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My wife and I are septuagenarians: she will be 71 later this year, and I turned 75 in July. We frequently talk about the changes we have experienced over a lifetime. One of our frequent discussions is about the jobs we had from when we were teenagers until we retired several years ago. The easiest way to describe most of them from first to last is “okay” to “tolerable” to “bad,” and at the end, “very unpleasant and unacceptable.”
When I was forced to retire, I sat down one day and began one of my dreams. I wrote the prologue to a novel: completing it in about one year. The book is partly about my last “career” as a dealer and a games supervisor, or “pit boss,” in the Northern Nevada casinos. After reading it, some of my wife’s friends, who are patrons in the casinos, asked her: “is it really that bad working in the casinos?” My wife, who was a cocktail waitress for over 25 years, responded: “you have no idea.”
My 20 years in the gaming industry summarized my working life. In the beginning, it was new, challenging, and exciting. In the end, I hated going to work every day. However, being a dealer in a casino is a trap. Thanks to customers’ generosity, who sometimes tipped very well, I made just enough money that it was impossible to seek other employment. In addition, I had a house payment and other expenses which required a certain level of income.
My wife ended her work life in retail. She hated her job, the people she worked with, and everything about the business. Her shifts were inconsistent, and the hours would vary from early morning to evening. She was tired and unhappy all of the time.
As a writer, I learned over the last 13 years that wages for the working class have remained virtually stagnant since 2000. In addition, working conditions have deteriorated. As a result, few men and women in today’s working class are pleased with their current employment.
Along came the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of American workers were forced to work from home, or in the case of men and women in the service industry, no work at all. In the beginning, it was okay. Time with families and not spending 40 hours or more, plus travel time away from home, was a respite from their daily routine.
However, as money became a problem, stress took over. Evaluating their former jobs became necessary as the time without an income lingered. Finally, they had time to reconsider their lives, and thousands realized they were unhappy. They became fully aware they were working in jobs they did not like, for wages below their needs, and forced to work long hours while enduring inconsistent work schedules. It was time for a change.
Right-wing politicians and Fox News accused thousands upon thousands of men and women of falsely supporting business owners. They claim that most of them realized that their unemployment checks were bigger than their regular wages and did not want to work. Nothing could be further from the truth.
These American workers simply decided that they wanted more — something better. Working for inadequate wages in jobs that were unpleasant and possibly demeaning was not worth their time and effort. So instead, they made their employers wealthy while struggling to support themselves and their families.
I despise social media. However, in this case it helped disgruntled workers communicate across America. October has been labeled “striketober.” Not only are unhappy men and women looking for new opportunities in the workplace, but other groups are also protesting in picket lines. Their demands are simple: fair wages, better benefits, and improved working conditions.
When I re-entered the workforce after my discharge from the USAF in 1965, a corporation that made a 30% profit was considered exceptional. When the companies I worked for experienced greater financial success, the employees benefitted.
The old tale about a man beginning employment in the mailroom and eventually becoming the CEO of that business was based on reality. This is an impossibility today. Large corporations are experiencing 300, 400, and even 500% profits.
I felt unappreciated in most of my jobs, and even when I received promotions, I was not compensated. Titles replaced monetary remuneration.
Finally, it is fair to blame right-wing politicians for their part in growing income inequality. The federal minimum wage remains at $7.25 per hour. No individual, much less a family, can live on a weekly salary smaller than a car payment. Republicans continue to block every effort to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour.
One entire party has waged war on the working class for more than 40 years, but they are not taking it anymore. Our country is about to experience another economic revolution. Capitalism does not work when it is allowed to become out of control. Our nation does not need ‘change,’ it requires an enormous alteration to its basic concept. People must become THE priority.
Op-ed by James Turnage
The Week: American workers are fed up; by Ryan Cooper
Daily Kos: How low-wage workers are taking back power in the ‘Great Resignation;’ Prism Reports Guest Writer
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Adam Gerhard’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
First Inset Image Courtesy of Thomas Hawk’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image Courtesy of Sara Cooper’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License