Sweat

by

Lynn Nottage

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Sweat: Act 2, Scene 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
July 17, 2000. Eight years earlier. In the news, easing eligibility requirements allows more Reading families to receive free and reduced school lunches. Several large U.S. corporations develop more leadership opportunities for minority employees. In the bar, Stan and Oscar look on as Tracey, Chris, Jason, and Jessie yell at Cynthia, demanding to know what’s going on. Cynthia pleads with them to stop shouting and says that she’s been fighting for them—she had no idea Olstead’s was going to ship off the three machines. Tracey accuses her of avoiding them, but Cynthia says she’s been in meetings trying to get answers—she’d lose her job if management knew she was talking to them.
Again, the contrast between local and national headlines shows that despite general progress being made in the U.S., communities like Reading are struggling financially both in 2008 and 2000, emphasizing the unique hardships that the working class continually faces. Tracey and the others’ anger at Cynthia exemplifies the toll that this financial struggle can take on people’s personal lives. Additionally, the fact that most of Reading is feeling this strain makes others less supportive of Cynthia achieving upward mobility for rather than more so—desperation seems to breed resentment rather than solidarity.
Themes
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Cynthia reluctantly reveals that Olstead’s is going to renegotiate the floor workers’ contracts, and they’re prepared to fight for significant concessions. Tracey says that they’re not afraid to strike in response, and Jason and Chris agree. Cynthia says that long-time employees are at risk of being fired because they get paid the most, and Olstead’s can’t afford this “burden.” This outrages Jessie and the others, but Cynthia explains that due to NAFTA, Olstead’s could simply move the factory to Mexico, where workers will happily work longer hours for a lower wage.
Olstead’s sudden and rather callous demand for concessions (likely reduced pay or benefits) shows the fickle nature of blue-collar work: despite their hard labor, the floor workers at Olstead’s can have their livelihoods diminished or eliminated without notice. Additionally, Cynthia’s comment about NAFTA foreshadows potential hostility between the white workers and Reading’s Latinx community, as the latter are likely to be stereotyped as a collective threat to the former’s job security.
Themes
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Economic Strain and Race Relations Theme Icon
Jason and Chris try to reassure the others that the union will fight for them, but Cynthia counters that the union can’t bring the machines (which she believes were sent to Mexico) back. Management is saying that it’s too expensive to operate the U.S. plant, so Cynthia urges her friends to meet them halfway unless they want to lose their jobs entirely. Tracey is incensed—she demands that Cynthia back up her claims that she’s on their side with action.
Again, it’s understandable why the Olstead’s workers feel so incensed and disillusioned with the company—they’re seemingly being sacrificed for the sake of profits despite their often decades-long dedication to the company. Tracey’s outrage at Cynthia shows just how personal this kind of situation can be: when people’s livelihoods are at risk, perceived betrayals between old friends are even more serious.
Themes
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
Cynthia goes on to break down what’s going to happen: floor workers will take a 60-percent pay cut and concessions on their benefits to save jobs, and Olstead’s will lock them out if they don’t accept. At this, Tracey exclaims, “Fuck you! Fuck them!” and declares that she’d sooner burn the factory down than allow Olstead’s to take away her livelihood. Jason and Chris back her up. Cynthia says that now that they know what’s coming, they must decide how they’ll vote.
The specific concessions highlight just how dire the situation is: the floor workers will have to sacrifice nearly half their pay as well as some of their benefits to keep their jobs, essentially validating the workers’ feelings of being disrespected and undervalued by the company. It’s significant that Tracey lashes out at Cynthia (“you”) specifically before Olstead’s as a whole (“them”): since Cynthia is Tracey’s closest tie to management, it seems she’s become the scapegoat for the higher-ups who actually made the call to lock the employees out.
Themes
Working-Class Disillusionment Theme Icon
Relationships, Status, and Resentment Theme Icon
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