A recurring viral genre during the lockdown is photos of signs on the front doors of low-waged establishments (especially fast food restaurants) asking customers to have patience with long wait-times brought on by staffing shortages “because no one wants to work.”
These signs go on to claim that “overgenerous” unemployment benefits in the Biden stimulus have encouraged work-shyness among the lazy slobs of the working class. It’s a complaint that’s been picked up and amplified by the US Chamber of Commerce.
They’re not entirely wrong.
After all, the subtext of these signs is, “Our pay is so low, and our working conditions are so awful, that only the truly desperate would do this job. In forestalling that desperation, the federal government has deprived us of our workforce.”
40 years of wage stagnation and the Clinton-and-onwards destruction of the social safety net has left workers so desperate they continue to do their jobs, even as their employers stole billions from them, with virtually no penalties for wage-theft:
The lack of any meaningful prosecutions for wage-theft created the environment in which a restaurateur tortured a developmentally disabled man in order to keep him working 100 hours/week for a decade without any pay at all:
It won’t surprise you to learn that the overwhelming majority of the victims of wage theft and other employer abuses (up to and including forced labor — that is, modern slavery) are Black and brown.
The complaint that people receiving the anemic stimulus — less than a $15 minimum wage — find them preferable to working for employers whose companies received publicly funded bailouts and mass infusions from the private equity sector leaves out the obvious, important point.
Namely, if no one wants to work for you at the wage you’re offering, maybe try increasing the offer? The fast-food sector already had the highest turnover of any US industry before the pandemic — maybe that’s a hint about the quality of the jobs?
States where the tipped minimum wage is still legal have restaurants that pay their workforce $2.13/hour. Fast-food workers who receive no tips — who are forced to wear pocketless uniforms to prevent them from collecting tips from customers who offer — can be paid this wage.
If a company can’t afford to pay its workers enough to survive — to feed, clothe and shelter themselves — then it’s not a business, it’s a publicly subsized, badly run jobs program operated by a fast operator who enriches themselves at public expense.
The stimulus — and a minimum wage, and a federal jobs guarantee through the GND — will 100% cause these “businesses” to cease operation.
As the noted socialist Warren Buffett is fond of saying, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”
(Image: The cover of McJob zine #2, edited by Julee Peezlee, 1993/4.)
Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist, and blogger. He has a podcast, a newsletter, a Twitter feed, a Mastodon feed, and a Tumblr feed. He was born in Canada, became a British citizen and now lives in Burbank, California. His latest nonfiction book is How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism. His latest novel for adults is Attack Surface. His latest short story collection is Radicalized. His latest picture book is Poesy the Monster Slayer. His latest YA novel is Pirate Cinema. His latest graphic novel is In Real Life. His forthcoming books include The Shakedown (with Rebecca Giblin), a book about artistic labor market and excessive buyer power; Red Team Blues, a noir thriller about cryptocurrency, corruption and money-laundering; and The Lost Cause, a utopian post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias.