Thursday, January 27, 2022

Nice Movement Ya Got Here. Shame If Sumptin' Happened To It...

Most movements collapse under their own weight....

Note:  I started writing this a couple of days ago - and had been thinking about it for over a week.  Then, well, this happened.   Pretty funny if it wasn't tragically sad.

I noted before that population demographics are the reason why today we have a "labor shortage."  Labor is a commodity like gasoline, and when there is less of it, prices go up and sometimes gas stations run out.   I am at the tail-end of the baby boom and can collect Social Security this year.  So every one of the "boomers" is either retired or is eligible to retire.  And with the pandemic, many are deciding that maybe it is time to retire.  It is not so much "the great resignation" as much as it is "the great retirement."

I retired at 58.  A friend of mine about that age realized that he had two years of sick leave and vacation time coming to him, and he was eligible to retire at age 60.  So.... he's retired today, while still on the payroll.  A lot of people in their 50's make that choice if they can afford it.  Many more are forced out of jobs at about that age, as I noted before.  And when you leave a "good paying" job at age 55, no one wants to hire you.  Even retail and fast-food places don't want you - you are too old for the fast pace and physical labor required.

The age pyramid is more of a minaret.  And we've tried to cut back on immigration.  So we have a labor shortage.   To get new hires, companies offer more money - more money than they are paying existing employees.  The existing employees find out and get pissed-off.  They ask for a raise - and are denied.  So they quit, not to "antiwork" but to get a job somewhere else.  Others try to unionize, and we are seeing greater union efforts, although it is nothing like the old days.

Some unionized shops recently went out on strike for higher wages or better work rules.  Kelloggs was on strike - it was settled, but no word whether the workers got a good deal or not.  Railroad workers have gone on strike because of a new attendance rule - a judge temporarily blocked that strike for the time being.  Several Starbucks stores voted to unionize - again no word whether it helped the workers or not.  Unionizing is only the first step - getting a contract is the important part, and companies can drag that out for a decade or longer.

My Dad's company went on strike in the early 1970's. They were demanding tremendous wages compared to prevailing pay.  As a kid, I asked my Dad why they couldn't just close the dilapidated factory and move to a less union-friendly State.  My Dad replied that the NRLB wouldn't allow that - it was not "bargaining in good faith."

Well, since then, things have changed, and today, yes, you can close the factory, fire everyone, and move to Alabama - or Mexico.  And that is why the labor movement is so weak in America.  Granted, the unions took a good thing too far back in the 1970's.  But now the pendulum has swung the other way.

For example, nurses in Wisconsin got fed up with their jobs.  They are not paid much and due to the pandemic there is a big nursing shortage.   To fill in the gaps, hospitals hire "traveling nurses" on contract and pay them twice as much as full-time employees.  The nurses noticed.  A hospital across town offered higher wages and several of the nurses decided to quit - and move to the other hospital.  Their employer filed for - and received - a temporary injunction preventing them from working at the new hospital.  The judge couldn't prevent them from quitting, but he could prevent them from working.  Due to the outcry, the injunction was removed.  Their employer was willing to do anything to keep those nurses - anything except pay them more.

Funny how that works.

Some have tried to put this all into some sort of  "movement" - but as I noted, it is not so much a movement anymore than a gas shortage is a movement of the oil companies.  When a commodity is in short supply, well, prices go up, shortages exist, and there is disruption in the economy.

But in addition to all of that is the horrific behavior of people these days.  Maybe it is insanity brought on by the pandemic, but people are assaulting and even murdering retail employees and other service industry employees over enforcement of mask mandates or even something as stupid as the correct dipping sauce for their McNuggets.  Companies who have the mantra, "The customer is always right" are not defending their employees when these confrontations occur - often requiring the employee to apologize to the offending customer.  Not surprisingly, employees quit and the "Karens" of the world feel more empowered.

Several years ago, a young transgender youth who apparently was a follower of Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang, founded a "subreddit" on Reddit, called "r/antiwork."  He labored in obscurity for nearly a decade before the "subreddit" took off with over 1.5 million members.  And it was a hot mess.  The moderators of the group leaned toward Marxist and Communist philosophies, or that no one should be required to work at all. Others wanted to "abolish Capitalism" and some hangers-on, who were likely trolls, would chime in with comments about overthrowing the government.

The bulk of people in that group, however, just wanted to be treated better and get a better job with better pay.  One of the staples of the group was resignation stories - which may have be real at first, but "karma-whores" and trolls turned it into a creative writing experiment.  "My boss told me to take out the trash and I told him to fuck off.  I got my kantana and decapitated him and after playing basketball with his head, left it on a spike by the front gate of the company as a warning to others!"  It wasn't hard to spot the fake postings.

But some good came out of it.  People realized that no, you are not required to give two weeks' notice.  And no, it isn't illegal to discuss your pay with co-workers, in fact, it is illegal for employers to forbid it.  And stories about people not getting paid, tips being poached, and so on and so forth drove home that a lot of employers are not very nice people.  They prey on the innocence of young people and exploit them.  Yea, that happened to me, too.  When I was 17 and working at The Olde Tyme Gas Light Restaurant the manager told me the time clock was set to 15-minute increments, so if I clocked in at 4:01, I wasn't getting paid until 4:15.  That sort of shit is illegal.

And others pointed out that the minimum wage hadn't been raised in ages, and in fact, labor rates have fallen way behind over the years, due to inflation and lack of real raises. People today are making less money in real terms than in the past.   And this is true - I think - for all types of work.  Time was, writing Patents was a lucrative business and lawyers in general were well off.  Today, a few lawyers make a lot of money, while the bulk labor in "sweatshops" hoping to someday make partner - most don't.

Of course, some of the people posting were clearly problem employees - people who were serially fired from one job after another for cause.  These were folks who literally didn't want to work and felt that stealing from their employer was something fun to do - and that everyone should do it.  Real mature, Kevin!

Another angle which makes some sense, even from a corporate view, is that health care should be disconnected from employment - as it is in most Western countries.  Companies are hiring workers part-time simply to avoid paying for health insurance.  People who do find work full-time are loathe to leave, because of the threat of losing their health insurance. It is a logical argument that health insurance and health care should not be tied to one employer - but like so much else in the world, it isn't likely to change soon.

It occurred to me, reading some of the stuff in that "subreddit" that it would be all-too-easy to co-opt such a "movement" - which a subreddit isn't.  There were the bulk of postings which appeared to be sincere, but quite a few were oddball postings, arguing that only armed overthrow of the government would solve these "problems".  There was no coherent or cohesive thread or movement here, and the moderators ("mods") didn't manage the subreddit very well to keep it on topic.  For example, stupid and fake "I quit!" stories were left up, with the notation, "Probably fake, but we like it!" which is sort of immature.

They also allowed a lot of infighting to occur - infighting that was instigated by trolls.  If you want to disband a movement, all you need to do is turn people against one another.  Once they start fighting amongst themselves, they forget their common enemy.  So a lot of troll posts appeared with Boomer-hate messages. Boomers have all the money.  Boomers are hoarding money.  Boomers treat younger people poorly.  Boomers should be killed off and we take all their money (don't worry about that last part - they are starting to die off in droves!).  The "mods" tried to tamp down this generational warfare, but it just re-erupted as class warfare.   It wasn't the workers versus Jeff Bezos, but the workers against your retired parents who have a vacation home in Rehoboeth.

It was a hot mess.  And my thought, when I started thinking about writing this blog entry was that maybe some of the people posting on that site are not really interested in labor reform or labor organizing, but just trying to sow dissent and tear down the whole thing from the inside.

They didn't have to try to hard.  The moderators did a poll to ask the readers whether they should respond to media requests.   The media these days (or maybe all days) starts out with a story idea and then finds someone or something to prop up the idea.  It is inverse of the scientific method, where you come up with a theory and then run an experiment to prove or disprove the theory.  In journalism, you come up with the story idea and then bend the data to fit the preconceived notion.

And I have some small experience with this.  I called in to "car talk" and was chagrined to see that they recorded me saying "uh-huh" and then repeated this several times to make it sound like I was agreeing with them.  I was interviewed for an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal and New York Magazine, and they basically took my life story and twisted it around to fit their narrative. One observer called it "the mother of all trolling efforts."  I was trolled, but I really didn't give a shit.

There is an old saying that you don't understand how poorly written the newspaper is, until you read an article about something you know about - or yourself - and realize how full of shit the authors are.  Then the next day, you go back to reading the paper and believing everything in it.  And this goes double or triple for television and quadruple for online media and octuple for social media. I learned this firsthand, writing an article for the student newspaper at Syracuse.  Everyone has an agenda, and their agenda was not to piss off the school administration too much.  So a scathing article was toned down to "students meet, discuss issues."

So it was no surprise that when the moderators of the "antiwork" subreddit decided to go on Fox News (against the advice of the members of the subreddit) they had their ass handed to them on a platter.  Fox was no doubt salivating at the chance, and they had their perfect patsy - a caricature that hit nearly every Fox News Talking Point™.  The moderator was a young, somewhat unkempt transgender person wearing a hoodie (just like Trayvon Martin!) speaking from an unkempt room (just like "Doctor" Jordan Peterson!) who mumbled for three minutes about how they walked dogs for a living (10 hours a week, it turns out) and wants to "teach philosophy" someday.   Fox News roasted them like a pig.

This fit the narrative that "those young people" who are quitting their jobs (for higher wages elsewhere) are "just lazy" and "have everything handed to them!" and thus should not be listened to.  The interview was so bad, that some wonder if "Doreen" the transgender mod, wasn't in fact paid by Fox to do it.  News organizations do pay people to make appearances, so it is possible.  Whatever the motivation, it was a disaster, and you would think they would have picked a more friendly outlet than Fox News to do a media interview.

People are trying to salvage the wreckage.  The "subreddit" r/antiwork is gone - for now - and people are promoting a new one, r/workreform. They point out that they are not against working, but just want what everyone in the world wants, better pay and better working conditions.  At least this is a more focused subject and not a scattershot (and scatterbrained) approach to labor.  Gone are the Marxist-Leninist leanings and the rage-quit posts and memes.  Maybe something will come of it.

But as others have noted, a "subreddit" is not a movement anymore than online petitions express the will of the people or are effective in any way.  Slacktivism isn't activism. Real organization requires real people, face-to-face, to vote for unionization and better wages.  People quitting their jobs for better jobs and better pay isn't a "movement" but just a career move - something I've done several times myself.  Sadly, in order to advance in the world, you often have to make lateral moves - go to work for a different company to get a pay increase and promotion.  Companies, for whatever reason, are reluctant to promote from within.

As for Doreen, well, you have to feel sorry for someone who ends up crucified on the Internet like that.  You say one wrong thing these days and your online life is over.  I hope he/she is OK and maybe uses this experience to reconsider their life choices.   Maybe something good will come of it.