Companies Paying Starvation Wages Whine That Workers Aren’t Interested

Photograph Source: Mike Mozart – CC BY 2.0

Everyone knows American corporations from McDonalds to Walmart pay starvation wages. So now so-called leaders like Montana governor Greg “Punch a Journalist” Gianforte won’t distribute federal benefits, because people live better on those than on wages. Well, raise the wretched wages. They’re pitifully low. Or, as senator Bernie Sanders’ staff director Warren Gunnels put it: “Raise your wages and benefits or flip your own damn burgers and sweep your own damn floors.”

Just think, we live in a country where $300 per week is beyond the average American worker’s wildest dreams. What were they earning before? $200? $100? With pay like that, the U.S. really is what used to be called a Third World nation, and it’s organizations like the Chamber of Commerce that want to keep it that way. Back in early May, the Chamber, you may recall, blamed April’s lackluster employment expansion on the $300 weekly jobless benefit, “and began urging lawmakers to eliminate the federally enhanced unemployment payments,” as Truthout reported.

This is called class war. It is a rare instance, in that class war, of the more powerful side revealing its hand. Because mostly it doesn’t need to. Mostly GOP governors serve as commandos in the class war against working people so brazenly that corporations and the Chamber don’t need to show their faces. But things aren’t happening fast enough for the moneyed class. So now, at least 22 Republican governors have sprung into action, brandishing executive orders at reluctant workers, orders which slash the unemployment benefits of over 1.9 million people come June, according to the Washington Post.

This naked attempt to force people back to work for miserable pay brings to mind nineteenth century workhouses, where luckless folk moiled for pennies, if that. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if these GOP Scrooges pushed to gut wages at the same time. Heaven forbid anyone should be able to live on the fruits of their labor. Who knows what that could lead to – leisure time and, oh my goodness! a chance to think about this lousy economic system we’ve got and maybe do something about it. That won’t be happening in these GOP-run states, because they will NEVER raise the minimum wage, the way dem-run Rhode Island just did. I guess red state governors will have to call out the national guard to go fetch their constituents – who will all have stampeded to R.I. with its mandatory $15 per hour wage. Or maybe the AGs of these GOP-led states will sue states with higher minimum wages, charging them with poaching their labor and luring it away with unfair wage competition.

Lazy workers are not the problem. “The slowdown in hiring may instead reflect workers’ concern about their safety,” the Post reported, referring to the pandemic, “and difficulty obtaining childcare.” But don’t look to those GOP governors to provide affordable daycare or family leave. That’s not their concern. Those kids can stay home alone for all the thought they give to this problem. These governors are oh so pro-family, just so long as it doesn’t cost anything. If it does, well, hey, it’s a free country; let those frantic parents figure it out.

In these 22 Republican-led states “out-of-work residents will soon be able to collect only as much as their unemployment insurance programs allowed before the pandemic, which in some parts of the country is well below poverty-wages,” according to the Post. And for roughly 830,000 workers, “their governors’ cuts mean they stand to lose all their benefits outright.” So does another cohort of approximately 513,000 people. Gig workers, contractors and the like will get zero benefits, as they lose access to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. So while GOP governors impoverish their constituents to please their donors, they refuse federal funds, which cost them nothing. Where in the world did we get these horrible people? And whose bright idea was it to give them power?

“Republicans are trying to starve people back to work,” said Bernie Sanders in May. “Pay people a living wage and they WILL work.” Sanders knows what he’s talking about. He cited an article in the Pittsburgh Business Times about an employer who raised wages from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. “It was instant, overnight. We got thousands of applications,” the general manager of Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor told the paper.

Sanders also tweeted: “While Republican leaders want to deny $300 a week in unemployment benefits to working families, they had no problem introducing a bill this year to repeal the estate tax that would give a $1.7 trillion tax break to wealthy families who inherit over $1 billion. Total hypocrisy!” We could have tens of millions of homeless, hungry people, working 60 hours a week and what would the sachems in Washington do? Tear their hair over taxes paid by the ultra-rich and no doubt fret over the expense of rental assistance.

Disastrously for the working poor and for Biden’s midterm electoral chances, the president, according to the Huffington Post “doesn’t want to fight Republicans over unemployment benefits.” Sanders says he could stop the cuts. “Sanders told labor secretary Marty Walsh in a letter Thursday that the law creating the program for gig workers actually gives the federal government no leeway to let states kill the benefits.” But so far, apparently, Biden isn’t listening.

Meanwhile GOP governors parrot inane party talking points. Take, for instance, Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt: “Since our sate has been open for business since last June, the biggest challenge facing Oklahoma businesses today is not reopening, it’s finding employees. For Oklahoma to become a Top Ten State, workforce participation must be at a top level and I am committed to doing what I can to help Oklahomans get off the sidelines and into the workforce.” Namely, starving them.

It’s time to face up to it: our politicians aren’t just monsters when it comes to foreign policy; they are monsters here at home too. Right now, one major party, the GOP, systematically crushes the American working class, during a plague – remember covid? – for which they also object to taking any sensible government-mandated public health measures like masks and vaccine passports. Both the dems and the GOP are the parties of Wall Street, but the dems do have a progressive wing, while this bipartisan hydra’s Republican head mouths a disgusting and shameless slavishness to its corporate owners. These people lack humanity, common decency and basic morality. These deficiencies are their selling points. That’s what their donors purchase them for. That donor money is how these creeps keep getting elected. And average Americans pay the price.


Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Lizard People. She can be reached at her website.