What do we labor for?

The month of September celebrates Labor Day, the federal holiday observing the contributions of the labor movement. Labor education is not a significant part of general education and most people aren’t very familiar with what Labor Day symbolizes. Especially in the United States, where “capitalism is king” and corporations have immense power over thought and politics, the contributions of labor are widely undervalued.

Capitalism and the United States are so intertwined that even suggesting a belief in another system, such as communism, can provoke immense ridicule. The First and Second Red Scare after each World War showcased just how linked American nationalism and capitalism are by the blacklisting, deporting, and arresting of numerous people believed to be communist or socialist spies. While there is much more background regarding what prompted the Red Scares, the paranoia of what is seen as subversive thinking was and is very real. Those targeted during these tumultuous times ranged from labor leaders and other unionists, to left-leaning politicians, celebrities, artists, the film industry, among many others. Propaganda was spread and the veneration of capitalism and condemnation of most other systems have since been engrained in American society.

 We can see these trends even today with conservative politicians denouncing more liberal politicians as “socialists” or “communists.” Anything other than a staunch capitalist is deemed “unamerican.” Most look at the history of communism and focus on its failures in certain nations by citing the leadership’s power and control along with the imbalance of wealth and resources between government and the citizenry. If we look at America, we can see very similar imbalances. The wealth inequality between most of the nation is astounding. Access to certain resources, quality education, healthcare, and healthy food, for example, is arguably structured around class and race. Powerful corporations give enormous donations to politicians and effectively control laws and policies. The successes of other nations that have a more socialist structure are minimalized if even acknowledged. Universal healthcare and free education have been enormously beneficial in many European nations. While no political system is without its flaws, there are pros and cons to all of them, it’s evident that the toxic patriotism that vilifies anyone who doesn’t endorse the consumerism and corporate control of this country is hurting the majority of the population. According to the United States Census Bureau, the official poverty rate in the US was 12.3% in 2017, but this number goes as high as 13.4% according to other counts. The Trump Administration is now proposing a change to the federal poverty line to make it harder for low income people to receive assistance. Currently the poverty threshold in 48 states and Washington, D.C. for a two-person household is an annual combined income of $16,910. Many can agree that even as a single person, living comfortably in this country on $16,910 a year is extremely difficult. Poverty is also both a racial and gender issue. More women live in poverty than men, and Native Americans followed by Black Americans are the most affected by poverty.

Additionally, America is the only advanced nation boasting one of the strongest economies that doesn’t have national laws guaranteeing paid maternity leave, paid or unpaid vacation, or paid sick days. Conversely, the European Union’s 28 nations guarantee at least 4 weeks paid vacation, and of the 193 nations in the United Nations, only New Guinea, Suriname, a few South Pacific Island nations, and the United States do not have a national paid parental leave law. The laws we do have regarding workers’ rights, such as minimum wage (even though America has the lowest minimum wage of 36 industrial nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), sexual harassment, child labor, non-discrimination, and the 40-hour work week are all due to the Labor Movement. If you belong to a union there can be added benefits such as collectively bargained medical coverage, pensions, paid sick and vacation time, maternity leave and higher wages. Unions have historically, and continue to, fight for these rights. But we must remember that these advances are not guaranteed, and they are not obligatory nation-wide. The current administration is waging what amounts to an all-out assault on unions with one of the major blows being the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME which decided that workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement do not have to pay union dues. The result could bring an end to many unions that won’t be able to fund themselves.

Labor, the trades, and other blue-collar work built this nation and continues to maintain it, yet the current system devalues this essential workforce. White-collar work is deemed more dignified and carries a higher status even if it is nonessential to the rest of society. This sort of bias can be seen in media with jokes about sanitation workers, housekeepers, janitors, etc. It can be seen in our educational system where trade schools are looked down upon as where the “bad” or “unintelligent” children go. Low wage rates also signify the devaluing of these types of jobs. Healthcare workers, social workers, and teachers, who are universally seen as valuable and respected, still are not paid nearly as much as stock brokers, investment bankers, athletes, or corporate CEOs, for example. Gender and racism also play a role in these wage disparities, which can lead to who is affected by the cycle of poverty. Most of the work considered blue collar and emotional work are performed by people of color and women respectively. Many of these types of jobs also serve others and benefit society, while the majority of white-collar, higher paid professions tend to solely benefit the individual. This disparity demonstrates very different value systems. Capitalism, as well as American culture, promotes individualism while more socialist countries and systems value the collective. This individualistic frame of thought fuels such negative traits like greed and apathy; mental health issues like stress and exhaustion and can become as extreme as suicidal tendencies. It also reinforces a type of selfishness and the “us versus them” dynamic that maintains a constant source of hostility nationally and globally. Instead of endorsing a framework that includes the whole or that asks, “How can we help each other?” we live within a framework that constantly asks, “How do we get more for us while excluding others?”

America is an amazing place and has infinite potential. It has resources that can benefit and help support many more people and places than it currently chooses to. As Satanists we are well aware of the mob mentality and ridicule that comes with challenging the status quo and suggesting a new way of thinking. Breaking away from what you have been taught your whole life is difficult, but not impossible. When we look back at what those people in the labor movement were able to accomplish for the benefit of everyone is inspiring. They realized that the status quo was harmful to the majority, and they demonstrated a better way. This month, as we reflect on what those before us have accomplished to make our lives better, also contemplate what we can do to benefit the collective now. We live in a world of systems, and we all live in it together. Continue to challenge those systems keeping in mind that we must strive for compassion and justice for all. When we seek to benefit more than ourselves, we all reap the rewards.      

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