working man blues


“”we used to be Scotch-Irish coal miners, farmers, and ministers but then our attitude went downhill.”

-my cousin


A few years back, I dodged a bullet without realizing it. I applied for a support role with a local subsidiary of a Power 5 tech conglomerate and did not make it past the first interview, apparently because I was too much of a generalist. I have since become too much of a specialist, which is highly ironic, but in the years since, that subsidiary and its larger conglomerate have been the subject of many an expose of their work practices, some of which can be charitably classified as “shady AF.”  Indeed, they seem to have remade Jack Welch’s stack ranking for the 21st century, with a goal of dumping 6% of their workforce annually and a practice of putting large swaths of the workforce on performance-improvement plans, often without telling the employee they are under such a plan. The goal of this paranoia and stress-mongering is apparently to keep everyone crushing it all the time and running scared so they never have to get out of the mentality of being a light lean startup despite being a functional monopolist in certain areas.

This is honestly not that surprising. Between the New York Times and similar fish-wrappers banging the drum for a return to work, and the constant attacks on unemployment in the middle of a pandemic in the states of the Hookworm Belt, it’s hard not to think that the modern “job creator” has come to rely on a workforce with as little agency as possible. An increase in structural unemployment is a friend, because if jobs are tight enough that people drop out of the work market altogether, you can get away with murder on benefits and perks and being tight with the salary. (I myself ran into this six months before the pandemic, catching a layoff that has never yet been justified with an explanation and having my benefits cut to ribbons at a time when I had one in-law in hospice and the economy was not conducive to seeking employment other than the outsource option on offer.)

You would think that a society as focused as it is on the cult of the startup, the entrepreneur, the small business owner, would jump like a poked frog at something like universal health care. If you don’t have to provide health benefits yourself, your overhead as a new business proprietor is reduced and you can attract staff that doesn’t have to worry about losing their insurance. Hell, if there were a universal basic income to go with that health care, an aspiring founder could quit her job and launch her dream without having to worry about the kids’ checkups or whether there would be food in the lunchbox for school.  The Bible doesn’t say to style the needy, but it does make a forceful case that we have an obligation to clothe them.

But “job creators” don’t want this. Mostly because “job creators” – those not languishing in jail for their misadventures on January 6 – tend to be the same sort of self-important blowhards that have formed the backbone of the conservative movement since the 1950s: too small to compete with the corporations and conglomerates, but assured that they are nonetheless masters of the universe and that the peons should be grateful to labor in their vineyards. Universal basic income, or universal health care, or anything at all that makes it easier to strike out on your own and become a job creator yourself? That’s a threat. Hell, just being able to safely change jobs is a threat to a supine and grateful work force who will take whatever dollop of shit is on offer, lest the alternative be nothing at all.

The superannuated Fox cohort hates “socialism” more than anything in the world, seems like. Setting aside their ignorance of what socialism actually consists of, it might be worthwhile to consider maybe taking an approach to employment that doesn’t itself make a good case for socialism.

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