Friday, November 25, 2011

We Want Jobs? Not If We Can’t Feed Ourselves!


Cooks Lining Up For Soup (from Flickr, gamillos)
Liberal politicians and union leaders seem to think that if they could just create more jobs, the economy would suddenly recover and everyone would be happy. Of course those who are unemployed, particularly the long-term unemployed, are desperate for some financial security and relief, and jobs seem like the simplest way to appease them.

While the absence of work is a terrible burden on families, the presence of work is not necessarily their salvation, and shouldn’t be their primary goal. Workers need material security, safer and better working conditions, better living standards, more leisure time and sufficient wealth to enjoy it.

Most jobs do not provide these things. In fact, many jobs do not even provide material security.

According to a recent report in Labor Notes, 28% of cooks live in food-insecure homes. In other words, more than a quarter of the people who prepare our food in restaurants, fast food chains and cafeterias do not earn enough to feed themselves and their families. Campus food workers, for example, had a median wage of only $17,176 in 2010, while many farmworkers are earning the exact same wages they made ten years ago.

There have been organizing drives among food workers at numerous college campuses over the past decade, most notably among employees of Sodexo (See here and here). These efforts still have a long way to go. At Pomona College, for example, 90% of kitchen staffers signed a petition for union recognition in 2010, but the college ignored it. Employees there were being fired for taking sick days and many are still earning less than $12 per hour, even after working there for 20 years.

What is most compelling about the statistic that 28% of all cooks go hungry on a regular basis is that it clearly reveals that food is not a human right, but a commodity that is produced by members of the 99% for the profit of the 1%.

In a sane society, a cook would not only be able to eat on the job and take food home from work for his or her family, but would be paid well enough to eat healthy, organic, locally produced food every day, go out to nice restaurants occasionally, and take time off to relax with family and friends. But they cannot do this because the food belongs to the bosses. The equipment to prepare the food belongs to the bosses. The buildings were the food is produced belong to the bosses. The right to hire and fire and set wages and working hours all belong to the bosses. And if they challenge any of this they will be unemployed quicker than they can say Sodexo.

This is not to say that workers should roll over and accept these conditions. A strong trade union can help to improve wages and decrease food insecurity for workers. However, trade unions cannot end workers’ dependency and subservience to their bosses, nor do they wish to. Their entire existence is predicated on the subservient relationship between workers and bosses. They act as the intermediary or advocate for the workers in an attempt to mitigate this relationship and make it as painless as possible for their members. They accept the premise that the boss is entitled to own and control every aspect of the workplace and become wealthy by paying their members less than the value of the goods and services they produce.

While the pain can be mitigated, workers will never truly be free, nor will they ever earn the true value of their labor, as long as the workplace remains in the control of bosses. Workers will continue to be forced to accept compromises, including declining wages and increasing work, just so they have any income at all. They will always face the dilemma of accepting abuses and degradations or risk being fired. Even when they earn enough to eat every day, they can rarely (if ever) eat as well as the 1%.

Thus, it is insufficient to demand jobs or even better jobs. We must also fight for a world without bosses and wage slavery, in which everyone has material security and access to the good things in life, leisure time, and the opportunity to contribute to society under their own volition and not under the boot of the 1%.

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