Political Animal


March 10, 2012 3:13 PM Void Where Prohibited

By Kathleen Geier

QOTD, from Corey Robin:

I wish academics, journalists, intellectuals, and bloggers had a more concrete sense of what it’s like to work in an actual workplace in America (not to mention elsewhere). Sometimes, it seems that scholars and writers, if they think about it at all, simply assume the typical workplace to be a seminar room, a newsroom, the cafe around the corner, or their office at home.

This quote introduces a fascinating piece Robin wrote in 2002 about the history of the bathroom break, which he posts in the link above. Did you know that, until 1998, American workers did not have the right to pee on the job, and that even now, there many workplaces where that right is not enforced? That sounds unbelievable, but it’s true; and if you read Robin’s piece you’ll find out why that actually isn’t all that surprising, given the heavy hand that feudalism, in the guise of the law, has had in shaping the modern American workplace. As Robin points out, the great achievement of the American labor movement is the extent to which it was able to overthrow the old feudal regime. Like Robin, though, I fear that these gains are in the process of being reversed, especially when I read about how many states are passing or considering various “right to work” bills and other anti-labor legislation. And the unabashedly feudal mentality that underlies shocking incidents like this one is enough to curl your hair.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • bigtuna on March 10, 2012 4:46 PM:

    ok asshole. I am an academic. At times, I work on drill rigs, pulling 20 hr shifts; I work in gold mines, breathing diesel exhaust in 100 + degree temps; some of my colleagues ride ships for weeks on end, puking their guts out. Last hear I and my students spent several nights on a drill rig in a blizzard. On an easy day, I drive 4-5 hrs, work with students fo 10, drive another 2-3, then meet with more, and then get back a day or two later to teach.

    Our students work in all sorts of industries, agencies, etc., so Mr., or Ms. Robin, can have a nice, comfy, warm house, affordable gasoline, and electricity.

    Oh, by the way. I have not had a pay raise in 5 years. My insurance premiums go up evey year, and I am god damn happy just to have a job.

    So, mr., or ms Robin, don't give me anymore of this bullshit about how we academics have is so easy, or don't know what the real world is like.

  • James E. Powell on March 10, 2012 4:56 PM:

    The lack of empathy is widespread in American culture.

  • seriously on March 10, 2012 5:34 PM:

    Much of the push for raising the retirement age comes from these same "academics, journalists, intellectuals, and bloggers." I doubt if you'd get the same viewpoint if you asked machinists, waitresses, truck drivers, and janitorial workers.

    And I'm not certain what kind of academic "bigtuna" is, but I'm betting it's not a professor of English.

  • Doug on March 10, 2012 6:17 PM:

    Big Tuna, perhaps you should get more sleep? AND work on your reading comprehension. I quote: "Sometimes it seems...".
    That is NOT a blanket assumption about ALL writers, scholars, pundits, bloggers or academicians. It IS a remark about what the writers has encountered while reading about work conditions as written by SOME (that "sometimes") writers, scholars, pundits, bloggers or academicians. James E. Powell's remark about lack of empathy is, unfortunately, too accurate.
    And it isn't limited to writers, scholars, pundits, bloogers or academicians, either...

  • pj in jesusland on March 10, 2012 6:25 PM:

    I would be careful not to draw to many conclusions about workplace conditions from the behavior of one drunken, bigoted Darien Aryan.

    This story reminds me that in 2008 a cab driver named Mazhar Nazir was shot to death in Tysons Corner, Virginia by an apparently drunk Penn State Grad and former Lockheed systems engineer who didn't have $75 for his cab bill. Yet I have witnessed Lockheed employees using the bathroom without interference from their bosses.

  • Nancy Cadet on March 10, 2012 6:38 PM:

    Our weekend guest blogger makes a good point: unions can bring a measure of equity to our work environments and the "opinionators" are generally not well informed in how one lives the daily struggle, even if , like David Brooks, they pull down big salaries from the New York Times, and pretend to know what the average person wants and thinks, or should want and think.

    An example of cluelessness:twenty- thirty years ago I and a small group of part time and full time instructors began the long task of reforming our union of academics by forming an opposition party and contacting the people who worked there. Do you know that our insurance coverage paid for "Weight Watchers" memberships for all full timers but not birth control prescription for eligible women? The entrenched leadership , all male, response was that "birth control is a lifestyle issue." of course, we reformers understood it as essential for women in the workforce.

  • mudwall jackson on March 10, 2012 6:43 PM:

    "So, mr., or ms Robin, don't give me anymore of this bullshit about how we academics have is so easy, or don't know what the real world is like."

    i guess you missed the "he" in the first sentence after the quote.

  • JW on March 10, 2012 6:56 PM:

    I think it's in Modern Times in which Chaplin is seen grabbing a smoke in the company bathroom, when the Boss suddenly appears glaring down from a screen and barks, "Hey you! Get back to work!".

  • Kathryn on March 10, 2012 7:24 PM:

    On an unrelated note, don't normally watch Meet the Press as I strongly dislike host, but tomorrow he has as guests Gov.Martin. O'Malley of Maryland and Gov. Bob Mc Donnell from Virginia. Recently, they shared a forum where O'Malley ripped McDonnelll to shreds, caught him off guard, could be interesting though McDonnell will be more prepared. No doubt Gregory hoping for fireworks. If I''m not mistaken, McDonnell is the head of the Republican Gov. Group and I know Gov. O'Malley heads the Democratic group, could be interesting.

  • Crissa on March 10, 2012 7:39 PM:

    Yes, I've worked a job without bathroom breaks. It makes you wonder what the boss was thinking, honestly. Work doesn't get done better while one needs to pee. Sure, we can try to schedule peeing... But it doesn't always work. What's worse is jobs that don't seem to schedule breathing or stretching, either.

    I've also had jobs that required me to arrive 15 minutes early, but not clock in until the hour struck. That should just blatantly be illegal.

    But apparently it's more reasonable for the legislature to have to argue about these sorts of things instead of a judge just saying, 'this is not reasonable'. What's a reasonable person to do?

  • Kenneth D. Franks on March 10, 2012 9:30 PM:

    I've worked as many different types of jobs as anyone I know. From part time jobs at a real sawmill, a full time job at a saw mill, working construction, residential, industrial, federal government, U.S.D.A. Forest Service, state government, county government, city government, Texas school districts, a business or two I have owned and some I have operated. I retired a member of T.A.F.T. (Texas American Federation of Teachers). I joined it, an affiliate of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. as well as the musicians union, also affiliated because of working conditions and to have someone to advocate for my rights as a worker. We can not let huge corporations take away the rights we have advocated for for my entire lifetime. Republicans want to disassemble and repeal "The Affordable Healthcare Act." We can not let that happen. Http://kennethdfranks.blogspot.com/ Red Dirt & Sand

  • bmoodie on March 10, 2012 10:06 PM:

    I totally sympathize with the sentiments of the post, but on the point about feudalism, I'm afraid you've got the case a bit historically backwards. If you read Seymour Martin Lipset or, earlier, Tocqueville, on the Europe-US contrast, you'll see that the US's lack of feudalism has left us without the sense of noblesse oblige on the part of the elite that humanized the originally much more inegalitarian European societies. Tocqueville writes that, if the U.S. ever becomes more unequal than Europe, its elite will be spectacularly cruel and self-righteous, unredeemed by any feudal sense of responsibility to the lower orders. And he was prescient. It's the price we pay for our thoroughly Liberal (19th century meaning) ideological heritage.

  • Patango on March 10, 2012 10:31 PM:

    Kathryn , thanx for the heads up , We need O'Malley and other dem govs. up front and center on the airwaves exposing what state GOP are up to , all the way to nov.

    How about our corporate out of touch media filling the air waves with praise about billionaire americans , who have made mega millions by manufacturing their products in over seas slave states...They all get a pass , are told how brilliant they are over and over again , and any negative piece about who they really employ will never see the light of day on any major network , they have been rewarding these people so long now , no one even questions it...

    Then they show case all the CHARITY WORK they supposedly do , I do not bother watching it any more , it is all so out of touch , and outrageous

  • Texas Aggie on March 10, 2012 11:05 PM:

    I had planned to explain to bigtuna that he is what is known in academic circles as an outlier hoping he would understand the term, but others have done an effective job of shutting him off. Good on them.

    I've worked a number of manual labor type jobs, but all of them have been either agriculture or piece work so I have been able to schedule my own breaks for when I need them with no boss looking over my shoulder. I can't imagine what life must be like for some guy in the line at a slaughterhouse whose boss is an asshat. If there were ever a need for unions, it's to remedy abuses like that, and I doubt that pitstops are the only abuse that is going on. Being forced to work off clock at WalMart comes to mind.

    The point that bmoodle makes about the lack of noblesse oblige in the US seems to me to be right on the button. There are some people who still practice it, George Romney comes to mind, but the vast majority of the 1% are the exact opposite, Mitt Romney and the banking industry come to mind.

  • Tyro on March 10, 2012 11:59 PM:

    don't give me anymore of this bullshit about how we academics have is so easy,

    I'm an academic, and I have it pretty easy. The worst part of my year is about whether my reviews will be any good and how I'm going get funding.

    No one ever told me I couldn't go to the bathroom. So, yeah, while I'm pretty stressed, it's pretty easy compared to working in a warehouse.

  • mnmnc on March 11, 2012 10:31 AM:

    The worst part of my day in a southern regional dept. store in a military town in a "right-to-work" state is in the breakroom while my otherwise likeable and hard-working co-workers try to explain to me why they vote republican. It's torture.

  • zandru on March 11, 2012 11:47 AM:

    Wow, Dr. bigtuna - are you a geologist, or what?

  • Northzax on March 11, 2012 1:35 PM:

    Academic really covers a lot of ground. I think those this post is referring to are of the 'white paper' set, both in traditional academia and NGO-think tank-lobby shop-corporate variety. I spent a decade in that world, now I've moved to retail (management, but still) the biggest change? The loss of contact with the white collar world through those media we all take for granted, email, chats, fb, etc. because I'm not at a computer for eight hours a day, I miss all those communications, banal as they may be. It's taken a while for my friends to remember that, and to reach out to me other ways. It's a minor thing, but a symptom of the divide, anyway.