I Want a Raise!

Tobias Michaels

What will happen in America when overworked employees begin to demand to be paid what they are worth?

It is not an understatement to say that the current job market is a picture of misery. Millions are unemployed and have been since the first stage of the Great Recession. For those desperate for work, they join the ranks of the under-employed, a fast growing class of workers who must work several part-time jobs to live. Those still employed are reminded constantly that they are “lucky” to still have a job, and are often forced to perform the extra work left behind of the laid off worker while accepting pay cuts. The pressure facing those remaining employed is a ticking time bomb ready to erupt in ways that the 1% cannot understand or predict.

What is causing this pressure? There are two statistics that begin to tell the story. The first statistic is one that is familiar to parents of recently graduated high school students who are entering the job market. Today, these workers make 25 percent less in real wages than workers just entering the workforce in 1970. This group of first-time workers is fundamentally hungry and desperate for work.

The desperation felt by those entering the workforce is not isolated. Only 1 of every 3 workers laid off since the beginning of the Great Recession has come back to work. The saddest part is that there is plenty of work that needs to be done. Understaffed workplaces have become extremely common since 2008.

Understaffed workplaces have created a new phenomenon where the harder those in America work, the higher corporate profits have gone. The higher corporate profits went the less likely companies were to hire additional staff because a single worker was often performing at the level of 2 to 3 workers, lowering the labor costs — and thus raising the profits — of the employer.

This tension is well understood and even desired by Wall Street.  The Washington Post explains:

U.S. corporations live in a perpetual state of recession because of fierce global competition, said Tom Schneider, chief executive of Washington-based consultant Restructuring Associates, which helps boost efficiency at such companies as consumer goods maker Unilever. They have no expectation that this is a short-term blip.

Indeed, after four years we can safely say that Schneider is completely correct. The present crisis is no short-term blip but a complete restructuring of American society.

One indicator of this restructuring is the fact that this is the first economic crisis where public employment has been fundamentally under assault. Over 650,000 jobs have been lost in public employment alone. No solutions seem to be forthcoming to the jobs crisis.

The lack of solutions is evident by the fact that no meaningful tax raise on the rich or a national jobs program has taken place since the Great Recession started. Workers will not stay scared and intimidated forever, especially since viable options exist to stop the crisis in its tracks.

These solutions are not being pursued because the employers are making out like thieves in the night. They are being provided labor on the cheap and reaping massive tax savings on top of it. Fighting for pay raises, vacation and real health care benefits is not the act of greedy workers. It is the act of workers who have been misled over the last four years and are not going to take it anymore. Working people whether employed, temporary or unemployed have everything to gain by such a fight.

And as they fight to form unions to have these demands met — or fight within their existing unions for pay raises — these workers would benefit from making broader social demands to garner community support, such as demanding that the rich and corporations pay substantially higher taxes to fund a national jobs program, saving and expanding Medicare and Social Security, and fully funding public education and other social services.

Other sources sited:

1.  8.3 percent unemployment http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

2. Underemployment poll http://www.gallup.com/poll/156404/unadjusted-unemployment-rate-increases-july.aspx



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Tobias Michael is a unionist, an anti-war activist, and writer for Workers Action. He may be reached at Tobias.Michaels@workerscompass.org