[Content Note: Class warfare; worker exploitation.]

Here is the White House's fact sheet on President Obama's executive order that will raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers. It's titled: "Opportunity for All—Rewarding Hard Work." And there is an awful lot about why raising the minimum wage for workers who work on federal contracts is good for business, but not a lot about how giving people a livable wage (I'll come back to that) is just a decent thing to do.

I admit my bias here, but all the references to "hard work" read to me less like an acknowledgment of the hard work people are already doing, and more an admonishment to people to keep working harder.

As for the contention that $10.10 is a livable wage that will keep people (and families) out of poverty, well: Right now, someone working 40 hours a week at the minimum wage, without overtime or bonuses, makes $15,080 before taxes. At the maximum increase ($10.10), someone will make $21,008. The current federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,550.

Work hard, everyone!

Capitalism is garbage in a whole lotta ways—but one of the worst is that it is built on the damnable lie that everyone earns what they deserve. And there are far too many high-earning people in the US who believe that they work harder behind a desk than every single person who works a behind a counter. Bullshit. BULLSHIT.

Let me repeat myself: I don't feel inclined to get into a whole Marxist discussion about the means of production here, but what these insufferable, vainglorious, classist captains of self-aggrandizing bullshit seem never to grasp, or possibly just acknowledge, is that if you want to live in a capitalist society that gives you the opportunity to get nasty rich, then we can't all be wealthy. And if you want to be the kind of person who doesn't pump your own gas, or make your own sandwiches, or clean your own house, or manicure your own fingernails, or drain your own dog's anal glands, or build your own car elevator, then there are going to have to be people who fill all those jobs.

And most of those professional, hard-working people will put in at least 40 hours a week, or more, and even still, many of them won't be given healthcare benefits, and many of them won't earn enough money to feed a family, and many of them won't be able to save as much as they'll need for their retirement.

People who honorably dedicate their time, energy, and talents to jobs that might not pay well are indeed entitled to something—to not work their whole lives only to find themselves poverty-stricken, or hungry, or homeless after one small (or not small) financial crisis. And if we're not going to ensure that every job comes with a livable wage, access to affordable healthcare, and retirement benefits, then we've got to provide a robust and well-funded social safety net.

I don't think that's asking for much, in exchange for a lifetime of providing service to their chosen vocation.

Though I grant it's certainly easier to scream BOOTSTRAPS! and carelessly assert that people who don't have everything they need just aren't trying hard enough.

Funny how the Grand Advocates of Hard Work are always the ones making the easy arguments.

The working poor in the US—and all of the people who navigate a tenuous existence in the middle class, from which they could be unceremoniously exiled after a brush with unemployment or a health crisis—are not working any less hard than their wealthy counterparts (in fact, many of us work a lot harder, but had the silly idea to pursue a vocation not as highly valued as making privileged people and corporations wealthy), and we not are not fools, and we do not "deserve" to have twenty-four times less wealth and its attendant security and opportunity.

This cavernous disparity is the result of wanton avarice, of cruel greed, of a void of empathy and a colossally short-sighted contempt toward the notion of culture, toward the idea that we are all in this thing together.

All of us—even the people who won't get our backs, the bullies who attack us just to feel less put upon themselves, the self-loathing enablers who harbor foolish dreams of being invited to the table of privilege one day, the barrel-chested barons of a new Gilded Age who stand astride the bodies of those condemned to less fortunate fates, singing the praises of social Darwinism, bellowing about the superfluity of a social safety net, and declaring "The government never gave me anything!" as they deposit seven-figure bonuses made possible by a taxpayer-funded bailout.

Or a government contract, for which they only have to pay workers $10.10 an hour.

We're all in the same leaky, creaky, unreliable boat. And knowing that means understanding even the most voracious self-interest is best served by egalitarianism: A fortune is worth nothing at the bottom of the ocean, less than a single penny carried safely to shore.

So, yeah, it's a smart idea to pay people a (genuinely) livable wage. But it's also the decent thing to do. Because people are already working hard.

Frankly, any implication that people aren't working hard enough is shameful, either a mendacious deflection of accountability onto workers, or an absurd cluelessness born of cavernous detachment from the realities of working people's lives.

In order to maximize profits, corporations have ubiquitously adopted the practice of not filling jobs when people leave and simply redistributing their work among remaining staff, who aren't compensated for the additional duties. The extra cash goes in the coffers while skeleton crews juggle the same workload once balanced among a larger staff.

With the constant threat of losing their jobs in a shitty economy hanging over the heads of workers, they'll work harder, longer, do more for less, just to retain their jobs. And lots of unscrupulous employers are exploiting this to the fullest, running their businesses chronically understaffed by people who don't dare complain lest they lose the terrible jobs they desperately hate and face the even worse fate of unemployment.

"The Great Speedup" is a despicable practice, largely ignored in discussions of both workers' rights and workers' compensation.

Employment is down, wages are down, but efficiency and profits are up. Yet still employers are not being criticized—not for exploiting workers, not for using a bad economy and endemic unemployment to maximize profits, not for being deliberately stingy with job creation because it's actually in their financial interest to overload existing employees in a market that favors employers.

Instead, our President warmly invites these same companies to make the choice to do right by their employers in his State of the Union. And workers are expected to work even harder.

For $10.10 an hour.

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