Nickel And Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America, By Barbara Ehrenreich

790 words - 3 pages

In her book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001), Barbara Ehrenreich performs a social experiment in which she transplants herself from her comfortable middle-class life and immersing herself in the plight of the “millions of American’s (who) work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages” (Ehrenreich, 2001). Her goal was to explore the consequences of the welfare reform on the approximately four million women who would be subsequently forced into the labor market, expecting to make only $6 to $7 an hour. (2001 p.1) Her experiment eviscerated the idea that the American underclass was lazy, and the lie that American’s could live healthy, productive lives on minimum wage. On the contrary, she proved underclass Americans to be among the hardest working of the classes, and effectively illustrated the nigh impossibility of these people to break free of the cycle of poverty and find a way to improve their situation.
Ehrenreich draws quickly upon Marx when formulating the rules for her experiment, “…I had to take the highest-paying job that was offered me and do my best to hold it; no Marxist rants or sneaking off to read novels in the ladies’ room” (Ehrenreich, 2001), and while her only reference to revolution is the 1989 “Velvet Revolution by Frank Zappa” (Ehrenreich, 2001 p.37-38), she effectively attempts to stage a revolution of her own when Holly, one of her co-worker’s at a cleaning service, injures her ankle on the job (2001p.110-111). Though her attempt to get Holly to rebel against her manager and seek medical attention ultimately fails, her values could not have been made more clear. She clearly stands with the humanity of the worker and will call for the overthrow any authority that denies this humanity.
The Marxist concept that “the exploitation of workers arises because capitalists own the means of production…and treat labor as if it were just another inanimate factor of production” (Hodson & Sullivan, 2001 p.8) is impeccably illustrated when she details her hiring process for the same cleaning company. She recounts her uneasiness during the vacuuming portion of the video, arising as the video gives instruction for actually wearing a backpack like vacuum cleaner. (2001, p.74) Indeed, the degradation of the employee into “another inanimate factor” (Hodson & Sullivan, 2001, p.8) is complete...

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