Laboring

I can remember when Labor Day was about honoring workers.  I suppose it still is, in some circles.  At the top, however, the strategy is to give all the breaks to the wealthy and convince those they exploit that it’s for their own good.  In as far as Trump has a playbook, this is on page 1.  All around the community I see poor, exploited people with Trump signs on their houses.  And they’re big.  Great.  Never been bigger signs.  The policies he’s enacted, however, have taken money from their pockets and lined those of the wealthy.  Why do you think he refuses to share his tax records?  Tax fraud is a crime.  If you’re a laborer, anyway.

I grew up working class and I still think that way.  I’m skeptical, though.  I don’t take anyone’s word for it.  That’s what happens when you become a professional researcher.  Looking at actions instead of words is most instructive.  As my step-father used to tell us, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.  Just let him pick your pocket and tell you he’s been on your side all along.  Can Labor Day be anything other than a lie under such circumstances?  The American aristocracy has both a firm grip and tax incentives not to improve the lot of those who are barely getting by.  And yet we take a day off and pretend that everything’s fine.

Polls repeatedly show that those in power have no idea of the realities of the lives of the working class.  They can’t name the price of a loaf of bread and, especially in the present day, don’t care to.  Many people in the United States fear socialism.  Ironically, many of them are “Christians” who completely ignore the socialism of the book of Acts.  Early believers, the Good Book says, pooled their resources and shared everything out equally.  It’s a pity it didn’t last.  Nations with socialized medicine—the only humane way to live—have handled the pandemic better than those that rely on health insurance at the same time its own government is trying to dismantle the only plan that would cover everyone.  Why do we find it so hard to care for the workers?  Maybe this Labor Day we can stop and think for a little while where we’d be without those who actually keep things going.  And maybe in November we’ll vote to help them out.

What Labor Day used to be; courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Dawn’s Early

Early to bed, early to rise, and people’ll think you’re weird. At least in my experience. Making an island into the place where hundreds of thousands have to commute to get to work may not’ve involved a great deal of foresight. My bus leaves early, and I don’t argue. On the days when I work from home I still rise early—I’m old enough that constantly shifting schedules is more effort than it’s worth, so I like to greet the sun with coffee in hand and say to it, “what took you so long?” This time of year I like to jog at first light when I don’t have to commute. As I do so, I notice where the lights are on. You get an idea who sleeps in and who doesn’t.

With all the political nonsense about lazy immigrants, I wonder what time congressional leaders get out of bed. I sometimes go jogging before 5 a.m. The lights I see on at that time of day are often those of the apartment complexes where immigrants tend to live. The affluent houses of the white are generally dark. If you have the luxury of driving to work in one of your cars, you can afford a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest. Immigrants often take the bus. In fact, the majority of early morning commuters, it seems, are not the privileged classes. It may have been Benjamin Franklin who said “Early to work, early to rise,” but it was the foreigners who saw the wisdom of his words.

It’s a sad nation that denigrates its hard workers. I realize I’m looking in the mirror as I write this, but sitting at a desk all day is not hard work. My first job, starting at 14, was physical labor. Most of the time it was light enough—such things as painting curbs, bus shelters, or fences. At other times it involved sledge hammers under the hot sun. The kinds of jobs few people enjoy, but which are necessary. Jobs that don’t pay well, but will keep you alive. Now I sit behind a desk and have to jog just to stay healthy. I see the monied in Midtown walking slowly to their expensive health clubs where they can sweat and let other people see. And I know that there are many out there—immigrants mostly—who are sweating from doing the jobs that likely pay less than the membership fee for this swank gym. And I wonder which is healthy and wise. The wealthy part is fairly obvious, even this early in the morning.

Always with You

DeerHuntingIf you read only one book this year, let it be this one. I picked up Joe Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus at a used book sale because of the title alone. The blurbs on the back suggested it would be hilarious, and even the subtitle, Dispatches from America’s Class War, didn’t sink in until I began reading. Written during the dark ages of the Bush administration, the contents are a bit dated, yet timeless. Although there’s humor here, I, like Bageant, was born and raised in a working class environment. My father was a house painter (before it became chic) and my stepfather was a blue-collar Joe who did the kinds of jobs nobody else wanted to do. Life was coarse and rough at times, but the people I knew were fiercely patriotic and staunchly Republican. Most adults I knew had never read a book since they’d managed to escape from high school. Deer hunting was nearly as religious as church, and anything you heard in either venue was to be taken absolutely literally. And yet government programs to help them get along were merely shams that politicians knew they couldn’t see.

Like Bageant, I feel at home among the working class. I am one of them. My job may be in Manhattan, but the sensibilities that got me this far are from the backwoods of Pennsylvania. Those who know me outside the office still occasionally call me a redneck. Perhaps it’s an affectation, but it is an affectation born of deep appreciation of the honesty of the worker. They’re no saints, the working class. They will get away with what they can (what bobble-head wagging above a white collar can honestly claim that it doesn’t as well?), they will laugh at the crudest jokes, and they will be mean and turn on each other if provoked. They are, however, good people caught in a system that won’t let them improve. The only possibility is education, the one service governments slash at every opportunity. The system, as Bageant shows, was built just to do that. Like Moses, throughout the book, he calls them “my people.” I know exactly what he means.

When I visit my hometown, it’s like a Bruce Springsteen song. Windows are boarded up and the streets seem even meaner than they were when I was a kid. These are people in ill health with a government that would rather not spend the money on them—we’re used to it, and Uncle Sam knows that—so it assures that the only businesses that thrive are fast food and liquor stores. You can also find a television and rifles, but not much else. The liberals, as Bageant states, don’t know how to relate to the common man. In my own experience, the redneck who earns a doctorate won’t have a chance of getting a job. The university liberals have their own agendas, too busy trying to save the planet to worry about the real people who make their lifestyle possible. I picked up Deer Hunting with Jesus as a joke, but found it the most important book that I’ve read in many years. Please read it and try to understand.