Monday, January 3, 2011

The Working Class

Hard times are good times to rethink our attitudes about the fungibility of workers.

Bette Lynch Husted, Oregon Humanities

"Our current economic hard times have touched everyone, but there’s no question that some have been hurt more than others. And it doesn’t look as if that’s going to change anytime soon. So I wonder: should those of us whose lives are a bit easier be thinking about the attitude behind the idea that workers are fungible? Or that, in a human version of “just-in-time” inventory, it’s more efficient to have them appear to perform a specific task and then disappear? Should we be questioning the ongoing waste of human creativity and skill, as well as the increasingly vast disparity of wealth in our country? Have we, gradually and almost without noticing, been lured into accepting the unacceptable?

And, if this isn’t the kind of culture we want, what might we do about that?

Political candidates get themselves into hot water if they speak about “redistributing the wealth,” but eventually an economy will self-destruct if this doesn’t happen, and continue to happen. “The gift must always move,” as Native American cultures have been trying to teach us. We balk at this idea at least partially because we have been carefully taught that those “others”—the people who cut our grass and trim our trees, cut our meat and pick our fruit, those who unpack the boxes and stock the shelves and stand behind the counter to sell us what we need—don’t deserve the kind of lives white-collar workers have. It’s a belief that threatens the meaningfulness of every life, including our own"

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