Monday, September 2, 2013

Labour Day and the dignity of work

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

“No work is insignificant. All labour that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is the first Monday in September and it is Labour Day in Canada and the United States.  As Dr. King so eloquently pointed out, labour has dignity and it should be valued.  This is a day to reflect upon the significance of all workers, whether they be young or middle-aged, male or female, blue collar or white collar.  It is a time to consider how important work is to the health and welfare of our society.  If you have the day off today (not everyone does), enjoy yourself and relax.  You have earned your day of rest.

On this day, however, let us not forget the millions of unemployed around the world.  Readers, I implore you to think about those who earnestly seek work and cannot find it.  I especially urge you to think about those who have been laid off from a job after many years with same employer. They are not just numbers or names on a piece of paper.  The bean counters must be reminded that they are human beings with families and some of them find themselves unemployed at an older age.

Let us seek to provide employment for our youth.  They are our hope and our future and they need jobs with decent wages and decent pensions.  Canada, the United States and other developed countries are rich with resources and opportunities. Our leaders should place more emphasis on creating jobs than fighting deficits. Jobs  are the greater priority and jobs are needed now.  Of course, taxpayer's money should be spent responsibly.  Spending it to create jobs, however, is not wasteful.  It is necessary and beneficial.

A man willing to work, and unable to find work, is perhaps the saddest sight that fortune's inequality exhibits under this sun.

- Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish philosopher and writer
From Chartism [1839]

Thomas Carlyle

Let us also remember today the shameful exploitation of workers in sweat shops all over the world for the lowest wages imaginable and in the worst conditions imaginable.  Let us not forget the children who are forced to work long hours in hazardous surroundings.

Here are some grim facts from UNICEF, the International Labour Organization and CRIN (The Child Rights International Network.
  • One in six children 5 to 14 years old — about 16 percent of all children in this age group — is involved in child labour in developing countries.
  • In the least developed countries, 30 percent of all children are engaged in child labour.
  • Worldwide, 126 million children work in hazardous conditions, often enduring beatings, humiliation and sexual violence by their employers.
  • An estimated 1.2 million children — both boys and girls — are trafficked each year into exploitative work in agriculture, mining, factories, armed conflict or commercial sex work.
  • The highest proportion of child labourers is in sub-Saharan Africa, where 26 percent of children (49 million) are involved in work.

Here are some other points to ponder this Labour Day.

Labour is prior to and independent of capital.  Capital is only the fruit of labour, and could never have existed if labour had not first existed.  Labour is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.  

- Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th President of the United States
State of the Union Address, December 3, 1861

Abraham Lincoln

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?  In the books you will find the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rocks? . . .

Where, the evening that the wall of China finished
Did the masons go?

- Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), German playwright
From Questions From A Worker Who Reads [1935]

Bertolt Brecht
Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-W0409-300 / Kolbe, Jörg / CC-BY-SA

Work is love made visible.

- Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), Syrian writer and artist  

From The Prophet [1923]

Kahlil Gibran

The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.

- Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975), British historian

Arnold Toynbee


- Joanne