Labour Day isn’t a Buddhist holiday. 🙂 Although it seems to me to embody something critical to Buddhist thought: respect for our daily work. ‘Right livelihood’ is a basic tenet of Buddhism: that you will harm no one with your work, that you will contribute to society, and that you will grow in awareness. So Labour Day — which celebrates the workers of the world, and what they do for all of us — seems a good time to consider some challenges with ‘work’ in America.
Almost half a million children under the age of 18 work as farm hands in the US: 400,000 to be more precise. Some are as young as 6 years old. And it’s the “most dangerous work open to children in the United States,” the Centers for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says. There’s danger from heat stroke, machinery, and pesticide poisoning, just to mention a few threats.
How is that? Why do we still let young children work at jobs that risk their health, even their lives? “On average, 113 youth less than 20 years of age die annually from farm-related injuries (1995 -2002), with most of these deaths occurring to youth 16-19 years of age (34%).” That’s according to the CDC, which certainly collects the statistics.
Recently, when changes to the 1937 exemption for agriculture’s use of child labour were proposed, the outcry was loud and long. Certainly farms autonomously owned & managed by families — and despite what the US Dept of Ag says about 98% of farms being family owned, the truth is that 75% of American food comes from 6% of American farms, according to a 2007 census. That’s not what most of us think of when we think of family farms.
And the death of any child is grievous. All deaths sadden, even those of the elderly. But to see the potential of a child cut so early? That is — for me, at least — a deep loss. And it certainly isn’t part of Right Livelihood.
Today, as we enjoy this Labour Day weekend, think of this: all we have to vote with, ultimately, are our actions and our $$ (which are a kind of concrete taking action, when — and where — we spend them). Take the time to look up what you eat, what you wear. Don’t buy from companies or producers who violate Right Livelihood. It’s not that big a deal not to shop at WalMart, or buy from Taco Bell (both of whom violate fair labour practices. And it’s even trendy, these days, to know where your food comes from. But that’s only a little part of it.
Use what power we have, each and every individual one of us. Vote for Right Livelihood, and life, this Labour Day. You might help save the life of a child.
I am a worker bee. Never been a real ‘queen’ of anything (don’t tell my husband & sons — they might disagree). Even when I was a director, I did the trash jobs: paperwork, payroll, receipts and mileage and complaints and… 🙂
I’ve never really been ‘the boss,’ despite what some may think about teachers. (Aside: Teaching really isn’t about being the boss; it’s more like good coaching.) I taught for more than 20 years at the college level, not including stints as an artist in the schools (at elementary-high school levels), and as an educator of other teachers.
The few times in my life when I didn’t have an outside-the-home job, I was running a co-op daycare w/ several other mothers. Or volunteering at an international school overseas. Or teaching photography at a Saudi girls school. Or going to graduate school and single-parenting, while my husband was overseas. I come from a long line of worker bees.
My grandmothers both worked, one as a professional — she was the postmistress at her small-town post office — the other as a night cleaning lady at a bank downtown. My great-aunts worked: as retail clerks, as teachers, as cleaning ladies. My mother worked from the time she could carhop, until she retired from her job in sales. All three of my sisters have held numerous jobs, none as bigwigs.
So Labour Day is a big deal to me. My 3rd sister received her cancer benefits because of someone, a long time ago, fighting for them. My youngest sister received her tuition benefits for her children (she works at a university) to compensate for the truly horrible wages she earns. My 2nd sister served in the Army until she retired, then went to work for our city. She is beholden to unions for her pension there.
I have no idea why ‘union’ has become a bad word, but we might want to remember something: between 1900 and 1979, there was a 96% drop in work-related fatalities. By 1980, non-farm workers earned about 4 times what they had in 1900. As one article notes, in the 19teens, the U.S. was considered “among the most dangerous places to work. American workers were two to three times more likely to be injured or killed than their European counterparts.”
These kinds of changes didn’t happen because profit-based companies suddenly came down with strong consciences… I wish! In most cases, such changes were wrested from cruel labour conditions by men & women (& sometimes children) who endured dangerous retaliation when they refused to continue working under horrific circumstances.
This weekend, I’ll be honouring the women in my family who ~ contrary to cultural memory of the ‘good old days,’ when mothers stayed home ~ had to work to make ends meet. Women like my Grandma Skidmore and my Aunt Bonnie, two char women, as the Brits call them: cleaning up banks after all the employees had left for the day. Without their unions, neither would have received even the pittance pensions they used to live on. Both worked well into their 70s, needing the income.
Are things better now? Certainly. But as my next post hopes to show, we shouldn’t get too smug. We’re still in 1937, in some ways ~
Today is my nephew’s birthday. We’re all going out to dinner. And although only a couple of us are involved in that decision, it’s taken HOURS. Which leads me to: Why are human beings so weird??
There were only TWO suggestions, both local & non-chains. One Mexican, one Asian fusion. Both nice. But here’s the catch: my husband LOVES Mexican food, and doesn’t care much for this particular fusion place. The birthday boy also probably prefers Mexican. However, the Mexican place doesn’t have dessert, and the drinks aren’t as fun, for the drinkers.
Is any of this making sense? And (you may well wonder…) what the HECK does it have to do with beginner’s heart? Or a picture of a walrus receiving a birthday fish cake? I was hoping you’d ask…
I can’t imagine receiving a fish cake. YUK. But if you’re a walrus, obviously it’s an overwhelming gift. A thoughtful, ‘what would s/he really enjoy?’ kind of gift. As dinner for Jesse should be. It shouldn’t be about what my husband likes (even if I think my husband deserves to ALWAYS be pampered :)), or what I like, or even what the rest of us like. It should be about Jesse.
And wouldn’t it be lovely if most of my day — at LEAST 86%, anyway! — was spent in this mindset? Wondering how I could offer what my beloveds want/ need, and now just what I want and/or need?
I don’t mean I should deny my own wants & needs — folks who know me will tell you I’m not that kind of girl. 🙂 I mean what if I listened more? What if I didn’t assume I know what my sons still like, or my nieces & nephews enjoy? What if I listened for the fish cake wishes…?
It seems almost a sacrilege to write anything about the “I Have a Dream’ speech. What is more compelling? I’ve used that speech so many times to teach writing, to teach how to marry passion and political practicality. My students have memorised it. I’ve internalised it. And now, 50 years later, we need it more than ever.
If you are one of those Americans who believe that all people are equal now, and that race is a problem of ‘then,’ not ‘now,’ you might as well click elsewhere. I don’t share your optimism. My own experiences — often recounted in this space — show me that racism and lack of opportunities based on racism are alive and doing very well in America today.
So I’d like us to take a moment to really READ Martin Luther King’s momentous, historically profound speech. Here it is, in its entirety. Read it, and remember: 50 years ago, and it is as necessary a speech today as it was then.