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  • karen horst cobb: Meditation: Worthy of Wages

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    Meditation: Worthy of Wages

    The laborer is worthy of his wages. Luke 10:7

    The “company town” of Pullman, Illinois owned the lives of their workers. The lowest paid workers were given the simplest shelter, the craftsman had better housing, and the executives and potential customers were provided lavish Victorian homes. The company owned the housing, set their rent, the price of groceries, and even owned the bank. In a depressed economy in 1893 Pullman decreased the workers wages and laid off many while keeping the rent and other expenses the same. Out of desperation and in solidarity the workers demanded fair wages. The members of the United Railway Union all across the nation stood with them.

    Executives continued to live in luxury while the workers were facing homelessness, hunger, crime and disease but President Grover Cleveland deployed 12,000 troops to break the strike. US marshals fired on protesters and two were killed. The union leader was imprisoned and the workers were forced to sign a contract promising they would never strike again. Many other industrial unions were disbanded and destroyed until the great depression when workers again tried to organize.

    Grover Cleveland sought the growing labor vote in 1894 and created Labor Day. Several years later Samuel Gompers, the head of the American Federation of Labor said it is a day in which “toilers look forward“, when their “rights and their wrongs will be discussed“, when they can “lay down their tools for a day“, and “touch shoulders as they march” with their co-laborers.

    Today, for the lowest paid workers, Labor Day only means more people to serve in the restaurants, at the check out counters, hotels, resorts and places of amusement. With the advancement of the “free market” the workers have often been judged to be selfish, lazy, wasteful, greedy and unwise. Even many Christians today praise company executives for being “good managers” as they get more work out of fewer people, hire desperate people willing to work for lower wages and who are willing to live in crowded and/or substandard housing.

    Latest figures show that many executives make as much as 500 times that of their workers. As in the days of the Pullman executives, those with the most money have the most influence over government and media. This unfair advantage results in the repealing of hard won labor laws designed to protect workers and restricts worker’s rights to organize.

    The contracts awarded to areas hard hit by Katrina last year offer an excellent example of power and worker abuse. The AshBritt company gained a $500 million contract to remove debris. This amounted to $23 a cubic yard. AshBritt sub-contracted the job to a company who bid it for $9 per cubic yard and they hired a company who charged $8. This company sub-contracted to a company who charged $7, who then hired a company who charged $3. Desperate workers did the hard work for almost nothing. When these workers are not paid for their work they have no recourse because they have no resources. In many cases they can be deported or imprisoned.

    The Bible has a lot to say about work and the paying of wages. Jesus always stood with those who had no power and took to task those who did. In the United States, where the citizens elect people to make decisions in Washington, we each have a responsibility to stand with and vote for the interests of workers who are oppressed and taken advantage of. A laborer is still worthy of his wages.

    Prayer: Today I pray for those who work hard and are cheated out of fair wages by those who seek outrageous wealth and power. Help me to have the courage to stand with those who are oppressed so that they too can live in dignity. Thank you that we live in a nation with a representative government where we can influence the laws which protect the least of these among us.

    Action: Learn more about what is happing in the world of work at Corporate Watch http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?list=type&type=166 Commit yourself daily to speak up against worker abuse when you encounter it. Refuse to let your own frustration, while waiting in line or being served, cause you to lash out or speak against low paid employees.


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