computer scientist, poet, or ship breaker, it’s you against the bosses

This piece from Mike Konczal on the revelations that major tech firms colluded against their workers is, like most of Konczal’s work, a must-read, and I encourage you to really sink your teeth into what this says about the balance (or “balance”) between employers and employees in contemporary America. At the risk of descending into full-on “the man with only a hammer” territory, I actually think this situation is more reason to think that there isn’t a STEM shortage. When I go on (and on and on, I know) about why I think there’s no STEM shortage, I’m frequently told that the fact that these firms are pushing for more H-1B visas is compelling evidence that there is a shortage. Why would these massively successful tech firms, where almost anyone would want to work, have to push for more skilled worker visas if there wasn’t a shortage? But the lengths that these firms went to in order to artificially suppress wages should suggest to us that they’ll go to great lengths to reduce their labor costs. If you’re a tech company, H-1B visas are a great bit of leverage to use against domestic employees who want more money, particularly considering how vulnerable the workers on such visas are once they’re here.

And let’s think about this in the broader sense: I’ve been saying for some time that people push the myth of the STEM shortage as a way to blame individuals for the bad macroeconomic conditions that hurt them. “Hey, you should have gotten a computer science degree, but you didn’t– that’s why you’re unemployed.” But think about these workers who were colluded against by their employers. Sure, by almost any metric imaginable, they’re winners, and I’m sure if you showed me their tax rates, I’d argue for them to go higher. But still: the people who followed every Davos Man dictum for a good life, the people who David Brooks fantasizes about as he settles in to sleep at night, were nevertheless treated as antagonists to be manipulated and controlled by their employers. These people did everything “right,” according to the conventional wisdom, and yet they were exploited and defrauded.

It’s just one more little piece of evidence in what has become the single most important story in domestic American politics of my lifetime: the total collapse of worker power, under the direct blessing and conscious effort of our government and ruling class. The Reagan/Thatcher plan was to break labor, not just unions but workers in general, and they’ve succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, and never stopped the breaking. I could pile charts and graphs and citations and stories here to make that point. The balance between workers and employers isn’t a balance at all; it’s the utter domination of the former by the latter, and only getting worse. Konczal points out how this sort of thing undermines the ECON 101 argument against the minimum wage. I myself constantly hear theoretical arguments, based on simplistic principles, about why eventually the pendulum has to swing back. But they seem to have no credible connection to actually-existing reality.

And yet there’s simply no organized political campaign to claw back worker power. The Republicans and Democrats simply bicker among themselves about how much austerity is best. It’s maddening, depressing, and destructive.

6 Comments

  1. What you call suppressed wages = twitter is free. Windows will be free. Netscape used to charge $40, IE was free. Repeat.

    How can you play around in the world of advertising a couple posts ago, and not get that X only exists IF AND ONLY IF it can be produced for the amount of money worth the attention of that segment readers / viewers?

    Media for poor people LITERALLY needs workers to earn less money, or there will be no media for poor people. YES, we can give them free copies of the movies etc, but to produce media for people without valuable attention, we need robots, and cheaper labor.

    Meanwhile a rich woman, perfectly optimized, about to purchase a new car, it might be worth sending strapping young man to her house to read her poetry for a whole day.

    Anyway, you aren’t wrong about the end of more consumption for the poor, but the best way to increase their consumption is to make sure EVERY poor person works – bc then there is more for poor to consume.

  2. The wage conspiracy ultimately did fall apart in 2009. It’s a shitty thing they did, and they rightfully deserve to be punished for it in lawsuits, but the whole “fall apart” thing is something that the neoliberal folks have been arguing will always happen in the absence of specific protections provided to conspiracies and cartels for years. It just occasionally takes some time.

    And yet there’s simply no organized political campaign to claw back worker power. The Republicans and Democrats simply bicker among themselves about how much austerity is best.

    No popular support for it, especially when the areas being left in the dust are also weakening in political power. That’s always been the doom of unions – if popular support turns against them, they just become another cartel to be broken in the public eye.

  3. here’s simply no organized political campaign to claw back worker power. The Republicans and Democrats simply bicker among themselves about how much austerity is best. It’s maddening, depressing, and destructive.

    I suppose that’s due to someone’s winning a rhetorical war for the way EEUUses conceive of their world.

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