The Diminishing Fruits of a Banana Republic

More than 50,000 casino employees from Caesar’s Entertainment — which account for Aria, The Bellagio, Circus Circus, Excalibur, Luxor, MGM Grand, The Mirage, New York-New York, Mandalay Bay, the Delano and Monte Carlo Hotel & Casino — have threatened to strike over “wages, workplace training and job security as casino-hotels turn to technology that can displace workers.”

Update: Union leaders have reached “tentative labor agreements with two companies that employ most of the 50,000 employees,” and are now in negotiations for similar contracts to cover the remaining workers.

I write about the labor, unions, and wage inequality all the time. I do so because it affects everybody, regardless which political party they happen to support. It’s the ultimate bipartisan issue. Since both parties are beholden to corporations, and since both support legislation that favors big dollar campaign contributors over ordinary people, Democrat or Republican is not the point. It’s more of a distinction without a difference.

Casinos

Talk of striking in this industry hits close to home, because I also happen to work in a casino. I am reminded every day of the low-wage workers who are responsible for running the day-to-day operations — the cooks and housekeepers, the hotel front desk people and the porters, the bartenders and public security officers. Without them, the show does not go on.

There was a key omission in the Caesars employees who are not showing solidarity with those aforementioned low-wage workers: the dealers. The reason for this should be somewhat obvious. Dealers at places like Aria, The Bellagio, MGM Grand, Luxor, and Mandalay Bay, have some of the highest toke rates in Las Vegas. They all pool their tips, which is a nuisance, but on average they make anywhere from $200 to $300 per day. In Nevada, where there is no state tax, where property and the cost of living are cheaper (than where I live in California), that’s a solid paycheck.

If California casino employees ever banded together, which wouldn’t be easy since we have no union, and since individual tribes own the casinos and sovereign land — there isn’t one umbrella corporation like Cesars that owns several properties — I fear the same script would be followed. The minimum (and sub-minimum) wage employees would strike, the dealers would all aimlessly look around, and have to admit to themselves that joining a picket line would hurt them more than it would help.

I can’t blame us, as a group, for that. But as a policy I think it’s shortsighted. Dealers (specifically in Southern California) happen to have one of the best jobs in the casino; we make more money annually than most of our managers and executives, yet we aren’t strapped with the responsibility of having to answer to the big-wigs. The table games power structure — here, in particular — is an inverted pyramid, and I can’t think of another department in any industry that’s similar.

But if we as dealers ignore the plight of those making the beds in the hotel rooms, or cooking the food in the buffet, or cleaning up the shit that guests leave behind, then who is to say that our conditions as workers won’t one day decline as theirs have? And who is going to be there to stand with us once that day comes?

We have it easy. Every other department has it worse. I could bitch and complain about being part-time and not receiving benefits, but I’m also making like $40 an hour. I can’t imagine the cooks and cleaners making minimum wage, getting nothing in tips, who work harder and deal with more shit on a day-to-day basis. Even more depressing: most of them have no choice. They are predominantly immigrants, and many speak little or no english. They are the most powerless among casino personnel, because most are just happy to be here. They are the last people who would revolt against the establishment.

I wouldn’t be able to support these people on a picket line, because to do so would be occupational suicide. I feel cowardly admitting as much, but it’s true. Unless a strong percentage of dealers joined in, and agreed that a problem for any casino worker is a problem for all casino workers, I would be easy to terminate and replace. Moreover, I too would end up blackballed from the industry. If I tried looking for a job elsewhere all it would take is an easy phone call, word getting back that I was on a picket line trying to rally the troops, and that would be the end of my dealing experience.

It’s sad, but it’s certainly the position I’m in. Dealers in Southern California go for their own tips; they don’t share. That creates something of an every-man-for-himself mentality, meaning there is very little solidarity within the group. To then expect dealers to show solidarity with other departments is complete fantasy.

I daydream of the day, as is happening currently in Las Vegas, when the forgotten casino labor begin their uprising in California. Given the outrageous cost of living, it’s a minor miracle that it hasn’t already happened.

As a dealer, I feel we owe some responsibility to these workers. Since we perceive ourselves occupying a position of strength — we already make enough that we don’t have to strike for anything — we ought to appreciate that and support all those who don’t have it as good. Because if the floor is raised for everybody else, how does that hurt us? It can only help.

American Labor Movement

Never forget that the goal of any corporation is to make as much profit as possible. I don’t hate them for this, it’s just fact. They capitalize on a system that allows them to exploit the labor. If they can get away with paying employees dirt wages, to execute jobs that are easy and cheap to replace, then that’s exactly what they are going to do. They are going to take, and take, and take, until ultimately the workers decide enough is enough. In California, where prices of rent and gas are through the roof, where public transportation is either inaccessible or unrealistic (given that most people live 15 minutes or more from where they work), it isn’t easy to survive on 10 bucks an hour. I don’t know how they do it.

I am a 28 year-old white man. I don’t have to deal with the sexism and misogyny that many women face, and I don’t have to deal with the racism and soft bigotry that many black and brown people regularly experience. These are real issues that America — and the world at large — is confronted by, and it will probably take several more generations before these problems are eradicated to a point I’m comfortable with.

In the meantime, there is really only one issue: Class struggle. It’s workers vs. corporations, us vs. them. Lots of free-market, Ayn-Rand types make admirable attempts at justifying why wealthy people are wealthy (because they earned it!), and why poor people are poor (because they are lazy!). These people believe any progress by way of giving everyone better healthcare, or raising the minimum wage, and poof. Overnight the United States would turn into Venezuela.

What they fail to understand is that America was once a place of prosperity, and the economy was at its strongest when corporations were taxed more heavily, when workers got a bigger cut of the profits they generated, and when financial institutions were regulated more aggressively. Before Ronald Reagan, the corporate tax rate was over 70%. After he passed the infamous Reagan Tax Cuts, selling the dream of trickle down economics to a middle class that, at the time, was thriving, the corporate tax rate fell to 27%.

Unsurprisingly, the economy has never been the same since. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer, and the middle class got virtually erased from existence.

What Leftists argue for, economically, at least, is not a magic unicorn that has never before been attempted. It’s not a new idea to socialize healthcare, or to raise the minimum wage, or to expand Social Security. There is nothing new about any of that. Those are old ideas. And the crazy part is, all those old ideas worked.

The point is, you can’t tell me that big businesses like casinos don’t have the money to pay their workers better wages. Massive, publicly owned corporations like MGM Grand ($31.35 per share) and Caesars Entertainment ($12 per share) get traded like 10 million times a day; they are worth billions of dollars. For those at the top, even if their workers get a bump in pay, life will remain just fine.

But the free-market, Ayn Rand types will continue apologizing for these grossly mistreated and misunderstood billionaires. They will continue spewing bullshit about how raising taxes, and increasing labor costs, will make people less motivated to start businesses and get rich. They will continue saying that poor people are poor by choice, because “if they don’t like being poor they should just go get a better job.” They will continue to say that workers should all be so lucky, because it’s only by the good graces of the billionaires that allows them the wonderful opportunity to make dirt wages and not be able to afford anything.

That isn’t freedom. And it is not moral. Amazon owner Jeff Bezos is worth $130 billion dollars, pays nothing in federal taxes, and can’t afford to pay his workers a decent wage. The Walton Family (who owns Wal-Mart) is worth more money than the bottom 40% of the American population, and they can’t afford to pay their workers a decent wage. Worse: their labor are paid so little that a healthy percentage require government assistance, so these behemoth corporations are actually costing taxpayers money.

The trend of the modern-day American Labor Movement is moving in the right direction. Teachers all around the country have gone on strike, and they’ve won. These Las Vegas workers mounted a solid enough threat to strike, and they won. Last weekend Bernie Sanders was at Disneyland to rally their workers to strike, and if they go through with it they will also win. When workers come together, they can’t lose.

I don’t have a difficult life, which is ultimately the reason I have a heart for people that aren’t as fortunate. I’m single, I don’t have any kids, I make enough money to where I can put some away every month into a Roth IRA, and I have more leftover to piss away on entertainment and food when I feel like it. That is where I’m coming from, so you should never feel sorry for me.

The people to feel for have families. They make $20,000 or $25,000 a year, have to buy groceries, feed kids, pay rent and utilities, pay for gas (and/or a car), and have nothing left in the bank at the end of the month. These are the people who need their jobs more than anybody, and oftentimes the jobs they fulfill are the worst of the worst. The ones no one else is willing to take. They are the most desperate, poor, and powerless group.

If you feel the proper way to deal with these people is to say Fuck ‘Em, or shame them for being poor and for working shitty jobs, that’s fine. I don’t have the stomach for it myself, but this is America and you can feel how you want.

For me, I feel the young have some responsibility to the old, which is why the idea of tax dollars going to Social Security was with the intention that one day you, too, will be old, and you may need to lean on young people.

Likewise, when it comes to healthcare, I feel the healthy should have a responsibility to the sick. That’s why we pay taxes for Medicare and Medicaid, with the idea that one day, you, too, will be sick, and you may need to lean on healthy people.

So, yes, I feel the rich should have some responsibility to the poor. In 2018, poor people are pretty fucking poor. 50% of the country earns $30,000 per year or less, and 60% of the population doesn’t have $1,000 in the bank for an emergency. Meanwhile, wealthy people are living as well as they ever have; the corporate tax rate is 21%, as low as it’s ever been. The stock market is at an all-time high. Union participation is as low as it’s been since before The Great Depression, meaning the corporations aren’t burdened by the needs of their pesky workforces.

The system is designed to reward those already at the top, and to squash those without the means of ever getting there.

One of the silver linings of having Donald Trump in office is that ordinary people, like me, and like many of you, are finally awake to the system that brought us here. They may not be interested in the American political system, and they may not understand the reality of corporations literally buying politicians through campaign contributions, but they are aware that they are getting a bad deal. They see all the wealth being accumulated by those at the top, they see the stock market reaching milestone after milestone, they turn on the news and listen to millionaire anchors on Fox and CNN and MSNBC telling them the economy is booming, yet they wonder why none of that money ever arrives back in their pockets.

The Labor Movement is about workers coming together and receiving what they deserve. It’s not about Socialism, or Communism, to raise wages by a few bucks at a time. The billionaires aren’t going to miss that money, and the United States won’t suddenly turn to ruin if workers earn a sliver more of the cut.

Change is always happening, but over the last 40 years the changes have all been to reward the winners and crush the losers. This article is one in a long line of articles about workers receiving their due because, without us, the billionaires would not be what they are.

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