Listen to the Episode — 74 min



Welcome back to the Ex-Worker! Today is April 15th, which, as I’m sure you know, means that it’s one of our favorite holidays on the calendar… Steal Something From Work Day! Statistically speaking, if you’ve ever been a worker, then chances are you’ve already celebrated this holiday, whether on April 15th or not. Why do you think the camera is pointed at the cash register you work in front of? Bosses know that stealing from work is so widespread that it’s nearly universal. But we’re not supposed to talk about it; we’re supposed to pretend that we’re all part of the same “team,” that our interests are aligned, that there’s this thing called “the economy” that we’re all a part of whose health is our health. But millions of us know better. Whatever we say publicly, whatever our stances are on “the issues” that politicians try to convince us to care about, however we vote or don’t, millions of us are voting with our hands and feet, all the time, sending one clear message – that we know that this economy exploits us and makes us poor and miserable, and that we deserve better.

Whatever you think about workplace theft, it’s happening all around you, every day. First and foremost, if you’ve ever gotten a wage from a boss, you’ve been robbed yourself. Your employer wouldn’t be paying you a wage unless they wagered they could make more off your labor than they could get away with paying you for it. That’s how capitalism works. So the real question isn’t whether you’re a thief; it’s whether you allow yourself to be robbed on the job by the boss every day, or whether you and your co-workers are doing something to rebalance the scales.

And millions upon millions of workers are doing something about it, every day: every time the boss isn’t looking, in every stolen moment, every cash sale that goes straight into the tip jar, every latte or gym session that goes to a friend free of charge, every bit of merchandise that ends up in the dumpster to be retrieved later.

Now don’t get all hot and bothered, officer; we’re not telling anybody to break the law. We’re pointing out that millions of people are already breaking the law every day – as you well know, since study after study confirms this, and bosses all over the planet are constantly scrambling to find new ways to crack down on it. We’re just acknowledging what’s happening, and celebrating it as an act of creative resistance to an economic system that’s stacked against us. We don’t have to incite anyone to commit crimes; stealing from work has been going on for as long as there’s been work, and will continue long after we’re gone… at least so long as there are bosses and employees, and so long as we live in an economy based on stealing from workers by paying them less than the profit their labor produces.

This is a particularly significant moment to be thinking about work. Over the past two years, the COVID pandemic has shifted so much about how we work and how we think about it. It’s shown what a massive proportion of what we do for money is not “essential” in any sense. It’s shown how there are plenty of resources out there for everyone, but a set of political choices keeps them scarce so that we have to work or starve. And it’s shown that in a pinch, people will come together and help each other out through mutual aid and solidarity. The pandemic has driven home to huge numbers of us across the US and beyond that work just isn’t worth it; that’s why we’ve quit our jobs by the millions, to the extent that commentators are calling it “the Great Resignation.” And for those of us who are still stuck at work, it’s helped give us the determination to fight; just in the past couple of months, we’ve seen a huge wave of new unionization campaigns, some succeeding in places like Amazon warehouses and Starbucks stores that have never had unions before, and major strikes from John Deere plants to universities.

To offer tools for us to think through these developments, we’re in the process of creating an audiobook of the CrimethInc. book Work; that’ll start to be released in the coming weeks. But in the mean time, this holiday offers us an opportunity to think about the shadow side of work – about all the little everyday tactics of resistance we use to survive, recover a bit of dignity, and connect with each other while we’re on the job.

A few of us are lucky enough to have jobs where we can think for ourselves and do interesting work; in most cases, though, this means commodifying the most important parts of ourselves, and letting the logic of capitalism spill over into more and more spheres of our lives. But many of us have jobs that deny us any chance to use our creativity or agency; theft is one of the only ways we can tap into those qualities that keep us human. Over the twentieth century, this has been true as much in the so-called socialist world as in the capitalist world, as we’ll hear in this episode. We can’t stand it when leftists try even harder than our bosses to convince us that we should love work, identify with work, pin our hopes and dreams on work. From left to right, the one thing all politicians seem to agree on is the need to keep us at work.. But from the vantage point of those of us in the warehouses and behind the cash registers, no matter who our bosses are or what party they vote for, our interests look pretty different.

That’s why we celebrate Steal Something From Work Day. We’re going to start off this episode with some Frequently Asked Questions to help those of you who are new to this holiday get oriented. Then we’ll share a couple of accounts and analyses to get you into the holiday spirit. There’s an account from a grocery store worker that links the interests of workplace thieves and consumer thieves. There’s a piece called “The Team is Real,” which shares the strategy used by a network of service workers to go beyond isolated individual acts of theft towards coordinated class war. There’s an absolutely fascinating account of stealing from work under socialism, written by a factory worker in Soviet Hungary in the 70s. There’s a discussion of what stealing from work in a pandemic looks like. And we wrap up with a reflection on the revolutionary horizons of struggle against capitalism through and beyond stealing from work.

DISCLAIMER: Needless to say, none of the Ex-Workers involved in making this podcast committed any of the particular acts that are discussed in this episode, and we’re not responsible for what any of you out there end up doing as a result of listening to this. We consider it our duty as aspiring revolutionaries to keep you informed about popular grassroots resistance to capitalism. We’re sure that you can come up with creative tactics and strategies beyond our wildest dreams.

If you’d like to learn more about Steal Something From Work Day, we’ve got an entire website devoted to it, which is at – with hyphens between all the words. You can also just get the link from our own site, You’ll find tons more stories from previous years, and also a lot of outreach materials you can view or download, from stickers to postcards to pamphlets to posters.

Now, wait till your boss steps out for a smoke break, unplug the camera, and let’s get to it.


Getting robbed by the boss?

April 15 is Steal Something from Work Day!

Does your boss work less than you but take home a bigger paycheck? Is somebody zipping around in a private jet at your expense? If the corporation is making money at the end of the day, that means they’re not paying you the full value of your labor—that’s where corporate profit comes from! So if you need something in your workplace, take it. You earned it!

Steal something from work! It could be a paper clip, or some cash out of the register, or full-on embezzlement. If you’re a barista, grab a bag of coffee; if you work at a garage, get a wrench set. If you’re unemployed, take something from someone else’s workplace! Unemployment works for the bosses, too—it forces people to take any job they can, and sends the message to other workers that if they don’t knuckle under they’ll be in for it too.

Steal something from work! You could share it with your friends, or give it to your family—the family you hardly get to see because of your job. You could use it yourself, to do something you’ve always dreamed of—maybe something making use of all that potential you would fulfill if only you didn’t have to work for someone else all the time.

Steal something from work! Break down the divisions that separate you from your co-workers. Work together to maximize your under-the-table profit-sharing; make sure all of you are safe and getting what you need. Don’t let the boss pit you against each other—in the end, that only makes all of you more vulnerable. Build up enough trust that you can graduate from taking things from work to taking control of your workplace itself!

Chances are you already steal from your work—if not physical items, at least time on the clock. Good for you! But don’t stop there—think of how much more you could take, how much more you deserve.



A: Stealing is immoral, yes. That’s why your employers should pay you the full value they obtain from your labor, rather than paying you a fraction of it and taking the rest for themselves as profit. If you take something from the workplace, you’re not stealing, but simply taking back the results of your effort.


A: Hate to break it to you, boss, but your employees steal from you every day. By encouraging them to focus on one day a year, we’re looking out for you! Consider this a harm reduction approach.

Q: Does STEAL SOMETHING FROM WORK DAY make it harder for employees to get away with stealing?

A: Not significantly. The number one obstacle to employee theft is not bosses or cameras, but misguided coworkers. STEAL SOMETHING FROM WORK DAY is a consciousness-raising holiday promoting worker solidarity and legitimizing employee redistribution of wealth.

Q: Not everyone has an easy time stealing from the workplace. Some demographics are singled out for surveillance, and many people can’t afford to risk getting into trouble!

A: That’s true! That’s why, if you are not one of those people, you should STEAL SOMETHING FROM WORK to share with those who can’t risk it themselves.

Q: I’m retired. Can I participate in STEAL SOMETHING FROM WORK DAY?

A: Yes, you can—just go back to your former place of employment! If you had to wrestle over a pension with them, they’ve got it coming. It’s never too late to STEAL SOMETHING FROM WORK!

Q: I’d love to STEAL SOMETHING FROM WORK, but I work at a local non-profit foundation providing free services to marginalized communities.

A: If you truly love the place you work, chances are it’s under-funded. That’s because the for-profit mega-corporations are hogging all the resources! Time to pay a visit to someone else’s workplace.

Q: But my employers give to charitable causes when they make a profit! If I STEAL SOMETHING FROM WORK, they’ll have less to donate.

A: Who do you think should choose the most deserving charitable cause for your earnings—you, or some corporate bureaucrat? Just because you STEAL SOMETHING FROM WORK doesn’t mean you have to keep it all for yourself!

Q: If I STEAL SOMETHING FROM WORK, will it make me a more selfish person?

A: Not necessarily! By and large, people find it easier to share things when they don’t have to trade their lives for them in miserable drudgery. STEALING SOMETHING FROM WORK might actually make you a more generous person!

Q: What does God think about STEALING FROM WORK?

A: We consulted our resident ex-theologian on this question, who reports: some academic interpreters of the Bible have suggested that the commandment “thou shalt not steal” was originally intended against stealing people—against abductions and slavery. This lines up with Jewish interpretations of the statement as “thou shalt not kidnap”—for example, as stated by the author of the first comprehensive commentary on the Talmud. If this is so, the real crime is not the worker taking back a part of the fruit of their labor, but the economic system that forces them into wage slavery in the first place. Likewise, as Jesus explains in the Book of Matthew, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”—don’t put your employer at such risk!

Q: What if I STEAL SOMETHING FROM WORK and my company goes out of business? Is this biting the hand that feeds me?

A: Corporations plan workplace shrinkage into the budget well in advance. They’re practically counting on you to steal something! If that surplus goes unclaimed, it’ll just stay in their coffers as more unearned profits.

Q: Will the costs of STEALING SOMETHING FROM WORK be passed on to consumers?

A: Your employers are shrewd businessmen—if they were simply trying to distribute goods to the needy as affordably as possible, they’d be in a different line of work. That means if they could be charging customers more, they already would be. The prices of their products are determined by the market, not by the cost of producing them.

Q: But won’t STEALING SOMETHING FROM WORK destabilize the economy? What if the market crashes again? Will STEALING SOMETHING FROM WORK bring about the end of the world?

A: Are you kidding? Who does all the work in this society—bosses, or workers? If anything, things would go more smoothly without them. If every corporation went out of business tomorrow and we could get our hands on all the resources they’ve hoarded, don’t you think we’d be able to distribute them more sensibly? They’re lucky we don’t steal everything!

Q: Will STEALING SOMETHING FROM WORK inhibit real social change? Shouldn’t we be organizing to address the root of our problems rather than acting individualistically?

A: Maybe you’re onto something! But STEALING SOMETHING FROM WORK doesn’t prevent you from organizing collectively. For example, you could coordinate with your coworkers to share what you pocket. Really, what good would it do to get organized together if you were still afraid to take what you deserve? On the other hand, imagine if we could go beyond taking things from our workplaces, and take over the workplaces themselves…


A: As most employees know, every day can be Steal Something From Work day. If there was ever a good day to Steal Something From Work, it has to be April 15, Tax Day. For the government, every April 15 is Steal Something From You Day. They take your hard-earned money and dump it right into some oil war or back-room deal—that’s yet another way the corporations are making out at your expense.

Don’t take it sitting down. Steal something from work.


Out Of Stock: Confessions Of A Grocery Store Guerrilla

This narrative is dedicated to the courageous individuals who attacked the Whole Foods during the general strike in Oakland on November 2, 2011; whatever the papers say, many of us employees would be overjoyed if you paid a visit to our workplaces.

My Name Is Carlos

I am twenty-eight years old. I am wearing a black apron in the canned food aisle of the well-known corporate natural foods grocery store at which I work. I’m staring into nothingness, reflecting on the decisions that have put me here. I am beyond depressed; I’ve reached that juncture where depression meets anger. I am hostile, reactionary, and dangerous.

I’m so lost in thought that I’m honestly unaware of the shoppers scuffling around me—until a customer interrupts to ask a question I had already heard many times since I had clocked in. I turn my blank stare upon her: “What?” She repeats the question and I cut her off, pointing to the empty space where the product should be; below it is a sign that announces, in very large decipherable letters, “Out Of Stock.” She commands me to go check in the back, obviously annoyed at my poor social skills.

I’ve been asked this question about a dozen times already; I let out a sigh through my clenched teeth. This customer isn’t happy with my reaction and asks for my name, since I’m not wearing a name badge like all the other employees. This is a threat. “My name?” I answer, drawing on all my resentment. “My name is Carlos. I work in the Bakery Department.” Two falsehoods.

Confused by my response, she heads straight to the customer service booth to submit a complaint. This is not the first time this has happened; I disappear to my hiding spot. Thus begins the career of Carlos, grocery store guerrilla and ghost in the machine, the shadow employee known throughout the store for disobedience, obstruction, and customer service performance art.

Death to Loss Prevention

I had been living in the same city for almost five years already and hadn’t yet made contact with other anarchists. It was an incredibly isolated phase of my life. Between the hours I spent working and recovering from work, I schemed plan after spectacular plan to break free from my loneliness, only to have them crushed when I stepped back through those sliding doors.

I often saw customers shoplifting; a shoplifter myself, I’d try to give them space, but I wasn’t the only one watching. The Loss Prevention Agent (LP) stalked the isles, attempting to blend in among the shoppers, though not much good at it. LPs are the scum of the retail industry, the vilest of would-be cops. I saw many taken into custody by these bounty hunters and eventually couldn’t stand passively by anymore; I began competing with the LP to get to the shoplifters first. This was incredibly risky: not only was I risking getting fired for preventing their apprehension, but I had to be secretive enough not to attract attention to any of the shoplifters I was attempting to make contact with.

One distinctive group that shopped infrequently at the store wore all black and weren’t particularly subtle about stealing. Often they were lucky enough to come in when the LP wasn’t working, but one evening the LP began creeping behind them from a distance. Somehow the middle-aged rent-a-cop did not attract their attention. I was desperate to approach the would-be shoplifters in black, but I knew that could mean getting caught myself, so I decided to start with the LP instead.

I walked to the back of the store and used the intercom to call for the LP by his first name, asking that he call me back at that number. Then while the LP attempted to return the call I headed to a different phone at another location in the store, from which I called for the LP over the intercom again.

Miraculously, this little stunt bought just enough time for the shoplifters to leave untouched by the confused loss prevention agent.

Afterward, the LP and the store manager questioned me as to why I had called twice and never picked up. My answer was simple and easy enough to believe: I was trying to contact him about the group of shoplifters I had seen. When he didn’t answer in time, I decided to follow them and called from a phone in another location. This put the blame back on the LP. A few months later, I met those same shoplifters in black outside my workplace and told them about what had transpired. They are my friends now and although I no longer work at that store, I do what I can to keep them safe when we are together.

Sabotage on the Dairy Floor

Anyone who’s worked in a grocery store knows how miserable the dairy department can be. You’re stuck in a claustrophobic freezer room for eight hours, terrified you’ll be accidentally locked inside. No matter how many layers you wear, the cold creeps in and reminds you of all the things you’d rather be doing. On top of that, you’re forced to listen to terrible muzak blaring from the speakers, occasionally interrupted by a shrill voice to add to your aural torture.

Everyone was expected to work at least one dairy shift a week; although I did my best to evade it, I was often stuck stalking the dairy floor. On one of these shifts, I broke one of the large metal sliding doors by slamming it too hard in a fit of rage. I quickly found out that if one of these dairy doors stopped functioning correctly, I didn’t have to stock that particular door.

I wasn’t content reserving my anger for the dairy doors. My second target was those deafening speakers. On one of my closing shifts, after my bosses had left for the day, I took the opportunity to paint the connecting wires with clear nail polish I had pocketed from the beauty section. I chose this method instead of just cutting the wires because I was already under suspicion for the dairy doors. After that, to my great relief, I didn’t have to hear 80s music anymore, as none of my coworkers could figure out what was wrong with the dairy speaker system.

Following several broken doors, a new speaker system, and a long list of health code violations, I was taken off dairy duty.

The Falcon Cannot Hear the Falconer

In the course of my final days as an employee, I took it upon myself to leave messages throughout the store. Armed with a permanent marker, I wrote anti-capitalist slogans under items, on items, on the bathroom stall doors, on baby diaper boxes, and on all the self-help customer computers, being careful never to get caught on the security cameras. The most notorious of these slogans was “the falcon cannot hear the falconer,” which I heard repeatedly discussed by both customers and employees. It’s a line from a William Butler Yeats poem describing Europe after the Second World War; I used to say it to my boss at a different job many years earlier when he asked me to do things I didn’t feel like doing.

Despite all the amusing things I wrote, this was the only one shoppers seemed to notice. Customers would simply ignore graffiti cursing work or capitalism as if it were just another tag on a shelf; but wherever I put up “the falcon cannot hear the falconer,” I’d witness customers staring at it, trying to decipher its meaning. Of course, any item that was written on became “damaged,” and employees were allowed to take home damaged items—so not only was I detracting from corporate profits, I was also improving conditions for us workers. And walking around the store with my permanent marker was one of my many ways of looking busy while doing as little work as possible.

The Damage Done

Aside from breaking the dairy doors, writing graffiti, and carrying out psychological warfare against my employers, most of my antics consisted of petty vandalism and general bad behavior. My acts of indignation would probably have gotten me fired on the spot or arrested if it hadn’t been the affinity I had developed with my coworkers around our hatred for work. Most of the grocery team would mark off items to bring home or just blatantly put groceries in their bags as they were leaving for the night. Only a few of my coworkers were “good” employees, and those were widely loathed; after my first week working at the store, I was informed of who they were and warned to avoid them.

All good things come to an end, however. Cameras were installed throughout the store, most of them in the back stock area where my team usually worked. Though we were able to find a few spots outside the camera’s view to continue our pilfering, the store managers initiated mandatory bag searches at the end of our shifts. My reign of terror came to a close soon after when upper management ordered my boss to get rid of me. In a generous gesture, my boss instead informed me of the decision and offered me the option to turn in my two-week notice. I put in my two weeks just in time for summer and took the opportunity to spend my free time making connections with other anarchists, fostering friendships that were only possible because I was no longer giving my time to that terrible job.


The Team is Real: A Model for Cross-Workplace Organizing

Step one: Wear the button when you’re at work. Hook people up (discounts, freebies, extras, etc.) Step two: Wear the button when you go out. Get hooked up. Remember to ask your teammates where they work. Step three: Build the team. Talk to your friends and trusted coworkers. The more people on the team, the better.

We are line cooks and bartenders, waitresses and bakers. We sell produce at farmers’ markets; we operate cash registers, we stock shelves and make espresso drinks. We take commodities, rearrange them and move them around, adding value so that our employers may make a profit. We are workers in the service industry, in essence no different from those who work on construction sites or in the few remaining factories of our post-industrial cities.

Unlike our industrial counterparts, most of us have been ignored by organized labor. We are excluded from collective bargaining by assertions that our work is too precarious, that we can’t be expected to stick around long enough, that our workplaces are too small. Yet when we confess to our more securely employed acquaintances that we work for minimum wage, we never fail to hear the refrain, “Sounds like y’all could use a union.” Not that we mourn the official union’s lack of interest in our exploitation. We don’t need more boredom, bureaucracy and control in our already stifled, suppressed lives. But we could do with a bit more money at the end of the month, a few more groceries in our pantries, a dose of complicity in our friendships, and a sprinkling of agency in the places where we spend most of our waking hours.

In the absence of a formal organization with pretensions of representing our interests, we are forced to supersede the union form and take directly for ourselves that which we are denied by the market. Along with workplace sabotage, slacking off instead of hustling, and the occasional sick day when it is just too beautiful outside, workplace theft constitutes our everyday practice of class struggle, our faceless resistance. Even those of us who work for “responsible,” “ethical” businesses find ourselves looking for ways to take home some extra food or to slip some bills out of the register. And when we can, we give freely of the commodities we produce, transforming them from objects with value (a price tag) to objects for free use (nourishment, intoxication, fun…). In this way, we subvert the commodity form on a daily basis by giving free food and drinks to our friends, but we do it in a limited and isolated manner. The Team is an attempt to coordinate and elaborate that subversion: to spread it beyond the circumscribed boundaries of friendship while at the same time creating new relationships based on a common material condition, that of exploitation, and a common practice of rebellion, that of re-appropriation. Essentially The Team functions by the use of a common identifier—a button, a pin, a t-shirt or hat, anything that could be used to alert a stranger to the presence of a fellow member. The identifier should be unique enough to be easily distinguished, yet not so explicit as to tip off the boss. The deployment of explanatory cards is an optional compliment that while adding a potential risk also provides the opportunity to interject a more explicitly anti-capitalist theme. What do the kids say these days? Everything for Everyone!

With only a few months of practical application, The Team has proven to be a moderate success in at least one average-sized Midwestern city. Almost two hundred buttons and cards have been given to enthusiastic young service workers. Some of us have enjoyed a trip to the grocery store with no bill upon checking out. Others have been able to feed their caffeine addictions for another day with no exchange of currency. Soon we hope to be riding city buses and partying in hotel rooms. Perhaps one day something will “fall off the truck” into our laps. In the meantime we are finding that social activities that normally leave us feeling isolated from those immediately surrounding us are now enveloped in an atmosphere of excitement and purpose. Knowing head nods and revealing conversations have once again found their way into the air around us. One story reached us of a twenty-something barista whose adolescent dreams of a network of free coffee suppliers has, years later, found resonance with our little union of thieves. We are finding that even apathetic hipsters and seemingly hostile liberals are making themselves at home in our attempt to do class struggle.

The Team, of course, is not a perfect system. There are many flaws, the exclusion of workers who cannot directly seize what they produce foremost among them, yet we believe that for every obstacle we, as a class, are capable of finding a creative solution. Some have suggested a central warehouse for things like toilet paper, soap, light bulbs, and office supplies—commodities that most jobs provide access to. Others have expressed interest in a directory of free social services. In the end, the point is not to establish some sort of alternative economy where we all just go on working our miserable jobs, but rather to help create a climate of subversion, to plant seeds that may manifest in various untold forms, to experiment, and above all to begin to attack the sources of misery.

In our fantastical visions of the near future, we see ourselves reclining on patio furniture while savoring lattes, stocking our larders with the finest of produce from local markets. We are enveloped in sensations of pleasure foreign to our proletarian tongues as we drink freely of the bourgeoisie’s wine. When we travel, we are greeted by friends and strangers with gifts of bounty and luxury. And when guests are received by us in turn we show them a night on the town like no other. A cornucopia of goods, freely taken and given, all at the expense of those who would exploit our lives, all in the spirit of the negation of capitalist relations.

These words have been written with the hope that others beside ourselves might take up this project and make it their own.

—Committee for Attacks Against the World of Work (CAAWW - Birds of the Coming Storm)


We present this extract from the book A Worker in a Worker’s State, written by Miklós Haraszti in 1972 when he was a young employee at the Red Star Tractor Factory and suppressed by the Hungarian government as a threat to socialism. Throughout history, workers have stolen from their workplaces under capitalism and socialism socialism alike. Haraszti suggests that this stealing is actually the most creative and enterprising activity that takes place in the factory, implying the possibility of a world in which all labor would be equally creative and free. His text also provides a window into the lives of workers in the Eastern Bloc, revealing the void at the heart of the supposed workers’ utopia. So long as there are managers, workers will rob their workplaces—not just for personal gain, but above all to keep alive that which is best in themselves.

At a time when young people in the West who did not experience the horrors of state socialism are spreading nostalgia for it while fascists gain legitimacy in Eastern Europe by presenting themselves as its foes, it’s important to remember that state socialism never gave workers the freedom or abundance it promised—and that its true opponents are not the nationalists who would inflict still worse horrors, but anarchists and other ordinary working people who resist all forms of imposed authority. Likewise, Haraszti’s text is prescient in anticipating how artisanal craftsmanship would be further commodified in the post-industrial economy, offering the illusion of free activity as yet another facet of the market. Instead of peddling nostalgia for state control of industry, factory work, or any other specter of the 20th century—or seeking to monetize our autonomous activity after the fashion of the 21st century—let’s take immediate action against against capitalism, socialism, and work itself.

In Search of the Great Homer

[A homer is an object made for his own purpose or pleasure by a worker using his factory’s machines and materials. It is not made for sale as an additional source of income. The word does not appear in most dictionaries, but appears to have been the most widely used equivalent in England and North America.]

“Homers? Is there any chance of homers?” is often asked by those thinking of leaving this factory, when they’re tipped off about another place. Many factors must be taken into account when you want to change your job. Although for most workers homers are not vital, they’ll make them if they have the chance, and they’ll try to create the opportunity if it doesn’t exist already. Some will pay a high price to obtain a position that allows them to make homers.

The government journals portray workers who make homers as thieves. Similarly, the factory bosses “fight” against homers. Warnings and sanctions rain down on the heads of those who misappropriate materials, use machines for their own purposes, or tap the factory’s supply of electricity. If the factory guard finds a homer in our pockets or on our bodies, he has caught a thief.

But even if the journals don’t acknowledge it, both workers and bosses know very well that this is just words. The real damage to the factory is the time lost in making an object—time which cannot be utilized by the factory. “If the foreman knows you’re making homers, he’ll send one of us to fetch some glue and he’ll stick you to your machines for the rest of the day,” said my neighbor, joking with someone who was borrowing a tool from him to make a homer.

The secret of this passion for homers is not a simple one. It can’t be reduced to the minimal value of the knick-knacks which the workers actually make and, especially on piece-rates, how long they take bears no relation to the value of the time lost.

Workers on hourly wages turn to homers when they have given to the factory what the factory has demanded, or when they have a free moment. If hourly workers make homers they don’t risk anything—except being found out. Not only will they then be punished, the discovery will also offer an excellent opportunity to demand increased production from them.

Workers on conveyor belts, or on fully automatic machines, completely delivered from the pressures of time, are only likely to make homers in their dreams. Technological development has given these workers a moral superiority, which at least forces the government satirists to look for a new theme in their attacks.

But the piece-rate worker manages his time himself, and each minute that passes without an increase in the number of pieces represents a financial loss for him. With the constant pressure of piece-rates, the factory does all it can to preach the morality of labor. According to the rate-fixers’ estimates, the piece-rate workers should themselves renounce their passion for theft. In fact, management has to admit that nothing—neither prohibitions, nor punishments, nor public humiliation by the security guards—will persuade them to give it up.

Perhaps it is more than an empty play on words to say that we “loot” [that is, cut corners in violation of regulations] in order to have time to steal.

Making homers is a real addiction; those who go in for it know that they do themselves more harm than good. The bosses and the rate-fixers view the persistent refusal of piece-rate workers to give up this habit in terms of the basest instincts. “How does a person like that bring up his children? We gave him sound advice and even delivered a sharp rap across his knuckles, but nothing will stop him from pilfering,” the foreman grumbles, talking about a homer addict. Yet the passion for “looting” does not upset the bosses. Not because they force us to do it, but because “looting” doesn’t cost anything except the strength, nerves, wellbeing, thoughts and life of the worker—even when he thinks that he is stealing something from the factory.

Why, then, are piece-rate workers so fond of making homers? The usefulness of homers cannot be the real motive, because the worker’s life is so dependent on the workshop, the machine, his materials, and his eight-hour shifts that there is no chance whatever of his making anything which he really needs. It would be a dubious triumph for “do-it-yourself”—given the gigantic level of infringements that would be involved—if the conditions of work were such that they permitted workers to make everything they needed for setting up house in the form of homers. Then, certainly, homers would be worthwhile, since every worker could do repairs, and make small gadgets cheaply and with little effort.

Some of my colleagues still harbor a nostalgia for the days of the domestic artisan, but they rarely talk about their feelings, except when they are embarrassed or are making an excuse if someone catches them out. “Peasants, too, give what they produce to the State, but they don’t buy their vegetables in a market. Here, there are all the tools you could want, and stacks of discarded materials—but if I want to repair my faucet, I’m supposed to call the plumber.” This sort of talk is really a rationalization; it doesn’t bear much relation to the real motives for making a homer.

Perhaps the mechanics and fitters, who are paid by the hour, really do have the means—thanks to homers—to set up their families, since they have at their fingertips, in the workshop, all the tools and machines necessary for household repairs large and small. But I am chained to my machine even if, at the most once a week, I find after an interminable number of runs that I have won a little time for myself. It is impossible for the piece-rate worker to flit across the workshop like a butterfly and to fiddle around with other machines. The foreman would see him at once, and fix him up with more work. Besides, the others are also riveted to their machines, and in any case our machines are too specialized, too large, too powerful, and too complicated: they themselves dictate what we can make with them.

And so in fact homers are seldom useful things. Bizarrely enough, when they are, it is generally not for some outside use, but for something needed within the factory. In theory, there are special workers to manufacture the base plates and braces for mounting pieces, but in fact we must make them ourselves. It is an unwritten rule that when feasible we make everything our jobs require with our own machines. Such operations have real utility, but are also infuriating. They are hardly paid but they are necessary to get through faster, or even to complete a job.

Even around such necessary preparatory work, the mysterious aura of homers begins to appear, to the extent that everyone calls these pieces “homers” even though in fact they entitle us to a supplementary payment. No one would think of telling his neighbor how he’d run through a series, and no one would be interested if he did. But everyone can talk with gusto about these preparatory “homers,” and find an interested audience. Without doubt, the reason is that we plan this work ourselves, and can complete it as we think best.

Our machines rarely give an opportunity for other useful kinds of homers. But that doesn’t do away with homers, it only changes them. For piece-workers, homers are ends in themselves, like all true passions. Here the passion is for nothing other than work, work as an end in itself. The diverse forms of homer have only one thing in common: they have to be of a size that can be surreptitiously smuggled out of the factory. Some have not kept to this rule; and finished objects lie gathering dust in their locker, or their tool boxes, or beside their machines, until the worker changes his factory, when they try to get them out, or, if this is hopeless, give them away.

For us, the potential of milling machines, lathes, and borers stimulates and at the same time limits our imaginations. The raw material is chiefly metal. The objects that can be made are key-holders, bases for flower-pots, ashtrays, pencil boxes, rulers and set squares, little boxes to bring salt to the factory for the morning break, bath mats (made out of rolls of white polystyrene), counters in stainless steel to teach children simple arithmetic (a marvelous present), pendants made from broken milling teeth, wheels for roulette-type games, dice, magnetized soap holders, television aerials (assembled at home), locks and bolts, coat-holders for the changing-room cupboard, knives, daggers, knuckle-dusters, and so on.

In place of the order, “You make that,” comes a question: “What can I make?” But if this work is an end in itself, it is not thereby without a purpose. It is the antithesis of our meaningless “real” work: the possibilities are limited, but the worker who makes a homer uses his head and keeps his eyes open. He scans the raw materials around him, weighs up the unexploited capacities of his machines and the other auxiliary machines, like the small disc-cutter in the corner of the section or the grinding-machine, as he examines the hand tools at his disposal. Then he decides. He decides on what he will accomplish and works to realize that chosen object and not for some other purpose. If he uses the product itself, then before all else he will relish the pleasure of having accomplished it, and of knowing when, how, and with what he made it, and that he had originated its existence.

This humble little homer, made secretly and only through great sacrifices, with no ulterior motive, is the only form possible of free and creative work—it is both the germ and the model: this is the secret of the passion.

The tiny gaps that the factory allows us become natural islands where, like free men, we can mine hidden riches, gather fruits, and pick up treasures at our feet. We transform what we find with a disinterested pleasure free from the compulsion to make a living. It brings us an intense joy, enough to let us forget the constant race: the joy of autonomous, uncontrolled activity, the joy of labor without rate-fixers, inspectors, and foremen.

A complex organization forces me to maintain a minimum level of quality in my daily work. In making homers, quality, which itself arises as I have envisaged it, is the aim itself, the profit, and the pleasure. It is so natural that the question is no longer “What are you making?” but “How are you making it?” The joy of this unity between conception and execution stands in extreme contrast to our daily work. “Where is the blueprint?” an inspector asked as usual when he came over to make a check. M— loves to repeat the brazen response (fortunately it did not get him into trouble) which aimed to rub in that for once he and the inspector had nothing to say to each other: “It is here, in my head.” The inspector had to puzzle over this for a while before it clicked. M— was making a homer. In outward appearance, nothing had changed. The same movements, which otherwise served only to increase production for the factory, were transformed by what he was doing into an activity of an entirely different kind.

By making homers we win back power over the machine and our freedom from the machine; skill is subordinated to a sense of beauty. However insignificant the object, its form of creation is artistic. This is all the more so because (mainly to avoid the reproach of theft) homers are rarely made with expensive, showy, or semi-finished materials. They are created out of junk, from useless scraps of iron, from leftovers, and this ensures that their beauty comes first and foremost from the labor itself. Many do not care if their noble end-product clearly reveals its humble origins; but others hold fervently to the need for a perfect finish. Were it not that homers have to be made in a few snatched minutes, and that often we can’t get back to them from one week to the next, if making homers were not such a fleeting activity, then one could almost claim that there were two schools: the first “Functionalist,” the second “Secessionist” [a pre-Soviet Hungarian art movement celebrating excessive decoration]. There are also passing fashions in homers. And just as homers are a model of nonexistent joys, so they are the model for all protest movements.

Making homers is the only work in the factory that stands apart from our incessant competition against each other. In fact it demands cooperation, voluntary cooperation—not just to smuggle them out but also to create them. Sometimes my neighbor asks me to do the necessary milling for his homer, and in return makes a support for me on his lathe. On these occasions we wait patiently until the other “has the time.” Among piece-rate workers altruism is rare. Even in making homers, aid without a return is inconceivable. But it is not a matter of like for like: no one calculates how much his help is worth, or the time spent on it. Sometimes one can even come across selflessness without any expectations of recompense—which could never happen in “real” work. Most friendships begin with the making of a joint homer.

These different joys are obviously marred by the knowledge that they are only the joys of an oasis in a desert of piece-rate work. Slowly, the factory returns to itself, the computer dries out the oasis, the pressures of production continue unchanged. Despite this, everyone is cheerful during these few precious minutes. This is manifestly obvious to all but the bosses—who don’t need to worry about the constant bad temper of piece-rate workers except insofar as it relates to production; and who don’t display the least understanding of this loophole to happiness, not even as a matter of tactics. A foreman’s anger is a sure indication of the happiness that the worker sows with a homer. I am convinced that homers carry a message. “Artisanal tinkering, survivals from a dying industry: if homers are a negation, then they are only a nostalgia for the past.” This might be said if you didn’t grasp the importance of homers for workers on piece-rates. In fact, they don’t know the old handicrafts any more and they detest the private customers for whom they often do black market labor after factory hours.

Workers would gladly renounce the artisan character of homers, but they have no other way to assert themselves over mechanized labor. Similarly, they would gladly produce things which made sense, but the production of senseless homers is their only chance to free themselves, for a few minutes, from the “good sense” of the factory. They would gladly manufacture, often collectively, things which were useful for the community; but they can only make what they want to make on their own, or at most with a few others.

So these two steps towards the senseless—producing useless things and renouncing payment—in fact turn out to be two steps in the direction of freedom, even though they are swiftly blocked by the wall of wage labor. In fact, homers are a vain attempt to defect from the cosmos of piece-ratios. Suppose that all of our work could be governed by the pleasures of homers, then it would follow that in every homer is the kernel of a completely different sense: that of work carried out for pleasure. The industrial psychologist, the expert in managerial methods, the social technician, and all the growing number of specialists who are replacing functionaries once breathless with the heroism of labor cannot comprehend the hopelessness of their task if they are unable to understand the pleasures of homers. Their task is to dry out the oases while filling the desert with mirages. Were it not that these experts in production are also dispensers of our livelihood, in command of discipline and achievement, we would enter the age of the Great Homer. This alienated sense, imposed from outside by wages (and its denial, the consolations of forbidden irrationality), would be replaced by the ecstasy of true needs. Precisely what is senseless about homers from the point of view of the factory announces the affirmation of work motivated by a single incentive, stronger than all others: the conviction that our labor, our life, and our consciousness can be governed by our own goals. The Great Homer would be realized through machines, but our experts would subordinate them to two requirements: that we use them to make things of real utility, and that we are independent of the machines themselves. This would mean the withering of production controls. We would only produce what united homer-workers needed and what allowed us to remain workers united in the manufacture of homers. And we would produce a thousand times more efficiently than today.

To take the whole world into account, to combine our strength, to replace rivalry with cooperation, to make that we want, to plan and execute the plans together, to create in a way that was pleasurable in itself; to be freed from the duress of production and its inspectors—all these are announced by the message of the homer, of the few minutes that resurrect our energy and capacities. The Great Homer would not carry the risk of our frittering away strength senselessly; on the contrary, it would be the only way to discover what is even precluded by the homer of wage-earners: the real utility of our exertions. If we could direct our lives towards the Great Homer, we would gladly take on a few hours of mechanized labor a day, so long as it was needed. Otherwise, if everything remains as it does today, we face a terrible destiny: that of never knowing what we have lost.

Connoisseurs of folklore may look on homers as a native, decorative art. As yet, they aren’t able to see further than that. But they will, and the day will come when homers are no longer forbidden but are commercialized and administered. People who work on automatic machines will be able to buy homers in the shops after seeing them in magazines or on television. Then, no one will suspect that homers were originally more than a “do-it-yourself” hobby or a mere pastime; that they once shone through factory controls, the necessity of making a living, and the pressures of wages, as a surrogate for something which by then perhaps will be even more impossible to name than it is today.


At a factory in the Soviet Union, inventory control had determined that one of the workers was stealing from the People’s State. They heightened security and monitored him carefully. Every evening, as the man left work with his wheelbarrow, the security guard would search him fastidiously—packages, boxes, bags, pockets, everything—but to no avail. Although the guard never found a thing, he continued to search the worker at the end of each shift—year after year after year.

Finally, decades later, the man was due to retire. As he pushed his wheelbarrow out for the last time, the guard searched it, then said in despair, “Look, it doesn’t matter anymore, but satisfy my curiosity. We know you are stealing something. Yet every day I search your wheelbarrow and find nothing. How can this be?”

“It’s easy,” shrugged the worker. “I’m stealing wheelbarrows.”


For ten years now, we have observed April 15 as Steal Something from Work Day. Coinciding with tax day—when the government robs workers of a portion of their earnings to fund the police, the military, and various welfare programs for the ultra-rich—Steal Something from Work Day celebrates the creativity of workers who take a swipe at the economy that exploits them.

Yet today, the consequences of the global rip-off called capitalism have gone so far that nearly a quarter of us have no employment or source of income whatsoever. Many of those who still have jobs are being forced to risk death on a daily basis just to bring home a paycheck, while more privileged workers have seen their jobs invade their very homes. Tax day is pushed back to July—it’s difficult to rob those who have no income, though our oppressors aim to squeeze it out of us sooner or later.

The crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic should put things in proportion. While executives and loss prevention experts wring their hands about workplace theft, sticky-fingered employees are not the ones responsible for systematically draining resources from hospitals or accelerating catastrophic climate change. It’s not stealing from work that is outrageous—the outrageous thing is how much capitalism has stolen from us.

But How Do We Steal from Work in a Pandemic?

As history accelerates, the humble little gesture of workplace theft, via which so many workers have asserted their autonomy and made ends meet, has almost become outmoded. In a global disaster that is just a taste of things to come, we have to become more ambitious about what we aim to seize.

“Essential” Workers

The workforce has been divided into “essential” workers, “remote” workers, and the unemployed. In many cases, “essential” simply means “disposable”—along with doctors and nurses, it describes a range of low-paid jobs that involve a high risk of exposure to COVID-19. Of course, if you are working one of these jobs, you still have access to material goods; you can still steal from a grocery store or warehouse.

When so many people have no access to resources whatsoever—while employers and the politicians above them are conspiring to force us to risk a million deaths to re-start the economy—stealing to support those who cannot buy products becomes a solemn duty to humanity.

What can “essential workers” do besides sneaking food, medical supplies, and cleaning products out of workplaces? Can we set our sights on something more systematic?

Last year, facing layoffs, General Electric employees demanded to be kept on to build ventilators for the treatment of COVID-19. This points to the possibilities for workers to steal back their entire workplaces. Yet making demands of corporations like General Electric will produce few results unless we are able to find ways to exert leverage on them.

In Greece, unpaid workers in Thessaloniki went further, seizing the factory they had worked in and using it to manufacture their own line of ecological cleaning supplies. This is an example of workplace theft writ large, one we can aspire to emulate in the United States over the coming years.

Could we steal the existing infrastructure and use it to produce a different society? Should we aspire to take over the global supply chain and run it more efficiently than its current overlords do?

The quintessential 21st century work environment is the Amazon warehouse. Surveillance devices and software force humans to behave like robots. In some Amazon warehouses, gigantic screens display footage of employees who were caught stealing to terrorize workers into obedience. Cashing in on the pandemic, Amazon has added over 100,000 new positions, but all the profits are still concentrating at the top. Signs in Amazon warehouses instruct workers to remain three feet apart at all times as an anti-viral measure, when their work stations are actually two feet apart. Is there a place for such places in our dreams of the future?

Before we decide what aspects of the global supply chain to keep, let’s look closer at the meaning of the word “essential.” Police in some parts of the US have explicitly stated that “protesting is not listed as an essential function”; they aim to take advantage of the pandemic to suppress any dissent, though dissent is the only means by which we can assert our needs and defend our safety. Freedom is inessential, along with the lives of frontline workers. Meanwhile, the governor of Florida has deemed professional wrestling an essential function along with all other “professional sports and media production[s] with a national audience.” As in ancient Rome, what is essential is bread and circuses.

So we should not accept the concept of “essential workers” at face value. Capitalism has monopolized activities like food production that used to take place on a more decentralized basis. We are among the first human beings to be born into a society in which the only way to obtain food is to go to a grocery store staffed by employees. Most of us have no other option today; this monopoly is what makes grocery store workers “essential.” In almost any other model, these workers wouldn’t be the only line between us and starvation.

On a fundamental level, Amazon warehouses and corporate grocery store chains are like police: they are essential to the maintenance of this social order, but they are not necessarily essential to life itself. We depend upon them because—through centuries of successive enclosures of the commons—we have been robbed of everything that sustained our species through the first million years of our existence.

When we are thinking about how to steal our lives back from work, this suggests another point of departure, alongside individual workplace theft and collective workplace occupations. We can begin to re-establish means of subsistence outside the economy—for example, via occupied urban and suburban gardens. Especially for those who are now unemployed, this is a way to steal the possibility of subsistence from a world optimized for employment alone. Perhaps, one day, where there are currently Amazon fulfillment centers, there can be community gardens complete with collective dining areas and childcare bungalows.

Remote Workers

In the age of surveillance technology, some of the differences are eroding between warehouse workers who are monitored by drones and white-collar workers who are monitored by technologies that take screenshots at random throughout the workday. All of us are being “optimized” according to capitalist control mechanisms and criteria. In remote or “smart” working, our employers invade our bedrooms, ruthlessly fixing our most intimate activities to the demands of the market. Middle-class workers have to worry about whether the décor of our bedrooms and the behavior of our children will be acceptable to our employers. Nothing is sacred.

At the same time, as more and more of our lives become dependent on digital technologies, some of the differences between the employed and the unemployed are also eroding. Among those of us who are unemployed, many of us also spend our days in Zoom meetings and clicking around on phones and computers. Our behaviors—paid or not—can be almost identical. Our online activity continues to provide income to corporations employing a profit model based on the attention economy, harvesting data, and the like.

For Steal Something from Work Day 2013, one of our authors analyzed the ways that time theft alone can fail to take us beyond the regimes of capitalism:

Workers who engage in tactics of time theft, but use the reclaimed hours to participate in a digital capitalism that commodifies user attention, merely sneak from one job to do another. In 2013, we call it “social media”—in thirty years, it will have no name. […] We add stars and comments to Amazon products improving their sales; we self-surveil with Facebook; and we help search engines anticipate human desires by performing as a human test audience for them.

So while time theft is the one ostensible remaining means of stealing something from work for an entire social class now under de facto house arrest, we should not assume that it will suffice to get us beyond the logic we are trying to escape. That goes for the unemployed as well as for those working remotely.

What is the solution? To return to the wisdom of our forebears, we should never use any tool produced by the capitalist system for its intended purpose. To quote “Deserting the Digital Utopia,” “There is an invisible world connected at the handle to every tool—use the tool as it is intended, and it fits you to the mold of all who do the same; disconnect the tool from that world, and you can set out to chart others.”

For those confined to working or playing online from home, this offers a way to think about our little individual revolts. When you are engaging in time theft, don’t just click around on the internet, delivering additional information to the corporations and governments that are spying on all of us. We have to use this time creatively and effectively to prepare for the next phase of global collapse. Teach yourself a skill that you can use away from the computer, something that can help you heal or nourish people, whether biologically or psychologically. Create new connections and networks that can assume an untraceable offline form in the near future. Print out letters and deliver them to all the tenants around you inviting them to participate in the unfolding rent strike and offering them support. Remember, you must always have a secret plan.

Now more than ever, stealing something from work has to mean assaulting the system that forces work on us in the first place.


Beyond Stealing from Work

In the final analysis, stealing from our workplaces is not a rebellion against the status quo, but simply another aspect of it. It implies a profound discontent with our conditions, yes, and perhaps a rejection of the ethics of capitalism; but as long as the consequences of that discontent remain individualized and secretive, they will never propel us into a different world. Stealing from work is what we do instead of changing our lives—it treats the symptoms, not the condition. Perhaps it even serves our bosses’ interests—it gives us a pressure valve to blow off steam, and enables us to survive to work another day without a wage increase. Perhaps they figure the costs of it into their business plans because they know our stealing is an inevitable side effect of exploitation—though not one guaranteed to bring exploitation to an end.

On the other hand, the notion that stealing from our employers is not relevant to labor struggle enforces a dichotomy between “legitimate” workplace organizing on the one hand and individual acts of resistance, revenge, and survival on the other. So long as this separation exists, conventional workplace organizing will always be essentially toothless: it will prioritize bureaucracy over initiative, representation over autonomy, appeasement over confrontation, legitimacy in the bosses’ eyes over effectiveness in changing our lives.

What would it look like to go about labor organizing in the same way we go about stealing from our workplaces? First, it would mean focusing on means of resistance that meet our individual needs, starting from what individual workers can do themselves with the support of their comrades. It would mean dispensing with strategies that don’t provide immediate material or emotional benefit to those who utilize them. It would establish togetherness through the process of attempting to seize back the environments we work and live in, rather than building up organizations on the premise of an always-deferred future struggle.

A workforce that organized in this way would be impossible to co-opt or dupe. No boss could threaten it with anything, for its power would derive directly from its own actions, not from compromises that give the bosses hostages or give prominent organizers incentives not to fight. It would be a boss’s worst nightmare—and a union official’s, too.

We might also ask what would it look like to go about stealing from work as if it were a way to try to change the world, rather than simply survive in it. So long as we solve our problems individually, we can only confront them individually as well. Stealing in secret keeps class struggle a private affair—the question is how to make it into a public project that gathers momentum. This shifts the focus from What to How. A small item stolen with the knowledge and support of one’s coworkers is more significant than a huge heist carried out in secret. Stolen goods shared in such a way that they build workers’ collective power are worth more than a high-dollar embezzlement that only benefits one employee, the same way a raise or promotion does.

Remember the story of the hardware store employee who embezzled enough money to get a college degree, only to find himself back behind the cash register afterwards! When it was too late, he wished he’d done something with the money to create a community that could fight against the world of cash registers and college degrees. Even as he broke the laws of his society, he had still accepted its basic values, investing in status that could only advance him on the bosses’ terms. Better we invest ourselves in breaking its values as well as its laws!

Practically everyone steals from work, even if many people won’t admit it, even if some people would like to reserve the privilege of doing so for themselves. Let’s draw this practice out of the shadows in which it takes place, so all the world has to engage with it and its implications in the full light of day. Perhaps workplace theft could be an Achilles heel for capitalism after all: not because it alone is sufficient to abolish wage labor and class society, but because it is the sort of open secret that must remain suppressed to preserve the illusion that everybody believes in and benefits from the present system.

So if you find yourself coveting items in your place of employment, don’t just steal something from work—think about how you could steal everything from it, yourself and your coworkers above all. Stealing from work one thing at a time will take forever, literally—it would be more efficient to just steal the whole world back from work at once. That’s a daunting project, one we could only take on together—but it’s one we can begin right now.

Next April 15, we won’t just pocket a few items—we’ll show up at our workplaces with helmets and torches. Stealing something from work is not enough when work is stealing everything from us.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this collection exploring the joys of Steal Something From Work Day – which, I need not remind all of you, can be and indeed is celebrated every single day of the year. What we’ve shared here is just the tip of the iceberg – check out the links on our website, for many more accounts and materials to help you get into the holiday spirit. If you know of any particularly creative celebrations of Steal Something From Work Day and would like to send in an anonymous account, drop a line to

We’ll be back in a couple of weeks with more to share on the topic, as we begin to release our audiobook version of the classic 2010 CrimethInc. book Work. Until then, we’re sending our shout-outs and solidarity to all the workplace rebels everywhere who are finding creative ways to resist capitalism from the ground up. Good luck out there, and happy holidays!