Void Where Prohibited

QOTD, from Corey Robin:

I wish academics, journalists, intellectuals, and bloggers had a more concrete sense of what it’s like to work in an actual workplace in America (not to mention elsewhere). Sometimes, it seems that scholars and writers, if they think about it at all, simply assume the typical workplace to be a seminar room, a newsroom, the cafe around the corner, or their office at home.

This quote introduces a fascinating piece Robin wrote in 2002 about the history of the bathroom break, which he posts in the link above. Did you know that, until 1998, American workers did not have the right to pee on the job, and that even now, there many workplaces where that right is not enforced? That sounds unbelievable, but it’s true; and if you read Robin’s piece you’ll find out why that actually isn’t all that surprising, given the heavy hand that feudalism, in the guise of the law, has had in shaping the modern American workplace. As Robin points out, the great achievement of the American labor movement is the extent to which it was able to overthrow the old feudal regime. Like Robin, though, I fear that these gains are in the process of being reversed, especially when I read about how many states are passing or considering various “right to work” bills and other anti-labor legislation. And the unabashedly feudal mentality that underlies shocking incidents like this one is enough to curl your hair.

Kathleen Geier

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee