Last week on its Room for Debate page, the New York Times hosted a discussion called “Was Marx Right?” One of the participants was Doug Henwood. He notes that in the 1970s, the working classes were getting awfully uppity:
After three decades of seemingly endless prosperity, workers had developed a terrible attitude problem, slacking off and, quaintly, even going out on strike.
This graph Henwood posted on his site last week supports that last observation. What’s especially notable is that, as Jefferson Cowie points out in his fascinating book, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class, a lot of those strikes were wildcat strikes — initiated by the rank and file and not authorized by union leaders. There were a raft of work stoppages and slowdowns as well.
In an era of declining profits, there was only so much of that kind of thing that capital was willing to put up with, and so down the hammer came, hard. We’ve been living with the consequences ever since, in the form of economic policies that have created fantastic wealth for the one percent but destroyed the economic security of working and middle class people.
What does all this have to do with Kacey Musgraves?, you may well ask.
Well, in his piece, Henwood mentioned that during that time of working class unrest in the 1970s:
It’s no accident that Johnny Paycheck scored a No. 1 country hit with “Take This Job and Shove It” in 1977 — utterly impossible to imagine today.
Indeed. That comment got me thinking about contemporary country music and Kacey Musgraves. I’ve written before in this space about my unabashed Musgraves fandom. One of the best songs from her debut album of last year, “Blowin’ Smoke,” is about working a job you hate. The contrast with the classic Johnny Paycheck song couldn’t be more stark.
Paycheck was all about telling the boss where to get off. Musgraves is about dreaming of quitting but sticking with the job anyway, because you have to: “We all say that we’ll quit some day/But we’re just blowin’ smoke … Out here goin’ broke/We’re just blowin’ smoke.”
Lyrically and musically, it’s one of Musgraves’ best tunes — it rocks. The video, posted below, is also excellent. Keep in mind, as well, that the workers in that diner are tipped employees, which means it’s likely that they’re making the tipped minimum wage, which is $2.13 an hour. Goin’ broke, indeed.