On this day when we can reflect upon labor's heroic contributions to our country, Rush Limbaugh has spoken out. Asserting that the market always rules, he states, "If a worker doesn't like $7.25 an hour, then go work somewhere else. If you're not qualified to earn more than that, then get qualified. That's how things work."
Yes, how simple. Rush doesn't tell us how firing workers who attempt to organize themselves is related to the rules of the market. Nor does he tell us how corporations -- now having gone abroad in order to escape America's 'market forces' -- typically have machine gunners posted outside of their factories and subsidiaries. Just how does the concerted effort to keep workers intimidated and docile figure into current market conditions? Rush?
In fact, the idea of prevailing market conditions is a myth. Most American workers earn the wages they do, and work in the workplace conditions they do, and have the rights they do, not because of market forces. Rather, it is because America's workers have always gallantly fought against forms of exploitation in the form of workplace discrimination (e.g. race, gender), child labor, arbitrary firings, forced overtime, and so many others. When workers have struggled and succeeded, markets have adjusted. This process, spearheaded by workers' concerted voice for justice, is what has made America great.
Yet another Rush-like myth is that of the individual worker. While we are all individuals, we also belong to a social class system which gives inordinate advantage to some and extreme disadvantage to others. If one is born in the bottom 1/5 tier, one is likely to remain there; if one is born to the top 1/5 tier, one is likely to remain there. America's workers have always known that the conditions of their existence depend not so much on individual exertion as much as social solidarity, expressed in a unified voice. The power of individual workers is nothing until workers stand shoulder to shoulder in organized solidarity to effectively preserve what those before them have bravely achieved, as well as to bring about so many long overdue changes.
Today's fast food workers are a case in point. A couple days ago many courageously walked off the job in order to draw attention to their plight as workers, struggling well below the poverty line, making in real wages far less than did their much younger counterparts 40 years ago. The $15 per hour being demanded is the rough equivalent of what the typical fast food worker earned in 1974.
Markets exist. But markets are never free except in the minds of a few economists who willfully turn a blind eye to considerations that make the idea of a free marketplace laughable. The fast food industry has become immensely profitable. Situated on virtually every major intersection and mall in the United States, the industry has contributed greatly and literally to the shape and size of American citizens. It asks for a relatively small dollar amount, and in return it serves up chewable matter consisting primarily of fat, sugar, and salt. It pays workers wages well below poverty lines and it hopes that our bloated and lethargic citizens don't complain.
The fast food industry has been so successful not because of market forces, but rather because it has up until now kept its workers' wages depressed. It isn't market forces that determine that fast food workers must work hard for a wage well below the poverty line. Rather, it is corporate power ensuring that fast food workers remain nonunionized, voiceless, powerless, and poor. This is an insult to a cherished American virtue: the dignity of work.
The dignity of work. The dignity of ALL work. Sanitation clean-up, yard work, janitorial work, fast food work. The dignity of work: the idea that if one works hard one will be paid a living wage that acknowledges the work done and the dignity of the individual who performs it.
Fast food workers are demanding a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. This is not about market forces. This is about profits and power. This is about America's corporations protecting their profit margins by not paying workers enough and thereby keeping them in poverty.
By any measure, America's fast food workers have the corporations running scared as reflected in Rush's buffoonish remarks. Will Americans demonize fast food workers as some have demonized public workers? Rush and his dittoheads hope so. And so do those who make millions in corporate profits while their workers and their workers' children are kept below the poverty line.