Sunday, January 7, 2018

A Working-Class Job Worth Fighting For

I grew up with kids who graduated from college and earned mid-six-figures and proudly spoke of their fathers who were gas station attendants. I remember when the first self-serve gas stations appeared and everybody laughed and pointed. Who would ever go there if you had a choice?  But then gas prices spiked and the self-serves were a nickel cheaper and the repugs started destroying jobs and the rest is history.

Or maybe the future.
Erik Loomis at LGM:
There are times when I would like to just pop out of my car and pump my own gas. But then I realize that these are jobs. And jobs are important. The dismissal of these jobs goes very far to show how strongly we have internalized right-wing arguments about employment and innovation. Earlier today I discussed the idea, proposed by Democratic leaders a mere 40 years ago, that we should be able to sue the government if we can’t find a job and how this is completely lost to our ideas of what our relationship to the government could be in the present. In a similar vein, the idea of actual working-class employment repulses many of us if it bothers our idea of what work should be.
Oregon and New Jersey are the only two states to mandate gas station attendants. Are these great jobs? No. But what do you think actual working-class employment looks like? In a deindustrialized and automated economy, how many options do people like this have? It’s not a great job, but it tends to pay $1 or $2 higher than minimum wage so it places a slight upward pressure on wages for unskilled workers. Most, but certainly not all, gas station attendants are working class men. Many of them likely do not have a high school diploma. Some are missing teeth and things of this nature that make their employment in other fields kind of hard. This is also a job that allows people to interact with others, be outside, and work hard for a wage. For a lot of people, that is their desired result from a job. 
This is why I strongly believe in full employment policy as the core of how to escape the jobless future. We can have a wide definition of what full employment is and we will need to. These are not easy policies to work out. But it’s a more solid political position, in my view. Even if a UBI (Universal Basic Income) is passed, Americans will still demand jobs. Even if you don’t want to work or think work sucks or want to be emancipated from work, you aren’t most people and neither am I.
Again, there’s nothing magical about gas pumping jobs. They aren’t great. But they are real. When we make fun of them, we need to examine our own prejudices toward working people and to examine how deeply we have internalized really awful narratives about work, technological innovation, and society. There may be reasons to not have gas pumping, but those who hate this aren’t really presenting very good ones. What would you have low-skill workers do? And if your primary driver in creating economic policy is “I don’t want to talk to people” or “This is dumb” or “I could do this faster,” you need to think a whole lot harder about your place in society and the world. A full employment economy may in fact require small sacrifices around the margins to make this work, such as you waiting 3 minutes for your gas to be pumped. This is not necessarily a bad thing given the societal benefits of full employment.
That the people in our economy who do the dirtiest, hardest and most necessary work - janitors, represent!- is a fundamental indictment of not just capitalism, but of our failure to establish economic justice.

1 comment:

Thomas Ten Bears said...

Upon retiring last year I sought out a gas station job. Essentially doubles my income.

Those three college degrees, the twenty-five years teaching and tech-support, they don't mean a thing. I don't hold anyone's hand, don't kiss anyone's ass, smile at the racist, misogynous, homophobic assholes while thinking about what I'll do to them when the revolution gets here.

It's the retired guys' dream job!