather than 22cents, Degrading for any worker. Degrading especially for a woman worker. Only for me, I get to do this every year just four days after the anniversary of when someone I was in love with raped me. My annual review is truly the only reason I’m reminded of the anniversary of the assault.

I wish I was exaggerating but truthfully I’ve just toned down how I really feel about it. Since we’re talking about labor, I could also mention how when I was raped I didn’t leave the house where it happened until the morning because of two main reasons 1) I feared riding the subway home at 3am and 2) I was getting picked up in the morning by my then best friend (and my boyfriend’s other partner) to head to her wealthy parents’ house in the suburbs where they were paying me to clean. Desperately needing to sell my labor in exchange for simple cash kept me laying awake next to my attacker. Not wanting to lose the gig had me lying to him. Promising that I’d never tell anyone. Promising not to leave him. Promises that at the time I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t keep.

It was when I was on my hands and knees literally scrubbing the floor of her parents’ house that it occurred to me that being poor was truly enough of an assault.

I stood up. I told her everything. I didn’t hear any supportive words. She said she was jealous. I wanted to throw up. I told her to take me home and that I’d rather starve than clean her parents’ house that day.

She gave me the cash even though I was no where near done and drove me home. Both from her guilty conscience, I’m sure. I resent her less these days realizing that his manipulative behavior had gotten to her too. But it was worse for her than me. I was getting out. She was deciding to stay and betray another woman in the process. That’s some pretty heavy manipulation.

In the months after the assault I went to therapy for free through a domestic violence program. I went through exercises that forced me to relive some of my happy memories of him and I together. I didn’t want to. We dated on and off for a couple of years and had definitely had some wonderful times. I wished they’d never happened. I wished I’d never met him. I didn’t want to remember his face, his voice, his scent. I purged my life of everything he gave me and everything that reminded me of him. My therapist wanted to get to the root cause of where the assault came from because I blamed myself so entirely. Thinking things were great before that one night that hit me out of no where. Or so I thought.

After nearly six months of therapy we hit a revelation. He was always manipulative, always verbally abusive. He preyed on my self-esteem and wanted me miserable so that I felt I needed him. So I’d crave his approval and attention. The few days leading up the assault I had started standing up for myself, not taking his shit as much. Refusing sex when I thought he was being an asshole when in the past I would had caved even after he would insult me. My therapist presented the idea that he raped me because he felt he was losing his control over me. It was meant to break me…as you would a horse.

Through therapy I started to feel like I was worth something and that he was the sad loser. Not me. He wanted something from me and getting that something wasn’t enough. He wanted my spirit and body. Ownership over things uncontainable.

When I started to feel stronger and less afraid I really stopped being able to put up with rude customers. Not putting up with rude customers meant facing the bosses’ wrath when the customers complained which then meant I had to stand up to my bosses. Finally the real opportunity came and not wanting to live as a victim anymore took the form of signing a union card with the Industrial Workers of the World.

I learned about organized labor. I decided that if I’m not meant to be some man’s slave than why be a slave to a boss, to a corporation, to a customer?

I looked at bosses as they sat in desks, sipping coffee drinks that they had me make them, pouring over sales numbers they got because of the hard work of me and my coworkers. We worked ourselves to complete exhaustion. Mothers I worked with talked about missing their kid’s first step while making lattes. I’ve known many pregnant women who have worked while dilated, risking their unborn child’s well being and their own, because maternity leave is so short and they wanted as much time as possible with their newborns so they were holding out. I knew the bosses and the company were responsible for the state of things.

The bosses were very manipulative. Abusing you for many shifts in a row, refusing you breaks, calling you stupid, promoting people that sexually harassed you, giving you schedules that made sleep impossible, refusing raises based on petty things like whether you always remembered to wear the required black socks or cover your tattoos. Then when we started organizing they would do this behavior for days and suddenly throw a pizza party. The majority of workers would thank the boss and talk for weeks about how much they really cared about us. How kind they were. How lucky we were.

Suddenly all the abuse faded away and grudges were dropped. Bosses were welcomed back into group conversations and invited to baby showers.

I see no difference between this scenario and the boyfriend hitting his girlfriend in the face and then showing up with flowers & candy and the cycle starting all over again.

I am not ashamed of being raped or manipulated by my ex. I am also not ashamed of leaving him and trying to heal. I am not ashamed of what horrible abuses I’ve experienced and witnessed since beginning to work at Starbucks. I refuse to accept them back after a simple pizza party.

I don’t want pizza. And I don’t want flowers. I want freedom from a life of servitude. I want an end to the abuse.

Yes, I could quit and liken it to breaking up with an abusive boyfriend but the next job would recreate the cycle. The next job would be the next abusive partner.

So I stay. And I fight. I fight through organizing with other survivors of the abuse, my coworkers. Well, at least the ones that have reached rock bottom and now want to climb out. No, not everyone is ready when I meet them to break up with their oppressor. I’ll be here when they are. When they, too, find the courage.

We work together to improve working conditions. Refusing to give them what they want when they are being assholes. Refusing them our labor. The use of our bodies for their own desires.

Under this current system we must make money to survive. To make money we must sell our labor. This is already unjust and disgusting to me. I’m fascinated by the creativity, the skill, and genius of the human mind and body. I feel great pride in being able to make something, teach something, to speak, to write, to learn. How wonderful it is to know humans are capable of so much greatness. The fact that someone was smart enough to exploit this greatness out of others for their own means with as little return to the person who created it as possible is so very heartbreaking. It’s the same heartbreak I feel when I learn of a person staying with an abuser and doing everything they say only to be beaten down again. I always wonder when they will leave. I wonder when they will fight back. I feel this way when I hold a coworker who is sobbing from being yelled at by a boss. I wonder when they will stop taking it. Many workers have. Workers who have started and joined unions. We are survivors.

These past five years have been amazing. I’ve healed from the abuse and degradation of that relationship. I healed through applying my therapist’s teachings to my life at work.

I refuse to be a victim any more. I’m determined to remember my worth and to try to help others heal from years of abuse at the hands of employers and customers. It isn’t enough to walk away if you still haven’t realized your worth because low self-esteem for our labor can just put us continually in the same fucked up situations. Before we know it we’ve been broken down quite literally and have nothing to show for it. The big bosses will have the property they purchased with the money they kept from us. They will have the best doctors, their kids will receive the best education, their parents will be provided for, and they will enjoy the fruits of our labor while we starve. It is no different than the significant other that swipes your paycheck.

The burns from the extra hot milk don’t hurt any less when I realize that drink cost my hourly wage but in one hour I will have made over a hundred of them.

Don’t listen when a boss or an abused coworker tries to make you believe that your labor is worth is nothing. Don’t believe them when they belittle your job because it’s in fast food, or retail. Whether you sit at a desk, deliver a pizza, clean a toilet, sew a pair of pants, or act on stage in order to pay your bills…remember if the bosses could do it by themselves they would. Remember they need you way more than you need them. Yes, the abuse can get worse when you stand up and fight back. Much like what happened to me. But if it took being raped to get away from such a horribly destructive relationship than that is simply what it took. If it took recovering from that to teach me about liberation and refuse servitude then so be it.

I will not be a slave. I will not be a servant. I do not consent to the abuse of my mind & body or the belittlement of my spirit. When they try to divide us it is like the partner that says you can’t see your friends. It is to isolate you so you feel alone, helpless, like your screaming and no one can hear you. Don’t let them do that. Refuse isolation. Reach out to your coworkers. Refuse to do unsafe work. Demand the money you deserve. Those that do the most work should live in the most luxury. We earned it. It is ours.

If you’ve found a way out of an abusive relationship or situation in your life than you know how badly you needed out. You’ve gone over in your mind a thousand times just how bad it could have gotten. You feel grateful to have walked away with your life. Imagine if all the horrible treatment at work ended. Imagine you didn’t dread clocking in. What if the boss now feared you? What if they wouldn’t dare hit you again, call you a name, harass you? What if they gave you all your breaks on time and didn’t refuse your overtime pay? What if you set your schedule and decided the tasks you’d take on? What if you set your pay rate?

What would it be like to finally be free?

Originally posted on December 4, 2011 on Facebook. Shared with permission from author.

Comments

Juan Conatz
Dec 6 2011 02:32

I think this piece is so fucking good and represents the best of working class writing. The type of stuff and feelings that The American Worker and some of Weir and Glaberman's writings bring out, the anonymous personal accounts in the library....just utterly powerful and jarring truth.

tastybrain
Dec 6 2011 03:00

I read this on facebook initially, thought it was excellent. Thanks for posting it and thanks to the author for writing it, that must have taken a lot of courage.

RedEd
Dec 6 2011 03:39

Yeah I also read it on facebook first. It seems to have struck a real note. I had to stop a couple of times reading through. It's a hard read. But I'm so glad it was written.

Juan Conatz
Dec 6 2011 03:52

It's crazy how it took off on Facebook. I've never seen anything hit the rounds like that unless it was a celebrity or well known leftist. It's been poppin up on Tumblr, too. Like the original note has something like 100 shares and the libcom library one has like 20-30 already.

Joseph Kay
Dec 6 2011 10:40

This is one of the most moving pieces of class struggle writing I've ever read. And spot on too, it's all very well saying in the abstract that libertarian communism is all about transforming social relationships, but this captures the emotional content of that, the stress, the misery, the manipulation, the defiance, the strength... I wish I'd read this in my last job.

plasmatelly
Dec 6 2011 11:59

Compelling. An absolutely brilliant piece of work.

agentorangefai
Dec 6 2011 18:57

I'm so glad to see this spread the way it has. Liberté is an inspiration.

erikwdavis
Dec 6 2011 19:05

If you like this, I hope you'l take a moment and click through to reddit and upvote this. I think lots more people can - and should - read this amazing piece of writing. http://redd.it/n1kou

BrazillianJiuJi...
Dec 6 2011 19:10

This is amazing, this woman showed amazing heart, makes me proud that a working person can be brave enough to fight back against a tide of injustice and degredation.

If anyone knows who wrote this please tell them they have my solidarity.

gabiquevedo
Dec 6 2011 20:23

So moving, honest... Utterly touching!!....It really conveys the true nature of a fighting spirit. But beyond that the value of this is in the links made between the public and private realm, hitting the nail on the head of the core abusive nature of both capitalist society and the patriarchal logic. Two sides of the same coin, really.

Thanks so very much for posting this. I will distribute as much as I can
,

Redwinged Blackbird
Dec 6 2011 22:00

Really good.

Derrick Jensen (yeah I know, most anarcho-commies can't stand him) makes the same sort of argument with his experience of abuse at the hands of his father. In Endgame he draws a shit ton of parallels between abusers and those who dominate our planet and economy. They make us feel like we need them, they make us feel like we have no other options, they make us feel like we're to blame for our misery, they make us identify with them (rather than other people in the same situation as us), etc.

Jared
Dec 7 2011 07:47

There's real worth in writing from experience I reckon—something feminists have done for a long time, and something class struggle theory seem to be starting to learn from. Excellent article, and thanks for sharing.

Ex profundis
Dec 12 2011 09:56

A struggle straight from the heart. Inspiring.

no1
Dec 8 2011 17:09
Quote:
Call & Text Starbucks’ Astor Place Store Manager Amady Liditi in support of woman IWW unionist Liberte Locke

Store Manager Amady Liditi’s cell phone :
718-288-2495
9AM, EST, Thursday Dec. 8th until 9PM, EST, Saturday Dec. 10th

New York City IWW union organizer and rape survivor Liberte Locke will most likely be fired in the next few days for refusing to put her safety at risk any longer for Starbucks.

https://www.facebook.com/events/207545722658053/

mons
Dec 8 2011 19:59

Inspiring article.
I think I've texted that number but for people like me who aren't good at technological stuff what's the format for texting New York? I did +17182882495 but not sure if that'll work? Thanks.

jasonnhk
Dec 10 2011 18:14

This emotionally raw yet well-written article/blog post has been making the rounds pretty quickly on the interwebs, and I can see why.

It presents an interesting (and horrifying) perspective on the unequal social relations created by a system where one class of people is forced to sell their labour in order to survive while another thrives by exploiting that labour; as well as powerful a reminder that the right to organize is one of the few tools workers have to shift the (in my opinion, unfair) balance of power in their favour.

The main lesson I take from it, however, is that we shouldn't let the proverbial (or even literal) 'pizza party' make us forget where our strength lies, or pacify our struggle for workplace democracy.

mae bee
Dec 17 2011 15:33

wow, i liked this so much i not only posted it various places i registered an account at libcom.
this felt an excellent example of how the personal can be the political. it feels very different to that turn off of "whinging women's circles", and i really like how it's about one form of oppression not only equals the same but the form of rebellion is the same.
great stuff.

jef costello
Dec 21 2011 11:56

This shows exactly why we believe there should be a better world. Thank you for writing this.

Liberté Locke
Dec 28 2011 17:46

I finally created a LibCom account and have been invited to be a regular blog contributor. smile

I just first wanted to write on this thread to truly thank everyone for their supportive, kind words. When I wrote this it was the middle of the night and took about one hour. I posted on the internet via my personal Facebook page. Feel free to friend me, it's under my real name just as this article and my LibCom account are. I truly felt that maybe five friends would read through the whole thing and that maybe my primary partner would be the only one to leave a supportive comment. I'm still in complete shock at the reception it's received.

Thank you for reading it and taking the time to put in your thoughts. I hope that you all continue to do so with future pieces. I can't fully explain what this supportive response has meant to me and the literally hundreds of survivors that have contacted me since it was posted. Other survivors have seen your supportive words and for many it has helped them come forward and also take necessary steps to leave abusive situations - both personally and in workplaces. I feel like the tides are changing and there are less trolls and a more supportive environment for survivors out in the world. That gives me great hope. Please keep fighting, in any way you can. It's all we've got. And please don't hesitate to contact me for my support. Solidarity Forever!

jolasmo
Dec 28 2011 18:40
Liberte Locke wrote:
I finally created a LibCom account and have been invited to be a regular blog contributor. smile

I just first wanted to write on this thread to truly thank everyone for their supportive, kind words. When I wrote this it was the middle of the night and took about one hour. I posted on the internet via my personal Facebook page. Feel free to friend me, it's under my real name just as this article and my LibCom account are. I truly felt that maybe five friends would read through the whole thing and that maybe my primary partner would be the only one to leave a supportive comment. I'm still in complete shock at the reception it's received.

Thank you for reading it and taking the time to put in your thoughts. I hope that you all continue to do so with future pieces. I can't fully explain what this supportive response has meant to me and the literally hundreds of survivors that have contacted me since it was posted. Other survivors have seen your supportive words and for many it has helped them come forward and also take necessary steps to leave abusive situations - both personally and in workplaces. I feel like the tides are changing and there are less trolls and a more supportive environment for survivors out in the world. That gives me great hope. Please keep fighting, in any way you can. It's all we've got. And please don't hesitate to contact me for my support. Solidarity Forever!

Awesome, looking forward to your future blogs!

~J.

Steven.
Dec 28 2011 19:44

Yeah, I look forward to future blog posts as well. I will edit your user account to give you blogging permission. I can edit this article to move it into your blog as well for starters

412mattb
Aug 21 2012 16:52

Thank you so much for that powerful and moving blog. I found it inspirational for so many reasons.

As a therapist, I was glad that your experience with therapy was a positive and helpful one. Mental health "treatment" providers (in particular psychiatry) has historically had a very dark side which has sought to marginalise, disempower, and limit the autonomy of anyone who was "different". I believe that the goal of therapy should be to help people find freedom and liberty from both internalised and external oppressors. I am glad you were able to find someone who helped you realize your own power and autonomy.

As an underpaid and overworked worker in a community mental health clinic, I found your article inspiring as I am also trying to reach out to fellow co-workers in attempt to stand up to an oppressive and hostile management. The "tactics" employed by those who seek to abuse and control their partners seem as universal as they are cruel. And while competent therapists readily recognize the common dynamics of abuse in the romantic relationships, very few identify or recognize these same behaviors when they are employed by management. Yet we do see the same tactics used universally by the employing class against the worker every day. These behaviors are intentionally designed to control us and reduce us from the free autonomous beautiful human beings that we are, to the docile automatons that will passively obey and serve. (did you ever wonder why those pizza parties at work are done randomly and not following every act of management abuse? its because random reinforcement is a stronger reinforcer than consistent reinforcement. it's meant to be random because they get more control that way!)

Thank you again for such an inspirational blog!

Solidarity!

freemind
Oct 16 2012 21:49

Welcome to LibCom comrade!
Your blog was exceptional.

Gregory A. Butler
Nov 2 2012 04:04

Very powerful article.

Thank you for sharing your story with us.