Using double standards to judge economic issues is not a liability for anti-labor pundits – it’s a must. Case in point: The recent meltdown on the Fox Business Network by a trio of conservatives outraged by a union contract negotiated between the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council and the Hotel Association of New York City. That seven-year agreement will raise 30,000 hotel employees’ salaries to just under $60,000 per year by mid-2018.
The outcry came on a “Union Watch” segment of Varney & Co. Host Stuart Varney and guests Sandra Smith and Mark Simone saw in the contract’s provisions some of the telltale signs of what’s ruining the republic: middle-class wages, health care without premiums or co-payments, free dental care and free vision plans. Characterizing the union’s proposals as “demands,” Smith denounced them as “a nightmare for everyone who has to foot the bill.” That term “foot the bill,” of course, is the same kind of doubletalk used by conservatives whenever they complain about taxpayer support for Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, etc.
By deploying this phrase Smith implied that, somehow, the “everyone” who pays hotel housekeepers’ wages includes America’s taxpayers. It doesn’t. The people paying the maids are New York’s privately owned hotels – who are making handsome profits, thanks in no small part to their housekeeping staffs.
On the other hand, when trumpeting tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, Fox commentators are ever at a loss to mention who has to “foot” the resulting economic mayhem those harebrained schemes would entail.
Picking apart the linguistic torture chambers of Fox commentators has become a kind of road-trip game for progressives, a pastime one notch above playing license plates. What is more important than revealing the Right’s hypocritical vocabulary, however, is to expose the philosophy their coded language serves.
Fox pundits typically charge that behind every government entitlement program lurks a reckless impulse to reward the indolent, undeserving mob with free goods and services. This astigmatic view of humane government is coupled with a business ideal in which industrialists pay no taxes and there is no minimum wage or laws against child labor. Few on the Right will openly say this, or admit that a “romantic” view of owning other humans’ labor lies at the heart of complaints about having to pay fair wages to workers or maintain safe workplaces.
The Right’s war on maids began quietly enough last year, following the arrest of French politician and then-IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Writing in the American Spectator, Ben Stein lamented the unflattering portrait of Strauss-Kahn that emerged in the wake of accusations that he had sexually assaulted a housekeeper in Manhattan’s Sofitel Hotel. (The case against Strauss-Kahn eventually fell apart and he was never brought to trial.) Stein, like many writers on the Right Bank of the political divide, assumes the worst about workers and hotel employees in particular.
“I have had hotel maids that were complete lunatics,” Stein wrote, “stealing airline tickets from me, stealing money from me, throwing away important papers, stealing medications from me.” Eric Lach, analyzing Stein’s column for Talking Points Memo, surmised that Stein’s true cri di Coeur had more to do with class disdain than advocacy for due process, citing as proof Stein’s comment, “This is a case about the hatred of the have-nots for the haves, and that’s what it’s all about. A man pays $3,000 a night for a hotel room? He’s got to be guilty of something. Bring out the guillotine.”
So when housekeepers – or anyone who has to depend on another person for a livelihood – assert anything, whether in court or across a negotiating table, it is a lie from dusk to dawn. But when the wealthy, whether they are defending their business practices or running for president, say they have only altruistic intentions, Fox News pleads for credulity.
This contradiction was on shameful display when Stuart Varney and his crew sneered at another “demand” of the housekeepers, namely, to be given “panic buttons” to use in case they are assaulted while on the job. Radio host Mark Simone, who announced that “it was shocking how much they get,” said housekeepers should instead do what subway workers do – carry two-way radios.
“I don’t think it’s an altogether bad thing,” allowed Sandra Smith, who for a split second appeared to be going rogue. “Guess what – it could probably prevent hotel maids from lying about situations.” Which, no doubt, might save some poor CEO from the guillotine.