Students who considered themselves socialists were not so
much interested in the poor as they were desirous of leading
the poor, of being their guides and saviors. It was just this
paternalism toward the poor that the vision of solidarity I had
learned in religious settings was meant to challenge. From a
spiritual perspective, the poor were there to guide and lead the
rest of us by example if not by outright action and testimony.
As a student I read Marx, Gramsci, and a host of other male
thinkers on the subject of class. These works provided
theoretical paradigms but rarely offered tools for confronting
the complexity of class in daily life. […]
[W]hen I told friends and colleagues that I was resigning from my academic job to focus on writing, I was warned that I was making a dangerous mistake, that I could not possibly live on an income that was between twenty and thirty thousand dollars a year. When I pointed to the reality that families of four and more live on such an income, the response would be “that’s different”; the difference being, of course, one of class. The poor are expected to live with less and are socialized to accept less (badly made clothing, products, food, etc.), whereas the well-off are socialized to believe it is both a right and a necessity for us to have more, to have exactly what we want when we want it.
Given the fact that the majority of prisoners are poor people and/or people of color, and that the majority of prisoners are convicted of non-violent crimes such as drug use/sales and/or theft, etc., this is a crime against humanity.
Moreover, the for-profit private prison industry is one of the fastest growing in America. That means that already-super-rich investors and owners make millions of dollars off of super-exploited slave labor in the prisons. This is an outrage. It is the intersection of racism, capitalism, and repression and it is a blight on the U.S. and the human species.
The only people that can afford to take an unpaid job are those that are already well-off enough to survive without pay. That means that there are careers where the only way to effectively break in to the industry is to be well-off in the first place.
This is a major problem in many industries, including film, advertising, fashion, music, and others. If your parents can pay for an apartment in Manhattan, congratulations, you can get your foot in the door. If not, tough luck, go find another job more suited to your lower-class life.
I just heard John Boehner say that increasing the minimum wage would actually be a disservice to workers, because a low wage encourages workers to get some skills. Because no one has to work at minimum wage if they are motivated enough, right??
This is the problem with conservatives; they see politics in terms of the individual, instead of the entire polity.
Minimum wage jobs will exist NO MATTER WHAT INDIVIDUALS DO. The goal isn’t to ELIMINATE these jobs — these jobs are a necessary evil of our economy. Someone has to clean up, has to wait tables, has to work retail, has to customer serve. Someone’s always going to have to do that, even if we have the best economy ever. These people deserve to not live in poverty, if they are working. They deserve to be able to feed their children.
Not everyone has the opportunity or the ability to obtain higher level skills to work at a higher level!
And even if they had those skills — are there enough jobs to meet that demand?
You know how many college grads I know who are waiting tables and working at the Gap right now?
HOW ARE THESE FUCKHEADS SO OUT OF TOUCH??
It’s all part of the lie that they want to pay skilled workers. They just don’t want to pay! There’s always someone willing to do the work for less, because there’s always someone in a position where they will literally need any penny they can get. That’s the fundamental disconnect between capitalist society and education. Why are U.S. jobs shifted overseas? Cheaper labor. Why are borders not really closed despite not wanting ‘those people!1’ to stay? Cheap labor. The prison industrial complex? Bright shiny source of soon-to-be-sanctioned *free* labor!
The lie, basically, is that a capitalist society can also be egalitarian; you get a middle-class life, you get a middle-class life, you get a middle-class life!, etc. But that’s not possible; there *must* be the underclass for the system to function. That means either withholding education/training from some members of the society, whether through substandard schooling or the pipeline from Black and Latino communities to jail, or importing/exporting labor for performance by non-U.S. nationals who don’t get protections. It starts off low-level, but with the exponential growth in income disparity, there’s no alternative but to keep a low ceiling on income—and thus a low ceiling on economic mobility.
That concept is Brave New World at its very best.
I think one of the best examples of cheap labor vs. education that I can think of comes in the form of what happened to us kids born in the 1985 - 1995 area.
Basically, growing up, we were told the lie of “IF YOU GET A GOOD EDCUATION, YOU CAN GET A DECENT JOB.” This point was driven home so often by teachers and parents, and bless them, they were just telling what they knew, and didn’t expect economic downturn, but it got to the point where if you had no plans to continue your education, you had everyone wondering where they’d gone wrong with you. You were a failed human being because you had no chance of surviving without the extra education.
One of my favorite cautionary tales (if you could call it that) to try and prevent that and encourage us to go to college was “IF U DON’T U’LL BE FLIPPING BURGERS 4 TEH REST OF UR LIFE DO U WANT FRIES WITH THAT????” which is not only fucking unfair to the people in those jobs, but it gave the unrealistic expectation that if we graduated from college we could avoid minimum wage jobs and actually be able to support ourselves.
Like the good little kids we were, we graduated high school, and most of us went to college. I want to point out that I have nothing against higher education in itself. It’s a decent experience. HOWEVER, when most of us left college, we found ourselves in the negative range money-wise, and unless you were in a particular field, we found ourselves with no job prospects.
Here’s where the fucking irony kicks in.
Because we’re thousands of dollars in the hole because we attended a school because we were TOLD by just about EVERY SINGLE ADULT in our lives that if we didn’t we were subject to a life of abject poverty, we had to go look for something, anything, to keep us afloat. Which means applying to those burger joints we were told we’d have to work at if we didn’t go to school.
IT GETS EVEN BETTER THOUGH
A lot of us apply to those burger joints, but we’re told we’re OVERQUALIFIED to work there. Why? Because of a couple things. For one, while there are some people who work as managers who are rather intelligent people, they don’t want to risk the idea of you being smarter than the person above you. Two, they’re afraid of the pay you might want because you went to college. Three, they’re also afraid you’ll leave after a month if you find a better job, because, you know, fast food doesn’t have high turnover or anything.
I guess the moral of this ramble is, it doesn’t matter how educated or skilled you are, unless you’re in a certain field, what American companies want these days is something damn near slave labor. To paraphrase Chris Rock: “Minimum wage is your boss saying, ‘Hey, I’d pay you less, but that would be illegal.’”