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Class War For Idiots / September 1, 2009

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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.

exploited-minimum

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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61 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Concerned Citizen  |  September 5th, 2009 at 6:21 am

    @46

    In the ideal world I just articulated, there would be no need to “measure” intelligence and ambition. So long as their basic needs are provided, those who possess such traits will likely rise up to the challenge. The weak will make way for the strong–it is the way of the universe.

  • 2. adolphhitler  |  September 5th, 2009 at 8:56 am

    @36 right on richard!

  • 3. antiLeft  |  September 5th, 2009 at 11:48 am

    @ 50

    “The religious right would probably do the worst atrocities” which is why our founding fathers gave us the god given right to bear arms to protect against tyranny, weather it be form out of control government or pig ignorant facist right wingers. Yet the democrats keep putting restrictions on guns and anti-gun people are brainwashed into believing that “guns kill people we should restrict them” while it was It was President George Bush, Sr. who banned the import of “assault weapons” in 1989, and promoted the view that Americans should only be allowed to own weapons suitable for “sporting purposes.” It was It was Governor Ronald Reagan of California who signed the Mulford Act in 1967, “prohibiting the carrying of firearms on one’s person or in a vehicle, in any public place or on any public street.” The law was aimed at stopping the Black Panthers, but affected all gun owners. Twenty-four years later, Reagan was still pushing gun control. “I support the Brady Bill,” he said in a March 28, 1991 speech, “and I urge the Congress to enact it without further delay.”

  • 4. Morgan  |  September 5th, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    American liberals are very strange elitists who despise all elitism.

  • 5. adolphhitler  |  September 5th, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    @54..all you commenters decry so called liberals yet every time i ask you what a liberal is you can never define the term except to say jane fonda is one of them. as used by most of you, liberal is just a label used to identify those who you feel are un-american, unchristian, or who want gun control. sorry, but that just doesn’t cut it. i can tell you there are an awful lot of well armed liberals out there that will never give up their guns so long as there are ignorant ,know-nothing assholes who want to force jesus down everyone’s throat.
    c’mon everyone, tell me your definition of liberalism.

  • 6. Sin Froneres  |  September 5th, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    @53 “our founding fathers gave us the god given right”

    I thought the gods gave us our founding father given rights?

    Natural rights are so confusing.

  • 7. cripes  |  September 6th, 2009 at 5:39 am

    Concerned Citizen keeps prattling on with his Darwinist delusions about how the “intelligent” and “strongest” always rise to the top in our society, as it has been throughout history, blah, blah, blah.

    Um, except it’s bullshit. The US has one of the most rigid class strucures of western countries, we’re less likely to rise from our parents social class than a typical european, and nepotism rules the heirarchy with prep schools and ivy league sinecures for the progeny of the stupid rich.

    How the fuck do you think Bush II got to be Prez. High IQ? The list of incompetant rich assholes is so long, it would break the Google. You’re probably one of them, or wish you were, butt-kisser.

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
    – Upton Sinclair

  • 8. Alek  |  September 7th, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    I dont know if it’s common terminology for yanks to call europeans eurofags, but you need to get a bit of perspective.

    You can all do with a few lessons on how to protest like the french… you know, riots with a purpose.

    Yeah …. purpose, perspective …. come to think of it your all fucked.

    Just dont move to Australia, we have enough arseholes here already.

    @15 – great post.

  • 9. antiLeft  |  September 9th, 2009 at 12:30 am

    “You can all do with a few lessons on how to protest like the french… you know, riots with a purpose.”

    Riots won’t happen because N. Americans live in communities that are suburbanized and there’s no place to assemble or protest. The only places that will have riots will be in the old inner city ghetto centers. But even they won’t have much of an impact and will only frighten the already sheltered their whole lives suburbanites even more into a police state and guns/religion clinging.

    Its pretty pathetic actually.

  • 10. Kevin Riley O'Keeffe  |  September 13th, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    In the two months I worked for Safeway in Campbell, California (at the corner of Budd & Winchester), I don’t think they failed to underpay me (missing hours) on a single one of my weekly paychecks. And that wasn’t even one of the major reasons I quit that job in frustrated disgust. I was working my ass off for that $8.70/hour they were paying, by the way, and still not even getting all of it. I hate to say it, but its the damn truth, and the truth needs to stated openly: Some of the Capitalists need to get waxed in this country, in order to put the fear of God into them. I’m not advocating illegal violence; I’m just stating my opinion that its almost inevitable arrival has the distinct potential to be a good thing.

  • 11. Rikard  |  September 22nd, 2009 at 10:46 am

    “So why do most workplace shooters kill equally desperate fellow worker drones?”

    – Read the book.


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