Labor Day 2007: We come to bury workers, not to praise them
It is Labor Day. In honor of this day, I would ruminate for a while on the state of the working person in this country.
I am the daughter of working people. I am the granddaughter of working people. I watched my father either get up at 4:30 each morning and trudge off to the first shift or come home at 11:30 from the late shift nearly every day of my life. For over thirty-four years, my father worked on the aircraft that ferried people around the country. I watched my mother get up even earlier to make his lunches of fried bologna or fried Spam or pork chop sandwiches-- no fear of cholesterol there, obviously-- and thermoses of coffee, and wash his incredibly dirty clothes.
Dad sometimes came home from work covered in tiny metal shavings that would scrape everywhere that they had gotten under his clothes. For years, anytime I would see him without the dark blue work shirt, dark khaki pants, and black Red Wing shoes, I would know it had to be the weekend. When he wore a pair of sandals my brother bought him after he retired, I almost recoiled in horror. He did not enjoy this work, but he did it because that's what men did. He was tired a lot. He worked hard. My mother worked hard.
I was able to be the first person in my family to complete college because of union wages. I was able to get braces on my teeth because of union wages-- and my mother's scrimping. It was union wages that made it possible for millions of people to gain a foothold into the middle class.
Yet whither the American worker? For the last twenty-five years, it has become the fashion to denigrate the American worker as lazy, as incompetent, as a toady of organized crime, as fat and ungrateful, or as wild-eyed socialists. Countless politicians have curried the favor of corporations and their deep pockets by chanting this mantra repeatedly, and the most puzzling thing of all to me is, some working people themselves have voted some of these Judases into office.
My father was one of these people-- voting for some clean-cut, vacuous talking-heads that had never worked a hard day in their lives because they promised to bring "morality" back into the publc sphere. Twenty-five years later, I don't see morality being any more prevalent-- far from it. Let us not discuss the inadvisability as well as the impossibility of legislating morality in a free society (witness, please, all of the recent scandals regarding so many of these paragons of virtue). Instead, let us consider morality. How is it moral for children of working people to have no health care? How is it moral for worker productivity to be up but real wages to be at their lowest point since 1947?
After twenty-five years, why haven't all these politicians delivered upon their promises to re-order society according to their so-called moral mandates? Could it be because, if they were to end access to abortion or actually balance the federal budget (HA!) or actually deliver on any of the other empty talking points they cynically employ, people might wake up and realize that their own economic self-interests have been destroyed by these very same politicians? Might the voters suddenly see how those politicians are are the trollops of corporations, but dependent upon the votes of the workers?
I was reading about the use of H-2B visas for the last two days. Thousands of foreign workers have been brought to the US to do work that employers supposedly can't find Americans to do. In the story, the majority of the workers were brought up to the US to work manicuring the lawns of people in million-dollar homes. Ahhhh, the irony.
Why can't these employers find American workers? No one considers that pay might be the problem, not the hard work. The employers advertise for American workers, and get few responses, but perhaps the fact that they're advertising for landscaping workers in February might have something to do with the lack of response, as well. That's how early they have to advertise in order to then show that they can't find Americans so that then they can get the authorization to go south of the border and recruit workers.
There is no such thing as a job Americans won't do. There is such a thing as a job Americans can't afford to do on the salary offered.
God bless the working man and woman. They deserve much more than a day off from work. They deserve our respect. They are the backbone of our country.