The woman is a recent widow. She is also a dependable and reliable worker who labors in a modern hospital lab. It brims with costly technology.
Over the years, she has been trained by her employer to use this technology. It is, officially, supposed to improve work. This is not the case for the woman.
In that respect, she is hardly alone among American workers. For them, the line that technology brings liberty at work rings hollow. Just ask the many who toil for long hours and low wages in hospitals, call centers and retail trade.
Do they control the technology at work? Or does it control them? Where is the political orientation to this workplace trend of more technology and lousy job conditions?
Here is some of what we do know about America and the politics of work. As the 1970s drew to a close in the U.S., about every fourth worker was a union member. Today every eighth worker is in a union.
The woman who works in healthcare belongs to a labor union that backs the election of Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic Party’s nominee to be president of the U.S. To help defeat President George W. Bush, organized labor is donating millions of dollars to the Kerry campaign. If he is pro-labor, then what explains his position on the outsourcing of American jobs to poor nations as an unstoppable force?
Presumably, Kerry’s anti-labor view is fine with American employers such as the woman’s, a non-profit hospital chain that doubled its operating income in fiscal 2004. This is the fourth straight year of such growth for the chain. Investors (campaign contributors to donkeys and elephants) cheer when such numbers appear.
The woman has no time for cheering the chain’s bottom line. She is far too busy with her several job tasks. They include the ongoing training of new employees. Often, that responsibility extends and intensifies her working day.
Additionally, many of the new workers she trains leave during or shortly after the training. That speaks volumes about her workplace. After all, it is not as if finding paid employment has been and is a snap in the U.S.
Under the Bush II presidency, the American economy has lost jobs over the past four years. Moreover, the number of people entering the work force has grown during that time period. The latter data is rarely reported in context with the former data.
Politically, the question that needs to be asked is what does democracy mean for the woman healthcare worker and other Americans who labor for a living?
Begin with the lack of it at their workplaces, and proceed accordingly. For her and many of the 140 million American workers, their job struggles will continue after Election Day.
Seth Sandronsky is a member of Peace Action and co-editor with Because People Matter, Sacramento’s progressive paper. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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