Do you know why so many people find "Tiger King" so fascinating? Because it's a jungle out there.
The COVID-19 pandemic has simply stripped away the veneer. Some of the ugliness beneath was revealed last week by Mike McFeely in an article about workers' fears about returning to work at a Fargo pub, feeling their employer wasn't serious about providing a safe environment in a city teeming with infection.
North Dakota Workplace Safety & Insurance Executive Director Bryan Klipfel could have sympathized with workers' concerns, after all, “workplace safety” is in his title. Instead, he encouraged employers to dial the hotline to rat out deserters in the War on Coronavirus. He said, “...we need to know that so if those employees are collecting unemployment insurance benefits we can look at moving them off of that.”
What, no court-martial?
It's almost as if WSI is more concerned with protecting employers than employees. I'm guessing the rest of the quote was, “Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with telephones. You want me on that wall. You need me on that wall!”
On April 23, I wrote a column entitled, “You're Expendable,” an assertion that was met with some derision, because, as one commenter put it, “No one's making them go to work!” Yeah, well, given the choice between eviction and serving Typhoid Mary's dinner party of four, you might roll the dice. If ever there were an argument for keeping wages low, this is it. People with savings have too many options. You know, like dem rich folk up on the hill.
And if you think that “you're expendable” talk got righties riled up, wait until they read this one. After the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Lincoln (who was treated better than Trump) it marked the end of slavery but an expansion of the system we have today — economic servitude.
Sure, no one's forcing you to work to in a dangerous situation, but if you have debt, if your family's hungry, if you can't afford a doctor, you'll work at that meat processing plant even if you're sick. “Dear Upton Sinclair, not much has changed, except we get occasional bonuses and constant reminders of possible meat shortages. The company motto is, 'If you aren't willing to die for the company, people are gonna die.'”
I also noted that reopening businesses wouldn't be like turning a switch because the economy is about confidence. Confidence about your future, confidence in your employer, confidence that if you get sick, you won't go bankrupt. Consumer confidence was down 32 points last month.
There's nothing wrong with reticent workers as Bryan Klipfel might believe. They may be the only rational ones out there. It's our billionaire ruling class that's out of touch. We have a treasury secretary who thinks you can live on $1,200 a month, for heaven's sake.
No, this pandemic has laid bare systemic weaknesses and inequalities in our country in which disposable income is spoken of in the same breath as disposable workers. But even if basic humanity didn't enter into the equation, it's never been more obvious that security for workers equals security and prosperity for everyone. Even billionaires.
Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service.