Working Lives

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By Dave Coulter

Rough Edges

In honor of Labor Day I stopped by the Haymarket Memorial over in Forest Park.  I was a day late and the bright flowers strewn about were faded, but still looked fairly cheerful.  What with the word “jobs” being so prominent in our political discourse it seemed fitting that I take a moment to reflect on working lives (lives rhyming with fives that is…) 

I’m hardly a student of labor history, but at least I have lived long enough for a longer view. President Obama is slated to give a big talk about jobs this week.  I for one wish him well, and I hope he steps on the rhetorical gas.  I have seen enough now to know that the president (of any party) is pretty much unable to do much about the economy: ask Jimmy Carter or George W. Bush.  A bad economy is political death and if they could fix these things, they would. Anyway, the election season is heating up and this is a big speech.  

Stay tuned, comrades!

Scattered about the memorial were assorted buttons and stickers from different labor unions. I have never been in a union,  but I’m all for anyone trying to better their lives. If it’s okay for a banker to get a bonus then it’s okay for a mill worker to join a union.  I have chosen a path where I have my own business, and I have worked with my mind and my body all of my life.  I have labored in all sorts of conditions and I have accumulated enough aches, pains and scars to feel some solidarity with pretty much anyone, anywhere.  I’m proud of the work I have done, and I hope to do it for many years to come.

Perhaps like many others on this Labor Day I found myself wondering how we Americans got into the fix that we’re in.  There’s lots of reasons and even more opinions on that subject, which I will leave for greater minds than mine.  But it seems to me that greed, above all, has tattered our economic fabric, the social contract between employer and the employed.  We can’t blame anyone but ourselves.

The Haymarket Memorial represents a pivot point - to use another word currently in vogue - in our history.  Time will tell if and when the United States can rebuild a more robust economy that enables people to have decent jobs.  Even though I really should know better I’m still holding out some hope that our leaders can inspire us towards a better future.  There are bodies buried in Forest Park that should remind us - and them - that we deserve a shot at that future. 

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