Labor Pains 2009

On Labor Day we celebrate those who work — as opposed to those who inherit family wealth and those whose financial investments work so they don’t have to. Many workers who deserve to be honored on this special day have come from across the border. In a global economy, workers who strive for justice in their own country must, by necessity, unite with workers around the world.

In Vermont workers from other countries keep the dairy industry operating. These workers — in a xenophobic culture — often face discrimination but many Vermonters, including Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Pat Leahy, and Congressman Peter Welch have come to their defense. Some of the farm workers have the required legal documents — many others do not. Vermont dairy farmers have testified that without these workers the Vermont dairy industry could not survive.

Kevin O’Connor, Rutland Herald Staff Writer, has written about the plight of Vermont’s farm workers in an article titled “Of Milk and Mexicans.” published on March 9, 2009.

Workers from across the border, as well as native born workers, often experience hostility. They work on farms and in factories. They empty bed pans in nursing homes. They scrub toilets and make beds in the hotel industry. They work in retail outlets. They work in the construction industry as carpenters and roofers. They educate our children. They care for our elders. They have earned our respect and gratitude.

Below are typical statements made by bosses to their employees – workers who struggle for survival on the dark side of Capitalism.

1. Look, it doesn’t matter if the fumes are making you sick. OSHA says everything is OK.

2. I already told you that you couldn’t have the morning off. Your Father’s funeral can wait till the weekend.

3. Union, did I just hear somebody say, “Union”? Fire that damn Commie !

4. You want a raise……..hahhhhahhhahahahhhah. Who do you think you are, a Hedge Fund Manager!

5. If you want health insurance, move to Costa Rica. This is the USA. Love it, or leave it. Besides, we don’t have any sick people here. We fire them when they get sick.

6. You say you want paid maternity leave. If the corporation wanted you to have a baby we would have issued you one.

7. What’s the big deal – it’s just asbestos.

8. Next time that you want to go to the bathroom, ask for permission first. That’s the rule.

9. You say that the school called and told you that your child was just injured on the playground and needs to go to the hospital. Who gave you permission to use the phone? Get back to work.

10. A little bit of ionizing radiation never hurt anybody.

11. Think of it as an adventure. Nobody dies from black lung anymore.

12. You say you want a week of paid vacation — move to France, this is America.

13. Hell no, you can’t leave. Wait till your shift is over. I don’t care if your labor pains are just 3 minutes apart.

Rosemarie Jackowski is an advocacy journalist living in Vermont. Read other articles by Rosemarie.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Jeff said on September 2nd, 2009 at 5:28pm #

    Bottom Line, nothing more under that line. America is a joke! Print that.

  2. Obstreperous said on September 2nd, 2009 at 9:20pm #

    Rich elitists such as Leahy and the like tolerate and encourage illegal immigraion simply because they love the cheap nearly-slave labor. They don’t care for the people. As the child of an immigrant, I understand the struggle and also understand the struggle of unemployed and underemployed Americans. The fact is that government opposed to employers is a government opposed to empolyment and employees. The government itself is the worst and most oppressive of empolyers. People have been lied to so much that they no longer understand who their real friends are.

  3. rosemarie jackowski said on September 3rd, 2009 at 2:59pm #

    Jeff…I agree.

    Obstreperous…I agree about the elitists but the intent of the article was to push back against all of those who refer to any human being as “illegal”. I am old enough to remember when it was acceptable to refer to babies who were born to parents who were not married as “Illegitimate”. No baby is ever illegitimate and no person is ever “illegal”. As I said, ALL workers have earned our respect, but many employers have not.

    The current health care debate has brought out the worse in our culture. The anger because a worker from another country might get health care in the US has led to screaming matches. No one should be denied anything or granted any privilege based on the location of his mother when he was born.

  4. Wendy said on September 4th, 2009 at 8:39am #

    Employers often are protected by the “employment at will” status offered by individual states. This of course only applies to those who are referred to as “legal or legitimate” workers.

    I agree with Rosemarie and feel strongly that unless we embrace all humans as “legitimate” (I also remember when the Catholic Church referred to “illegitimate” children as “bastards” which was not so long ago and this Ethic permeated society) we will not move forward as a society. Right now we fight over who gets to piece meal out Health Care when we should be shifting our minds to accepting the fact that everyone is entitled to it.

    Referring back to my opening sentence, I would like to further comment that the average worker, be they citizens, green card holders, visa holders or none of these, deserves respect and understanding. It is horrible to think and know that an employer can willfully engage in a power game with employees. It happens every day in every town in every state in this country. This topic deserves much more discussion than I’m able to devote to it at this moment, since I must get back to work!

    Salaam. Shalom. Wendy

  5. Obstreperous said on September 4th, 2009 at 1:02pm #

    Clearly the term illegal only refers having committed an act against the current law and has nothing to do with human worth or dignity. It’s a simple descriptor and not a derogatory statement. You’re a lawbreaker if you jaywalk. You have committed an illegal act.
    Fine if you choose not to recognize border or the rights applicable to those born within certain borders, but then try to access service abroad and see how that goes. My point is that the situation is tolerated only as a means of exploitation of these individuals. Based on your beliefs you need to work for removal of immigration laws period. Then there would not be either the label nor the exploitation.

  6. rosemarie jackowski said on September 5th, 2009 at 3:32pm #

    Wendy…Thanks for the comment. I agree.
    About workers and health care – maybe there would be more justice and fewer people denied health care if hospital CEOs were not paid $27,000 per month (for 22 months) after they were fired and then also given $50,000 as a golden parachute. In situations like that with hospitals, banks, and some other corrupt Capitalistic organizations, it is NOT the recipient of all of that money who should be criticized. The hospital boards and the governmental agencies who have the responsibility to regulate have not been doing their job.

    Obstreperous…Some laws are higher than other laws. There is natural law, International law, moral law, etc. When I was arrested for protesting the war, I was obeying a higher law than the one the government said I broke. Many workers who cross the border without documents are just trying to support their families. That is a higher law – a moral law- and it would be wrong if they did not seek work where ever it was available.