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Disconnect

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Lydia DePillis embraces the job-destroying self-checkout counters at grocery stores. I’ve railed against this before for stealing jobs from workers, often unionized workers affiliated with the UFCW. I usually like DePillis’ writing, but this shows the same blindness toward real workers in real jobs that affects the rest of Wonkblog. Most of the writers are good on larger policy issues. But they do a terrible job connecting these larger policy goals with the actual lived lives of the American working class. This is especially true when technology comes into play, which is always and uncritically embraced as a positive good in our technological fetish society. Sometimes at Wonk Blog, this inability to connect policy and real workers comes through in Dylan Matthews’ open anti-unionism (at least in fact whenever labor struggles come up, if not in theory), more often in this kind of blissful ignorance how the embrace of a certain type of technology that seems so cool (and allows us to ignore real humans and of course creates higher profits for grocery store gazillionaires) actually affects the American working class.

Being a grocery store clerk is no one’s idea of an easy or particularly enjoyable job. You spend a long day on your feet, dealing with cranky people, mean people, crazy people, people who don’t know what they are doing, technological problems, jerk managers, etc., etc. But as a unionized position, it is a way for everyday people without college educations to rise into something like the middle class. The United Food and Commercial Workers helped make this happen. I’m writing from an airport and I have to run to a plane so I can’t look this up, but I would be very curious to see how unionized shop owners have embraced these technologies and how many union jobs have disappeared because of them. DePillis doesn’t mention or consider these issues at all.

In other words, you have to deal with the working class as they are, not the abstracted working class you wish you have. If you choose to embrace these technologies, you have a moral duty to at least be aware of the impact upon working people and then deal with that fact.

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