Ted Rall: This Is What Exploitation Looks Like

BreakingModern — This is what exploitation looks like: The world’s wealthiest corporation rakes in billions of dollars, and pays its executives hundreds of millions, while the workers who make its products are paid slave wages, overworked and so abused that they often commit suicide.

But millionaires can be exploited, too.

It’s hard for most people, whose real salaries have gotten eaten away by an inflation rate the government and the media systematically downplay while they struggle to pay off the debts they accrue in one recession after another, to feel sorry for top athletes, some of whom earn millions of dollars chasing and hitting balls.

1024px-Kobe_Bryant_8But you can be sure that the Los Angeles Lakers made more off Kobe Bryant than the $61.5 million they paid him last year. Lakers management calls that profit. From Bryant’s financial standpoint, however, at least some of that differential is exploitation — in other words, he deserves more.

We should view it that way, too.

Unless you get that it is possible for any worker, even one whose pay makes him or her a one percent of a one percenter, to get ripped off by an avaricious employer, you don’t understand basic labor relations.

When they think about exploitation, most Americans think of working-class workers literally worked to death by rapacious corporate interests, as with the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster a few years ago. Then there’s the wage-fixing conspiracy led by Google and Apple, who saved billions of dollars on wages by illegally refusing to poach each other’s employees, which reduced upward pressure on wages in Silicon Valley by sucking cash out of the pockets of tens of thousands of tech workers in Silicon Valley. The fact that the average Mountain View coder earns upwards of $100,000 a year in no way mitigates the fact that Google and Apple screwed them over big time.

Banking on their time-honored divide-and-conquer strategy to separate the working classes from more-privileged white-collar employees, the super rich and ultrapowerful bank on intra-class resentment and ignorance of labor relations to exploit their victims.

Last week provided another example in the form of Spotify CEO Daniel Ek, who responded to singer Taylor Swift’s complaint about the music-streaming service’s low payments to musicians by pointing out that she earned $6 million a year (before she yanked her songs off).

Ek’s statements ought to be studied by high school debate teams for their use of red herrings.

“Spotify has paid more than $2 billion to labels, publishers and collecting societies for distribution to songwriters and recording artists,” Ek said. “A billion dollars from the time we started Spotify in 2008 to last year and another billion dollars since then.”

Perhaps so, but how does that address the complaints of Swift, and pretty much every other musician on Spotify? $2 billion sure sounds like a lot of cash — but it’s also possible that it isn’t nearly enough. Swift, who by all accounts is a smart businessperson, didn’t leave Spotify just to make a point. She left because her number crunchers have determined that she can make more off Spotify than on it.

Ek goes on: “Any way you cut it, one thing is clear — we’re paying an enormous amount of money to labels and publishers for distribution to artists and songwriters, and significantly more than any other streaming service.” But, again: so what? Paying a lot, paying more — the question is, are they paying enough?

According to Spotify’s own website, musicians receive “between $0.006 and $0.0084″ per listen.

Spotify’s rival is Pandora; things don’t seem to be much more artist-friendly there. Musician Zoe Keating is popular on Pandora. But “after her songs had been played more than 1.5 million times on Pandora over six months, she earned $1,652.74. On Spotify, 131,000 plays last year netted just $547.71, or an average of 0.42 cent a play,” reports The New York Times.

Korean pop star Psy’s record-setting video “Gangnam Style” was watched 1.2 billion times on YouTube, which paid him $8 million. That’s a lot of money in general, and a fraction of what he deserves.

Though some found nits to pick, the blog rant by Cracker/Camper van Beethoven singer “My Song Got Played On Pandora 1 Million Times and All I Got Was $16.89, Less Than What I Make From a Single T-Shirt Sale!” is hard to beat as a Spotify-sure-is-run-by-shits elevator pitch.

Or, to be charitable about it, idiots. Because, like, if your business model is that even if your artist gets a million listens you can only spare them less than a night at the movies without popcorn, or you can’t afford to remain in operation.

Spotify — an eight-year-old company, so this is a big deal — is starting to turn a profit. Like Huffington Post and similar aggregators, it is building its company on the backs of slave labor.

“Know Your Rights,” urged The Clash. I say: know your enemy. Working people have more in common with Kobe Bryant than the Lakers and ought to make common cause with Taylor Swift in her battle with Spotify.

According to published reports, by the way, Daniel Ek is currently worth more than half a billion dollars.

In his case, however, it’s likely a case of an employee ripping off his employer.

For BMod, I’m Ted Rall.

Image of Kobe Bryant: Sgt. Joseph A. Lee derivative work: JoeJohnson2 (Kobe_Bryant_7144.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ted Rall

Author: Ted Rall

Based in New York, Ted Rall is an award-winning political cartoonist, essayist and Pulitzer Prize finalist. He covers news, justice, music and privacy for BreakingModern. Follow him @TedRall.

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