Labor Rights and Cultural Wrongs

Fast Food Strike: Union Square, NYC 29.08.2013

Fast Food Strike: Union Square, NYC 29.08.2013 (Photo credit: The Eyes Of New York)

Another Labor Day has come and gone. No doubt many of you have enjoyed your parades and picnics. You have guzzled back your brews, making the emergency trip to the store, or restaurant, to pick up last-minute supplies, food, and beverages. While you did so, did it even once cross your mind that those people preparing and ringing out your purchases are the very folks this day is meant to honor? Somehow I very much doubt it, but for the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, we have the opportunity to change that.

Since our last labor day we have seen a growing movement within the workforce for one of America’s largest and most abusive companies finally get organized, at least unofficially. In the meantime some of our most maligned workers have finally decided they deserve to be treated with some basic dignity and paid a living wage. This should be good news and certainly many of us see it this way, but as I look over comments made on news items about these wonderful events I see a certain disdain for the workers.

So often we read the words “unskilled” and make judgement on people who are gainfully employed. Leaving aside that there is no such thing as an unskilled job (and I would like to see some of the people looking down their noses at these folks do this work) why, in a country that places so much import on just having a job, would you cast someone who has found one in a negative light? They have done exactly what you have told them they must, and still that is not good enough for you? I just don’t get it.

Do we so desperately need to have someone at the bottom to hold ourselves higher than that we want to make sure those with the least opportunities are in a no-win situation? We rake them over the coals for accepting assistance, and then mock them for taking jobs that no one else wants. When they finally stand up for themselves we treat the idea of them making a living wage as something ridiculous and even offensive.

We need a change in the way we think in this country. We treat life, all life, like it is a competition and we desperately need there to be losers. After all, if there are not losers, how can we be winners. Well it does not have to be like that. We can all be winners. We can make sure that everyone has a fair chance at a job that will allow them to put food in their, and their children’s, bellies and roofs over their heads. We can  have a world, if we just change the way we think just a little we can accept that we are all worthy of a little human dignity, regardless of what we do for a living. These men and women have as much agency as any of us. They are people with the right to cut themselves the best deal they can, and when you are on the bottom of the economic totem pole, the only way to do that is to organize.

Maybe that’s why people are so willing to cast aspersions on these folks. Perhaps some of you are jealous because they have had the courage to do what too few of us have been willing to these past forty years since corporate America convinced both parties to whittle away at the power of the unions. They stand up for themselves and we feel ashamed. We should feel ashamed, for being too cowardly to demand our own rights as workers, and too selfish to recognize their courage. To all those Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, KFC and other workers out there: good on you guys, and solidarity brothers and sisters! Some of us will stand with you and drag the others kicking and screaming if we must.


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