Dignity and Labor

Charlie Chaplin, "Modern Times"

Charlie Chaplin, “Modern Times”

Labor Day

There’s a lot about American labor these days to be troubled about: stagnant wages, rising income inequality, unemployment still higher than it should be, Republican governors seeking to break public sector unions, an unacceptably low minimum wage so that workers have to string together a series of jobs to make ends meet.

The good news is that, with Obamacare exchanges about to go into effect, even people with bad jobs, part-time jobs, or no jobs at all will have  access to health care.

Here’s a Vachel Lindsay poem, written in 1914, about the anonymous protests that alienated workers direct against their workplace. Of course, in this day and age many Americans would be grateful for any manufacturing job at all. But I think that there are ways to set up factories (and fast food restaurants and other places of employment) so that workers feel a sense of ownership and  would no more think of breaking windows that they would of vandalizing their own homes. It’s all a matter of dignity, which comes first with having a job and then with how one is treated in that job. If  either is missing, then “something is rotten–I think, in Denmark.”

Here’s the poem:

Factory Windows Are Always Broken

By Vachel Lindsay

FACTORY windows are always broken.
Somebody’s always throwing bricks,
Somebody’s always heaving cinders,
Playing ugly Yahoo tricks. 

Factory windows are always broken.
Other windows are let alone.
No one throws through the chapel-window
The bitter, snarling, derisive stone. 

Factory windows are always broken.
Something or other is going wrong.
Something is rotten–I think, in Denmark.
End of factory-window song.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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