Ruling classes have a long tradition of foot-in-mouth comments that reveal their disdain for the people they rule over. From Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake” to Henry Ford complaining, “Every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached”, the people in charge can’t help telling us what they really think.
Kenny Graham and Jake Smyth, the bearded hipster founders of Mary’s Group, which owns several trendy pubs across Sydney, stood in this tradition when they shared what they really thought of their workers, via their podcast The Fat.
The pair went after young hospitality workers, slandering them as “whining” and “self-entitled”. The industry, they said, has “over corrected” from its previous tyranny; the relationship between workers and bosses is now too favourable to workers. Sounding like a caricature from moralising Victorian times, Graham lambasted workers for “getting hammered” on their nights off. Considering that their entire business model is based on encouraging people to drink, the pair might want to reconsider that advice.
After their comments went viral, attracting derision, the pair went into a pathetic attempt at damage control. In a leaked email, Graham and Smyth assured their staff that the comments were not aimed at them but instead at a “tiny minority of people”. A pair of honest, plain-speaking capitalists, the pair also affirmed their commitment to truth telling. “To pretend that this does not exist is a lie. And we will not lie to you”, they wrote. A public statement released on their website continued targeting this wretched minority whose “attitude is poisonous to all involved”.
It was particularly egregious coming from two business owners in one of the most exploitative industries in the country. A survey conducted this year by the United Workers Union, which covers hospitality workers, found that 83 percent of workers surveyed had experienced wage theft—by their boss not paying penalty rates, paying below the award or doctoring payslip hours.
In fact, the pandemic has shown that attitudes “poisonous to all involved” are concentrated among hospitality bosses. In Victoria, they decried the state’s eradication of COVID-19 as “an Orwellian nightmare”, initiating the “Unlock Hospitality Now” campaign while the virus was still spreading. In their crusade to place profits above lives, they had posters plastered all over the suburbs and paid for full-page ads in major newspapers.
Graham and Smyth devoted time to lambasting what they saw as workers not taking enough care of their mental health. This apparently resulted in a “poor work ethic” and “poor performance at work”, two cardinal sins under capitalism. But living up to their guru name, they offered some advice: “Exercise and hard work and diet change really does [sic] a lot for mental health”.
As with Marie Antoinette, you couldn’t make this up: two fat headed burger-sellers telling us we need to eat better and get a gym membership. A better solution for the mental health issues afflicting hospitality workers: organise and fight to end the rampant wage theft in the industry.