A couple weeks ago I wrote an article, ‘The Forgotten Working Class’, which is posted on this blog and other public blogs. In it I asked why aren’t we honoring those workers who are keeping the entire system from collapsing, not just honoring with nice words but with appropriate compensation to recognize the key role they’re playing keeping society going. And not just the obvious first responders, healthcare workers, fire and public safety workers–but many other categories of occupations just as critical. Workers who keep going to work despite the conditions and the increasingly obvious failure of the national government in Washington to manage the crisis. Just as critical occupation category is utility workers–gas, electric, water, waste pickup, and so on.
I recently received a ‘thank you’ comment from a water utility worker for writing the article. I’m posting his comment here. And posting as well my reply to him. In my reply I close with the comment that should the crisis worsen, we will depend on folks like him even more. Management and owners of many companies may abandon their operations. In such cases, the workers themselves must take over and ensure their utilities continue to function to keep society from imploding further. Yes, they’ll have to self-manage their companies. In the utility sector this will be more imperative and necessary than in most other industries. We can’t go without electricity, water, heat, waste pickup, no less than can we go without food production & delivery.
Readers should not think a further deterioration will not occur. Anything is possible given the political mismanagement of the country we’re now experiencing. US politicians are not getting control over the effects of the virus pandemic. In many ways, it’s getting worse, especially in the now politically dysfunctional US society and economy. There is virtually no testing (only 1% of the population has been tested). But Trump and the business forces behind him are pushing to open up the economy prematurely. They are willing to accept a certain number of deaths in order to keep their revenues and profits coming.
There are already signs that countries that thought they had the virus contained are now experiencing second waves of infection (e.g. So. Korea, Japan). This virus is not a simple respiratory virus like a flu. It increasingly appears as a virus affecting the blood-hemoglobin system in humans, causing breakdowns in multiple organ systems within the body via contagion through the circulatory system. There is little understanding as yet as to the nature of the virus. Nevertheless, Trump and his business buddies are in a hurry to open up the economy. That makes a possible second wave later this year likely. How will the economy stabilize should that occur? Not well.
History shows in crises like this–caused by war, disease, and social collapse–that capitalists and their managers often abandon their posts. Workers then must save their own jobs and take over the management of the operations of their companies. They must do this not only to protect their jobs, but in the case of utility workers, food workers, health workers, in order to protect all of us.
Here’s the ‘thank you’ comment from a water utility worker, followed by my own reply to him, thanking him and raising the demand that society’s thanks should be more than just nice words.
Hello dr. Rasmus,
I have just read through your much apricated article about the forgotten working class. I myself have worked in a water plant as a operator for the past 7 years and we were essential before it even because a popular word, we have to drive to work in level 3 snow emergencies when only first responders are supposed to be on the road because our job is ESSENTIAL. it has really burned me up of late that myself and other utility workers be it water, gas, or electric are completely forgotten about. They keep talking about fast food, and grocery workers getting more and more “rewards” but not a single thing about utility. In the essential workers wear capes bill that was purposed I didn’t even notice any mention at all about utility workers. It seems as long as someone has running water, lights are on, and heater kicks on… we don’t exist. I tried contacting my local senator about the issue, but as you can imagine was impossible. Then I came across your article and it was so refreshing seeing someone bring up these issues. Its about to get so bad at my plant that we are in talks discussing the operators live at work.. yes live in the plant for weeks on end. We have had our personal time canceled, and being able to take a sick day causes cascading issues to the other operators who have to pull extra hours to cover it even though we have a cover shift at all our plants they are already working extra hours as well. People say “your lucky you have your job” , well I have severe asthma and I go to work everyday risking infection like the other people who get noticed do.. But we get no credit at all, while we keep your utilities going. I signed up for this job knowing we were considered essential and had to go to work everyday no matter what was going on, but its so disheartening to see that no one in the utility field getting any sort of recognition during this time where jobs before weren’t considered essential while we were. It just goes back to the saying we have, As long as they have running water, they don’t even know we exist, but soon as it stops they yell to the heavens about it. Anyway, thank you for giving us some credit in your article, it was very apricated.
MY REPLY TO HIM:
I agree with you. And there should be not just appreciation but there should be special compensation for utility workers. Not just words but action. Without you (especially water) the entire economy would collapse in less than a week. Faster than if even the food supply were disrupted. Here’s the simple rule of thumb: humans can survive for only 3 minutes without air and oxygen. They can survive best case for 30 days without food. And they can survive only 3 days without water. 3 days. Sometime between 3 and 7 days, without water, the entire society enters chaos. Thanks to you and your brothers and sister utility workers, chaos is still held at bay. But you ought to be rewarded for it. At least time and one half emergency pay for all hours worked. And extra paid time off when (if) the current crisis is over, so you can do some R&R and recuperate from the stress. At let me say one more thing: if this crisis gets worse, companies and their senior management may walk away from the job. In that case, you workers must rescue us. I’m talking about taking over your operations and keep them going, for the benefit of the rest and indeed civilization itself. Don’t let them close it down. Take it over and managed it yourselves. You know how. Just keep that in mind.