Last weekend as I spoke with various people, I asked them to be sure to support the fast food workers strike last Thursday. Several times I heard the comment that “They don’t deserve more money.” My mouth literally dropped open. I was overwhelmed that anyone would ever say such a thing let alone a democrat. When I had heard it more than twice it hit me what we are dealing with.
In America we have cultural myths that seem to pervade society. Where exactly they start is hard to say. But it is easy to say that the media surely helps perpetuate the myth because it helps their corporate sponsors such as McDonald’s and Walmart keep their employees at much less than poverty wages. Often such myths concern some group of people. Fast food workers (I’ll abreviate to FFW here on out) are now one of those groups who for some mythical truth do not deserve the dignities of being human.
We all know many of these groups that have been maligned in some similar way over the centuries. Seems like we are never at a loss of groups that do not deserve respect. Now we are even in the process of recycling many of the old ones. For those who have studied history it is easy to find many eras in US history where workers of some sort were the target of derision.
So here we are in what we consider a modern age. One myth we have had carry through the years is that all FFW were kids working in this industry for a few years while going to college or high school. With the near economic collapse and with so many millions of jobs being sent overseas, jobs in the so-called “service” industry – jobs at Walmart and jobs at place like McDonald’s is all that is left in certain areas. Men and women of all ages who had excellent work records and made good money doing challenging jobs have seen their jobs moved lock, stock and barrel to foreign soil. And many proud workers have ended up doing work they never thought they would do at wages that can’t sustain them.
One person told me that the work they did was not worth a sustainable wage. My reaction was that if an employer was using an employee in a way that the employee is not bringing in enough money (productivity) then there must be something wrong with the design of their system. I can’t think of a situation where there is a job for normal people among corporate businesses such that the wages should be below a living wage standard. If Walmart can’t afford to pay a living wage – and by the way taxpayers also pay much of Walmart’s health care costs in a bad case of corporate welfare – then maybe Walmart should be looking at their business model. If Walmart or McDonald’s can’t sustain their business without the corporate welfare of Medicaid, then they need to check their business model.
One other complaint I heard several times was that “They can’t ever get my order right!” May I suggest that is a trining and management problem, perhaps a work design problem, but has nothing to do with whether the job itself should be paid below a sustainable wage. I asked one person what he would think about wages if he were to lose his job tomorrow and ended up in a low wage job at McDonald’s. His answer was that that would never happen to him (he was much better than “them”). I reminded him that we could probably go down the street and find several examples of people who claimed that that would never happen to them either. Who remembers the Sensata plant in Freeport, Illinois that was sent lock, stack and barrel out of Freeport, Illinois by Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital last year. Never say never.
As I mentioned before FFW have become a “Them” – a group to be looked down on as many groups have been. No doubt there are probably people who believe that FFW are less than human. The very basic core beliefs of America is that all humans are equal. If you believe that FFW are somehow lesser than others, please climb down from that high horse. That FFW may be your attorney or doctor or in-law some day. The major brake on corporations taking over our society is unions. They have nearly been neutered recently and we can easily see how corporate control can be dangerous. While the FFW is not a union, nor organized as yet, it is at least stirrings of labor that is desperately needed.
One last thought during this week of the commemoration of the March on Washington. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life trying to help sanitation workers in Memphis get a living wage. These folks are the modern day version of those sanitation workers.