But I am fine with it.
“You may find yourself waiting longer for McNuggets or a Whopper this week as thousands of workers in seven cities around the country strike for $15 an hour and the right to unionize.
Building on the momentum of an initial strike last November in New York City, organizers say dozens of restaurants in New York City, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Detroit and Flint, Mich., will be affected by waves of worker walkouts over the course of the week.” (from NBC’s web site)
There was a time when servers of food were ultimately paid something close to fair because of tipping. Supposedly, customers could tip as they please, when service merited the money. Fast food and line-style restaurants have changed all that. Food technology, mass marketing, quality standards, and our want to have everything immediate and consistent have mandated changes in the food business. The restaurant business is much more like a factory now.
I hate tipping, actually. I don’t believe my tip makes any difference in the quality of my meal. I don’t tip the cook, the maker of the menu, or the corporate policy heads, and those people have far more influence on my sandwich than the dude who sets it on my table. I do tip at restaurants, but not out of a sense that “this is how the world should work.” Anymore, we tip more out of peer pressure and a sense of fairness than “To Insure Promptness,” as it were. And likewise, I don’t tip all sorts of other people; the grocery clerk, or anyone in retail. Though they may deserve the bucks, I may be cheap, but I am confident I am not alone.
But wages have not kept pace with the times. If it takes a strike to get corporations to pay fairly, then that is alright. Something’s got to give here. I do appreciate that my lunch is relatively cheap. And so are my clothing, a gallon of milk, and many other things. One might think that a raise in worker pay would percolate an inflationary raise in the cost of what those people produce. That is what classical economics would tell us. But it is not what should happen. Where have the benefits of worker productivity gone? Some have gone to the consumer in the form of low prices and low inflation. But most of the benefits have gone to top-tier management and stockholders, the One Percent.
And, stockholders have demanded that corporations decrease citizenship-oriented giving, favoring their responsibility to investors over the public. Furthermore, corporations shrink their charitable outreach as the economy slows. Corporate and personal benevolence have gone the way of the wooden plow. The American economy has squeezed all it can from the middle class.
Furthermore, the haves have convinced many of the have-nots that things need to stay that way, or else. Many of the very people who suffer from this rip-off are afraid that policy change, tax reform, and economic reforms would take from them and harm the system that employs them, rather than provide some tangible benefit. Sometimes, the guise for this is to preserve morals, sometimes it is presented as a (spun) lesson in economics. There is a whole media genre devoted to this. Needless to say, none of the outlets are not-for-profit (with the exception of religious media – another topic for another time).
Walmart is the quintessential example of this “hyper-capitalism” in retail practice. Local shopping simply cannot compete with the supercomputers that track stock, the no-frills pricing, tight margins, and global resources of this giant. Walmart gives a little to charity; there is a Walmart ad at our high school football stadium. But THEY control the amount and recipient of the assistance.
Robert Reich, in Supercapitalism makes this point: “Reich shows how widening inequality of income and wealth, heightened job insecurity, and corporate corruption are merely the logical results of a system in which politicians are more beholden to the influence of business lobbyists than to the voters who elected them.”
Lobbyists are not only the real problem either. They are like weeds in a poorly cared for garden. Or better – they are simply skunks eating the garbage that was not collected.
So, we have the following problems:
1. Modern business has discouraged personal benevolence.
2. And so with corporate benevolence.
3. This has worked out well for the super-rich; not so well for everybody else.
4. Conservative culture has a well-entrenched structure for preserving consolidated wealth.
5. We have a stagnant, corrupt, self-preserving government.
If we believe the constitution is still a working document, all voters need to wake up. And so do the workers.
Again, something’s got to give. I wish it was not a strike. I wish it was a sudden change of heart in the Board Room. Or some well-thought out change in corporate tax law or the minimum wage. JP, you may think I am naively advocating these things. And I am. But something’s got to give here. Fairness is not everyone getting the same thing; it’s everyone getting what they need.