Friday, September 22, 2006

"Wage Slaves"

The phrase "wage slave" has been catching my eye lately:

From a comment on Curbed:

Not everyone is married to the subway system or has life that revolves around midtown. That is for wage-slaves like yourself.
From Millionaire Artist:
Money is freedom, and money will allow me to do my own creative thing without being a wage slave to someone else. To know more about money and how it works only empowers me as an artist.
From Wikipedia:
Wage slavery is a term used to refer to a condition in which a person is legally (de jure) voluntarily employed but practically (de facto) a slave.... Wage slave can denote a worker who has no choice in who they work for, or in the type of job they can get; either due to economic and geographic circumstances, or due to personal lack of competence or education.
I think it is a bit of a stretch, to say the least, to compare the status of most midtown Manhattan workers to slavery, though there are probably workers in the USA, often illegal aliens, who might qualify. What do you think of this term? What kind of money-earning does it apply to? Are people earning money from creative pursuits necessarily free of whatever the pressures are that make one feel like a wage slave? Do you think of yourself as a wage slave?


Anonymous said...

Admittedly, the term is somewhat distasteful. I used it to mean being in a work situation I feel I can't change and isn't creatively satisfying — but obviously that perspective on a job can only be changed by the holder. And, along with a shift in attitude, a shift in how one spends money so not to end up on a consumption treadmill...

Clearly my financial situation isn't dire. I am blessed beyond belief compared to many in this city alone.

I've never really considered the semantics of the phrase before so thanks for pointing that out. Perhaps its a phrase that needs to elminated.

Keep up the great blog.

Anonymous said...

For most people to whom the term "wage slave" is applied, "lifestyle slave" would be a more accurate description.

Single Ma said...

Since I haven't read the entire blog posts you are quoting from, it's hard to form an opinion without risk of doing so out of context.

However, based on the Wiki definition...

"Wage slave can denote a worker who has no choice in who they work for, or in the type of job they can get..."

I find it hard to believe that anyone who lives in modern day U.S. doesn't have a "choice."

mOOm said...

I do often think of myself in some way as a slave though I have a huge amount of freedom but I must work for my employer according to my visa or leave the country. Or get a new visa and start my green card application all over again (visa expenses so far are at $10k or so and 4 years of process so I don't really want to do that again). I will feel a great relief when my green card finally comes through and I will feel that I have more choice in life. This is a main driver behind my drive to achieve financial independence as soon as possible.

Dawn said...

I would say a slave is someone who has no choice and thereby say that an economy must rely on people working, it is like death and taxes, a part of life

However, we can become slaves to our debt or lifestyle as samerwriter said above me said...

I don't think we should rely too much on Wikipedia to define a common 'slang' term such as "wage slave".

The term IS in common use, and, at least here is Sydney, Australia, and it is used in a general, short-hand sense to indicate ANYONE who a) works for a wage, b) needs to work for said wage (ie. has insufficient means to quit work if they wanted to), and c) is unhappy with their job (This could be apply to almost any worker on a bad day!)

Before you get too literal about the definition, think about other common usage expressions, and what they appear to mean if you do a word by word definition
"burnt out" - "his job was stressful and he got burnt out"... is this taken to mean spontaneous human combustion when used in casual conversation? No.
"glass ceiling" - "she wasn't promoted due to the glass ceiling where she worked"...
"daily grind" -
etc. etc.

I find that a lot of slang/colloquial terms are very poorly defined in most dictionaries, especially recently adopted expressions. The same word/term can get differently defined in various dictionaries. The fact that a term is used often enough to warrant a place in the dictionary doesn't mean that is use has stabilised enough to be properly defined.

Final thought - consider the OED defintion of "slave":

• noun 1 historical a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them. 2 a person who is excessively dependent upon or controlled by something: a slave to fashion.

I think "wage slave" is thus as valid to use as "fashion slave" (a slave to fashion).

Disclaimer: I recently used the expression "wage slave" in one of my posts, so I'm biased ;)

mapgirl said...

When you read a book like Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, you start to figure out that 'wage-slave' is someone bound to wage-work without a lot of intellectual stimulation, choice of job opportunity, etc.

I feel like a wage-slave sometimes, but then I wake up and realize where I'm at. I know I can always find another job, but a true wage-slave probably can't.

Anonymous said...

I have always felt that a wage-slave was someone who just could not get ahead. They are living paycheck to paycheck. They don't have a safety net to fall back on. So if they are working a minimum wage job or whatever they don't have vacation time or sick days - you don't work you don't get paid. Being in that situation tends to limit your options. How can you look for a better paying job when you can't miss a days pay to do it? How can you improve your skills so you can get a better paying job if you can't miss a paycheck to attend a class or training session?

Then there are the folks who are limited by the opportunities that exist in their area - if you want to make enough to support your family you have to take certain work. I would use coal miners as another type of example of "wage-slaves". If the only decent paying jobs in your area are miners jobs - that is what you are forced to take. But I don't think if they have a choice they would take that kind of work.

Unknown said...

I agree with the guy who said most wage slaves are, in fact, lifestyle slaves.

Here in NYC, this is the typical wealth vs. income problem. Lots of folks in NYC make great money; many of those, spend every nickel they have and then some, and as a practical matter, are slaves to their jobs.

Chance said...

I so agree with the person who said "lifestyle" was the operative word, not "wage". And while I am not a literalist, and use "burn out" with abandon and as a metaphor, in my life there are some words so historically laden I just don't use them. Slave is one. Unless I am referring to a person sold like chattel, with force, and with associated physical, mental and/or sexual abuse. Interestingly, someone got in serious trouble last week at work for referring to needing a "data-slave" when he was requesting an intern's assistance in entering data. It was considered hate speech.

Anonymous said...

My main financial goal is to reach the point where I don't *have* to work for a paycheck...until then, I consider myself a 'wage slave.'