We're Mad as Hell

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Gross

And we're not going to take this!

On Aug. 9, Jetblue flight attendant Steven Slater gave new meaning to the term "exit interview." Angered at the boorish behavior of a passenger, he picked up the intercom, loudly submitted his resignation, grabbed two beers, and slid down the escape chute.

The same day, a front-page article in The Wall Street Journal documented the plight of employers who were shocked that people weren't interested in the jobs they were offering. The aggrieved included an Illinois company offering skilled machinists a below-market $13 per hour (about $26,000 per year), and an airline in Dubai that couldn't grasp why Americans weren't rushing to take up residence in a nondemocratic emirate halfway around the world for the irresistible annual wage of--$30,000.

For people of a certain age, such anecdotes evoke something like nostalgia. It was 1976, a time of similar economic hardship, when stressed-out newscaster Howard Beale--as played by Peter Finch in the movie Network--urged his viewers to stick their heads out the window and scream: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Two years later, Johnny Paycheck had a hit with the song "Take This Job and Shove It."

It may seem ironic that signs of employee dissatisfaction should emerge at a time of high unemployment, but it's hardly surprising. For the two phenomena--the poor labor market and workers' antagonism toward employers and customers--are actually connected. Employees are sick and tired of tough conditions and crummy salaries.

The economy has been growing for a year, and corporate profits have surged--Standard & Poor's estimates that income of the S&P 500 rose nearly 52 percent in the second quarter of 2010 over the same period in 2009. Much of that impressive growth has been driven by the remarkable gains in efficiency and productivity that corporate America has notched since the recession took hold. Last year, productivity--the ability to produce more with less--soared 3.5 percent, up from 1 percent growth in 2008 and 1.6 percent in 2007. Yes, companies have embraced the Gospel of Cost Cutting with missionary zeal--printing on both sides of the page, eliminating bottled water, turning off the lights. …