Counting dimes

Lately I find myself curious as to why so many people just accept their fate as one of the exploited working poor. Why do people not rebel against what will surely be a life of endless struggle?

As I’ve been reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickle and Dimed,” I have been struck by the failure of workers to demand better working conditions. When she asked her fellow workers at a cleaning service what they thought of being exploited while others lived in luxury in the big houses that they cleaned, they all seemed to accept their station in life and only meekly responded that being rich was something to aspire to. I do not understand how anyone can accept that it is OK to be exploited. Even in my days working at just above the minimum wage, I never recall thinking that paying such low wages was OK. And on more than one occasion I quit a job due to the exploitation of myself or others I worked with.

Yet, as Ehrenreich found, employees at the low end do not stick together. They do not realize the strength of their numbers. They are brainwashed into thinking they deserve low pay and that unions are evil. Yes some unions have a bad track record, but by and large they are the champion of workers. It is not by accident that where unions exist wages and working conditions are dramatically improved. And I have never understood the business logic in paying the lowest wages possible. A well-paid employee is a more conscientious worker who will surely save the company money in the long term through institutional knowledge and improved productivity. And the high rates of turnover in low-wage jobs costs money.

But we are a society that values things that are disposable. Why should businesses not treat employees as disposable when we treat everything around us a such. We spend money on new cell phones and TVs that we don’t need only to turn around and buy new ones a year later. We throw things away rather than make simple repairs. We feel an intense need to keep up with the frantic cycle of material goods. I confess that I am not immune. As I’ve been walking the need to purchase goods has been mostly diminished as I must carry everything in my backpack. But that does not stop me from having shopping pangs for items I cannot use.

I love buying new clothes, eating out and new electronic gadgets as much as the next person. But the love of cheap goods and services is not worth keeping more than 37 million people in poverty in this country, and more than a billion people in poverty worldwide.

– By Jennifer E. Cooper