Mining the notebooks. January 16, 2016. Posted February 6.
Better question: Why would you expect them to?
This is called giving the game away.
[FDR] could do as he pleased with the dollar, and the South would utter no protest---rich and poor, white and black alike, the citizens of Dixie wanted cotton prices to rise. But if Roosevelt used federal dollars to hire poor people---especially black people---at a higher wage than the one that prevailed in the cotton South, white politicians would protest. Governor Eugene Talmadge of Georgia passed along a constituent’s complaint about [Civil Works Administration] wages summing up southern opposition: “I wouldn’t plow nobody’s mule from sunrise to sunset for 50 cents a day when I could get $1.30 [from the CWA] for pretending to work on a DITCH.”
That’s from The Money Makers: How Roosevelt and Keynes Ended the Depression, Defeated Fascism, and Secured a Prosperous Peace by Eric Rauchway.
My old friend Rennie’s father was a proud union man. Shop steward at the factory where he was a foreman. And he raised his son to hate the bosses. The owner class. What they want, he told Rennie, was cheap domestic labor. Servants. To maintain a pool of workers desperate enough to bow and scrape and tug their forelocks for practically nothing the owners needed that there be little or no attractive alternatives. Whatever other work was out there had to pay worse and humiliate and degrade you more. So it was in the owners’ interests to keep wages down everywhere and in every industry and line of work and to make sure that what jobs there were, even at low pay and with sorry conditions, were few and far between. This would make sure the servants would be grateful to have their jobs and desperate to keep them.
That’s one of the reasons the owners hate unions, said Old Man Rennie. Unions get workers good pay, safe working conditions, and respect. But it’s also why they hate government spending that alleviates poverty and creates jobs: it gives the servant class an alternative to being servants, because why would anyone plow a mule from sunrise to sunset for 50 cents a day if there was any better choice?
Rennie’s dad was being figurative as well as literal. He knew that owners thought of anyone who worked for them as servants, whether they plowed a field, made a bed, built a turbine, or created a spreadsheet. You took their money, they owned you.
Governor Tallmadge’s constituent was whining about the New Deal in 1933. But the whine has persisted for eighty-odd years. Presumably the constituent was a farmer, never a guaranteed road to riches. And it was the Depression. He was probably struggling and the prospect of having to pay his field hands even a little more money would made him worried it would break him. But you’ll notice that he’s aware that the work he needs done is onerous and the pay he’s offering is for shit. So you have to wonder.
If he knows the job is miserable and he’s not willing to pay enough to make it worth it, how can he in good conscience ask anyone to work for him?
That’s easily taken care of: by turning things around so that he’s not the exploiter, he’s the exploited.
He’s not the bad guy here. They are.
There’s unconcealed contempt for the people he needs to hire in what he’s saying and a sense of personal aggrievement---he feels he’s owed their labor. He shouldn’t have to ask anyone to work for him. People should be begging him to hire them.
Anyone who would take the job, who needs the job, is lucky to have the job, because they don’t deserve anything better. The fact they would even hope for something better is a sign of their moral failing. They should know their place and keep to it. But hey’re a pack of lazy cheats, unwilling to put in an honest day’s work, happy and eager to take the government’s money---taxpayers’ money, the farmer’s money---to do nothing. And by offering the option, the government is complicit in the cheating. (Not that it’s taken as a given that the jobs the government’s offering aren’t real job. The work is “pretend” work.) The poor farmer is being cheated out of the cheap hired help he needs to make a living and out of the little hard-earned money he has left after paying the lazy good for nothings their exorbitant wages.
Fundamental to the farmer’s complaint is that some people were put on this earth simply to be used by him to make money.
That’s an attitude that goes back to the beginning of human consciousness when someone with a heavy club decided he didn’t want to do the work himself or share the bounty.
But it’s persisted for eighty years in the United States in the owner class’s furious opposition to every program, policy, initiative, and social movement---intended to improve the lots and bargaining positions of workers. Unions, the New Deal, Social Security, the Great Society, Medicare, food stamps, disability, unemployment, raising the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, family leave, Obamacare, even fixing roads and building new schools and bridges, even public education---all weaken the owner class’s power to reduce other people to servancy.
Rennie’s dad was right. It gets down to these questions:
Who owns the country, the rich or the rest of us?
Why do of why we have a country, to protect rich people's money or to give the rest of us a decent place to live?
And, most basically, what are people for?