Call me old fashioned, but I remember a time when it took a lot for a billionaire to strike fear into the hearts of the American worker. They had to do something truly dramatic to affect the collective mood of the average middle class wage slave. Buy out a company just to close it down and sell off the assets. Put toxic chemicals into the water supply. Try to kill Superman. Threaten to launch nukes out of lair hidden in a dormant volcano staffed by men in matching jumpsuits. Host a reality show where Gary Busey and Gilbert Gottfried (RIP) sell stuff on the street.
And historically, it took a lot more than even that. In the late 19th century, Andrew Carnegie sent his hired guns the Pinkertons into the Homestead Steel Worker's strike to bust heads, and a private war broke out. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle exposed abuses in the meat packing industry including, though not limited to, employees falling into the industrial grinders and ending up on people's dinner plates. For two centuries Americans feared these powerful interests with good reason. They had the money and the control to exercise complete dominion over workers' lives. And they took full advantage of it.
It would appear the modern equivalent of that brand of terrifying corporate power is an eccentric South African entrepreneur buying a 9.2% stake in a social media outlet created as a platform for people to talk about The Bachelorette. And according to anonymous sources within the company, Twitter employees are SHOOK:
Bloomberg - Twitter Inc. employees were scheduled to have Monday off, for the company’s monthly “day of rest.” But Elon Musk made it hard not to think about work.
Musk, the billionaire who disclosed this month he’d become the largest individual Twitter shareholder, backed away from a plan to join the company’s board over the weekend. Days earlier, Chief Executive Officer Parag Agrawal had laid the groundwork for a friendly relationship by inviting Musk to join the board. The company was so confident he’d accept that it listed Musk as a board member on its investor relations website. …
For some employees, the reversal signaled chaos. … The whiplash is overwhelming, employees said. The vibe among workers at Twitter is “super stressed,” with employees “working together to help each other get through the week,” some said, asking not to be named discussing internal company details.
In recent days, Musk has tweeted product ideas from eliminating advertising for members of Twitter’s subscription service to turning part of its San Francisco headquarters into a homeless shelter. Without a board seat, there are no longer restrictions on how many shares he can buy, or on his tweeting; one employee expressed concern that Musk was “just getting started, which is unfortunate.” Multiple workers described the situation as a “sh-t show.”
The horror. The horror. As if having your biggest shareholder joke about using your office building to help alleviate the existential threat of San Francisco's homeless crisis (because the building is largely empty as everyone is still working remotely and refusing to come back to the office) isn't bad enough. Now imagine losing your monthly "day of rest" at a time like this. It's unconscionable.
I mean, sure you can argue that American workers built railroads, highways, dams, and bridges like the Golden Gate in all kinds of hostile conditions. That they kept the factories working 24/7 under threat of attack from foreign invaders to be the Arsenal of Democracy in two World Wars. Even my mom help build US Naval vessels at the Quincy Shipyard. Not to mention the people jumping into forest fires in California to keep San Fran from burning to the ground like it did during the Great Earthquake.
But those jobs were all child's play compared to having a brilliant, colorful nerd with a 10% share of your stock Tweet about making changes. How can anyone be expected to keep earning their paychecks under those kinds of conditions? If Twitter, Inc. could get these employees to show up, we could send in grief counselors. Or at the very least, install some of those suicide prevention nets like they have around the cell phone factories in Asia.
The kicker is that in all this, Musk and Twitter have done the impossible. They've made regular working people largely root for the billionaire over the average hourly employee. Him even hinting he might do things like add an edit button and allow for a more reasonable policy on free expression without the fear of getting banned for opinions or even jokes is enough to turn him into a conquering hero. And the employees over-the-top, pants-wetting reaction to the very idea of him makes them laughingstocks. There's soft, and then there's Memory Foam soft. And that's what they're being.
And if you listen to business savvy people who understand such things, by declining the offer to sit on Twitter's board, Musk has just increased his chances of taking control. Because if he had joined, the rest of the board could put restrictions on how much he stake he can purchase. But staying on the outside, he can basically buy up as much as he wants. I truly believe it's bad karma to root for anyone to lose their jobs and I hope everyone at that company comes to their senses and just go back to earning their living. Especially when you see how many other much harder working Americans have lost their livelihoods the last two years. But even more so, I'm rooting for Musk to make this power move. It would be the best thing to happen to free speech since the Bill of Rights.