(The following was adapted from the May 1 edition of the Daily Current Newsletter, which you can subscribe to here)
In the U.S. we don’t really observe May Day to commemorate labor’s ongoing struggle with capital. But I’ll do it anyway.
In the decades following World War II factory and industrial workers in the U.S. were honored, or at least provided good pay and benefits. The same regard has not been extended to today’s workforce that is the backbone of (what was up until a few weeks ago) the 21st century economy: service sector workers.
The coronavirus and accompanying economic crisis has exposed multiple failures of the U.S. economic and political system to treat working people with respect. At least there is something of an awakening now … who knew retail workers in grocery and convenience stores were so important? They did, of course.
Policymakers and politicians love to promise “good” jobs. Too often that line of policy and campaign rhetoric crowds out the more urgent priority: Improving pay and conditions in the most common jobs we have now, and honoring those jobs and the people who do them.
Food service, retail, home and personal aides, janitorial and maintenance workers and the rest of the service sector employees who make up the overwhelming majority of the workforce in the 21st century deserve a standard of living comparable to that enjoyed by factory and industrial workers in the 20th. They can have it, too. Not because market forces will magically deliver it to them. Market forces have failed to do that. Change must be the result of the same thing that that has created so much inequity and unfairness in the first place: policy decisions.