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View Diary: Are fast food workers worse off than servants 100 years ago? (109 comments)

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  •  Pros and cons (6+ / 0-)

    House servitude was pretty abusive.  You were expected to be up before dawn and not go to bed until after your employer did.  You were on call 24/7, maybe with one afternoon off a week.  

    You were fed, but usually minimally.  Cooks and housekeepers were expected to keep immaculate financial records and were not expected to splurge on food for the help.

    The very lowest rung on the domestic service food chain was the scullery maid.  Had to be up before all the other servants, wait on all the other servants, and shut up and do as told.

    Servants were in a very precarious position.  The slightest error and you could be dismissed without a "character" or reference.  In that case, you'd be unlikely to find another job in service and many turned to prostitution.  Sexual abuse of female servants was common, and if a maid got pregnant by her employer she'd be dismissed without a character and again join the ranks of prostitutes.  

    Servants were paid quarterly.  So it wasn't uncommon for servants to completely lack any money at all between paychecks.  Often the entire paycheck went to support parents and/or siblings.

    If the family went away to the country house or on a prolonged tour, servants left at home were expected to work a full schedule (in-depth cleaning, repair to the residence, and other messy chores) but were put on "light" pay because the family weren't there to be waited upon.

    Servants didn't even have the right to their own name - employers could call you something they deemed more appropriate if they didn't like your name.  For example "the footman is always named James" so if you took the footman position, you'd be called James even if your name was Matthew.

    So yeah, in a way house servant had fewer expenses than current fast-food workers.  But they had even less recourse to legal protections.

    We do not forgive. We do not forget. The whole world is watching.

    by Tracker on Tue Dec 10, 2013 at 07:57:59 AM PST

    •  A big difference is that for many people, domestic (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gooderservice, worldlotus, Creosote

      service was a survival job.  It helped you survive.  If you didn't have that option, you'd  be on the street, or doing something worse like prostitution.  

      Yes, it was precarious with regard to potential arbitrary dismissals and to sexual harrassment of female servants.  But you got room, board, and (depending on the house), clothing or a uniform.  It was better than starving or selling oneself, and those were distinct and ever-present threats.  

      It also presented certain social opportunities, depending on the employer and the place where you lived.  Your kids might get handmedown clothes from the family.  You might get a little extra food for them.  If your employer liked you and were kindly, you might get small bonuses on holidays.  You even might get help with your kids' tuition.

      Today we have the issue of people who work several jobs, with fast food being one of them.  Fast food isn't even survival work.  And you have to pay your rent, and buy your clothes, and find a way to get to your job or from one job to another on time, and still take care of your kids and everything else that modern life demands that you do.  And all you get from your fast food employers is minimum wage.  Not food, not clothing, not help with your kids, not the possibility of a bonus.  

      That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

      by concernedamerican on Tue Dec 10, 2013 at 08:18:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  And, as an aside, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GreenMother, worldlotus

      a few writers I know (who do their best to be as accurate as the story allows) have told me that the whole "The butler did it" meme was once a standard idea, because butlers (like other servants) were so badly paid, and often so badly treated, that for a servant to kill the master was the expected cause of death.

      Mind sets have changed for the middle classes quite a lot in the past century.  For the rich, though ... I have my doubts.

      I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

      by trumpeter on Tue Dec 10, 2013 at 08:39:54 AM PST

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    •  doesn't sound all that different from today (0+ / 0-)

      Up before dawn?  You will be if you don't own a car.

      You were fed, but usually minimally?  What's the point that the "Food Stamp Challenge" has been trying to make?

      Easy to lose your job and very hard to get a new one?  Same as it ever was.

      It wasn't uncommon for servants to completely lack any money at all between paychecks?  Wal-Mart is consistently seeing its late-month sales drop as people run out of money and/or food stamps.

      When the feudal system was breaking down - the various degrees of bound labor were being replaced with "free" wage labor and payment in kind (in both directions) was being replaced with cash - a lot of people were genuinely skeptical about it.  They worried that even the limited legal/moral responsibility that a lord had to his dependents would be eliminated, while economic reality would continue to bind the peasantry to the service and whims of the landowner.

      Domestic politics is the continuation of civil war by other means.

      by Visceral on Tue Dec 10, 2013 at 11:08:48 AM PST

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      •  Your 'credit score' (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NoMoreLies, scottdc, entrelac

        is the new character reference.  You can't even rent a car of your score is too low.

        It's a made-up tool of the banks, and needs to be killed off.

        Joy shared is doubled. Pain shared is halved. Spider Robinson

        by nolagrl on Thu Dec 12, 2013 at 06:43:04 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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