Co-published by Fast Company
My young father’s blue-collar jobs were his escalator into California’s middle-class. The rising cost of living has put an end to such opportunities.
My friend, mentor and colleague, Rev. James Lawson, calls our economic system “plantation capitalism.” Lawson was the nonviolent strategist for Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement and the key figure in the desegregation of Nashville. His reference, of course, pulls forward the image of enslaved field workers in the Old South.
The image chafes in my mind. Yes, slavery, but today’s workers are not slaves. They are not the landless peasants or sharecroppers that emancipated slaves were forced to be. They are not the low-level, below-the-standard-wage employees that Southern blacks became when they migrated to the steel cities of the North. They are not second-class citizens isolated into segregated neighborhoods and limited to menial jobs.
Except, there is a growing body of evidence showing that this is exactly what a majority of workers of all colors is becoming. Between 1965 and 2011, while the top 10 percent gained an inflation-adjusted annual income increase of $116,000,
Lawsuits alleging wage and hour violations are on the rise, but a case currently before the Supreme Court could tilt the balance of power toward employers in wage theft cases.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Symczyk v. Genesis Healthcare Corp. on Monday; the American Prospect summarizes the details of the case:
The case involves a lawsuit filed by Laura Symczyk, who alleged that Genesis Healthcare had committed wage theft against her and her co-workers. According to Symczyk, Genesis routinely docked the pay of workers (including herself) for lunch breaks that were not taken. Reflecting the strength of her claim, Genesis offered her $7,500 plus associated fees to settle. Symczyk, however, rejected the offer, believing that she was suing not just for herself but for her co-workers. She wanted time for her lawyers to determine if her case could be brought as a class-action suit,
There is little disagreement that consumer spending is a critical driver of American economic growth. The recession that began in 2007, while precipitated by the meltdown in the financial sector, is at root a crisis of aggregate demand. The halting recovery has been punctuated by disappointing monthly job reports and—just as important—by gloomy predictions from the Conference Board’s monthly survey of consumer confidence. Even business surveys admit (here and here) that anemic consumer demand (not “job-killing regulations”) is holding back new job creation and economic recovery.
Yet, despite worries about sagging consumer confidence and shrinking paychecks, business leaders seem unconcerned about the declining standard of living of middle-class America, or about the growing number of American families slipping into poverty. Over the last generation, wages for middle-class workers haven’t budged, while compensation for corporate executives and owners is reaching stratospheric levels.
(This post first appeared on the Drucker Exchange, a daily blog produced by the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University. It appears here with permission.)
The man who proved Karl Marx wrong was, according to Peter Drucker, American management expert Frederick Taylor.
Taylor had the insight that factory workers could be made more productive through improvements in technology and management—rather than merely through longer, harder hours. What’s more, those workers could share in the fruits of growth.
“Without Taylor, the number of industrial workers would still have grown fast, but they would have been Marx’s exploited proletarians,” Drucker wrote in The New Realities. “Instead, the larger the number of blue-collar workers who went into the plants, the more they became ‘middle class’ and ‘bourgeois’ in their incomes and their standards of living.”
For the past 30 years,