"Saying the quiet part out loud," is a cliche, but like so many shopworn phrases, it has its roots in real truths that bear repetition.
Back in 2017, a bunch of Wall Street bros *shouted* the quiet part out loud.
The occasion was an American Airlines earnings call in which management revealed that the company had recorded solid profits and was going to use some of them to bring pilots and flight-attendants wages up to parity with Delta and United.
Wall Street *lost its shit*. The iconic example was Citi analyst Kevin Crissey, who whined:
"This is frustrating. Labor is being paid first again."
Wall Street agreed with Crissey. AA's share price plummeted.
Crissey was voicing a fundamental truth:
Irrespective of how much profit a company makes, the investors' earnings go up when the workers' earnings go down.
Now, it's true that happy, secure workers can be more productive and secure higher profits, but that doesn't automatically mean that paying higher wages will make more money for shareholders.
If the additional sums needed to make workers happy and secure swallow the excess profits that security generates, then investors are better off with miserable, scared, unproductive workers.
Not only that: if the investors' position is short-term, looking for the highest yield over a single quarter or even less, the fact that higher wages will lead to *long-term* advantages, like worker retention and productivity, is irrelevant to the investors' interests.
That's the quiet part: between workers and investors, there's a zero-sum game.
Forty years of anti-labor policies (undermining unions, workplace protections) culminating in the "gig economy" all-out assault on the *idea of employment itself* have papered over this core truth.
While gig economy companies were spending $200m in deceptive scare-ads to pass California's Prop 22 - which formalized worker misclassification, allowing bosses to fire employees and re-hire them as union-ineligible "independent contractors" - they insisted this was good for workers.
"Worker flexibility" has been the rallying cry of the shareholder class for decades - even as they maximized *employer* flexibility and bound workers in legal and economic shackles.
The number one source of noncompete agreements in America today is fast-food chains - where a sub-starvation tipped-minimum-wage job is likely to come with a legal prohibition on taking a better job in the industry for *three years* after you quit this one.
Thus bound over to their employers, workers were subjected to zero-hours contracting terms, where you are not guaranteed *any* shifts in a given week, but must take *all* shifts you are offered.
If you're scheduled for a graveyard shift until 3AM and then a morning shift the next day that starts at 6AM, you have two choices - take the double-shift or look for work elsewhere (just not in the same industry).
This "flexibility" transfers all the value from the employees' side of the ledger to the bosses'. Bosses get to schedule based on demand, or in order to ensure that workers don't cross the weekly hours threshold that would entitle them to benefits.
Workers, meanwhile, can't schedule another job, or childcare, or continuing education.
There's a tiny minority of legit freelancers (including me) for whom contract work is genuinely beneficial - but almost every "independent contractor" is actually a misclassified employee.
A new McKinsney-Ipsos poll shows up the myth of the happy, flexible contract worker. 62% of gig workers overall want real jobs - that number rises sharply for PoCs in gig jobs: for immigrant workers, the figure is 76%.
As striking as that figure is, it is even more significant when places alongside another finding: 70% of *employers* want to fire their workers and replace them with part-timers, temps and gig workers.
Employers have always been comfortable with waging class war - they just don't like to talk about it.
The poll found that most Americans have a poor economic outlook and half of US workers are "on the brink of financial ruin."
Despite neoliberal rhetoric, a firm that replaces jobs with gig/contract/temp roles is not engaged in "job creation."
That is literal job *destruction* - turning "jobs" into precarious, sub-starvation contracts with no rights or protections.
Workers *do* want "flexibility" - like protection from noncompetes (the flexibility to take a better job), from arbitration waivers (the flexibility to sue your abusive boss).
Workers want protection from arbitrary shift assignments (the flexibility to plan your family and other work and life activities), universal health care, child care and sick leave (the flexibility to take care of your health without losing your job and home).
Flexibility is great, but like wages, it's zero-sum.
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