By David Glenn Cox
The media likes to play games with the unemployment numbers. They can sound good or sound bad depending on the slant they decide to put on it. For example, loyalists for the President declared January’s unemployment number were tremendously augmented due to the fact Joe Biden had been President for ten days. The numbers were awful and getting worse. The game they like to play is to blast out headlines, “Unemployment down with over 300,000 jobs created this month!” That’s 6,000 jobs per state and if you’re in Rhode Island or Wyoming. I suppose that’s good news in Texas or California, not so much.
But like a paycheck, let’s start with the deducts. The boss closed the factory for two weeks to install new machinery, you’re unemployed! And now, you’re not! Your boss got drunk and wrecked the company truck and got fired, and you were promoted to his job and now must hire your replacement. Job creation 2, your bosses’ job and your job. As they say in baseball, “It’s a line drive in the box score.”
When the Covid first hit, I was making sales calls in Greely, Colorado. The capitol of the state’s oil/fracking industry. The wholesale price for Unleaded gasoline had just hit .90 cents a gallon in a town that made it’s living on expensive oil. They were shutting down wells as fast as they could get the tools off the truck and laying off employees even faster. The boss won’t be calling anytime soon in a town that employs hundreds of truck drivers when there are no truck driving jobs. Greely is famous for cows, and crude and crude is dead. And the analogy of the missing horseshoe nail reverberates, and the town was lost.
There are jobs and then there are jobs. Looking for work myself, I can tell you there are some really goofy slash shitty jobs available. Job descriptions that run four paragraphs that neither tell you what you will be doing or what you will be paid for doing it. “Here at Slash, we are creating a whole new way to look at business. We are assembling the finest team in the nation to provide world class service. Our goal is to lead the way in a highly competitive industry. We are looking for leaders with a hunter mentality to join our team as we set new goals and new standards in the industry!” It is either selling insurance or selling solar power door to door at 100% commission, during an economic emergency and a pandemic. Like trying to sell sunscreen during a snowstorm or pork sandwiches in Mecca.
If the sausage factory had a public tour that no one ever came back from you might avoid the tour and the sausage as too exciting a recreational activity. Likewise, with jobs…Amazon is hiring. Count Dracula is looking for someone to help him move some furniture up at the castle, interested? Years ago, I took a job in a hot water heater factory lured by high wages. It only took one shift to discover that killing yourself was no way to make a living. It was like “The Shawshank Redemption” with the lifers picking out the newbies and betting cigarettes on who wasn’t going to make it through the shift. The company had figured out that even with the high wages and the turnover, it was less expensive to use humans who break over expensive machinery that doesn’t.
Every night was six or seven people’s first night and every night the same number defected forever. Long-term employees were measured in weeks. If you’ve ever been hit in the head with an ax handle, you become suspicious of strangers smiling a lot holding ax handles and claiming to be your friend. Or as Mark Twain put it, “A cat that sits on a hot stove lid isn’t likely to sit on a cold one.” Whenever I go onto the job boards Amazon usually leads the way and I know it must be bad by the desperation of their marketing campaign. I work in outside sales and management; I place that in the browser and “Amazon is hiring! Great wages and benefits until you hurt yourself or go crazy! Then we’ll throw you away like a greasy Burger King wrapper and shout, “Next!” Just for fun I put “Brain Surgeon” into my browser. Throw away your scalpels and bandages; Amazon is hiring! (Not true, overzealous hyperbole)
But here is something that is true, Amazon workers in Alabama are trying to organize a union. You might ask, “What’s so strange about that?” Alabama is the most anti-union state in the country. They put chain link fence topped with razor wire around employee parking lots to keep union organizers away from the worker’s cars. Company’s give lectures on how fast the boss will close the plant if you talk to a union. But even more so, the generations of anti-union indoctrination have been widely successful. There are criminals and pedophiles and Union men so sayeth the lord. Children are raised to stay away from the devil and Union men. How bad must it be when Alabama workers say, “Fuck this shit! I want a union!”
There is more to the picture than the number of jobs and you get what you pay for. I went to Walmart last week with $100 US burning a hole in my pocket. My shopping list consisted of six common items including dental floss. I found two of the items and left with eighty dollars in change. When I asked where the Alka-Seltzer was kept, I was told by a store employee “I don’t know” and they kept walking. Imagine how bad a business can be run when your customers come to buy and leave empty-handed and angry. To spend tens of millions of dollars in national TV advertising showing smiling happy Walmart employee faces. Then to visit and see the near gulag conditions of workers so demoralized that 80 % of every customer dollar brought into the store to spend goes home with the customer, due to poor service or poor inventory.
It’s like a Way Back machine, “Tell me again how Sears and K-mart went to hell Mr. Peabody.” Well Sherman, it starts with delusional management. “If we cut our expenses to zero, we’ll get rich! Fuck the workers! What are they going to do about it?” Besides ruin our business maybe. If worker no benefit, worker no care. Go ahead, fire worker and they just go get another lousy job. There are plenty of lousy jobs available, its only good jobs that are scarce.