Nicholas von Hoffman on ‘The Big Squeeze’
Posted on Jun 6, 2008
It is also chockablock with stories of daily humiliations and insults administered to employees by their superiors and/or the policies of the companies they work for. Men being shouted at and demeaned as though by a bullying parent, women being subjected to lewd advances or told to choose between rushing to a sick or stranded child or keeping their jobs. Old-timers will tell you in the vernacular that in the bad old days when the U.S. was a factory and forge society, the foreman kept a red-hot poker stuck up your ass from when you clocked in to when you clocked out. It seems from Greenhouse’s book that for millions of workers, America in the info, human relations, fuzzy-wuzzy age of grief counselors, anxiety pills, empathy and sensitivity offers workplace treatment which is the same as it was in the era of the satanic mills. The dignity of labor? Forget it.
We have become a nation of mules. It’s work, work, work all the time. ” ... The average American worker clocked 1,804 hours of work in 2006—three full-time weeks more per year than the average British worker, six weeks more than the average French worker, and nine weeks more than the average German worker,” writes Greenhouse. And, mind you, the day is long gone that the standard of living in those countries lagged behind ours.
On an hourly basis, American workers are not, as once they were, more productive than those in comparable nations. They are less so. It could be because sleep deprivation and overwork have put them into a half-zombie zone.
If you go back to the Sunday supplements of the Eisenhower era, you can read discussions of what Americans were going to do with the huge amounts of free leisure time that “automation” was about to bestow on them. The automation came with the computers and digitalization of everything, including the hair in your nostrils, and, pari passu with it, the imposition of ever longer hours of work. In a society which reduces them to individualized atoms and then smashes the atoms, employees of every sort and status except the highest have no place to look for protection.
“In many countries there is, in essence, a legal break that limits overwork. In the twenty-seven countries of the European Union, employers are required to give workers at least four weeks’ vacation each year. In Norway and Sweden, workers are guaranteed five weeks’ vacation, while workers in France and Spain generally receive six weeks. The United States is the only advanced industrial nation that does not legislate a minimum number of vacation days each year. American workers averaged just twelve days of vacation annually, and 36 percent of Americans say they do not take all the vacation days due them,” Greenhouse tells his readers.
No discussion of working days and hours should stop without examining what such unstinting labor outside the home does to family life. One of the strengths of Greenhouse’s book is that it does, within the limits of time and topic, tackle the consequences of the information he presents.
During the last 30 years of stagnation and decline for working Americans, the political party associated with business has been unrelenting in going after its Democratic rivals as the anti-family, pro-abortion, smut and homosexual party. This has netted that political party much mileage and many an election win, but all the queers and all the flits and all the gays in history lumped together cannot have had the deleterious effects on modern family life that low compensation and long hours have had.
The numbers cited by Greenhouse explain why: ” ... 59 percent of mothers with children under six do paid work and so do 55 percent with children under one, about half of them full time. One reason for today’s increased time bind ... is that in the modern middle-class American household, both parents taken together work 540 more hours per year—13.5 more weeks per year—than parents did a generation ago. In two out of three American families with small children in which both parents work, the couples work more than 80 total hours per week.”
Beyond compensating staff too little to enable parents to have the time to care for their children properly, employers are rigidly indifferent to the unforeseen crises and nasty surprises which inevitably attend the economically forced separation of children from their parents. To drive the point home, Greenhouse says: “Many employers do surprisingly little to help workers juggle work and family. Some retailers post their worker’s weekly schedules only a few days in advance, making it hard to plan child care. Many businesses require employees to work overtime at a moment’s notice, leaving many workers in a bind when their baby sitter is scheduled to leave. Nearly half of American workers are not entitled to paid sick days ... many workers risk getting fired when they stay home to care for the sick children.”
How the forced absence of parents plays into the continuing downward slide of academic accomplishments by millions of schoolchildren is beyond the scope of this book but not beyond our thinking. Two-, three- and four-job families are not in good shape to supervise homework, meet with teachers or uphold their end of the PTA. Children left to their own devices in this country fall prey to the advertising which whisks them off to game, movie, music, sneaker, celebrity, cell phone etc. land, where fun and entertainment obliterate three-quarters of their lives and instill in them sets of preferences and beliefs which keep many of them in ox-brained thralldom the rest of their existences.
One would have assumed such questions would have been a burning political issue these past 30 years, but far from it. Discussions of them have been boxed out and labeled as a woman’s issue or, worse, a feminist issue. At the same time, business executives and trade associations complain with increasing vehemence about the untaught, ignorant and under-motivated young people coming out of our high schools and colleges, yet their part in the numbing of youth goes undiscussed for fear anyone who might bring it up will be accused of waging class warfare.
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