"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, September 04, 2006

Not dead yet

Apologies to my vast readership once again for my month-long absence. I've moved to another city and have been working long hours as a wage slave to pay for that. Which reminds me that today is Labor Day.

Though fraught with struggle and violence, the labor movement's origins in the 19th century were on the whole laudable. It had been historically inevitable that the Industrial Revolution would cause massive exploitation of cheap labor, and it was morally imperative that such exploitation be mitigated. Communism was not the answer; and as an alternative, the American labor movement once had considerable success that we still benefit from today. But labor is now in eclipse: the forces of international competition, especially the influence of cheap Asian labor, have put many employers in a very strong position once again. If they don't move production to where labor is cheapest, they cannot price their products competitively and in due course go out of business. So, many jobs are exported overseas, and the pay for many of the remaining ones is forced downward. Such is globalization, which nothing can stop despite the pain and the reactionary longings for an easier past. What is to be done?

Right now, not much can be done save at the margins. More and more Americans lack access to adequate health care because they cannot afford it on their own and their employers cannot, for the reasons stated above, afford to provide them with insurance. Indeed, the very concept of employer-based health insurance is slowly but steadily becoming unworkable for all but the highest-paid workers, those in the most profitable industries, and government workers. We desperately need a system of tax-financed basic health care, with anything elective left to the current system and with rationing of services for those past Social-Security retirement age. But that would only be nibbling at the margins, and the force of prejudice against anything smacking of "socialism" is so strong that Americans don't seem ready even for that.

In any case, the real new labor revolution needs to be over the very nature of work itself. Even unionized and other well-paid workers tend to view their jobs less as intrinsically valuable than as the suffering one must undergo to obtain money for survival and pleasure. That is how I view my current job, and I have lots of company all over the world. Actually, my position is better than that of many, because at one time I actually did earn my living doing something I love and am young enough to regain that opportunity if I work smart enough in my spare time. But countless people don't have such opportunities. The only solution is to embrace the vision of human dignity best embodied in the social teaching of the Catholic Church.

To those willing to acquaint themselves with that, I recommend John Paul II's encyclical Laborem Exercens and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
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