I once had a boss who refused to give me a raise the year he and his wife bought a big, expensive house. “You have done a great job for us this year. I don’t know what we’d do without you, but we just can’t afford it right now,” he said.
As Director of Sales and Marketing, I had done a great job. Sales had increased more than 20% that year. Because of my work and the work of my colleagues, our boss was able to buy the house that prevented him from rewarding us for making him more money.
What did I do? I did what the majority of Americans do, I went to work the next day. I continued to do a great job. I made him even more money the next year.
My story, although years ago, is neither unique nor dated. In fact, I would say my story, which took place during the time of Reagan, is a perfect allegory for Occupy Wall Street and for our days of ‘austerity.’
‘Austerity.’ I hate that word. Strictly speaking, it means cutting budgets, cutting benefits. In reality, as most of us know, it is wealth redistribution of the worst kind. Austerity means that those of us who stretch pennies will be forced to suffer so those who stretch limos will not.
The wealthy, the business owners, are called the job creators. Jobs, however, are not created out of thin air. Business owners don’t hire because they have extra money in their pockets. They hire because their business is doing well, because the employees are doing their jobs well enough to provide a quality product or service, because customers are buying. Each of us that work, each of us that spend, is a job creator.
I wish I was a braver person twenty plus years ago. I wish I’d have walked out on that day I was denied a raise. At the time, I was looking at the short term. I needed my salary, small as it was. I liked my job. I was good at it. As someone just starting out in my career, the title looked very good on my resume. I should have let them hire someone else at my wage, someone less smart, someone less dedicated, someone less experienced, someone who wouldn’t have afforded them their European vacation the next year. Instead, I suffered in near silence (less the grumbling with coworkers who were also denied raises). The next year, I was denied a raise as well. Why? Because they knew I wouldn’t leave. My limits had been tested and as far as they were concerned, I had none. I did leave that year, but only because life took me to another city.
Americans are becoming braver. We are tired of being told that the sacrifice needs to lie in the laps of those who can least afford it. We are tired of the wealthy thumbing their noses at us, cutting our wages, our benefits, our jobs, our livelihoods, so their lifestyles won’t suffer.
Since I had that job, American citizens have lost even more power. As a nation of 300 million, our buying clout is dwarfed by the rest of the world’s billions. Jobs are being automated or sent overseas, but we do still have power. Without sales people, businesses will fail. Without technicians, businesses will fail. Without labor, businesses will fail. Without customer service, businesses will fail. I could go on, but if a business hires an employee, that employee is necessary to the success of the business. They are necessary in growing the wealth of their employers.
Am I calling for a strike? I can’t presume to know what is feasible for any individual, but it might be the only way to push the reset button on 30 years of income redistribution.
They’re doing it in the UK, where 700,000 public sector workers will see their jobs cut by 2017. These words might be music to Republican ears, but in a country a fifth our size, there will be 700,000 fewer people contributing to the economy. In response, the British people are calling for the largest strike in three decades, two million workers.
We’re starting to see it here, with Occupy Wall Street, but so far, just a fraction of the population has participated. There has to be a next step, one which will truly impact those who are thriving at the expense of the 99%. Is a general strike the next move for the US?