by Doctor Science
In honor of Labor Day, Steven Greenhouse of the NY Times wrote about how more workers are claiming wage theft:
a flood of recent cases — brought in California and across the nation — that accuse employers of violating minimum wage and overtime laws, erasing work hours and wrongfully taking employees' tips. Worker advocates call these practices "wage theft," insisting it has become far too prevalent.Business groups of course disagree:
If anything, employers have become more scrupulous in complying with wage laws, the groups say, in response to the much publicized lawsuits about so-called off-the-clock work that were filed against Walmart and other large companies a decade ago.-- because what happened 10 years ago totally still dominates their sense of what they can get away with, presumably. On the other hand, a search of the business world's "local paper", the Wall Street Journal, reveals only one article about wage theft in the past year -- about McDonald's, giving the impression that wage theft is an issue only for certain low-wage and low-status workers.
Greenhouse's article got more than a thousand comments within a day, many from people describing the wage theft they'd experienced in businesses of all kinds. You can see a similar outpouring in the comments to a NY Times editorial from April about wage theft from white-collar workers. The Times does not hesitate to link wage theft to surging corporate profits and the lack of a political agenda "that regards labor, not corporations, as the center of the economy."
What I wonder is whether widespread wage theft is significantly more of a problem in the US than in the other wealthy nations -- Europe, Canada, Japan, etc. The google-machine suggests that it is -- I can only find a little about wage theft in Canada, less in the other countries. But that may be a question of phrasing, or that wage theft in those countries is strictly limited to immigrants and other stigmatized populations, not breaking out to affect "regular people" who count more with the press and government.
But I just can't help noticing how crucial the most blatant form of wage theft has been in American history. In 1790, more than 18% of the US population had their wages stolen *entirely*. By 1860, it was down to 13% for the country as a whole -- but in both South Carolina and Mississippi the majority of the population were slaves.
I think it's worth asking whether American culture got into the habit of expecting some proportion of workers not to deserve *any* wages, where any money they received was really a gift, something for which they should be grateful. And whether, for instance, this habit or cultural expectation was especially strong for e.g. agricultural field labor, which thus came to seem particularly unworthy of remuneration -- even though it's where the food comes from.
When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, "Come and see!" I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, "A quart of wheat for a day's wages, and three quarts of barley for a day's wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!"Though in modern renditions (including Metallica's) the Third Horseman is usually interpreted as "Famine", you'll note that the tapestry doesn't seem to show him that way.
Like the tapestry-maker, I think this figure should be understood as "bearing a cash register", and representing Economic Injustice and inequality. The Revelator's understanding of Famine is closer to Amartya Sen's than many Christians are comfortable with.