Raising the Minimum Wage Isn’t Enough

I swear to god this is a real quote, straight from my boss’s mouth just minutes ago. I want you to really drink this shit in:

“If you can get $600 a week from the governent, or you can get out and work and make 500 a week, are you gonna work or are you gonna sit on your ass and collect your check? That’s our whole problem right now. We can’t get workers. We used to be able to call the labor agencies and get 4, 5 guys in a day. Maybe 3 would show up, 2 would stay. But now we can’t get anybody. It’s real bad. That’s our problem.”

My boss, a dickhead

Read it again. Go on, it’s short. Think about the logic of that, and who it benefits. Quick math check – 600/week is the same as a $15 minimum wage, 40 hours a week. The company I work for is worth millions of dollars. We own millions in property alone; if you added up our fleet of company vehicles, you’d probably find a couple million more. Business is booming, and money is rolling in. We have the money to pay these guys better. But we don’t. Why?

The problem is power

In market logic, if you raise the floor to $15 an hour, then employers will have to catch up and pay more to incentivize workers to do more. But that’s not how it goes in reality. Here in reality, owners and capitalists and businessmen don’t want to do jack shit to raise their quality above the floor. They have every incentive in the world to give us as little as they can get away with, and they have a lot of ways to make sure they can get away with next to nothing. It’s much easier for them to knock the fucking floor out from underneath us than build off that floor. Probably cheaper, too.

They have the power here. They make campaign donations to all the politicians who tell us that we’ll get a minimum wage increase “soon, but not now.” Hell, a lot of them go on to BE the politicians, or at least cabinet members and advisors to them. They set the rules of the game, and they get to make super extra sure that any small gains we make at their expense are half-assed and ultimately hollow.

How is unemployment supposed to work?

On best case, hypothetical, unicorn magical-thinking unemployment, you can spend time with your kids. You can catch your fucking breath for once in your goddamn life. You can try to figure out what you want to do next, apply for a bunch of jobs, and spend time finding the one that fits you best.

As long as we’re dreaming, let’s also change the word “unemployment” into something more like “Universal Basic Income.” After all, some people can’t work in the first place. And shit, maybe people shouldn’t be forced to work at all. Most of our jobs are bullshit to begin with, and automation is getting better every year. If your job isn’t strictly necessary for the functioning of society, I think it’s a waste of your human potential to keep making you do it. I would know – I’m in marketing. If all of us marketers died tomorrow, the world would probably be better off.

Reality check on unemployment

I have been unemployed a few times in my life. I have never managed to collect unemployment benefits. I pay into this pool, but I have been blocked at every turn from collecting.

Most recently, I was fired maliciously by an abusive employer when I complained about him to HR. Because of the circumstances of my exit, I wasn’t eligible for anything. ANYTHING. I couldn’t get food stamps. I couldn’t get unemployment. I couldn’t collect a single government benefit, because of the specifics of my separation from my income. My employer, my abusive shitty employer that I still have PTSD flashbacks from, got to set the terms of my poverty. They had all the power.

But the time before that? I was eligible, no problem. I checked all the boxes. I was a perfect candidate. But I still had zero luck collecting. Because, as it turns out, paperwork is a bitch. I had to fill out packets and forms uncountable, in frustrating and excruciating detail. I had to navigate an unending series of unnavigable web portals. And to top it off, I had to apply to more jobs than were even available to me. For all that hard work, I was offered a couple hundred bucks a week.

Shit’s fucked

This is what it means to have an adversarial relationship with business. This is what Marx was talking about, you guys. Given choice between paying workers more and advocating harm to them, he chose option B. And he probably will choose option B every day of the week without thinking twice. After all, he’s got a profit margin to protect. What happens to the temps after the floor falls out isn’t his problem. This is not a collaboration. This is not a partnership. This is the threat of poverty and starvation being used to “motivate” workers into accepting less than they deserve. And we deserve a lot better.

How to not get fucked

So what do we do? Fucking unionize, for one thing. Even the THREAT of a union can scare these places. At the Bessemer Amazon warehouse, management started spontaneously improving working conditions the second that they got word there were unions forming. Not enough, not by a long shot. But they are so scared of employees working together that they started unilaterally making concessions. To me, that shows there’s a massive gap between what the workers have been offered and what Amazon is actually capable of delivering. We just gotta go and take it from them, because they won’t give it up easily or willingly.

But we also need to massively overhaul unionization laws. Right now, every Amazon warehouse has to unionize individually – a painstaking process that can be easily bypassed. Amazon built a system of redundant warehouses that all have the capacity to pick up a lot of slack if one goes down. If a fire burns down a warehouse, they’ll survive. If a hurricane wipes out a warehouse, they’ll survive. If they have to shut down an entire warehouse overnight to kill a union drive… well, they’ll be alright. That shit ain’t right. Unions need to be able to represent every single Amazon employee, or else they’re sitting ducks.

But at the end of the day, the core problem is power. The bosses have it, we don’t. They have the money. They have the politicians’ ears. And they have the ability to push any one of us into poverty and starvation. We need to smash that power. We need to smash capitalism.