Curtain Raiser

To Those Left Behind, Colltalers

The much-parroted myth of a growing demographics of aging workers who can’t get back to the labor market for lack of technological skills, continues to wreck havoc the global workplace, ruining millions of productive lives in the process.
It’s a prefab lore benefiting a well known set of players, while disenfranchising entire segments of the population, which despite formidable odds, remain defiant, well informed, and resilient. But what they lack always beat them at the end: a steady paycheck.
We’ll go back to those beneficiaries of such a configuration, but let’s first survey those thinking that they’ve got the better side of the deal, even though in reality, they’re also necessary cogs in the overall scheme devised by the masters of the new economy.
In a sub-set of that aforementioned myth, the under-40 crowd is the most desirable demographics, based on their current position in the evolutionary ladder, and of course, the disposable cash in their pockets, funneled from their mainly circumstantial resources.
But often they easily lose that enviable but fleeting status the moment they’re convinced it’s a permanent credential. Their natural arrogance being manipulated as it is, they’re easily convinced that they’re the new order of things until, well, they’re no longer.
To believe that one’s the vanguard has the awful side effect of blinding them to the reality that they may already be knee-deep into it, and it doesn’t look that promising. To appear hip and attractive to industries and consumer fads, the majority slaves in underpaid job duties that cater to an ever thirsty demand, which extends to personal time; just be on call 24/7, even while partying after hours.
Tastes and wardrobes are shaped to fulfill the implicit mandate for season-limited consumption, and for ‘uniforms’ that conform to the latest dictum of labels and stylists. These, from their part, are the least interested where their product is getting manufactured and assembled (mostly in impoverished nations’ slums) or who’s doing the sowing and stitching (underage preteens). Just don’t ask.
Standing to gain the most from ‘free-trade’ agreements, such as the recent one Congress granted the Obama administration fast track powers to move it along, corporations are happy to keep these new armies of pre-adulthood soldiers in their payroll, along with lobbyist and ideologues, even though both the latter are compensated with considerably more digits than the self-willing former.
Speaking of adulthood, one of its components that may be lost in this devilish bargain is exactly the one that used to be reflected in older generations’ material gains: housing, top education for the kids, prosperous retirement after 30 or so years of work.
Even though measuring human achievement by the scope of material possessions is one of those bourgeois traditions the post-war generation made sure to detonate from the list of worthy causes to pursue during a lifetime, at one point – possibly frozen and lost forever in time – they served as a paradigm to some sort of achievable ‘happiness’ on earth, i.e., stability and family legacy.
Since we’re in the same thematic neighborhood, let’s not forget that there’s also always the need for generations to rebel and, if necessary, break the pattern laboriously left by their predecessors. Or don’t we all recall the derision that those born in the reconstruction period that followed the two wars felt about what’s now capitalized and revered as the greatest generation?
But whereas rock’n’roll ruptured the sedated postwar balladry tradition, it was not so much at odds with the equally powerful American Standards songbook, for instance, to which somehow it’d join as yet another quality peak of pop music expression.
The rebel attitude associated with the new, blackish beat, though, was crucial to reintroduce the right to disagree and dissent into the dominant, paranoid sentiment Cold War hawks were eager to disseminate in American culture, and to a certain degree, succeed.
Rock then served as the connecting tissue underlining the Civil Rights era, the anti-war movement, the reclaiming of minorities, and as such, it did help change the world in a most radical and non-violent way. (Paging Lennon and many others here.)
Going back to the unpaid hordes of ‘new economy’ emulators and enablers, their rupture with the previous order is not even conscious, as they were still in their teens when unions and labor leaderships were being dismantled by Ronald Reagan and his ink.
Still, it wouldn’t hurt if those so eager to point older workers their supposed lack of techie skills to do some homework themselves and learn that much of what passes for workplace relations these days is simply old-fashioned exploitation. And of that, there were plenty of examples from way before the first Labor Day, the May Day we missed having celebrated last week, was established.
In other words, despite their pose, they’re not ‘innovating’ or ‘pursuing new ways to revalue the exchange of goods in society,’ as we see it pompously called, but merely reconnecting by omission to unfair labor practices many fought hard to end a century ago.
Now, you may be wondering whether this is a youth-bashing rant, by some frustrated out of worker old timer, cursing the guts of the so-called new godamned order. But we’d rather see it as a honest effort at assessing a status quo which seems out to get us all.
About that status quo: guest what? it hasn’t changed much since, well, before the wars. Food, health, and energy conglomerates are still at the top, dictating national economic targets. Again, due to those rapidly multiplying trade agreements, there’s no longer containment from sovereign border or ideological differences; no wonder those industries are their top supporters.
As for the cliche about the explosion of consumer gadgets and the wealth generated by the Internet, relatively recent phenomena, those who quickly became their bosses seem to be doing an exemplar case for reproducing old, discriminatory practices.
Case in point: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his latest attempt at disguising his bottomless gumption for power within a patina of charity. Fortunately, his shameful proposal to ‘sell’ his latest product, Internet.org, to poor Asian countries, is backfiring.
Critics didn’t take long to see his idea for what it is: a way to privatize Web access, gain another billion of potential customers to his services, and undermine efforts by civilian organizations to protect net neutrality, or guarantee free access to the whole Web for all.
It’s another typical self-aggrandizing gesture of the man who, with the help of the sharing economy’s willing demographics, made sure to disrespect every individual privacy rule, just as his own was being protected by tall walls he ordered built around his home.
Naturally, Facebook is not the only one, of course. There’s Ubber, with its business model that wrecks labor rules just as it extends its reach internationally. The same with Airbnb, which turns regular tenants into managers of their profit, destroying the ability of cities to provide low-income housing to its residents in the process. And yes, the resurgence of the freelance professional.
That’s the realm of millions of highly-trained workers, who lacking a regular job, submit themselves to the tyranny of the permanent on-call availability: no benefits, no paid vacations, no sick days. Just the sheer administrative duties entire Human Resources departments are paid to take care of, with none of the advantages of knowing where the next payment will come from.
All of a sudden, we’re back into the pre-1929 stock market crash, when rubber barons and their kin enjoy their riches in the roaring twenties, while the masses, well, they hardly roared; they just worked, then lost it all, and then were left to their own devices.
But whereas huge U.S. government programs in the 30s, and yes, the business of war, put millions back into the nation’s workforce, another picture emerged after the financial debacle of 2008. As it’s well documented, the banks that caused it, got rewarded with a huge, taxpayer-fueled program that brought them back to business, while the masses, well, they just hardly roared again. Or walked.
That’s what’s behind the still enormous contingent of highly skilled but unemployed workers, at least in the U.S. and Europe. They lost their jobs with the crisis, ravaged savings and family resources in the years that followed, and now face an unbeatable foe to get back to the workforce: ageism. Dire warnings that the same may happen to those now refusing them jobs have fallen into deft ears.
These professionals are not ‘out of step with the age’s technological advances,’ as it’s often heard. Only, not that impressed by it. Neither they’re intimidated by what comes next; only fearful that it’ll be, in essence, much of the same as before. And most definitely no, their knowledge and experience do not necessarily drown them in cynicism; only make them think more critically.
‘The bad news (or good news, depending on your point of view) is that things have always been like this,’ wrote Thomas Piketty on his Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which finds economic parallels between now and the 1800s and early 1900s.
And, in a surprisingly somber quote from an often misquoted genius, Albert Einstein, usually known for his, er, forward, optimistic thinking: ‘Technological progress is like an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.’
Or bringing it all effortless home, dissenters and contrarians are always crucial into moving the herd forward. As the skinny-jeans crowd is co-opted by private interests, and conned into handing personal info in exchange for a few hundred Twitter followers, for instance, the role of rebels is often, and surprisingly, played by the ‘have been around the corner a few times’ crowd.
But there’s no heroes in this farce. Only the traditional winners picking themselves at will, and an enlarged demographics willing to offer them cushion, and even perform their dirty deeds on their behalf. All of this so they can be ‘Liked?’ No wonder even 35-year olds are considered cranky and uncooperative. You would too, if you knew your (cheap) price, er, value. Have a good one. WC

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2 thoughts on “Curtain Raiser

  1. This highly interesting analysis gives me goose pimples!

    Liked by 1 person

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