This is infuriating: According to today’s New York Times, most low-wage workers in America are victims of routine theft. The thieves: wealthy employers, who steal on average 15% of their low-wage employees’ pay by routinely underpaying them for their work, according to a new report.
Huge numbers of America’s low-wage workers don’t even earn minimum wage for their work. Only 20% of these wage-slaves dare to complain or consider starting or joining a union–and of those who do, nearly half suffer illegal punishment at the hands of their bosses and/or companies, either suspended or fired. And of course, the companies never worry that the government will do anything to them for illegally stomping on America’s vulnerable, because you know, government is a bad, bad thing.
We live in Dickensian times again, folks, except that ours is a degraded Dickens: our Dickensian victims don’t evince any of the pathos of Dickens’ 19th century characters, because officially, none of this is even happening. And if it is happening, it’s their own damn fault.
So to repeat: the average low-wage worker is the victim of corporate theft every week–his wealthy company steals 15% of his wages as a matter of routine. It happens all the time–most workers say their company robbed them as recently as last week!
I’ve been studying this kind of 21st century Dickensian exploitation in America for several years now, because so many “going postal” shootings over the past 25 years took place in companies where this kind of exploitation is rampant–from the massacre in Alabama earlier this year, where both the shooter and his mother were part of an infuriating class-action lawsuit against Pilgrim’s Pride chicken for stiffing low-wage employees out of their earnings (Pilgrim’s Pride billionaire founder Bo Pilgrim eventually sought and was granted bankruptcy protection), to the very first modern workplace massacre in Louisville, Kentucky, where the shooter was fighting a long, losing battle against management over numerous violations and government warnings which the company casually dismissed–until the day of the massacre.
For me the most incredible moment in today’s New York Times article on how badly low-wage workers get fucked was how surprised the researchers were to learn how often it happens:
“We were all surprised by the high prevalence rate,” said Ruth Milkman, one of the study’s authors and a sociology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the City University of New York.
Reading this article reminded me again of a common meme among the smug “I see through the bullshit” / “I’m neither right nor left” cheeseheads that we at The eXile and eXiled Online always had to hear: before the 2008 crisis, the answer to why there aren’t larger uprisings in America was always, “The working class has been bought off. Everyone just wants a plasma TV.” Now that it’s no longer merely leftwing to recognize how foolishly deluded that kind of thinking was, this meme has morphed into an equally idiotic “they don’t rise up because there’s no way to win!” It’s as though ours is the first generation ever to face bad odds when fighting for our rights.
The problem, as I see it, is that everyone’s looking for a way to avoid looking at this for what it is. Instead everyone’s energy is spent looking for a cheap shortcut around what is really a straight-forward horror story, our horror story. And the cleverest of all keep falling into that safe, comfortable trap of cheap cynicism– the “soporific” that Nietzsche warned of.
To quote Ray Midge in Dog of the South: “We’re worse than our fathers, Dupree. We don’t even look like them.”
Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.
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