The Button Workers
By Donal Mahoney
Since the United Nations passed the Universal Right to Work Law in 2093, Skewer International has brought back from other planets thousands of migrant workers on its company spaceship.
On the last trip, Manfred, an interloper, somehow boarded the ship even though he lacks one of the prerequisites for a United Nations green card--namely, a button in his navel that can be turned off to prevent him from speaking.
The navel button is a requirement of companies on Earth for any interplanetary worker. Manfred talked incessantly while the company pilot flew from planet to planet taking on board hundreds of other migrant workers, all equipped with navel buttons. His job was to bring them back to Earth to work in potato fields all over the world.
"Manfred, will you please quiet down," Wally, the pilot, said. "You're keeping the others awake and it's tough on my concentration. There are lots of planets and I wouldn't want to land on one that has no workers waiting to get on board. I'd waste a lot of fuel taking off again."
"I'll do the best I can," Manfred said. "I never got a navel button like the others so it's hard for me to keep quiet. But I'm a darn good worker. All I want is a chance."
The United Nations' version of a "green card" allows migrants to work in any nation. Talkative Manfred is unaware that he will be sent home on the next spaceship that leaves Earth to pick up more workers. Once he has a navel button installed, he can apply again to come back to Earth for a job.
"No navel button, no job," Wally whispered to himself. "A long day's journey into plight."
In 2093, the demand for button workers continues to grow among farmers in the United States, Italy, China, Tajikistan, Moldova and Belarus. Other countries are expected to begin hiring them as well.
The workers are valued by institutional farmers because migrants don't complain about working conditions or low salaries the way domestic workers often do. And the button workers don't need health insurance or retirement benefits. If a button worker gets sick, he or she goes back to the home planet on the next spaceship. And when they are too old to work, it's back to the home planet as well.
"They're always surprised," Wally thought to himself, "when they get sick or old and home they go, the same way they came. It saves companies a lot of money. If they die in the fields, however, they're put on a company pyre. It's a cookout, as one manager calls it."
At the present time button workers, no matter the nation in which they work, do only one kind of labor. They plant and harvest Yukon Gold potatoes 12 hours a day. During their workday, they have their navel buttons turned on so they can say yes to the foremen on horses overseeing their work and giving directions.
"Let's get a move on" is typically what workers hear from foremen. And they respond by working faster. Domestic workers don't respond like that. They're apt to protest, maybe even picket. And pickets around the potato fields won't get the Yukon Golds planted or harvested. The button workers can be counted on to get the job done. They have no idea what "unions" were before legislation led to their disintegration.
At night, with their buttons turned off, the workers head back to their sheds for a bowl of cabbage soup before they bunk down for the night. Libations are limited to water. On Sundays, each worker gets two bowls of cabbage soup and a Pecan Sandy cookie.
Monday through Saturday, reveille sounds at 4 a.m. when the foremen on horses blow trumpets, ready to lead the button workers back to the fields.
"Let's go, you buttons," the foremen yell between blasts on their trumpets. "The potatoes are calling."
Research is under way at several universities to fabricate navel buttons for domestic workers who perhaps can then be hired to work in the fields. The media remains critical of industry because the unemployment rate is so high among domestic workers.
But, currently, domestic workers are not an attractive pool from which to seek new employees because of the tumult created for many years by fast-food workers seeking a living wage. Their wages have never gone up but the workers now get an extra sandwich for every 8 hours they work.
"Some of them are barely skilled enough," complained one company president, "to put a pickle slice on a hamburger, never mind adding condiments as well."
Industry predicts that eventually farmers from every nation on Earth will hire interplanetary button workers and that they will soon work in factories as well. Manufacturing jobs will then be brought back to the land of the free and the home of the button worker.
Stock Market savants say the Dow Jones average will rise dramatically as a result. What more could anyone want in a free market economy.
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Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
The Button Workers
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