Obedient Workers

Pat McCrory wants you for truck driving school
McCrory at Epes Transport in Greensboro

I had no idea Pat McCrory was so enamored of truck drivers.

“I’m very impressed with the people who can drive trucks and are qualified to drive trucks,” the governor said last week in Greensboro. “I don’t know how you back it up, I don’t know how you go forward, I don’t know how you park it, I don’t know how you drive such long distances.”

That’s a peculiar statement—I’m no truck driver, but I think the way you go forward is to put it in gear and hit the gas—designed to make a larger point. North Carolina desperately needs technical workers, machinists and truck drivers and electricians, to fill the “skills gap” between what the market demands and what a state full of liberal arts majors is able to provide, McCrory says.

“We’ve frankly got enough psychologists and sociologists and political science majors and journalists,” he said at Epes Transport, the first stop of his “1,000 in 100”—that many businesses in all 100 counties—workforce development tour. “With all due respect to journalism, we’ve got enough. We have way too many.”

This as news outlets everywhere are shedding jobs like mad. Ha. And I suppose we don’t have enough business consultants like Pat McCrory?

But the real issue here is that the so-called “skills gap” is a lot more ambiguous than McCrory would have you believe. The evidence comes from the state’s own Commerce Department.

The department’s Labor & Economic Analysis Division, along with the N.C. Association of Workforce Development Boards, releases an annual report on employer needs, based on a broad survey. The 2014 report, released last month, shows that the skills employers demand aren’t just technical ones.

For instance, the industry with the most difficulty hiring workers isn’t transportation but educational services. The occupations employers have the most trouble hiring for aren’t truck driver or technicians but sales reps, cashiers, and nurses. Manufacturing is a significant part of the overall equation—the state does need more skilled machinists and welders—but it’s hardly the only sector.

And why are employers having such trouble hiring? Lack of education and relevant work experience top the list—not surprising, given a labor pool based on textiles and furniture manufacturing and no jobs available in those fields—but also a low number of applicants, applicants’ unwillingness to accept offered wages, and lack of “soft skills.”

First: What kind of lousy wage would compel someone who’s unemployed to turn down a job or decline to apply in the first place? (It’s not whether you have a job—it’s whether your job pays enough for you to live on.)

Second, “soft skills” are things like communication and an ability to get along with others, the kinds of skills humanities help build. McCrory’s demonstrated more than once, and publicly, his dim view of the humanities as leeches on an education system that needs to train … well, more truck drivers. Teach them useful skills, you know, like how to make the truck go forward, and possibly back.

But there’s something else, I suspect, behind McCrory’s stated distaste for the idea of more journalists and lawyers mucking it up for a state of salt-of-the-earth workin’ folks. Corporate America—and Pat McCrory is nothing if not corporate—has always loved the idea of a society made mainly of worker bees who never bother to ask why.

No one has ever illustrated this more beautifully than George Carlin [emphasis mine]:

“Forget the politicians. The politicians are there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control all the corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the state houses, the city halls. They’ve got the judges in their back pockets, and they own all the big media companies, so they control just about all the news and information you get to hear. They’ve got you by the balls! …

“But I’ll tell you what they don’t want. They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. That’s right. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago. They don’t want that. You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers. People who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shitty jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime, and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it …”

This was from an HBO special in March 2008, before the crash. Back then, I thought it was slight hyperbole. Now I see it as understatement.

Categories: Poking the Hornet’s Nest