It’s a typical morning at Dollar General—my workplace, whether I like it or not. It’s my turn to open the store, so I roll into the parking lot at 7:45 a.m. and start going down the checklist of tasks. Unlock the doors. Turn off the alarm, which is blaring, before it auto-dials the cops. Set up the cash register. Set up the self-checkout. Print last night’s sales reports. Put out today’s newspapers. Get the keys to the cigarette case from the safe (time delay: nine minutes). Haul the big cart full of beach balls, lawn chairs, and towels onto the sidewalk out front. Finally, unlock the ice chests. All this has to be done by 8 a.m., and 15 minutes is usually just enough time.
Not today, though. Today there’s a surprise. A huge yellow tractor-trailer has pulled into the lot, decals screaming “DOLLAR GENERAL” on the sides. It’s arrived early. And it’s a weekday, which means it’s the “fresh” delivery—the one full of milk, eggs, and frozen food—which needs to be put away in a hurry before it thaws. Probably a hundred boxes or more. And I’m the only one here, so I’ll somehow have to deal with all that, and ring up the customers—who are now starting to arrive.
I pull out my phone and check the schedule app. Nobody else will be clocking in until 10 a.m.
Before I was an editor for a prestigious political magazine, I was a retail worker at a dollar store. Initially, I needed a part-time job to pay for gas and textbooks during college. Later, I needed a second job to pay for, well, everything. I lived in a rural part of Pennsylvania, and Dollar General was the nearest store with a “hiring” sign, so there I went. It’s not a job I look back on fondly, for reasons that will become clear. But it’s one that taught me a lot—about money, about labor, and about the way American free-market capitalism really works. Or rather, doesn’t work.
Recently, John Oliver did a long segment about dollar stores on HBO’s Last Week Tonight. I haven’t always been a fan of Oliver’s comedy—he can be unbearably smug sometimes—but I recommend watching that particular episode. It really captures everything that makes dollar stores sleazy, exploitative, and hellish to work in. Oliver points out how they profit from people’s financial hardship, using a really stunning quote from Dollar General CEO Todd Vasos: “We do very good in good times, and we do fabulous in bad times.” Just how fabulous? According to Equilar, a company that tracks executive pay, Vasos made $182,750,913 between 2015 and 2021.
In the segment, Oliver plays cell phone footage from various Dollar Trees and Generals around the United States, showing scene after scene of chaos. At some stores, boxes are piled everywhere, and there’s only one worker to unpack them all. At others, the air conditioning doesn’t work, leaving the staff in danger of heat exhaustion. Rats run around the storage areas, with no pest control in sight. “At every turn, dollar stores seem to treat their workers with either stunning indifference or outright contempt,” Oliver says, and he’s not wrong. I should know.
So what is it actually like to work in a dollar store? Well, unsurprisingly, it’s rough. Even Macon Brock Jr., the cofounder of Dollar Tree, admits as much in his memoir, One Buck at a Time:
[W]orking for Dollar Tree is one of the hardest jobs in American retail, second only to managing a Dollar Tree. Just the physical aspects of the job are demanding. Anywhere from twenty-two hundred to three thousand cartons of merchandise show up at a store per week and have to be carried to the right aisle, unpacked, and displayed. The pace is relentless. The press of customers is constant.
All true—although, of course, Brock could have made the work less “relentless” any time he wanted. To his account, I’d add that dollar stores essentially expect you to work severaljobs at once. Usually, there are only two workers running the entire store, and sometimes you’re stuck there by yourself. So you have to run around the building, dealing with problems as they come up. Just when the line of customers is longest, you’ll hear the crash! of a shattering pickle jar ten aisles away. You’re a cashier and a janitor, and a security guard, and a stocker of shelves, and an unloader of trucks—and you’re the complaints department when any of that goes wrong. At a Walmart or a Target, in contrast, there’s a full staff, and everyone has clearly-defined roles. At Dollar General, you do everything, all for one low, low price.
The pay really is low, too. Retail companies often discourage their workers from talking about wages, so I think it’s important to be very explicit here. When I started working for Dollar General in 2019, I made $8.50 an hour. You can do the math: that’s $68 for a standard eight-hour shift, or $340 for a 40-hour week. Not much in a country where the average rent is estimated at $1,372 a month. And with a few rare exceptions, nobody actually got 40 hours. Every employee except the manager was part-time, and schedules were wildly unpredictable. Some weeks you’d work 39.5 hours, just enough to keep you below the full-time threshold (and thus without healthcare benefits), and other weeks it would be more like 15 or 20 hours. The constantly-fluctuating income made budgeting interesting, to say the least. By the winter of 2022, though, things were looking up: my pay had increased to a whopping $11 an hour! (Before tax, mind you.) According to data from the Economic Policy Institute, this was pretty much typical. In 2021, 92 percent of Dollar General workers made less than $15 an hour. In other words, starvation wages. I was lucky enough to live in a relatively cheap part of the country, but there are dollar stores in the most expensive cities in the U.S., like New York and Seattle. I have no idea how the workers there survive, unless they each have six roommates or something.
(At this point, the usual chorus of free-market defenders might pipe up, arguing that retail jobs aren’t intended to support adults and are just “entry-level” jobs for high-school kids to get a little experience. To which we can reply: then why is the store open during school hours, smart guy?)
Being constantly spied on by management was fun, too. In the 21st century, virtually every workplace has some kind of surveillance system, but the Dollar General corporation is especially fond of theirs. When I started the job, one of the first warnings I got from a co-worker was “Be careful. They watch the cameras.” I’d soon find out how true that was. It turned out that “they” mostly meant Mike, the district manager. Rather than do any actual work, Mike would sit in his office watching the CCTV feeds for the fifteen or twenty stores within his little fiefdom, and whenever he saw something he didn’t like, he’d call that store’s phone to yell at the worker in question. On one occasion, someone at my store had the audacity to sit down for a minute, several hours into their shift; we got an earful from Mike about that. In fact, it seemed like the cameras existed mostly to police and micro-manage the workers, rather than prevent thefts by the general public.
In 2017, sociology professor Tracy L. Vargas published a study on “surveillance and scrutinization” in U.S. dollar stores, focusing on a company she called “Dollar Basic”—which I’d bet my internal organs is really Dollar General. After working at “Dollar Basic” for six months herself, Vargas concluded that employees there are “monitored with pathological intensity” and are always assumed to be guilty of something by a “web of contradictory work policies, technological apparatuses, and management strategies that position them as suspects” regardless of their actual behavior. That sounds about right.
Even the store managers don’t have it much better. They are on the receiving end of the same corporate greed and abuse, just in a different form. Managers are usually salaried employees, and under U.S. law, companies aren’t required to pay hourly overtime to anyone with a salary above $35,568. (Before 2020, the threshold was even lower, at just $23,660.) This means that dollar stores can work their managers a lot more than 40 hours a week and still pay them the same flat amount. The extra hours are essentially free, and the companies take full advantage. In a particularly awful case documented by the Economic Policy Institute, a woman named Dawn Hughey was paid $34,700 a year to manage a Dollar General in Flint, Michigan, and was initially told she’d be working 44-hour weeks. In reality, she often ended up working 60 or 70 hours a week, for no additional pay. This, too, is typical of the entire dollar-store industry. In a 2022 report, Business Insider spoke to nine former Family Dollar managers who each said they’d been required to work unpaid overtime:
“Our regional manager told us it was mandatory to do at least 65 hours a week, even though we were scheduled for 52,” a former store manager from Michigan said. “They were careful not to put that in writing.” The root of the problem, many former store managers said, was that the company didn’t allocate enough money to schedule other workers for the hours needed to keep the store running. “They tell you, ‘If you don’t have anybody to work, then you work,’” another former manager said.
There is, as it happens, a word for labor that’s both mandatory and unpaid: slavery.
At the Dollar General where I worked, our manager—a tough, hardworking woman called Kelly—did at least get occasional bonuses. But even this was organized in a deeply bizarre and unfair way. Managers’ bonuses were paid out, or not, based on the store’s performance, and that “performance” was calculated almost entirely from customer surveys. You’ve probably seen these before: they’re the little website links, at the bottom of receipts, which say something chirpy and corporate like “Tell Us How We’re Doing!” Because you’re normal, you probably completely ignore these and throw your receipts away. Almost everyone does. In a typical month, we’d maybe get 5 or 6 survey responses, and the vast majority of them were from grouchy people making weird, unreasonable complaints. (Someone once left a negative rating because a cashier said “no problem” to them instead of “you’re welcome.”) The low response rate on receipt surveys—less than 1 percent of customers answer them, according to one study—means that random cranks have a disproportionate influence on the results. Even one negative survey can wreck a manager’s average performance score, leading to reduced bonuses or none at all. At best, this is an incredibly stupid way to compensate people for their work. But really, I suspect the company does it this way on purpose, so they have a plausible excuse to avoid paying out. The survey system does have one silver lining, though. If anyone reading this is getting mistreated by a DG manager, now you know how to screw them back.
Of course, from the bosses’ perspective, everything is working perfectly. In fact, dollar stores are extremely profitable for the companies that run them. In 2022, Dollar Tree (which, as of 2015, also owns the Family Dollar chain) reported a gross profit of $7.7 billion, while Dollar General made $10.8 billion. The sheer size of the dollar retail chains is staggering. There are more than 35,000 dollar stores across the United States, and more than 19,000 of them are Dollar Generals. (For comparison, that other sleazy retail giant that mistreats its workers, Walmart, has around 5,200 retail stores in the U.S., including Sam’s stores.) The number is rapidly growing, too. By some estimates, Dollar General opens three new stores every day, many of them in low-income rural areas where people have few other options for shopping or work. In 2023, the company even went international, opening its first location in Mexico. In the break room, we used to joke that if Elon Musk ever does land on Mars, he’ll find a Dollar General waiting to greet him.
As Forbes puts it, this dramatic growth comes from a “winning combination of cheap land, cheap construction and cheap labor.” Really, dollar stores do everything as cheaply as possible, and that includes the manufacture of the merchandise itself. You might think buying something for a dollar is a bargain, but in most cases the dollar store paid much, much less. In One Buck At a Time, Macon Brock brags about buying polyresin bear statues from China at just 33 cents apiece:
Some others might read about “Bear on Books” and accuse us of exploiting the Chinese; they might say that, with our paying so little, those men and women on the assembly line couldn’t have made more than pennies per hour. I think it’s probably true that they made very little money, but I believe it to be equally true that without our business they’d have no work at all.
Isn’t it amazing what CEOs will admit to, in books they assume will only be read by their fellow bourgeois scumbags? Brock is describing sweatshop labor, and he’s proud of it. In 2010, the activist group China Labor Watch conducted an investigation into four randomly-selected factories, all of which supplied U.S. dollar stores with various products, and found hideous labor abuses at each one. For example, the Yiu Yi Plastic and Mould factory in Shenzhen, China made “Christmas crafts, plastic toys, poly products, timepieces, and electronics toys” for Dollar General. There, the investigators found that workers performed “overtime work [for a] total 300 hours during peak seasons,” which meant that “sometimes workers only get one day off in a month.” There was “no regular pay date,” “no evaluations of occupational hazards”—despite “potential safety risks caused by poor management of chemicals”—and “no annual leave, maternity leave or marriage leave.” There was, however, plenty of fraud: according to the report, “the factory would prepare workers for inspections, and workers answering questions ‘correctly’ would be rewarded with a [one] time bonus of $14.29.” People’s lives were put at risk, all to stack the shelves of dollar stores across the U.S. with cheap plastic crap.
Dollar stores endanger their workers’ lives here in the States, too. Since 2014, at least 49 people have died in Dollar General stores, and 172 have been injured. The company is on OSHA’s list of “severe violators,” having racked up $21 million in fines for workplace safety issues since 2017. Meanwhile, OSHA has found more than 300 violations at Dollar Tree-owned stores, and officials say the company has demonstrated a “repeated and continued disregard for human safety,” often blocking fire exits and stacking boxes in haphazard piles that could topple and crush someone. In Bloomberg, we can find a disturbing account from David Williams, a former Dollar General worker from New Orleans:
While he was unloading sausages and soup cans, the manager called him over to a fire door and showed him how to build a pyramid of water cases that would obstruct it. The idea was to deter shoplifting. Williams, who was a Hurricane Katrina refugee in his teens, says he knew this was dangerous, and he felt guilty—especially when customers asked about it. But it seemed clear that, if he wanted to keep his job, he had to do it, so he did.
Having worked the same job as Williams, I find this darkly funny, even as it’s also horrifying. Of course the company was more worried about the possibility of shoplifting than someone dying in a fire. That’s them in a nutshell. Even the practice of having one person open a store alone in the morning, as I did many times, isn’t particularly safe. What if I’d had a heart attack one of those mornings, with nobody around to dial 911? What if someone showed up with a gun? The latter happens all the time. In August 2022 alone, there were 3 armed robberies at Dollar Tree stores, 5 at Family Dollars, and 15 at Dollar Generals. Dollar stores were robbed more days than not. Speaking to CBS, one retail analyst suggests that the stores make “a particular target for crime as they are often staffed by only one or two people, so would-be criminals feel they’re a softer target.” The crimes are a direct result of the companies’ cost-skimping. And when workers do become victims of violence on the job, the bosses reveal just how little they care. In 2018, a St. Louis man named Robert Woods was shot and killed as he worked a shift at Dollar General, and the store remained open for several hours after his body was carried out. Everyone had to just keep on working like nothing had happened, until “protests from local residents” finally shut the store down.
Knowing all this makes it especially disgusting that dollar stores try to portray themselves as a force for good in society. In this respect, they’re nothing if not brazen liars. Dollar Tree’s corporate values statement insists that the company is “dedicated to making peoples’ lives better,” while Dollar General’s motto is simply “Serving Others.” The whole industry drips with sanctimony. In his book My Father’s Business, Cal Turner Jr.—a beneficiary of nepotism who replaced his father, Cal Sr., as Dollar General’s CEO in 1977—describes the company’s “mission” as something downright benevolent:
We defined our customers as “deserving, salt-of-the-earth people struggling to make ends meet.” That definition helped us to come up with our first mission statement: “To serve better than anyone else does our customer’s need for quality basic merchandise at everyday low prices.”
Yes, you read that right. To hear the executives tell it, selling stuff for a dollar isn’t just a marketing strategy. It’s an act of service. Good old Cal was taking pity on the poor, struggling folks of the world by offering all those bargains. Profit? Greed? Never heard of them. And that virtuous goal, in turn, justifies paying workers as little as possible:
I had always heard my dad and grandfather agree that low-end retailing is the struggling, gutsy end of the business. You have to work the dickens out of your people, and you can’t pay them much in order to keep your overhead low and survive.
In other words: to serve poor people, you have to keep people poor. How convenient.
I don’t mean to suggest that working at Dollar General was pure misery. There were occasional bright spots, although they always came in spite of the company, not because of it. Mainly, my co-workers made the job bearable. There was another Alex, this one a Zen Buddhist who was always up for a debate on philosophy. There was Ana, who was studying to be a cosmetologist; Aiden, who was building a gaming PC from parts (he never did get it working); Vanessa, who consumed more energy drinks than anyone I’ve met; and plenty of others who only worked for a month or two before fleeing. (An understandable reaction.) We all quietly despised “corporate” and helped each other muddle along as best we could. If your car battery wore down, someone was always ready with jumper cables. If you badly needed a certain day off, someone was usually willing to fill in. Nobody used the word “solidarity,” but that’s what it was. We had to have each other’s backs, because we knew the company never would.
Working retail puts you in touch with the community where you live in a way few other jobs can. Sooner or later, everyone has to stop and buy the basics—soup, dog food, Pepto-Bismol, etc.—so you eventually meet everyone and get a glimpse into their life. You get a sense of how well people are doing, or how badly. At this particular dollar store, it was often “badly.” Around a third of the customers, to make a conservative estimate, were relying on food stamps to buy their groceries. (According to government data, so were 4,488 Dollar General workers, which means U.S. taxpayers were forced to subsidize the company’s stinginess. Dollar Tree had slightly more workers on government assistance at 4,515, and Walmart and McDonald’s had even more.) Expensive food items would sit on the shelf until they expired; ramen noodles sold out almost immediately. People would come in with Ziploc bags full of change they’d scrounged from their cars, painstakingly count it out, and hope they had enough for their kids’ allergy medicine. Eventually, we started keeping an emergency fund under the counter with a few bucks for anyone who ran short. At one point, the store had a mysterious villain: we kept finding empty packages of Imodium tucked behind other items, where someone had popped open the boxes and shoplifted the pills. We dubbed this person “the Diarrhea Bandit,” and it was funny, but also kind of tragic. Like many drugs, Imodium can be abused, but at $13.75 a box it’s also fairly expensive; it could simply be that someone couldn’t afford to treat a legitimate medical need they had. In any case, nobody would be stealing if they had any better options.
There’s a certain class of pundit, like Dr. Steven Pinker, whose schtick is to insist that capitalism makes life just great for everyone. They’re praised and rewarded, by capitalists, for holding this opinion. In the last year or two, a variant strain has emerged, whose stock-in-trade is to claim the Biden economy is a good one, and that anyone who believes otherwise is just delusional. These people have all sorts of impressive-looking charts they’ve made in PowerPoint, with lines pointing perkily up, and they’re always very smug and self-assured. But the truth is, there’s a depth of poverty and want in this country that no economic graph can express, because there are places no economist or statistician ever goes. I’d like to see one of these modern-day Dr. Panglosses work behind a dollar-store counter for six months and then look me in the eye and say the economy is good.
Needless to say, what we really needed was a union. It’s a fact that workers in a union get better wages, benefits, and safety protections, while workers without one get scraps and pennies. Unfortunately, the company knew this too, and they did everything in their power to prevent organizing. In the breakroom where I worked, there was a huge poster called “Positive Work Environment and Remaining Union Free”—subtlety was not the goal—that listed all the usual anti-union talking points. The company was “built on respect and opportunity,” we were told, and that meant that workers “have a direct voice and will be heard.” If you had a workplace issue, you should just talk to your manager or call the company hotline. The poster cautioned us to “carefully examine any literature” a labor organizer handed out and advised us we had a “right to refuse” joining a union. (It didn’t mention that we had a right to accept, too.) Ominously, it warned us to be aware of the “issues and consequences of signing the union card.” Really, it was a masterful piece of legalese, stopping just short of making actual threats. There was a video version too, where cheerful Dollar General workers—I’m convinced they were paid actors, because their uniforms were spotless—solemnly told us how expensive union dues could be and how they wouldn’t want a “third party” getting involved in their work. It was longer than almost any other training video, including the ones about workplace safety.
Propaganda tactics like these are common enough, at workplaces from Walmart to Amazon. They are, unfortunately, allowed under U.S. labor law. In the past, though, dollar stores have gone well beyond what’s legal in their efforts to crush labor organizing. In another passage from My Father’s Business, our old friend Cal Turner Jr. relates how his dad handled things:
I remember that during one attempt to organize J.L. Turner and Son [the predecessor to Dollar General] employees, a bookkeeper named Barbara invited two other bookkeepers to join her for lunch with a union organizer. My dad found out about it and saw to it that she was fired by five o’clock that afternoon.
Later, Barbara calls the Turner residence, and Cal Jr. stands by the phone, hoping his dad won’t accidentally tell the truth: that he fired her illegally, just for getting information about a union.
“Mr. Turner,” she said, “I want to know why I was fired from J.L. Turner and Son.”
“Well, Barbara,” he said, “I can’t discuss that with you until Mr. Craddock [who was in charge of the bookkeepers] and I can sit down together and talk about it.”
Yes! I thought. He’s aced it. Now if I could just get him off the phone.
“However,” he said—and I knew something bad was coming— “I think everyone should know that we don’t intend to have any union sympathizers working for J.L. Turner and Son.”
Once again, it’s kind of breathtaking how these people just openly admit the depths of their wrongdoing. In One Buck at a Time, Macon Brock concurs with the Turners, saying he decided early on that “we don’t have unions at Dollar Tree. Not one.” Both men’s malign influence can still be felt today.
That hasn’t stopped some brave and determined people from organizing anyway. In the South, a group called Step Up Louisiana has been fighting for the rights of dollar store workers, especially on the issue of workplace safety. They say they’re a “labor movement,” but not a union, favoring tactics like street protests and advocacy in the media over traditional workplace organizing. In May of 2022 and 2023, their members held protests outside Dollar General’s annual shareholder meeting in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, where they were joined by workers from groups like the Union of Southern Service Workers (USSW). Presumably they’ll be doing it again in 2024, although no specific plans have been announced. Step Up Louisiana’s demands include hiring “community safety managers”—not police or private security guards, but “in-house” dollar-store workers who’d be trained in de-escalation and self-defense—to increase workers’ safety. They also want guarantees that no worker will be scheduled to run an entire store alone and paid time off for any worker who suffers a traumatic event like a robbery. Really, that’s the bare minimum anyone could reasonably expect.
Elsewhere, other workers have tried to organize their stores. One of the most notable cases was in Auxvasse, Missouri, where the staff of a Dollar General voted to unionize with the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 in 2017. There was a lengthy court battle over the election, as Dollar General alleged that the 4-2 vote was influenced by threats and bribery. (They didn’t offer any actual evidence, of course.) Finally, in February of 2020, the Eighth Circuit ruled that the company had to recognize the union. That May, Dollar General responded by closing its Auxvasse location entirely, citing “an assessment of the store’s future profitability.” It was a transparent act of retaliation and a demonstration of how determined the company is to retain unchallenged power over its workers. As David Cook, the president of UFCW Local 655, put it at the time:
I don’t think anybody out there recognizes the value an employer like Dollar General puts on having an at-will workforce. ‘At will’ means I can fire you for any reason I want as long as it’s not color, religion or ethnicity. It’s that ultimate power of intimidation.… You can’t put a value on that if you’re an employer — especially one the size of Dollar General.
In 2018, during the legal battle, the company put that power to use. When Margeorie Nation, the manager of a nearby Dollar General in Glasgow, Missouri, asked a question about the Auxvasse union drive on social media, the company abruptly fired her for it. They also fired one of their analysts, Daniel Stone, for speaking up about unsafe working conditions during the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020. Most recently, when a Dollar General in Barkhamsted, Connecticut was about to hold a union election in 2021, the company reportedly “hired five anti-union consultants, each of whom was paid $2,700 a day.” The election narrowly failed—although the NLRB later ruled that Dollar General had made unlawful threats to close the Barkhamsted store, just as they had done in Auxvasse.
In light of these companies’ commitment to union-busting, I have a few thoughts on strategy. It seems obvious that organizing at the store level, when it’s successful, will be met with something we might call the “Auxvasse Treatment.” That is, the store in question will simply be shut down, and the company will make excuses about how it suddenly became unprofitable. It’s a method Starbucks has also been using, shuttering 23 stores in 2022 in response to union activity. As a result, I believe a successful labor campaign at Dollar General, Dollar Tree, or Family Dollar will need to unionize an entire district at once. I can only speak for the chain I worked for, but at Dollar General, a district consisted of roughly 20 stores. This presents a significantly larger task than organizing one store, but it may not be insurmountable. Typically each store has five or six part-time workers, plus an assistant manager (full-time, but paid hourly) and a store manager (salaried.) Multiplied by 20, that’s around 160 workers for each district. And as we’ve seen, the store managers are getting mistreated by the company almost as much as anyone else, which may make them surprisingly open to unionizing. The challenge wouldn’t be the numbers—the Staten Island Amazon warehouse that unionized in 2022 had thousands, not hundreds, of workers—but how geographically spread out the workers are, and the logistics of getting them on the same page. Still, I think it’s achievable and worth a serious attempt. They can’t shut down a whole district.
One of the unacknowledged titans of American literature, as far as I’m concerned, is the Detroit-born horror writer Thomas Ligotti. In his 2001 novella My Work is Not Yet Done, Ligotti writes about the experience of working for a faceless, soulless capitalist entity that feeds on human misery. He wasn’t talking about a dollar store, but he might as well have been:
The company that employed me strived only to serve up the cheapest fare that the customer would tolerate, churn it out as fast as possible, and charge as much as they could get away with. If it were possible to do so, the company would sell what all businesses of its kind dream about selling, creating that which all of our efforts were tacitly supposed to achieve: the ultimate product – Nothing. And for this product they would command the ultimate price – Everything.
In this brief survey of U.S. dollar stores, we’ve seen plenty of horrors, too—from the low pay, to the union-busting, to the Chinese sweatshops, to poor Robert Woods lying dead in an aisle in St. Louis. I think about Robert Woods a lot. In each case, these things are not flaws or mistakes in the business model. They are the business model. Everything dollar stores do follows naturally from the core premise of any for-profit business: to maximize income while minimizing expense. It’s just that wages, safety, and ultimately life itself are expenses. Dollar stores are what capitalism looks like when it finally takes off the mask and stops trying to pretend. They can’t be reformed. They, and the system they stand for, have to be completely overthrown, and only working-class rebellion can do the job.