Chloe Chen / Gavel Media

The Gavel's Introduction to 'Abolish Restaurants'

The conditions that create intense work and intense boredom in a restaurant are the same that create 'law and order' and development in some countries, and wars, famines, and poverty in others. The logic that pits workers against each other, or ties us together with management in a restaurant is the same logic behind the rights of citizens and the deportation of 'illegals.' The world that needs democracies, dictatorships, terrorists, and police also needs fine dining, fast food, waiters, and cooks. The pressures we feel in everyday life are the same that erupt in the crises and disasters that interrupt everyday life. We feel the weight of our bosses’ money wanting to move and expand.

These are some of the final lines of prole.info’s 2006 comic pamphlet ABOLISH RESTAURANTS, which concisely but vividly describes the inner workings of the restaurant industry and why it must be destroyed. In spite of its age, the comic holds persisting value and relevance. Anarchist politics run throughout the piece, but despite my disagreements with anarchism, I respect the authors’ sincerity, honesty, and clarity. They masterfully weave together simple but stylish visuals with cogent arguments to create a short pamphlet which in a nutshell describes everything wrong with our society. The pamphlet is divided into two sections: “How a restaurant is set up” and “How a restaurant is taken apart.”

We begin with a brief history of restaurants, which are argued to be modern inventions emerging in tandem with capitalism. Next, we learn how restaurants actually function, starting with the exploitation of their laborers. Restaurant workers are one among many inputs (like ingredients, machinery, or utensils) in producing food for sale. By using their labor-power, workers turn these other inputs into something new, which is what distinguishes them. In making a good dish, workers create entirely new value, exceeding that of the ingredients and the necessary equipment. In return, they receive a wage, which has two disguised parts: one which goes towards paying for the worker’s sustenance, and the other which goes towards the owner’s pockets. Although hidden, most workers intuitively “feel” that this is happening. After a day of work, if you have ever felt that you were getting scammed, then know that you were right.[1] We also learn how mechanization and the division of labor streamline this exploitation. Newer and more efficient machines render a number of workers superfluous, so they lose their jobs. Those remaining now create even more value for the boss since the amount of work necessary for their own sustenance requires less time. The now larger remainder is taken by the boss. Similarly, division of labor is simply more efficient than one person or a few people doing every task individually. It allows the owners to squeeze more value out of their employees. Towards the end of this section, the authors discuss how tipping, owner coercion, and even customers are used to enforce the iron will of bosses on their workers. Of the three, tipping is the most insidious. It encourages workers to police themselves and each other by becoming competitors for crumbs. 

“How a restaurant is taken apart” begins with what workers actually want—to not work under an alienating system. At the same time as it divides labor (often along racial lines, as the authors point out), this very same system brings workers together in their common hatred towards it. We learn how workers sometimes turn towards unionization efforts or even attempts at creating worker cooperatives, and why these cannot work. Both efforts fail to look past capitalist society. Upon their creation, unions develop their own interests, most important of which is their continued existence: “Restaurant unions need there to be restaurants. We don’t.” Similarly, cooperatives must still make a profit, thus binding themselves to inherently irrational market incentives. In so doing, they turn workers into their own bosses, with all the ills that that entails. Finally, we learn what “A world without restaurants” would look like: “a world where our productive activity fulfills a need and is an expression of our lives, not forced on us in exchange for a wage—a world where we produce for each other directly and not in order to sell to each other.”

Link to comic

[1] For further reading, J. Sakai’s essay “Notes Toward an Understanding of Capitalist Crisis & Theory” is strongly recommended.

Note to the reader: ABOLISH RESTAURANTS may be downloaded for free on prole.info or purchased in print from PM Press, alongside two other pamphlets, THE HOUSING MONSTER and WORK COMMUNITY POLITICS WAR.  

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