Happy Labor Day, everyone!
I hope you’ve got the day off. If not, I hope you have good day, anyway, and that you’re getting overtime rates
But I want to write about labor, and the union movement, and the minimum wage, and all the rest of that …and not only because of the date, but because things are interesting right at the moment. As I write (and I do write things far in advance, so things may have changed), working people are in unusual position. There is, strangely enough, a labor shortage, particularly in the service industries.
Why? Well, Covid was a big part of it. People discovered that it was dangerous to go stand around warehouses and restaurants, just waiting for the virus to get them, so they sought alternative ways of making a living. (I wonder how many eBay businesses have sprung up over the last two years.) Or they got disgusted with what they had to endure for minimum, or less than minimum wage. Or…whatever.
Oh, and I ought to mention as well another thing that may have played a role. Trump and his people were great fans of detention camps and barbed wire and keeping the undocumented out. And, in this, as in so few things, they succeeded. People stopped coming. Only, now, employers discover that they lack all sorts of labor…everything from dishwashers to line chefs. In a word, ouch.
Okay, but what this means is that service and other industry workers have been able to demand higher wages and better conditions.
What has intrigued me, though, is the fury with which some employers, and some very rich people, and some of the state governments which do their bidding …have responded. You hear screams of anguish…denunciations…and ardent refusals to raise wages, even in the face of disaster. State and local governments are trying to reduce unemployment benefits to a bare minimum, so that workers will get off their “lazy asses,” and work for a living —though, in point of fact, some studies show that being lazy has nothing to do with it. Workers just realize that they can get a better deal elsewhere.
My favorite story, though, comes from The Guardian. According to an article there, at least some large employers seem to be talking about switching to prison labor. That is, yes, imprisoned felons and others behind bars. Such people, of course, cannot go on strike, cannot demand higher wages, cannot join a union, and are already subject to a discipline far more fierce than anything a foreman could possibly impose.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. It is only human nature to complain when things don’t go your way. God knows I’m guilty of doing that.
Yet…when massive corporations crush unions and start talking about prison labor…
And I think that maybe, just maybe, there is a certain hypocrisy at work in the American economy. That is, when the really rich…not just wealthy, I mean, obscenely rich… are in charge, and the system works for them, then all the pundits cheer and say “Thank God for free enterprise.”
But when things change, and the middle classes and the poor exploit their advantages in a perfectly rational attempt to maximize their profits…
Somehow, that’s Wrong, and the pundits scream that Communism is at hand.
So here’s a thought…my little suggestion for Labor Day. If we are going to practice free enterprise, and capitalism, and wave our copies of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged like Red Guards with their little red books on May Day…then, maybe, we should be consistent about it.
And let “the little people,” — workers, service people, the union members, and, yes, sole proprietors — compete just as freely, effectively, and sometimes as ruthlessly as giant corporations—even if that means we all pay a little more for what we want.
Because, otherwise, we have un-free enterprise…with liberty for the Great and Powerful…and bars, and chains, and poverty…
For the rest of us.
Until next time…
Onward and Upward.
Copyright©2021 Michael Jay Tucker
1. “What Does A Worker Want? What The Labor Shortage Really Tells Us,” by Tom Spiggle, Forbes, July 8, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomspiggle/2021/07/08/what-does-a-worker-want-what-the-labor-shortage-really-tells-us/?sh=12b95e1f539d
2. “Companies claim there’s a labor shortage. Their solution? Prisoners,” by Michael Sainato, The Guardian, Tue 20 Jul 2021 05.00 EDT. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jul/20/companies-claim-theres-a-labor-shortage-their-solution-prisoners