These days, whether you flip burgers at McDonald's, load packages into trucks at a Wal-Mart distribution center or teach six courses at three different colleges, you're likely to have such low pay along with no health insurance or other benefits that you need government assistance.
We're brought up to believe that all work has dignity. But how much human dignity can there be if you can't feed yourself or your kids adequately on your wages? If you have to go to an emergency room because you lack health insurance? Or if you have to walk a long distance in the rain or snow or blistering heat, because you don't have the bus fare?
Yes, there is dignity in that, because it means that you're not giving up; that you're struggling to survive against the odds. But if, on top of all that, you can't pay the rent, then it may mean you and your kids living on the street, because they make it hard even to get into a homeless shelter these days. Seventy-five percent of families who apply for shelter in Massachusetts are turned down. That figure comes from the social workers. They should know.
If you can't do any of those earlier-mentioned things and on top of that you can't provide your kids shelter from the storm, you've lost almost the last shred of human dignity and your kids probably want to shrink into a corner in school, because they don't have designer jeans or dresses or flashing-light sneakers like their classmates.
I said "almost the last shred of human dignity," because you still haven't lost all of it. There is real dignity, inherent in yourself and your kids, because we are all human beings. We're the only thinking animals around (or so we think). We can conceptualize our fate.
Because we can conceptualize our fate, we can also see that there's something wrong with this picture if we can't afford food, medical care, bus fare or shelter while CEOs of McDonald's or Wal-Mart take home $25 million annually. On top of that those of the above institutions that allegedly pay taxes can write off the whole amount as "incentive pay."
The "Fight for $15" is real. It has real consequences for people's lives and for their children. We've got to keep on striking and picketing and shaming these CEOs with a dose of their own medicine. Remind them that the Prophet of Galilee said, "Whatever you do unto the least of these my children, you do unto me."
Somebody who flips burgers, loads packages or imparts wisdom is not "the least" of anybody or anything. Our society, our economic system, just makes workers feel that way.
We're not "the least," sisters and brothers. Let's keep on keepin' on, until there's not only fair compensation, but working people like you and me make the decisions that affect our lives, in counsel with one another at the top, no longer the bottom, of society.
* Greg King is a long-time City of Boston employee and labor activist.
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