Everybody knows the dice are loaded, 23

2 06 2016

Work hard, keep your head down, follow the rules, show up on time, show up early, leave late, educate yourself, keep up, keep plugging away, be loyal, faithful, and true.

Be disposable:

Frank has been with us for more than 20 years. He works in the warehouse and has done a good job for us. I like him. But, to be honest, for the work he performs I could easily replace him someone younger and… cheaper. Would it be wrong to let him go?

And the costs are rising, right? You’re increasing Frank’s salary every year, at least by the cost of living. And that’s not all. You’re contributing to his healthcare and his 401(K). He’s earning more and more vacation each day that he’s working for you. And as he gets older, you’re increasing the risk that he will cost your company more – maybe he gets injured or needs financial assistance because he’s not putting enough away for his retirement. Sure, he’s got experience. He’s proven. He’s a known card. But he’s costing you. And you know you can get the same job done by someone else for less money. I see this with many of my clients, and it’s a complicated issue. Are you a heartless cad if you let this guy go? Doesn’t loyalty count for anything? The guy’s given you 20 years of his life, and you’re just going to cut him loose? You must be some kind of awful person.

Actually, no you’re not an awful person. I am not encouraging that you should discriminate based on your employee’s age. Age discrimination is against the law. However, your job is to make the decisions. The hard decisions that are necessary to grow your business and ensure it as a going concern for years to come. Why? Because you have employees, customers, partners, suppliers and everyone’s family members (including yours) that rely on you and your company for their livelihoods. And their interests should rise above the interest of any one specific person. OK, maybe you don’t have to be so harsh. Maybe you can ease him out over the next two years. Or find another role for him where he could actually be more productive for you (Driving a forklift? Maintenance? Customer service?) as he gets older. But if you’re letting your overhead get too high and your profitability becomes negatively-impacted because you’re unable to make those hard choices, then you’re hurting everyone who depends on you.

So what, exactly, did our esteemed adviser say that was wrong?

Isn’t what he’s counseling precisely in line with that great capitalist hero, Milton Friedman?

That is why, in my book Capitalism and Freedom, I have called [“social responsibility”] a “fundamentally subversive doctrine” in a free society, and have said that in such a society, “there is one and only one social responsibility of business–to use it resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.”

So, no, don’t do anything illegal—don’t fire the old man just for being an old man—but by all means, fire the long-time highly-paid worker for being a long-time highly-paid worker.

Do it for the “employees [except the one’s you’re firing], customers, partners, suppliers and everyone’s [except the employee’s you’re firing] family members (including yours).”

Do it for the children.

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At least Friedman had the guts to be a son-of-a-bitch about the cold logic of capitalism.

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Everybody knows the fight was fixed, 20

5 10 2015

I’m not generally a fan of violence nor specifically a fan of assault.

However.

I cannot dredge up even the smallest bit of concern at the sight of an Air France executive chased over a fence by workers:

Kenzo Tribouillard , AFP/Getty

These workers are fighting for their jobs. They’re literally doing to the executives what the executives would—metaphorically—do to them.

I have no illusions that labor violence in the US would not be met by even greater police violence, nor that the citizenry would support the workers. Whatever our paeans to ‘plain-spoken hard-working salt-of-the-earth heartland’ types, what we Americans really respect is money.

If you have to work to get it, okay, fine, but if you’re out there doing what someone else can do (cheaper), shut up and get back to work.

There’s an incident recalled in Adam Gopnik’s essay “Trouble at the Tower” in which a tourist (British? American?) was prevented (roughly?) from getting off at the wrong platform by the elevator operator. She complained, he was fired, the rest of the tower workers went on strike until he was restored to his position.

Naturally, sympathy in France gathered quickly around the wronged operator and his striking friends, while sympathy in the Anglo-American side gathered around the roughed-up lady. . . [S]he was just trying to have a good time, we think. But he was only doing his job, they think.

Gopnik elaborates upon and, honestly, overplays the disjuncture between the customer/producer mentalities (just as I overplay the respect for money/work disjuncture), but I think he does get at something about cultural defaults: the French sympathy tends toward the worker, while the American does not.

In France, the storming of the offices of the jobs-cutting executives (or the blockade of roads by tractors) is not a horror, but a tactic. In the US, workers respond to cut jobs by reapplying for the same position at a lower wage.

And if corporations kill workers? Oh, well.

(Is it worth noting that the one of the few corporate executives who’s going to jail for killing people is doing so for killing customers, not workers? I think so, yes.)

There are plenty of us (in both countries) who would set the switch differently, but we’re straining against custom. What they (we) take as right we (they) can scarcely imagine here.

So to see what is possible—that fighting back is possible—well, if I’m not exactly thrilled by the assault, there is a certain grim satisfaction in that man’s ripped shirt.





And everybody knows that the plague is coming, 18

4 06 2015

I can get fed up with snark—it’s often obvious, lazy, or just plain jerkish—but sometimes it’s so well done I can only say “Ahhhh”.

I “ahhh” a lot when reading C.A. Pinkham’s “Behind Closed Ovens” series—and these are the types of stories for which you definitely want to read the comments.

Anyway, that’s the happy news.

The less-happy news are the terrible conditions under which restaurant staff too often labor, which Pinkham also (righteously!) highlights:

Afternoon Delight:

Almost the exact thing happened to me. I was working at a cheap sushi restaurant and got food poisoning in the middle of my shift. I began vomiting over and over, about twice an hour. I was literally running in and out of the bathroom between taking orders because I couldn’t stop, I was so ill. What did my manager say when I asked if I could go home? He said no, we were short staffed because he’d already let a girl go home because she’d stayed up too late the night before doing cocaine. It took 4 hours from the point I started vomiting for him to finally let me leave, and he demanded I apologize to all my coworkers for “making them work harder”. Btw I didn’t even make it the 6 block walk home without vomiting in the gutter. I didn’t get fired right away, but I mysteriously stopped getting shifts about two weeks later despite being the oldest and most experienced server (at 20 years old, btw). Fuck the way restaurant workers are treated in this country.

catslightly:

Not surprised. I came down with the flu once when I was working at a cafe and they told me I couldn’t leave. When a customer complained that I was clearly ill, my manager just moved me to the kitchen so the customers couldn’t see me infecting them all.

acornprincess:

This reminds me of one of my roommates in undergrad who worked at the dining hall – She somehow got pink eye and tried to call out sick after going to the doctor, since, you know, pink eye is hella contagious. They said she couldn’t and that they would just keep her in the back on dishwashing duties so she would be “out of sight”…like, as long as the other students didn’t see her inflamed, seeping eye as they were being served their fucking turkey tetrazzini all would be well. Anyway, there was a subsequent MAJOR breakout of pink eye. Enough so that the President of the university had to send out a campus-wide email about it outlining tips/directions about what to do to prevent the spread and how to get treatment. Fucking ridiculous.

jennnnn:

I once worked super sick through my lunch shift and went to a minute clinic on break for a strep culture. Came back positive, with a dr’s note, and my boss sat and watched me call everyone off that evening to cover my shift. No one would so I sat and cried, feeling terrible, sick, and defeated, and shaking from my fever. Finally after watching me crumble he said go home. What a dick.

There are many many many more, in both the post and in the comments.*

We Americans have an awful attitude when it comes to wage-work, namely, that more is always better** and too much is never enough.

Madness.

~~~

*If you don’t want to feel terrible, stop after you read the “Strega Nona” comment. That one’s nice.

**Of course we also rebel against this puritanical sensibility by pretending that we’re busier than we are. Because busier is always better, natch.

 





Everybody knows the deal is rotten, 11

21 10 2014

Work don’t get no respect.

That sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Don’t we goodstrongproud Americans value hard work and honest living? An honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work and all that?

Yeah, no.

Work, like every other goddamned thing in this country, has become tribalized: tell me how you vote and I’ll tell you what you think about what counts as work and how much it’s worth.

It’s not quite that simple, of course, not least because this late tribalization a) has a long history; and b) is laid over all other kinds of fights, presuppositions, prejudices, and disorientations. And, to be fair, there are folks on all sides of the political spectrum who are uneasy with the disappearance of decent working-class jobs.

Still, there used to be at least a veneer of agreement that wage-work, at least, should be respected, and that a person was performing something of value even in low-wage work. The problem that Ronald Reagan had with so-called welfare queens, for example, wasn’t that they worked at McDonald’s, but that they didn’t work at all. Only when they (and it was always “they”, never “we”) worked, it was argued, would they learn the habits required for achieving a decent life.

Yes, there was a lot of bullshit packed into this argument, but I mention it to highlight how the long push for welfare reform hinged on the presumption that all (paid) work, even low-wage work, was worthwhile both to the worker and to society at large.

Now, however, low-wage work is a problem, and not in the way that you’d think, i.e., the “low-wage” part. No, to a dismaying number of political and economic elites, the problem is with the work itself, and thus also with the worker.

Exhibit A: Brad Schimel, the Republican candidate for Wisconsin’s Attorney General:

“I want every one of our neighbors to have a job again, a well-paid job, so we don’t have to argue about minimum wage for someone working at Burger King,” he said. “Let’s get them a real job.”

Precisely so, because busting your ass to get cheap food fast to hungry people is fake-work.

Exhibit B: That lovable lug, Governor Chris Christie!

I gotta tell you the truth, I’m tired of hearing about the minimum wage, I really am,” Christie said during an event at the Chamber of Commerce in Washington, according to a recording of his remarks by the liberal opposition research group American Bridge.

“I don’t think there’s a mother or father sitting around a kitchen table tonight in America who are saying, ‘You know honey, if my son or daughter could just make a higher minimum wage, my God, all our dreams would be realized,” he added. “Is that what parents aspire to for their children?”

The governor went on to say that parents aspire to an America where their children can make more money and achieve greater success, according to The Hill. He said those aspirations weren’t about a “higher minimum wage.”

It’s true, I wouldn’t want my imaginary children to work for minimal wages, but I damned sure would want the work they do perform pay them well enough to live a decent life.  And if my kid were only capable of flipping burgers, that s/he were not able to perform more highly-skilled labor wouldn’t make flipping burgers somehow not-labor.

Work is work, and deserves compensation.

Exhibit C: My favorite governor, the union-buster Scott Walker, who doesn’t see the point of the minimum wage nor, apparently, of the jobs which pay minimum wage:

“Well I’m not going to repeal it but I don’t think it serves a purpose because we’re debating then about what the lowest levels are at,” Walker said during a televised interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I want people to make — like I said the other night — two or three times that.”

Walker went on to say that the policies his administration has been pushing are meant to raise Wisconsinites above the minimum wage level.

“The jobs I have focused on, the training we’ve put in place, the programs we’ve put in place is not for people to get minimum wage jobs,” Walker continued. “It’s the training whether it’s in apprenticeships, whether it’s in our tech colleges, or our UW system —it’s to try and apply the training, the skills, the talents, the expertise people need to create careers that pay many many times over.”

Again, the idea of increasing education and training is a fine one, and I think both the federal and state governments should do more to provide free life-long training opportunities to all workers.

But, again, the idea that because some work doesn’t pay well that work isn’t worthy, may not be real work (as per Christie) at all, attacks the notion that work qua work has any value at all—and thus not even deserving a mandated minimum wage.

It’s a nice tautology: Real work pays real (i.e., high) wages, so any work performed for a low wage isn’t work at all.

And you can add another loop to this vicious, vicious circle when those low-wage workers require food stamps or other forms of public assistance to make it through the month: they’re moochers who, because they need assistance, clearly don’t deserve to make more money for the not-work they do.

As a Marxisch, I should perhaps welcome this open hostility to work as capitalism finally showing its true face, such that what matters is not the work, but the wage, always the wage—and the higher the wage, and the greater the accumulation of wealth, the more the person matters.

But I am not orthodox, and while a part of me is glad that some elites are abandoning useless paeans to the “inherent dignity of work”, a part of me knows this abandonment will only increase the burden on those who do labor for little, and further degrade what dignity they deserve to have as human beings.

After all, if you don’t respect the work, you ain’t gonna respect the worker.





Everybody knows the dice are loaded, 1

20 07 2014

Yeah, a new series! On the rationale and ravages of capitalism! Whoo-hoo!

Okay, most of the time it will just be quick hits, highlighting (mostly) where the pointy head of the stick pokes through the socio-economic skin and (sometimes) efforts to break that stick. And every one in a while I’ll try to stitch these bits together in an attempt to make my own sense of where we are and where we’re going.

Yep, there are others out there manifestly more qualified than I am, who’ve made long and deep study of political economy (and who I’ll crib from—with credit!—when I remember to look as needed), but I want to try to puzzle my way through this by thinking politically, not economically.

That’s some artificial line-drawin’ I’m doing there, I know, but I’m drawing in pencil, so it’s okay.

So: onward!

~~~

These two are pretty self-explanatory:

*Paul Carr: New San Francisco billboard warns workers they’ll be replaced by iPads if they demand a living wage

(h/t karoli, Crooks & Liars)

*David Ludwig, Obama Unveils New Initiative to Encourage Private Funding of Public Infrastructure

(h/t Paul Constant, The Stranger)

~~~

A bit of comment:

*Joe Pinsker, The ‘Facebook Cop’ and the Implications of Privatized Policing

Pinsker is apparently an optimist, because he concludes In all likelihood, the cop Facebook is funding will likely exert a positive force on the area, checking in on wayward kids and improving emergency evacuation procedures.

Which is an odd conclusion, given that immediately following this he notes private entities whose objectives diverge from the public’s can apply the law as they see fit. Who does Facebook’s security team pay attention to? Who do they ignore?

And I would add: What of our rights against their actions?

*Brendan Kiley, In Addition to Those 14,000 Layoffs, Microsoft is Tightening the Screws on Its Vendors and A Note from the Trenches of Microsoft Vendors and Permatemps

Temporary nation! Whoo-hoo! As a worker-mercenary myself, I can only confirm the delights of livin’ the free labor life—tho’ I must admit that I’m not completely free, union-bound as I am.

*Megan Rose Dickey, How Much Uber Drivers Really Make

Surprise: not as much as promised.

The real reason, tho’, that I picked this one out, is that the phrase “sharing economy” makes my teeth itch.

When Uber and Lyft and Airbnb and TaskRabbit are all grouped into some kind of happy-clappy “sharing economy”—sharing! it’s good! didn’t your mother teach you to share?—what is oh-so-gracefully elided is that these are really examples of the fee-for-service brokerage economy.

Uber, et. al., are brokers: they broker the relationship between provider and client/customer and take a fee for that service.

One the one, capitalist, hand, this isn’t bad: people are getting paid; on the other, socialist, one, these kinds of services demonstrate how far capitalist relations have penetrated and commodified human relations.

~~~

Deserving much comment, which I may or may not eventually get around to providing:

Kathleen Geier, Sarah Jaffe and Sheila Bapat, What Do the Recent Supreme Court Decisions Mean for Women’s Economic Security?

Esther Kaplan, Losing Sparta

~~~

How to fight back: Together! Solidarity!

Ansel Herz, Anti-Foreclosure Protesters Block Sheriff’s Eviction of Disabled Veteran in West Seattle

He will probably end up losing his home, because the law favors the house.

Still, it’s good to fight back, if only to remind ourselves we can fight back.





Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce

29 08 2013

Gotta love the logic which states that you should ask for as much pay as you can possibly get—unless you actually need that money to live a minimally decent life.

Then you’re being unreasonable and will only hurt yourself.

Stupid greedhead.





Gimme the ball, gimme the ball, gimme the ball—yeah!

25 10 2009

How should you regulate an activity in which damage is inherent to that activity?

Less abstractly, if certain positions in football necessarily lead to brain damage, what should be done?

Over at TNC’s blog a number of us were chewing over the implications of Malcolm Gladwell’s recent article on dementia in football players. Gladwell compared footballing to dog-fighting—a comparison which I’m not exactly sure holds—but the info regarding the high probability of long-term brain damage even for non-NFL players is worthy of further consideration.

Some argue that risk is inherent in all kinds of activities; that doesn’t necessarily mean such activities should be regulated. It’s a reasonable enough point, but it’s not clear that such a laissez-faire attitude is the correct one for this situation.

One, the football and practices fields are workplaces, and as such, are not the same as recreational places.  How is it okay to state that football players—most of whom have careers of less than 4 years—have to suck it up while we as citizens would never tell coal-miners or uranium workers to suck up cave-ins, black lung disease, and long-term radiation damage?

They’re adults, they’re getting paid—and better than any miner is is not an excuse to overlook the dangerous conditions of the workplace itself. Yeah, the minimum wage for rookies is $193,000 (and oh, what I wouldn’t give to make a minimum of even $93K), but is it acceptable to say If we pay you enough, it’s okay to damage you to the point after which it is difficult to enjoy the rest of your life? And if so, how much is ‘enough’ to take away the rest of that person’s life?

That the NFL Player’s Association has thus far done a shitty job of taking care of its members hardly excuses the NFL—or, for that matter, the NCAA (which is a racket deserving of its own post)—for putting its players in a situation in which the only way to do the job well is to damage oneself.

Which leads to the second point: There is a distinction between activities in which risk of damage is omnipresent to those in which risk of damage is necessary. Downhill skiing, rock climbing, bicycle racing, even, as Gladwell points out, professional auto racing, are all risky activities, but to succeed in these endeavors one only risks, but does not necessitate, damage. There is risk of a wipe-out on skis or a bike or in a car, but if you wipe out you probably don’t win. Success does not depend upon damage, but upon the avoidance of damage.

Success in football, however, requires damage. Some positions are risky in the sense of ski or bike racing—punting, say, or perhaps even quarterback—but others require the players face off and smash into one another play after play after play. To be an offensive or defensive linesman is to throw your large body against another large body, to prevent anyone from getting past you or for you to try to get past the other.

That’s the whole point of these positions: to try to hold or break the line.

Football doesn’t work without linesmen. And thus far there is no way to play the game without incurring damage to these players.

So what to do?

Beyond a call for further research, I don’t know. I’m a football fan, but, for many reasons, an ambivalent one. I don’t, for example, enjoy pro boxing, not least because I see damage with every blow. I don’t see the damage to these heavily-equipped and masked men, and as much I recognize the importance of the linemen, I pay more attention to the flash players—the quarterbacks, receivers, running- and cornerbacks. Whoo-hoo! I cheer, when my team scores.

And no, it’s not the linemen who score.

So, again, what to do? Dismiss the whole thing as unworthy of concern: These guys are meatheads. . .  They know what they’re in for. . .  Hey, at least they’re getting paid well. . . ?

Or recognize that players are in fact workers in a large and profitable enterprise and, as such, deserve the same consideration for their safety as is—or ought to be—for every other worker?