Curtain Raiser

Jig’s Up For the Gig Economy, Colltalers

‘The ideal system to work when and how much you want.’ ‘An exciting way for applying your skills and getting paid for assignments either done at home or on the go.’ ‘Choose flexibility and earn extra income without having to wear a suit or follow somebody’s else schedule.’
Over 20 million Americans are slowly waking up for what this cheery fluff really is: a new packaging for an over a century-old bag of rotten goods. Stripped of its bells and whistles, the gig economy stands by the same cliches it used to evoke: haves and have-nots forever and a day.
There are some who trace the start of this new opulence to the 1970s global oil crisis. Even as it marked the end of the cycle of cheap fossil fuel, it was also the moment banks and finance corporations went from being normative institutions to outsized tools for enrichment. As their autonomy and power matched if not topped that of the government, there was no wasting time to pay for some nice deregulation to go with it.
With what money, you ask? Easy: branding social programs and the welfare system, pillars and guarantors of the American Dream for over four decades, wasteful ‘entitlements’ of a ‘nanny state,’ while outlawing organized labor’s bargaining power as a rancid ‘communist’ leftover.
The relentless drive to dismantle unions, helped by an actor-poster boy for private interests sitting in the White House, ushered the new era of low-paid contractors: hired to disarm strikes, they wore the badge of a New (bad) Deal. For them, no wage or salaries; earn when work only.
Not everyone enjoyed the greatest era of American prosperity, though. The services and the food industry, in particular, were kept on the same regime they were at the beginning of the 20th century. And with it, the bizarre system of paying restaurant servers with customer tips.
The custom of tipping for tasks performed comes, apparently, from feudal times in Europe, which nowadays pay normal wages to its food workers. Even more curious, tipping had fierce opposition from Americans when it was introduced. The NY Times reports that there was an Anti-Tipping Society of America, in 1904, with over 100,000 members. And that most labor unions were against tipping. But that didn’t last.
To this day, U.S. restaurant owners pay servers minimum wage or so, and it’s up to workers to make up in tips what may amount to a less-than-decent salary. Now some employers are vouching

for the end of tipping, but after past false starts, we’ll hold celebrating it till it happens.
As the unique brand of excellence, expected from American service workers, was born out of the brutal realities of singing-for-your-supper concept, tipping may be hard to kill. It surprises no one that such a brute way to make a living supports that other, no less conservative, NRA.
It’s also of note that, unless management at your favorite eatery clearly informs you that it’s raised its servers’ salaries, so tipping is optional, in the U.S. you should continue to do so no matter what. As with every other issue benefiting workers, no member of the Republican Party is on record supporting replacing the tipping system for paying decent working wages. Again, have we mentioned the NRA’s political leanings?
Most will go on camera to defend the better known NRA, though, despite survivors of the Parkland massacre staring straight at them. And will come up with the most absurd, if not downright dangerous, theories to solve the gun violence problem in America, like the president did.
If they can ignore fresh innocent blood spilled in their own district, and go on supporting on camera assault weapons in the hand of teens, it’s not hard to guess their position on minimum wage, universal healthcare, or college fees. Or Airbnbs, bartering, Uber-ing or freelancing .
We’ve been going backwards, getting fast to a new Gilded Age, if we’re not already there. Workers have no collective bargaining power, or even basic job stability; Wall Street manages retirement savings as slush funds; Supreme Court-supported Citizens United is alive and well.
We could be getting to the year before the 1929 stock market crash, and the Great Depression that followed, before a new set of more just laws and rules are enacted. Obviously, it got harder with the election of a corporate snake oil salesman for the highest office of the land.
Hope may be on the way, though, and from the most unsuspecting, albeit vulnerable, source: fast-food workers’ push to raise the minimum has in fact produced results. Just as consumers, usually oh so fatigued to lift their behinds and get their own damned water already, may be on it too. Experience shows that, when it comes to social change, employers rarely lead the charge. But the overworked who do needs a hand.
One final word about that other American form of exploitation-riddled labor practice, the sanctified institution of calling for a delivery. And worse, tipping poorly the likely undocumented bicycle guy coming in from rain or snow, with your warm meal. Some even think that tipping an extra dollar will make up the gargantuan gap between the have-everything or almost, and the below-poverty-line not owner of anything.
Next time you catch someone, usually the proprietor of some fancy app, who’s made a couple of millions based on an airy concept of better exploiting workers, and dare to call it ‘disruption,’ give them a piece of your mind. Calmly, prove to them their idea is not new. That usually mines their confidence, and expose the fraud they’re about to convince the incautious that they should buy next. Either that or walk away.
Having such an unpalatable fare may spoil the appetite of surely deserving hard-working pillars of society such as yourself, and we’re very sorry to remind you once again that, yes, there’s always something we can do. Seen those teens screaming in the face of NRA honchos? they are leading the America back to greatness, if we’ll ever grasp what that really means. If they ducked automatic bullets to do it, so can we.
Speaking of which, they’ve set up a national march this March, part of an ongoing reminder to never go back to the normality, which in the streets of America means a shooter with an AR-15, chasing our children to death. Make sure you say enough of that too, just as you may try cutting down on the delivery gig this week, or tip an extra Hamilton, if you may. Stay with the Dreamers and those fighting for a better day. WC


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