The Roots of the Roman Republic of the Great Resignation – Produce Blue Book
It is increasingly likely that labor unrest will be one of the biggest problems, if not the biggest, of this decade.
It reminds me of the secessio plebis of ancient Rome.
Although generally forgotten, ancient Rome began as a republic. (We also forget that the Roman Republic was the model for the American Constitution. Just an example: what was the name of the legislative body in ancient Rome? The Senate.)
The Roman Republic lasted from (approximately) 509 BC. AD to 27 BC. J.-C., date usually given for the foundation of the Empire.
Anyone who reads the history of those 500 years realizes how stormy they were. The population was divided between the patricians, the small ruling class, and the plebs, who were all the others (the source of our word “plebeian”).
The patricians made most of the decision, at least initially. Over the centuries, the plebs gained more rights, but they had to fight hard for everyone. Sometimes this involved a massive general strike: the secessio plebis, or “withdrawal of the plebs”.
When the plebs had had enough, they simply stopped working. Since they were doing all the work to begin with, things stalled. Usually the patricians had to give in. This has happened five times in the history of the republic.
Commenting on this situation, the great political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli wrote: “In every republic there are two opposing factions, that of the people and that of the rich, and . . . all the laws made in favor of liberty result from their discord.
This largely sums up the current political situation. One could see the Great Resignation as a sort of secessio plebis. The labor upheavals show every chance of continuing for years, if not into the next decade. They will cause many dislocations, even the restructuring of political boundaries and affiliations, as is already happening.
Machiavelli understood that this is an inevitable part of the process, although of course it is not pleasant.
This trend certainly affects the fruit and vegetable industry, like all the others.
What made me think of all this? The growing frustration of truckers with their pay and working conditions.
It’s simplistic to think this is all the fault of the coronavirus, but it wasn’t. The coronavirus has only made matters worse.
Currently, truckers are agitated against long waiting times at ports. A shortage of cranes and crane operators leads to enormous waiting times. Since most truckers are independent contractors, they are not paid by the hour, but by the job. A twelve-hour wait is physically, emotionally, and financially expensive. (See here).
It also seems pretty clear that the agricultural products industry isn’t exactly at the top of the heap when it comes to supply chain priorities.
Addressing the issue in a speech at the Port of Savannah, Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said, “In too many environments, from warehouses to ports, there is no cost to wasting a trucker’s time . We have to solve this problem.
There is a movement underway, led by the Truckers Movement for Justice, to get truckers paid for every hour worked. Their motto: “All hours worked, all hours paid”).
You can see this situation from several angles. The most objective is probably to see it, as Machiavelli did, as a struggle between countervailing forces. For decades, management had the upper hand and, following the gospel of Milton Friedman, could return profits to shareholders instead of increasing employee salaries. Now these positions are reversed.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Your answer will depend almost entirely on your own role in the US economy.