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Remember people and their labors every day, 2013

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On Labor Days, sales (handled by labor), vacations (serviced by labor), the end of summer, and the start of school often eclipse sufficiently deep thinking and feelings about labor. Every day should be a day to care about working people, to consider them in all our actions, and to take them into account in our purchasing decisions.

Millions upon millions of workers worldwide labor and suffer under unspeakably miserable conditions and pay, including countless factory workers in China, whose communist revolutionaries came to power proclaiming justice for the working masses. Imagine, then, how bad the working conditions are for millions of people in countries whose governments and employers barely pay even lip service to justice for workers. On top of that, with layoffs come extra work burdens on many employees who “survive” layoffs here and abroad.

As always, when we think globally and start by acting locally, miserable treatment of workers often starts with too many of the custodial employees emptying our wastebaskets and cleaning our toilets, the dishwashers and plenty of other kitchen workers in the restaurants we frequent, the seasonal farmworkers picking our fruits and vegetables, and the workers who produce the countless cheap products sold at Wal-Mart and countless other discounters (who often are not giving their own workers good pay, working conditions, or careers).

Those of us who are employers, managers and bosses owe our employees harmonious and just working conditions, fair pay and benefits, and full respect and dignity. Certainly, nobody has an automatic right to keep a job if consistently not performing at the level for which the employee was hired. However, how many employers bait potential employees with all sorts of promises of paradise — or merely of an attractive working situation — that never materialize?

For those doing work that any of us do not believe in — whether it be arresting people for marijuana possession, mistreating alleged enemy combatants, or anything else one disagrees with — it remains essential to understand and see each such person as a human being, not to mistreat such people merely because s/he is mistreating others, but still to be firm in calling for the person to be just, for a change of the system that leads them to do such work, and at times for them to turn away from such work.

We have many options to better the lot of workers, starting with our own wallets and with the showing of sincere thanks to workers and their employers, beyond payment and beyond tips. An unfortunate irony of voting with our wallets can be to leave jobless the very workers we wish to help. However, if we are willing to send our money and business where workers and justice are better served — including a willingness to pay more money as a result — hopefully the same workers will find jobs with employers that are more fair and just. For those in jobs involving mistreating other workers or non-workers, sometimes the only option is to leave such jobs if efforts fail to stop mistreating them.

As one particular judge — not one I looked to for much justice — once perceptively observed from the bench, most people, including cops, are just looking to get through the day. This situation raises multiple issues, including how to approach persuading people. However, if most people just want to get through the day, how much effort are they investing in justice rather than in just surviving for themselves, their families, and their friends?

On the topic of judges — who also are workers, although often wielding tremendous white collar power through the power of the state — a colleague who has known many local judges since childhood and through the old boy/girl network recently told me that half the judges he knows in a particular county do the work out of a sense of public service, with numerous of the remainder dreading the grind of the daily docket. No matter how some judges may not seem to give much of a damn about justice, or not seem to define justice very justly, they remain humans including those toiling much longer than a forty hour workweek. However, judges who repeatedly violate their oath of office have no business remaining judges.

While still on the topic of judges, it is important to remember the work of their supporting crew, including the courtroom clerks, office staff, clerks’ office staff, people cleaning the courts’ hallways and bathrooms, and the list goes on.

In his book Working, writer Studs Terkel has written of the misery so many face working eight hours daily (if they are fortunate enough not to be working longer days than that). On the flip side are lessons from the Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness at Work, which I discuss here.

Daily, we are helped by working people. How often do we show them sufficient thanks and appreciation? Thanks, again, to everyone who now works for me, who has ever worked for me, and who has helped me and my clients along the way.