For the American living before 1800, a ‘wage slave’ was a mere step removed from an actual slave. To be an employee was one step above indentured servitude. You did it when necessity demanded, but only for as short a period of time as possible, and then returned to become more independent—your own boss.Conceptually speaking, wage slavery still is "a mere step removed from actual slavery". It might be argued that actual slavery is better. Think for a minute about being the property of, let's say, Donald Trump. He paid for you and thus has an investment in you. I'm sure he would take good care of his investment by seeing to it that you received good health care, shelter, etc., so that you could work for him as efficiently and productively as possible in order to increase his profits.
The story of how we became ‘wage slaves,’ and the multiple revolts against this station, is a fascinating one, and part of our ‘untold history.
People like Trump eventually realized back in the 19th century that it was much smarter to rent slaves than to own them. That way an owner could forget about taking care of their slaves and just rent new ones from a pool of unoccupied new slaves. Hence it became important for our ruling class of owners to insure that there were always many unoccupied, or "unemployed" slaves. Also, they thought it best from a public relations point of view to call wage slaves, "employees".
Otherwise nothing changed. They still had to follow the orders of their boss and had no say over what work they performed and how they did their work. During the 1930s the owners and their bosses, after many years of struggles with recalcitrant slaves, finally gave their rented slaves the right to organize for better slave wages and the number of hours that they worked. But they did this only because of widespread fear of slave revolts and many ideas about public ownership of the economy that were current at that time when the economy was in a state of collapse.
After WWII the owners embarked on an aggressive, and very successful campaign to effectively roll back many of the legal gains that wage slaves had made; and used other tactics to co-opt labor leaders and to educate the public on the evils of socialism and public ownership.
Now we have arrived at another economic collapse. I wonder what scenario will present itself in the coming years. Will the idle American wage slaves revolt or passively descend into poverty and despair? Are the American wage slaves so brainwashed by many decades of indoctrination by the media and the educational system that they will assume that their problems are their own fault, and hence do nothing? Or worse, engage in self-destructive behaviors, steal from others, or find fascist type leaders appealing? Of course, there is always the opportunity to join the military and "see the world". I hear that the military services are currently filling their quotas for the first time in decades. Or they could work toward changing the system to something that was sustainable and just. Stay tuned.