78 Notes to Self: A Tarot Journal

We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Laboring for a Living Wage


Non-tarot post ahead.  I may or may not get political.  As today is Labor Day, it's a good time to remember what the hell we're supposed to recognize amid the sales and barbecues. Since we collectively seem doomed to repeat history due to our societal amnesia and reluctance to read more than the blips that flit across our various screens, myself included, I did us all a favor and looked it up.  Given the current political climate, I think you'll see why this stroll down memory lane is ironic and a little eerie in its similarity.

If we ask most anyone what Labor Day is for, we'd probably get an answer that says it commemorates the American worker.  That's only part right, though. It was meant to honor not just the individual worker, but what workers accomplished together through activism.  In fact, in the first 20 years since the first Labor Day observance, even though roughly half the states officially recognized it, most employers assuredly did not.  Therefore, Labor Day was pretty much a general strike more than a leisurely day off.

Most of us know the labor movement fought for fair wages and to improve working conditions.  It also led the fight against child labor and for the eight-hour workday and the New Deal, which gave us Social Security and unemployment insurance.  The driving slogan was "8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, 8 hours for what we will."



Even tarot has an opinion. It always does about everything. I can't help but notice that the principle card for "work" in tarot is 8 of Pentacles (coins).  Eight. 




 The employers and the government didn't just say, "OK, hard workers, you've earned some quality of life, here you go."  These advancements in humane conditions in workplaces were fought for in the streets in bloody riots, strikes, marches, and other collective actions.  Employers fought back with strikebreaking, blacklisting, vigilante violence, and by enlisting government force to their side by paying for lobbying for and getting local governments to pass anti-sedition laws that severely curtailed the free speech of those at the Labor Day gatherings.  President Grover Cleveland deployed more than 10,0000 troops to break the Pullman strike in Chicago.  Protesters were arrested, jailed, injured, and killed. Since 1850, according to one estimate, over 700 people died as a result of anti-union violence during strikes.



While these protests are similar to the recent Occupy Wall Street protests, the main difference seems to be focus and purpose.  The Occupy movement has identified a broad number of specific concerns and calls for a general overhaul of many aspects of our economic system.  The Labor Movement was focused primarily on working conditions.  I think maybe it's easier to raise awareness and ire about focused issues rather than broad, amorphous Change.   Unions won in the end and with them the luxurious working conditions we now take for granted.




Recent anti-union sentiment has diminished the pull and members of these organizations as well as internal strife being their own undoing.  Recently the governor of  Wisconsin wrote into law the seven-day work week. Contrasting that, we also have the Raise The Minimum Wage movement gaining momentum along with local organizations of workers that aren't unions, per se, but where workers in a common industry will gather and organize activism.


Wherever you may stand on these issues these facts remain:

One cannot live on $7.25 an hour.  Being below the poverty line qualifies one for federal assistance in the form of SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, and possibly other benefits depending on one's family situation.  If we want to reduce the taxpayer burden of welfare, workers need to earn a Living Wage that allows a family to pay for rent, transportation, food, utilities, and clothing without having to rely on welfare.  Across the country, costs of living varies, but the average living wage -- which is the bare minimum one can earn to meet one's basic needs -- is around $12 an hour.  This issue is a true working class issue and one worth considering today, on Labor Day.