Monday, May 30, 2011

Choice cuts

Unionization in America reached its high point when—duh!—manufacturing was actually done on a wide scale here. It's unlikely to reach that level again, which is a shame. But it's somewhat encouraging that younger unionists, as seen in this column, persist. A couple of paragraphs stand out.

Their ranks include Godfrey, 29, a server at Nine Zero for the past nine years. With good pay and job security, she was able to buy a condo in Jamaica Plain. And her good health benefits are even more important now that she’s expecting her first child.

There’s also Arthur Bergevin, 24, a Brandeis graduate who works as a food runner at the W Boston, and plays drums in a band called The Tin Thistles. The union contract gives him more control over his schedule, helping him juggle work and gigs. He can pay the bills while he chases a music career.

As the proliferation of high tech ventures with first person (iPhone) or second person (YouTube) names suggests, the rhetoricc of empowerment is both useful and popular. You want people to believe that they're steering their own course and have all the choices in the world, not least because it will give them more to blame themselves for. And in terms of what screensaver to download and what flavor filling to get in our Oreos, we do have more options than ever before.

But there are other choices. Issues of where to live, how to make a living and how long to work doing so, and whether you can even think about sending your children to college. If you're not among the Very Very Rich, these are choices that are being taken away from you. Real empowerment is vanishing in the rearview mirror.

Bergevin has managed to blackmail his employers into letting him play with his band, and that's great news. Elsewhere, there are plenty of bottom rung workers who want to play music, paint, or just spend more time with their kids. But no one in power care because no one has to. That's wrong, because just about all of us are proles, and we should have choices. Including the choice of saying no.


susan said...

The one group of people who irritated me most at my last job were my fellow union members who sympathized with the poor rich doctors and the organization. They were the 'She wears a hat like Princess Marina crowd'.

I still say slacking is a human right and likely necessity except when the essentials need to be performed.

Ben said...

Heehee. You catch the nuances inherent in Ray Davies. But yeah, as things that were once rights get redefined as priveleges, it's frustrating to see how many people are willing to go along.

Love your second paragraph.