Labor Day: A Pagan Perspective
Article ID: 12027
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: August 17th. 2008
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On the first Monday in September, highways that are normally clogged with traffic this time of morning are empty as the nation sleeps-in on the unofficial closing of the summer season. Quite a few of us have trouble remembering whether this holiday is Labor Day or Memorial Day, and for some, the promise of a three day weekend is perhaps more intriguing than the history of the American worker. For many, the word “labor” is imbued with political overtones, which, for some, are less a considered opinion and more a paradigm absorbed in the crossfire of political rhetoric around the subject. Upon closer examination, however, I believe we will find that the principles and goals of the labor movement are certainly compatible with values shared by many in the Pagan community.
The Labor Department declares that Labor Day is “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers” and “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” These words acknowledge the significance of the American worker to the unprecedented growth in prosperity that happened in this country, in particular, between 1947 and 1973 when American productivity rose 104 percent. We are still riding on the frayed coattails of that boom. During this time we became perhaps the only nation in history with a middle class majority. Our parents who created this prosperity had every reason to assume that their children would become even more prosperous.
Something happened on the way to the bank, however. The wealth created on the backs of the American worker has been steadily redistributed “upward” over the last three decades. In just the short time since 2003 alone, the median hourly wage for American workers has fallen by 2 percent while productivity increased over the same period. Wages and salaries now constitute the smallest share of the GDP since 1947, while corporate profits account for the largest share since the mid 60’s.
Goldman Sachs reports, "the most important contributor to higher profit margins over the past five years has been a decline in labor's share of national income." The egalitarian spirit so characteristic of American culture is still alive, but it is gradually becoming more of an ideal we learned from our parents than something garnered from our own experience.
It didn’t happen overnight, and it wasn’t the result of any particular conspiracy save one, and that is the conspiracy of greed, apparently hardwired into human nature. While we were enjoying the prosperity created by our parents, buying more and more things and spending our savings rate to a negative number, greed, often wearing a mask called “ambition, ” worked overtime. It got itself elected when it could, and where it could not legislate directly it often managed to pay through the back door for the legislation it needed to grow.
Greed loves pyramids, and not just the ones on the backs of dollar bills. In a pyramid, a broad base at the bottom supports the ever-diminishing layers toward the top. In this country, a whole new paradigm developed to keep the load bearing bricks at the bottom, complacent. In order to rationalize a system that affords more right and privilege to corporations than to citizens, we have to believe several things simultaneously.
First of all, we have to believe that any brick at the bottom can move its way up the pyramid, if not to the very top, at least to a layer that does not bear so much weight. We must believe we can move our brick without having to replace it (with an undocumented worker, perhaps). As “upwardly mobile” bricks, we are encouraged to resist the “enemies” that might threaten our rise.
During the early struggles between labor and capitol, we were warned that “labor” was synonymous with “socialism, ” which was just another word for the enemy de jour, “communism.” While we worked 40, then 50, then 60 hours per week, we elected more and more representatives who had never worked for wages in their lives; perhaps because they promised to protect us from our “enemies, ” certainly because they promised to defend the American Way by protecting our own inevitable rise to the top.
The enemies of our right to affluence, we were told, were many, and they were evil. The communists were replaced by the terrorists who hated us “because they hate freedom, ” and now the terrorists have evolved into Islamic fascists. The last two Congresses convinced many of us that the “godless” in our own country were the enemy who would threaten our souls as well as our checking accounts. Noting consolidates power like a good enemy.
The paradigm essential to maintaining the financial pyramid has been that anything “bad for business” is ultimately bad for all of us. However, when it’s all said and done, it appears that we have voted against our own best interests again and again: No, not the 10 percent of us who have benefited from the upward redistribution of wealth, but the 90 percent who have not.
“Trickle-down economics” turned out to be bad weather delaying our upward flight, as over the last 30 years, the burden of taxation has been gradually shifted off of capital and onto labor. Laws were crafted which moved us gradually away from the Republic and toward oligarchy. Blame the republicans or the democrats; they were both in power while it happened.
The history of the labor movement in the United States is a story more dramatic and interesting than anything we are likely to watch on television this weekend. Often punctuated with violence, the story of labor has its heroes and villains and many examples of struggle and sacrifice. Without it, the majority of us who work for a living would do so without the benefit of an 8-hour day or a 40-hour week, without any unemployment compensation and without many of the laws that protect us in the workplace. We should not forget that there are still Americans alive today who remember a time when children worked in factories.
Again, as members of our Pagan communities it behooves us to keep in mind that the concerns of the labor movement and the issues facing pagani everywhere are often one and the same. As I write this today, my thoughts go out to several members of my own extended family who have not benefited from the mythical prosperity lauded by politicians seeking re-election.
Democratic and republican regimes alike have affected a studied distortion of information that might alert us to the seriousness of the problem, for example, as in the manipulation of the CPI or Consumer Price Index. When the basket of commodities that makes up the CPI becomes more expensive, cheaper components are substituted, but lard is no substitute for cheese and the cost of gasoline to the grocery store, which is never included in the index, has many of us clipping coupons.
Further, manipulation of the CPI cheats recipients of Social Security benefits, as their cost of living increases are pinned to this index. Unemployment numbers have also been liberally tweaked by the “conservatives” in power over the last seven years, as those who have given up looking for a job and those who are underemployed are simply not accounted for.
Tremors of economic disruption are being felt around the world. Over the last several years I have seen, in my own community, an increase in disruptive economic pressure that has contributed greatly to the dissolution of marriages, partnerships, friendships and even the various communities we form as Pagans.
I have seen families and groups displaced because their dreams of holding on to a home or a piece of land were disrupted by lower buying power and higher property taxes. I have seen more and more people of my own generation who chose to live on faith and principle rather than entering the rat race, now facing retirement age with no pension, no health insurance, and often with no community to provide support.
If we indeed live according to our stated beliefs, we have an opportunity and an obligation to meet these challenges head on with the principles we claim to embrace. Particularly in America, we gave up the village for the Interstate highway, and as our culture and economy built on consumption and debt and fueled by fossils must certainly experience the devolution, which leads to evolution, the village will be needed again.
Our virtual communities are an excellent starting place – and some of us will have an opportunity to decide whether our path is only a form of virtual reality – or whether it can actually put boots on the ground.
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