The applause for society’s vital workforce rings hollow. Give them a raise instead

The pandemic has now entered what anthropologists call the liminal stage, the in-between period where many possibilities open. Already, the crisis has kicked into gear measures that were unimaginable just weeks ago.

In Portugal, migrants are receiving full rights as residents. Yesterday, politicians argued that such humane policies were dangerous.

In France, supermarket chains are offering bonuses of up to 1000 Euros to reward employees showing up for work. Yesterday, managers had no money for pay raises.

In the UK, homeless people are allowed to stay in hotels free of charge. Yesterday, they were considered criminals.

And in the US, the government is requisitioning private industry to produce goods for the benefit of all. Yesterday, leaders trusted the free market to solve any problem of demand.

On a longer term, the reckoning of the pandemic should also mark the start of something even deeper, a new understanding of who actually matters in the workforce.

Blue-collar workers have always kept societies running, often at great personal sacrifice. Ironically, many of the very leaders who are now applauding health care workers have systematically undermined their demands for more resources, better labor conditions, even the right to organize. A video clip that is making rounds on social media shows how conservative politicians in the UK cheered as they voted to block a pay raise for nurses in 2017.


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