A young friend just told me that she had gotten a $2/hour raise, which, she said, did not change her paycheck as much as she had hoped. I told her my co-workers and I once got a five cent raise. She thought I was joking; I was not joking, but the story is pretty funny anyway.
We three worked as designers in a flower shop in central Florida. How lovely, you might be thinking, but you are only thinking that if you never worked in a flower shop. Hauling heavy buckets full of water in and out of coolers, cutting and packing and being exceedingly pleasant to customers in between pretty much sums it up. Except for holidays. On holidays we stood and worked until the wee hours of the morning, legs aching, fingers shredded from knife cuts and rose thorns, giddy from sleeplessness.
Claudia, who unlike Tommy and I, was from a well-off family, was the one who started the rebellion. She just walked into the owner’s office and said, “We all deserve a raise.” He had lots of whiny reasons why he couldn’t afford to give us one. Then he flat refused. The Iron Law of Wages says you pay the very least you can get away with, just enough to keep them alive at subsistence level-no more.
Claudia continued to foment rebellion and we agreed to go on strike until we got a raise. After one day on strike, the owner found a new appreciation for our labors and called us to a meeting at his lakeside home.
“Look, we are all in this together,” he said. His perfectly coiffed wife smiled sweetly. “This is a family business,” he continued, “If I don’t make money, you will have no jobs at all. You are part of the family.” Claudia was gazing through the picture window at the lush expanse of lawn, the dock and the lovely boat tied to the dock.
“We’re all family?” Claudia asked. “That’s right,” Owner said, while Wifey beamed. “So hey dad, can I borrow the boat?” Claudia asked. The meeting ended shortly thereafter. He gave us a five cent raise and we all quit. Tommy became a fireman, Claudia went back to college and I got a better job at a rival flower shop. Many of my customers followed me there.
No, you’re not family. No, you can’t borrow the boat. No, I don’t really give a flying shite about you, nor am I interested in fair compensation. I am interested in accumulating wealth. Full stop.
As Fredrick Douglas said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” And often it tries to concede only five cents. 🙂