By Paul Wilcox
Published Aug 18, 2010 2:42 PM
One thing the superrich hope to gain from high unemployment is a grateful and submissive working class. They hope those still working will feel so privileged and thankful to have a job that they’ll do anything to keep it — doing extra work to make up for those laid off, accepting cutbacks in wages and benefits, and being generally happy and compliant doing whatever is demanded of them on the job.
But flight attendant Steven Slater, by his inspiring actions Aug. 9 aboard a JetBlue aircraft, broke this fantasy and expressed the feelings of millions of workers who don’t feel so lucky being taken for granted and abused by their employers, or by anyone.
Slater, after reportedly being cursed over and over by several abusive passengers and slammed on the head with an overhead luggage cover by one, responded in kind to the passenger who had verbally abused him. Over the intercom he is said to have thanked “those who have shown dignity and respect these last 20 years,” and then stated, “I’ve had it,” and left the plane via the emergency slide at Kennedy Airport in New York. With flair, Slater grabbed a beer or two on the way out.
A working-class James Bond could hardly have been more dramatic or to the point. He was arrested on several charges, but his story was just beginning.
Overwhelming public support
An “in-your-face” working-class folk hero was born, instantly. Within a day, tens of thousands of people declared themselves supporters of Slater on Facebook and other websites. Donations to cover his bail of $2,500 and his legal defense poured in. For example, as of Aug. 15, over 268,000 people have responded to an MSN poll, the big majority voting Slater “a hero.”
There were also 7,646 written comments that were overwhelmingly in his support. “He did what all of us want to do,” was the most common response. It seemed as if every workplace was abuzz with opinions of what happened, most very favorable.
The big business press, normally hostile to any type of working-class protest, was forced to give national coverage — although articles critical of Slater began to crop up. No matter. Slater stated, “I think something about this resonated with people. I’m overwhelmed and very thankful.” Slater’s actions, and the avalanche of support he received, were no accidental affair. It was a response to the worsening conditions of all workers who serve the public — from flight attendants to transit workers, maids, custodians, nurses, wait staff, retail workers and so on.
Business owners love to cut jobs and services and let the remaining workers bear the brunt of the extra work and a frustrated public. After all, the owners don’t have to face the public. They just reap the benefits of their cutbacks and cry all the way to the bank when there are complaints about the consequences.
But the response to Slater’s boldness showed a glimpse of the underlying resentment that this exploitation has caused. Underneath it all is the latent belief that any worker has a right to his or her job, and the right not to be abused on that job. No worker should feel so desperate for their job that they have to put up with racism, sexism, anti-gay/lesbian comments, or any other nasty or condescending attitudes from the boss or the public in general.
Steven Slater’s actions struck a blow for working people in all walks of life.
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