The Essential Workers Revolt

The Essential Workers Revolt October 11, 2021

The first sign of revolt was at the garden center. I stood in a long line waiting to check out. Then the cashier of the other line stepped out from behind her counter.

“Folks,” she began, “I have to take my lunch break! I am sorry no one is here to fill-in for me. If you complain, complain to management.” She closed her register and walked away.

The ensuing chaos was frightening. We found ourselves forced to allow people in the other line to merge into our line. We did not wait patiently either. No. The voice of privileged discontent spoke. “No one wants to work, anymore!”

The Revolt Against Pay Structure

Heroically, our fundamentalist state leaders intervened. They knew the answer to the problem. Pandemic relief was too generous. This is the same legislature that decided expanding Medicaid was too generous. We needed to stop paying people to stay home. With moral superiority, the lazy working class was forced into the job market. At least, the legislators are consistent.

Once the lazy were forced into the job market, employers had everyone they needed, right? The data do not show this to be the case.  The apparent cluelessness of employers amazes me. McDonald’s has the slogan, “If you can lean, you can clean.” The assumption is that people take jobs merely to be paid. Otherwise, their workers are simply lazy. Therefore, employers must force them to work to get any value from them.

A manager for a trucking company complained to me that her drivers never wanted to take their vehicles in for regular required maintenance. She didn’t understand it.

I asked, “How are your drivers paid?”

She replied, “They are paid for their deliveries.” From her point of view, the problem was drivers could not make their deliveries when the trucks broke down.

“But,” I pointed out to her, “you do not pay your drivers when the trucks are in maintenance.” She still did not see it. I asked, “Do you have employees abandon broken down vehicles?”

She admitted it was true. But, she saw it as a moral problem of people her company employed.

Inverted Ethics

Compensation is not tied to the work ethic. Employers often believe it is. They assume people with a good work ethic will work hard no matter how they are compensated. Believing that “no one wants to work” reflects the illogic of the assumption. The logic of the labor market does not work this way. Workers are as self-interested as their employers. The time of the worker is any time the employer is not paying for it. But the trucking manager did not understand this fact. Her company was requiring people to maintain the trucks on their own time. The refusal to do this was a quiet revolt she did not understand.

The Revolt Against Guilt

Employers want workers who feel guilty about their jobs. Fundamentalist religion always relies on guilt as a motivator. My fellow Gen-X friends complain that Millennials and Gen-Z folks do not approach work the way we do. The reason is these generations do not feel guilty about what they cannot control. Good for them, as Kurt Vonnegut would say.

Why should anyone feel guilty about not doing a job? What consequences would be avoided if people did those jobs? Is avoiding those consequences worth compensating the workers more? We would say such work is essential. 

Essential Work

All essential work makes other activities possible. Essential work ensures and enhances life. The Spanish speaking immigrant woman across the aisle from me pushed a cart loaded with vegetable plants. She thought she and her two children would have to go to the back of our line. I invited her to step in front of me in our line. Other people did the same even those who complained about having to wait longer. Jesus said, “Whatever you would have someone do for you, do for others.” The mother who now stood in front of me was working. She was purchasing vegetable plants and taking care of her children. She was an essential worker.

The notion that a type of General Strike is going on now is erroneous. But it is a revolt of the essential employees deciding to hold back their labor. How much abuse should they feel guilty for not taking? However, it is ironic that the government that denies people healthcare expects them to put their health in jeopardy.  Abominably, the same government calls for prayer and fasting to appear religious. These attitudes toward working class people are not from the Spirit of Christ. It is the attitude of sacrificing others as offerings to Mammon.

When Revolt Ends

Revolts end when demands are met. Let’s help get them met. Workers need better jobs with leisure time for more fulfilling lives. Church leaders should support this revolt. Our ministries are done when our members have enough leisure time. If we want to see offerings and budgets increase, we must support workers receiving better compensation. We think it is outside our lane. But we can do better.

When the revolt ends, we will see a new ethic of work and being applied in society. Now, that is something worth praying and fasting.  Let’s respect the essential work in ways that show we value it.

The Wizard of Id once ran a strip where Sir Rodney told the King, “The peasants are revolting.” The King replied, “They certainly are.” Yes, they are.

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