By Jorge Vital de Brito Moreira
Translated from Portuguese by Catherine Bryan
He spent the night tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep. He got up, crossed the room and went into the bathroom. Approaching the mirror, he looked up and studied the dark circles that marked his gaunt and tired face. Suddenly, he reached out, grabbed the soap and threw it at the mirror. The pieces of broken glass reflected the growing anger in his heart.
While cleaning up the blood that flowed from the cut in his arm, he thought about the incident of the previous day when the boss called him into his office, shut the door and said, “John, starting tomorrow, you and your colleagues will have to work a little more because I must increase the workday by an hour. The economic crisis, you know, forces me do that. So, I need you, as a supervisor of this company, to inform the others of the news.
“Boss!” John said, “Last month, we were forced to swallow an increase of half an hour to our workday, without an increase in pay.”
“I know ... I know. I'm sorry John, but I’m forced to do this so the company doesn’t lose more money in this crisis.”
“Lose money! Your company is making more money now, in this crisis, than before it began.”
John opened the office door and before leaving, said, “This time we cannot accept that you increase your profits without increasing our salary. No more over-exploitation. This time, supervisor or not, I refuse to inform the workers of this new abuse. This time, you, by yourself, will have to communicate it to them.”
The boss didn’t like the answer; he was angry and threatening said, “There are many people out there who are unemployed, and you know very well that they would sell their mother to take your place in this factory. In deference to your 20 years of service to this company and as your friend, I’ll try to forget what you said to me, but I advise you to think twice before refusing to obey my orders ... I just hope you don’t make the mistake of committing such a stupidity again.”
He didn’t want to hear any more. He slammed the office door, went out into the hallway and crossed into the workshop to oversee the comrades who struggled against leather, nails, balls of thread and sewing machines to produce the shoes.
He stopped watching them and sat on a chair to relieve the pain that ate at his stomach. Gradually, he became aware that their suffering was infinitely greater than the ulcer that was eating his insides. He wished he had the courage of a true leader, to lead the workers and friends to burn this damn factory down. Not only this one, but all the others like it.
He still couldn’t believe he had surrendered to the impulse to tell his boss the truth. He was amazed at his own bravery and courage to disobey him and call him a liar.
As he finished putting the bandaid on his cut arm, the sound of the telephone interrupted the flow of memories. He left the bathroom and went to answer the phone. Immediately, he recognized the deep voice on the other end, “Hey John, it’s me. I'm calling to apologize for my threats. Later yesterday, I realized my mistake and tried to find you to apologize, but you had already gone. Let's forget what I said yesterday and get back to work.”
John, surprised but still agitated, said, “Boss! As a friend of humanity, I can forgive and forget your threats yesterday, but as a member ...”
The boss cut him off saying, “John, I sincerely hope you are not angry. Forget about our fight and come back to work in the factory. You’re still my friend.”
John didn’t pay attention and went on to say, “... But as a member of the working class, I will never forget or forgive your exploitation and domination. No, today I'm not going to work in the factory, I’m going downtown to support the movement against capitalism.”
The boss still insisted, “Don’t be resentful, man! Come back to work and let’s talk as friends. Let's laugh at life together and try to be happy again ...”
John, now without fear, replied, “Boss, I’m not resentful, but I also don’t believe I'll be happy working for you. With each day that passes, I’m more aware of who you are and what you represent. I can see now what you have been, what you are and will be for me: my enemy, my oppressor. There can be no happiness for workers while your social class still exists ...”
John concluded the dialogue with the boss saying, “But someday, hopefully soon, I, we, the working class, we will not forgive you; we’ll take power and put an end to the class that has committed so many injustices against us. Only after burying your damn class, will we be free to create social justice, true friendship and true happiness.”
Feeling revitalized for speaking his truth, the truth of the class struggle, John Shoemaker hung up the phone and went to get dressed in order to join the students and his colleagues in the occupation of Wall Street.