Friday, August 30, 2013

The Struggle For Dignity

All of us have a right to respect and dignity. Many of us do not receive it. Having been 'educated' in the Catholic system at a time when the application of both verbal and physical abuse was regarded as proper corrective methodology, I experienced many times in my younger life situations where respect and dignity were denied. I suspect it was one of those foundational experiences that has made me so acutely aware of various forms of injustice as an adult.

Countless people around the world are denied dignity, many of them within North America, the most prosperous part of our planet. Particularly vulnerable to debasement are minimum wage workers, many of whom toil in the fast food industry about which I have written previous posts.

Yesterday, thousands of fast-food workers in nearly 60 cities across the United States staged strikes to protest poor wages as they call for a doubling of the minimum wage from an average of $7.25 to $15 per hour.

Organizers of the action, Low Pay Is Not Ok, are also calling for the right to unionize without fear of retalaiation; one of the obstacles to unionization is the fact that many work in 'right-to-work-states' that make it optional to join unions and pay dues, even in unionized environments. It is a law that Ontario's would-be premier, the young Tim Hudak, salivates over and promises for those foolish enough to consider voting for him.

I encourage people to educate themselves on this issue, striking as it does at the very heart of respect, dignity, and the capacity to live a life at the very least slightly above the poverty line. Perhaps statistics put into perspective the denialism that is the reflexive reaction of the corporate world whenever there is any discussion of improving the wages of those who make possible their massive profits:

Workers want their hourly pay more than doubled from the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to a more livable $15 an hour. Organizers of the rally say the top eight fast-food chains — McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut, Domino’s and Papa John’s — made $7.35 billion in profit last year, yet most of their employees didn’t make more than $11,200.

Seems doable to me and I imagine just about everyone else who believes in a little justice and equity for humanity.

* On a personal note, we are taking our Cuban friends to see Niagara Falls today, after which we will visit my sister-in-law in Niagara-On-The-Lake. If you post comments here, they will not appear until later today, when I have computer access at her place. I hope everyone enjoys the long weekend.


  1. Lorne, you should have listened to the bosses of these fast food outfits. They said all they can do is reduce the number of employees in order to meet their demands. They warned workers that in these times of unemployment these strikers are committing a big blunder because these workers will lose their jobs.

    I hope you have a great trip to Niagara Falls. Great place to see but don't try to cross it on a rope.:)

    1. As is always the case when the slightest reduction of corporate profit is suggested, LeDaro, the 'powers' that be, like Chicken Little, run around crying that the sky is falling, the sky is falling. Such gutless rhetoric should yield them only the scorn and contempt they richly deserve.

      We had a very good time at The Falls; I resisted my natural impulse to be a daredevil, deciding instead to live to fight another day. ;)

  2. I was always somewhat ambivalent to organized labour, Lorne, although I spent most of my working life as a member of some union, trade association or guild - auto workers, chemical workers, Canadian Wire Service Guild, the Newspaper Guild, ACTRA - even the BC Law Society was effectively a guild.

    The role these organizations played in my working life was driven home in reading Gar Alperovitz' "What Then Must We Do?" in which he lays out a "strategy for the next American revolution." His theory is that real change, of the sort that built the post-war middle class, requires a number of forces - a movement (the progressives from early 20th Century America), calamitous events (the Great Depression, WWII), and then a powerful institution, in this case the labour movement that was forged during the worker-shortages of WWII and the postwar decade.

    Organized labour during the heyday of the middle class rose to more than 30% of the workforce. Today it has fallen to 11%, roughly the level it was at just before the Depression hit. The precariat of 1929 has been reconstituted today.

    Professor Alperovitz foresees a similar confluence of forces - economic, social, environmental - slowly building in the decade or two ahead. Out of these will come the movement (evidenced by the nascent Occupy movement), the cataclysm of collapse of various forms undermining the existing order, and the ascendancy of a new institution of broadly-owned enterprise. It won't necessarily happen but he thinks it highly likely.

    For my part, I've been pondering how our grandkids will cope with the world we've bequeathed to them. We have failed to fight back inequality. In the developed world it's said the middle class is being squeezed. What's overlooked is that it's being squeezed down, increasingly disconnected from the emerging oligarchy. As the traditional vehicle for social mobility, the broad based middle class of the postwar era brought us as close as we have ever been to a classless society. It is no accident, no unfortunate fluke, that is being methodically dismembered.

    If our grandchildren are to enjoy a renaissance of a life of hope they're probably going to have to pry it from the grasp of the oligarchs. This will not be given them without a fight. They will have to overcome the political power that flows these days to economic privilege. It seems inevitable that will require a form of confiscatory wealth redistribution or, failing that, submission to a form of 21st century feudalism.

    If they are to have any dignity, they'll have to fight to reclaim it.

    1. I agree, Mound, that the fight is slowly passing to the young who, unfortunately, do not have the broader context the older generations enjoy, nor the regular media to help provide that context. To truly know that the fights for labour dignity were hard-fought and of vital importance, not merely some mildly interesting historical artifact, is perhaps the thing that people of our generation need to keep hammering home to anyone who will listen.

      The corporate agenda is far too happy to convince them that their present serfdom is the norm that they should not agitate against but learn to live with.

      Thanks for the reference to Gar Alperovitz's book. I will look for a copy soon.

  3. I spent two summers frying hamburgers and mopping floors in fast food places, Lorne. I was paid ninety cents an hour. Not much has changed in forty-five years.

    1. Ah, there is little the corporate mentality enjoys more than static consistency, Owen. I guess that's why most of the business set are Conservatives in this country.