As a culture, the United States does not at large value the labor movement. In fact it excoriates it for existing in general, with images of lazy union workers and corrupt union bosses. In this country we “value” individual hard work and being a “team player” – with the team always being management with a focus corporate profits. We value people who work hard and are always busy, because they are the people will reap what they earn. Our history reminds us however, that at one point a person could defy birth class, work hard, and rise up to another socio-economic group. It became the American dream, but mostly it has become the American lie.
Lots of jobs that were once protected by unions are non-existent or they are not part of a service industry that is handled by contractors. For example, think of the numerous janitors, food service, security guards, and other low-wage federal workers. They work for a contractor who gets paid by the government, then they pay their own employees. It is not a great system. But it sure makes it look like we have fewer federal workers! And while a strike means a lot of criticism of workers who strike, the shutdown was capriciously brought forth because of the demands and actions of one person.
During the shutdown one would often hear cries of “oh, they’ll get paid when it is over!” But the problem is that the contractors most likely will never see any back pay. They lost two paychecks which has been devastating for so many of them. This article in the Washington Post was painful to read. There is a bill (that may go nowhere) but if enacted would get back pay for those contractors. We can’t ignore that another shutdown may be right around the corner thanks to the unpredictable behavior coming out of the White House.
Right now I am doing a lot of thinking about work, overwork, underpaid work, and economic inequality and injustice. I’m also thinking about how we say our government can’t afford certain things, but we somehow can afford other things. I’m not sure where my thoughts will lead me, but I can tell you this much… justice for those at the lowest rungs, the people who are often told to “work harder” to get ahead, always seems out of their reach. And that does not make America very great at all. It makes the once cherished American Dream into an American Lie. May our elected leaders find their way back to helping those who elect them and not those who line their pockets with money and promises of power. We need more dreams becoming reality and less lies.
I’m reminded of the words of Isaiah, a reminder of God’s justice. May those who are in need, may those who were robbed of their ability to work be compensated fairly.
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, buy grain and eat;
Come, buy grain without money,
wine and milk without cost! – Isaiah 55:1