Because someone close to me has taken a job at the Amazon plant in West Phoenix, I re-read this Mother Jones piece from last March by journalist Mac McClelland, who briefly took a job at a big shipping warehouse she calls “Amalgamated” and described some truly hellish and demeaning working conditions. It’s hard to decide which snippet of the article sufficiently captures the awfulness so I’ll pick one at random:
The days blend into each other. But it’s near the end of my third day that I get written up. I sent two of some product down the conveyor line when my scanner was only asking for one; the product was boxed in twos, so I should’ve opened the box and separated them, but I didn’t notice because I was in a hurry. With an hour left in the day, I’ve already picked 800 items. Despite moving fast enough to get sloppy, my scanner tells me that means I’m fulfilling only 52 percent of my goal. A supervisor who is a genuinely nice person comes by with a clipboard listing my numbers. Like the rest of the supervisors, she tries to create a friendly work environment and doesn’t want to enforce the policies that make this job so unpleasant. But her hands are tied. She needs this job, too, so she has no choice but to tell me something I have never been told in 19 years of school or at any of some dozen workplaces.”You’re doing really bad,” she says.
I’ll admit that I did start crying a little. Not at work, thankfully, since that’s evidently frowned upon, but later, when I explained to someone over Skype that it hurts, oh, how my body hurts after failing to make my goals despite speed-walking or flat-out jogging and pausing every 20 or 30 seconds to reach on my tiptoes or bend or drop to the floor for 10.5 hours, and isn’t it awful that they fired Brian because he had a baby, and, in fact, when I was hired I signed off on something acknowledging that anyone who leaves without at least a week’s notice—whether because they’re a journalist who will just walk off or because they miss a day for having a baby and are terminated—has their hours paid out not at their hired rate but at the legal minimum. Which in this state, like in lots of states, is about $7 an hour. Thank God that I (unlike Brian, probably) didn’t need to pay for opting into Amalgamated’s “limited” health insurance program. Because in my 10.5-hour day I’ll make about $60 after taxes.
This is the new normal, as desperate people are forced to take low-paying jobs where they are treated like dirt. These workers are among the “47 percent” that Mitt Romney famously derided at that fundraiser in Florida attended by wealthy Job Creators
TM. A lot of the people doing this grueling, stressful, and dangerous labor while being humiliated by supervisors are undoubtedly receiving some kind of public assistance since their paltry wages are not sufficient to support themselves and their families. This puts them instantly in the class of people known as “takers” to conservatives.
It’s the end because we now have more than 50% of the electorate demanding that the other 49% give them stuff. We now have more takers than wealth creators and they continue to vote themselve(sic) a lifestyle that they are unwilling to earn.
Polling and research after the 2012 election showed that Obama won overwhelmingly among the following groups: Blacks, Latinos, single women/single moms, gays, lesbians, and young people. What do those groups have in common? They all have bought the tripe that they are victims, that the United States of America is “not fair.”
Spoiler alert: The linked essay is a load of whiny, bigoted nonsense. But the writer is definitely not alone in imagining there are two discrete groups of Americans – one of which (mostly white males) does all the work and the other of which (mostly minorities and single women) gets “free stuff” for nothing. The Romney campaign really pushed it, knowing that the welfare myth is even more powerful and deeply emotionally entrenched in the minds of many middle and upper class voters today than it was 30 years ago. I have found it to be utterly resistant to factual arguments and demands for consistency (you know, like asking how they defend government assistance they personally enjoy). Recently, Mark and I were at a party at the home of a couple we are friends with and as the evening waned some of us drifted out to the back patio to chat and smoke cigars. Our hosts were Democrats but they run with an affluent and mostly Republican crowd. This was a few days after the first Presidential debate so naturally the conversation turned to the election. Naturally, the general consensus was that Obama’s first term was a veritable avalanche of socialism. Y’all know I was in there doing my best to rebut their lame Fox News talking points while fully realizing that any effort to persuade them they’re wrong is futile. But I am constitutionally incapable of letting what I know to be b.s. go unchallenged.
I ended up getting into a long, and frustrating, debate with a prosperous looking fellow claimed that he didn’t vote Republican all the time but when he did it was on “the economy”. A bit of probing on my part revealed that he is “economically conservative” for the same reason 95% or more of people I encounter who identify as such are. Not because of marginal tax rates or monetary policy or the bond market or anything like that. You guessed it – it’s because of welfare. I learned that the guy voted Republican because he believed half the country was on welfare. I asked for some substantiation of that and he cited something he read about the number of people on food stamps. After I facepalmed, I tried to explain to him that a lot of households getting foodstamps are headed by low wage workers, who toil at places like the mail-order warehouses described above or Walmart or McDonalds. This seemed not to phase him at all. He went on to describe his grand plan to rescue the US economy, which was this: A five year lifetime limit on all public assistance. The problem, he explained, was that food stamps and Medicaid were sapping the resolve of low-skilled workers to better themselves. The knowledge that the gubmint gravy train would come to an abrupt halt would inspire fast food workers to enroll in community college or trade school to train for better jobs. I asked him how that would work for people with kids who can barely afford childcare let alone college classes and more childcare while they’re in class. What if the person suffered a major illness or injury? Also, what if the person did get the training but no high-skilled job materialized? None of this mattered. He was on a roll. The five year limit would create – wait for it – bootstraps! Yes, he actually got so animated in discussing his great idea that he made the motion of pulling up imaginary bootstraps from his expensive leather shoes. I asked him if what he thought would happen to workers who had exceeded their five year limit, still worked at a low wage job, and still needed help with groceries and health care. He shrugged it off. “Oh well!” “So they can just go ahead and die, then?”, I asked. “Not my problem!”, he replied. (Stuff like this is why I try to avoid socializing with conservatives. I know we’re supposed to be civil and try to build bridges and all but there’s only so much my blood pressure can take.)
I relate this anecdote because the memory of Bootstrap Man’s patio pontificating struck me as I re-read McClelland’s piece on her warehouse experience. I don’t consider public assistance to be an adequate substitute for the wage gains workers have been cheated out of for decades nor does it mitigate the shocking, and increasing, level of workplace abuse. But our meager social safety net is the only thing keeping the vast majority of us from utter ruin. Always remember that the reason so many wealthy and wannabe wealthy conservatives want to abolish it has little to nothing to do with the deficit or taxation. They want massive economic inequality and workers so servile and desperate they will literally die for their jobs or conveniently die when they’re no longer useful. Can’t have a bunch of lazy moochers laying around.