Boots Riley’s directorial debut Sorry To Bother You! was one of my favorite movies of 2018. The plot follows Cassius (“Cash” to his friends) Green as he works at a call center called RegalView, feeling torn between his loyalty to his work friends who are trying to unionize and the job security and chance for a promotion that comes with siding with the company.
It’s a movie that I believe will instantly resonate with anyone who has worked at CapTel. As Cash enters Regalview’s call floor on his first day on the job we see the all-too-familiar setup of drab gray cubicles, computer monitors, and headsets. The company has a team meeting where management prattles on and on about their employees being a team and a family. “Does that mean we’re getting a raise?” asks an employee, which management responds to with forced laughter.
One of the things that I love about Sorry To Bother You! is the way in which ordinary people are the heroes of the movie. When we watch the Hunger Games we all identify with Katniss and feel sure that we would stand up and fight back against an evil government like the Capitol. For most of us, our lives are closer to a Villager #7 than a Katniss.
Sorry To Bother You! forces you to consider what you would do because it is about a power struggle that we all take part in on a daily basis whether we know it or not. We all wake up and go to a job where we have no power despite being the ones who produce all profits for the company. We are not part of a team as we do not have a say in how the company is run or what our working conditions are. We are managed servants.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Despite the position we are in now of being bullied and dictated to we actually have the ability to flip the power dynamic. If none of us showed up to work one day the administration would be in a blind panic. They could get all of HR and the management team onto the phones and it would do nothing to stem the tide of lost profits and FCC fines that they would be facing. The company is ruined if we decide to act in a group and they don’t meet our demands. To quote the famous union organizer and IWW member Big Bill Haywood “all the workers have to do is fold their hands behind their backs and they have the capitalist class whipped.”
This is an incredible amount of power. It just has to be seized by us as a group. This is where we have to make a choice. We can stand up for ourselves and with our coworkers or we can aid the boss, either through our apathy or by being actively anti-union. You can decide you want to fight for your coworkers to have better benefits, for single mothers to be able to afford Christmas presents, for your cubicle neighbor to be able to get that cavity filled, for the person you see every day in the break room to have food security.
Or you can decide to let things stay as they are while Rob Engelke shops for another yacht and lives a life of absurd luxury and greed that he has built for himself by paying low wages and keeping thousands of other people in near-poverty.
It’s a battle between human dignity and the rich and powerful and it’s one that you play a role in. To get involved in the right side of the fight contact the CapTel Workers Union and encourage your friends at work to do so as well. Maybe you can even host a Sorry To Bother You! movie night for your friends and talk with them about the importance of taking a stance in this fight for workplace democracy.
At one point in STBY! Cash begins to wonder “am I doing anything meaningful with my life?” He’s stuck in a rut of spending nine hours a day watching a computer screen and that’s a feeling we can all relate to. We have all watched minutes and hours of our lives tick away at work, wishing the time would go by faster, wishing away parts of our limited time here on earth. Cash eventually finds meaning in the fight to make his workplace better for himself and his coworkers. We can find that meaning too.
This piece was written for volume 6 of the CapTel Disconnect. To read the full issue and past editions click here.