(With thanks to the Rev. Gary Kowalski, co-minister of the Unitarian Congregation in Taos)
Today, Labor Day, the mountains here around Santa Fe are crowded with cars, bikes and hikers; some certainly will be carrying small children and picnics and all the other paraphernalia we associate with our holidays.
How many of us remember that Labor Day was created for a far different purpose in 1882, when early labor organizers, often Italians, Jews, Slavs or other immigrants hardly recognized as human, worked for an eight hour day, a minimum wage—$1.51 an hour for laborers—an end to child labor and other reforms we now take for granted.
Now, 137 years later, the labor movement has been almost entirely destroyed by the power of corporations to set their own rules. The Federal Minimum wage of $12 an hour assures hardly more than poverty.
Meanwhile, the notorious wealthy and conscienceless among us continue to profit enormously, often underpaying undocumented workers, such as the employees at Koch Foods in Mississippi: rounded up by ICE, they had no papers and no way to organize to improve their terrible working conditions and illegally low pay. Instead, the company’s owners were able to retaliate against their own workers, who were then deported.
At Peco Food, also in Mississippi, a speeded up slaughter line and a decrease in federal inspectors resulted in amputations. Again, a raid by ICE caused deportations, the lost workers to be rapidly replaced by other desperate immigrants willing to work at jobs no one else will do.
Both of these ICE raids were timed to coincide with the first day of school, so many children came home to find their parents disappeared.
At a Walmart in El Paso, the parking lot recently was the site for a shooting inspired by anti-Latino rants; twenty-two shoppers died. Walmarts, owned by one of the richest families in the nation, worth 190 billion, still sells guns and ammunition but will allow no collective bargaining in its massive stores. It gets away with paying its workers $11 an hour, lower than the Federal minimum wage.
When will we avid consumers quit going to Walmarts? Are lower prices really a defensible excuse?
One of the reasons a few people believe the country might be better served by more women in politics, and more in high office, is that it is sometimes said that women are by nature more empathetic than men. This is a notion based on the ancient belief of woman as the “angel in the house.”
Obviously, this generalization is untrue, although the enormous number of women who volunteer at social service organizations here seems to hint at something real.
But one fact that is true of women is that we are by and large the shoppers, the ones who destroy retail stores in our towns by ordering online, again with lower prices and convenience as our excuse, who have come close to killing publishers and book stores by using Amazon—again, convenience, lower prices!
And there are women family members who benefit from companies like Walmart, making $11 to $4 million AN HOUR as non-contributing heirs. That’s enough money for a lot of shopping.
When will these women wake up to the destruction their companies cause? When will the few women board members at Koch Enterprises and Walmart wake up to their responsibility for this carnage?
At Walmart, board members include Carla Horton, Clara Harris, and Sarah Friar.
At Koch Enterprises, as members of an enormous, male-dominated board, there’s a flock of Parsons—Susan, Brooke and Heather—as well as Susan Motschiedler, Susan Mitchell and Susan Acure. Can the name Susan denote a willingness to comply?
These women may never wake up to their responsibilities. I know from experience how difficult it is to speak the truth at a board meeting dominated by men. But all of us can combine to boycott, formally or informally, these infamous companies.
We can stop shopping at their stores.
Remember: Labor Day was founded to create a so-called living wage (it has never been that) and fair working conditions for U.S. workers.
Maybe someone on a picnic in our overused national forest will chew on that, along with a sour pickle.
[Update: An astute reader pointed out that the Federal Minimum Wage is not $12, it’s actually only $7.25. A few states do have a $12 minimum wage (California, Massachusetts and Washington) and Washington, D.C. has a minimum wage of $14. Most states are far below that, however, and here in New Mexico the minimum wage is only $7.50.]