What can you do when your employer exploits you?

Last week, we talked about the emerging anti-work movement and why it contradicts both common sense and the Bible. Click here to read that post. Today, we’re continuing the series by tackling one of their most significant grievances: corporate exploitation.

Human Decency

The entire point of a business is to make money. Nobody wants to work for free (least of all the anti-work folks). This applies to business owners as much as it does to employees. But when greed or a hopelessly large infrastructure comes into play, individual humans are easily forgotten. It’s no secret that large companies tend to lose sight of their lower level employees on the path to success. The focus on cash flow seems to increase as a business grows, while the focus on quality service to customers and fair treatment of workers seems to fade. What you end up with is a lot of very successful corporations pinching pennies and squeezing every last drop out of their workforce to ensure they never fall behind the competition.

I sympathize greatly with those who have suffered under abusive bosses, bad work conditions, or exploitative companies. More and more stories are coming to the surface about these problems, and I’m glad the word is getting out. If companies treat their employees in a manner that isn’t in accordance with the law, the government should put a stop to it. But you shouldn’t count on the government to fix everything. They’re pretty bad at it, actually. Instead, you should let these companies know where you stand by using the buying power of your wallet and your time. You see, I’m a supporter of the free market, and despite what you’ll hear from anti-work folks, it’s key to a balanced economy where worker rights are taken seriously.

The Power Dynamic

The free market works by allowing choice. I get to choose to work for myself or someone else. Business owners get to choose who to hire and how to treat them. The beauty of this is that plenty of problems solve themselves. The uncomfortable part is that this can cause some swings in the economy.

Let’s take a look at the recent Kellogg’s situation. About 1,400 workers went on strike while their union negotiated with the company. A deal was not reached, so Kellogg’s stated they would plan to hire replacements for workers who went on strike. This created enormous backlash in the public, resulting in people spamming their hiring website with fake applications and eventually crashing it.1 The governor of Nebraska and President Biden spoke out against Kellogg’s actions and encouraged further negotiations.2 On the anti-work subreddit, people called for a boycott of Kellogg’s. One user found these stickers on cereal they had delivered to their home.

Kellogg’s workers were fed up, but not enough to quit.

Eventually, Kellogg’s agreed to resume negotiations and a deal was reached that provided better wages and benefits to employees.3 This is the free market at work. When someone doesn’t like what they are paid, they can leave their job. If enough people threaten to leave, they can use that leverage to demand higher wages. If negotiations fail, they can spread the word about how bad it is to work at Kellogg’s. If that message gets out and enough people refuse to work for them or buy their products, Kellogg’s is forced to raise wages or suffer huge financial losses.

This is all well and good. Most people cheer for the common man and his struggle against the rich jerks exploiting him. But the truth is that the free market works both ways, and that’s a good thing. When people are willing to work for a lower wage, Kellogg’s can offer a lower wage. When people want to work for them, Kellogg’s has the power to negotiate in their own favor when dealing with unions. When Kellogg’s doesn’t feel like a deal is worth it, they can refuse and simply hire more workers. When their current workers are angrily slapping stickers on cereal boxes, but still showing up to work for a low wage, Kellogg’s can ignore them.

Why is this a good thing? Because it’s what allows people to become so successful in America while simultaneously keeping them in check, to an extent. Insofar as people are paying attention, they have a lot of influence over the market. The power dynamic between employers and employees is not intrinsically unfair. Now, I understand frustration with government subsidies and loans to businesses, among other things that mess with the market. They prop things up artificially and it’s not healthy in the long term. If a company is failing or a product is rising in price, I say let it happen. That’s how the market is supposed to work.

Misguided Authoritarianism

At the end of the day, I have no problem with the anti-work movement encouraging people to negotiate for higher pay, leave exploitative jobs, or boycott shady businesses. I think it’s important for everyone to be aware of the power they have in the market and to wield it appropriately. My concern is that, for a large portion of them, this isn’t enough. They want the government to raise the minimum wage to an absurd level (which is another example of artificially propping up the economy). They encourage each other to lie to their employers. Strangest of all, they are somehow convinced that the very system giving them power is the cause of all their problems.

Ah yes, capitalism is to blame for my poor choices.

This is a meme from the anti-work subreddit. It’s one of the most foolish and backwards arguments you’ll find there. A movement taking full advantage of the free market wants nothing more than to tear it down. They’ve fallen head over heels for the communist fantasy of the lower class rising up and overthrowing capitalism so they can curb stomp all the evil CEOs. They don’t just want fair wages, they want free money. They don’t just dislike rich people, they want to violently steal from them. They don’t just want better benefits, they want to be free from obligations they agreed to.

But we’ll get to all this in future posts. For now, we ought to keep in mind just how significant our role is in a capitalist society where trade is king. We have the power to demand better jobs through unions and boycotts. We have the power to alter entire industries by spending our time and money elsewhere. We ultimately have the power to influence the direction of our country’s economy. And as Uncle Ben once said, with great power comes great responsibility.

Next week, we’ll talk about why inflation isn’t as big of a problem as you might think (yes, really). Enter your email below if you want to be notified when that goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.

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  1. Jonathan Franklin, “Redditors are spamming Kellogg’s job portal in solidarity with its striking workers,” NPR, December 10th, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/12/10/1063112624/redditors-spam-kelloggs-job-portal-striking-workers-union (accessed December 16th, 2021).
  2. Corinne Moore, “Kellogg’s facing political pressure to resume contract talks,” Wood TV, December 14th, 2021, https://www.woodtv.com/news/national/kelloggs-facing-political-pressure-to-resume-contract-talks/, (accessed December 16th, 2021).
  3. Scott Neuman, “Kellogg’s union members ratify a new contract, ending a nearly 3-month strike,” NPR, December 21st, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/12/21/1066326419/kelloggs-union-members-ratify-a-new-contract-ending-a-nearly-3-month-strike, (accessed December 21st, 2021)