The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Where Are the Missing Workers?

Oct 31, 2021

“We can’t hire enough workers.” That’s the excuse when a store or the post office keeps you waiting in long lines. That’s the excuse restaurants give when your meal comes to the table barely warmed in the microwave.

Every time you are put on hold and wait for a customer service representative to come on the line, it’s the same thing: “We can’t hire anyone. People don’t want to work.”

September was supposed to be the end of this supposedly unreasonable attitude. September 1 brought the end of supplemental and untraditional unemployment benefits. Without benefits, people would have to work. September was also the magic month when schools reopened and women, freed of childcare, must rush back to work.

But September came and went. October has now come and gone.

Instead of more people, there were 200,000 fewer people in the workforce this month than a month ago. So, all the evening news can do is repeat the same tired line: “Where are all the workers?”

Yes, where are they? What happened?

What happened is that during the Covid shutdown, bosses didn’t keep paying people if they couldn’t squeeze profit out of them. Seventeen million people were cut—and bosses didn’t hire new people. And what does this show? Only that this is a system based on profit, not on human need.

During the last two years, some people died, more people than usual because of Covid. Some people retired, as they always do. Maybe more. Some people, whose meager Social Security check kept them working, may have decided, at age 78, they wouldn’t do it anymore. Whatever the reason, people were gone.

So, when bosses whistled for people to come back to work, some didn’t come. Today, according to the Wall Street Journal, there are still “five million missing workers.”

The workers aren’t missing. The bosses didn’t hire to make up for those they knew would leave. They didn’t hire, and they didn’t train new people. Schools and institutes didn’t train new people. Nurses weren’t trained or hired. New carpenters weren’t, new electricians, new plumbers, new teachers. New truck drivers weren’t trained and hired. And assembly lines went on as they always have, running too much overtime, pushing work at too fast a pace, out of too few people.

When the bosses brought people back, they tried to do what they always do: push them to pick up the work of those not there. Wring more profit out of fewer workers.

Maybe some workers reached a point they wouldn’t do it. Maybe the five million “missing” workers are the quiet measure of a new resolve by workers to resist. Wouldn’t that be a good thing!

As for the schools—children may have gone back, but things aren’t regular yet. There still isn’t decent, reasonably priced childcare. With senior centers unsure and nursing homes risky, people are taking care of more elders in their homes. So, yes, people—mostly women, as usual—are still staying home to take care of others.

What do the bosses want them to do? Kill off their children and their wheelchair-bound aunt?

The workers aren’t unreasonable. The bosses are; the bosses and their whole system. It’s called capitalism, this unreasonable system.

It’s a system that turns around the bosses’ theft of the value workers create with our labor. A constant struggle goes on, with bosses pushing to see just how much they can steal. But what happens finally rests with the workers. We are the ones who do the work, produce the goods, provide the services. That puts a power in our hands when we begin to mobilize. Our class can bring the bosses’ system to a crashing halt. We have the possibility—because there are so many of us and because we do the work—we have the possibility to create a new system, more humane, based on our needs.

Does it seem like a far-off dream? Maybe. But that’s how things change—people who dream, tired of the way things have always been, begin to act.