It's Labor Day weekend, a day not particularly known for much in the way of support of labor, trade unions and the like. Labor Day, US style, is mostly a day off, making for a long weekend.
Working folk on hourly pay, doing the hard at the bottom of the pay scale sorts of jobs, will have to keep at it 24/7 to get by. The minimum wage is miserly, the employers unwilling to provide benefits so often full time employment in one place is out. And on and on. Labor Day weekend is time off for the regular ol' fashion middle class.
In all the rant and rave about this election cycle in the US one of the most disturbing bits is that there is very little about the long term poor. Most economic issues seem to be about the people on the margin between poverty and marginal middle class - the one pay check away from collapse.
What about those who already live in poverty. Oh yes, we are told they are "covered" by the programs for the poor. Not likely. They are covered, if at all, until they reach the upward edge of welfare and then the system crumbles. Or at the other end, they are off the radar. For many the margin becomes the job under the table that doesn't get taxed or reported or the work outside the system by a family member that is undocumented, under aged or willing to skate the edge between legal and illegal activities.
A Labor Day that takes seriously labor - work - is a day when we ought to lift up the organizing that is needed to break the back of poverty. But we will mostly lay low this labor day and the politicians will mostly talk about the plight of the middle class.
I was proud that Senator Joe Biden of Delaware (my home state) at least talked about how the working poor call themselves middle class as part of the aspiration of a name. His family was a family of the working poor, who pointed to themselves as, God willing, emerging middle class. But many in the middle class are so marginal to the stability that we think pertains to middle class life and values that we might well revisit whether or not campaigns based on a good deal for the middle class really applies to them. Where is the fair deal for the poor? Or the good deal for those on the line?
When the working poor identify with the middle class the need for organizing for change becomes regular politics - backing candidates who will find some way to include them into stability. So there are political rallies for candidates.
Organizing for strikes for better pay, or demonstrating for Jobs and Freedom, or workers rights to participation in the use of some of the profits of the companies for which they have worked, demonstrating for safety on the job, protesting the conditions that make soup kitchens necessary but don't seem to make changes for the bottom poor necessary, and other workers concerns, all, all, get put aside when the values are about making adjustments rather than forcing change.
There are lots of things being forced on us, and change will indeed be coming. However, unless there is fundamental change in the way people at the bottom of the economic pile are included and the people at the top of the money pile are compelled to engaged the society, there will be only campaign slogans and adjustments in the tax laws, all in service to the middle class.
Of course political candidates are up for expanding the middle class (or at least I think they are). But where are the candidates who are up for standing with the miserably poor? The people who have moved beyond the marker of next weeks paycheck and paying a mortgage and dealing with gas for the car? Where are the candidates who will stand with the poor who are beyond the reach of the promise of being part of the working poor much less the middle class?
We need to keep a watch out: who visits the Vets in hospital and at home? Who talks to hustlers on the streets of New York and Chicago and St. Louis? Who is standing beside the bed of a patient with Aids? More, who among the candidates is going to talk about Labor as a day to remember the labor done on our behalf by the poorest of us in the meanest of circumstances and demand better for them?
Of course candidates are after the middle class vote. It is a wonderfully strange thing - like Americans and their love affair with religion, Americans have a love affair with the middle class. A large majority of people claim to believe in God and a large majority of people believe they are middle class. Lots of votes there.
Still I get the sense that God has a preference for the poor - I mean the poor beyond reach of the niceties of a car and a house and college for the kids - and I also believe God has an interest in the rich and powerful, for whom the issues of the emerging middle class are as foreign as those of a third world country. God will stand with the poor and challenge the rich and powerful. (Mary said that.)
So on this Labor Day weekend, being solidly middle class and quasi-retired anyway, I will be looking for any hint that Labor Day has anything to do with labor. I will be watching our candidates closely. I will also be looking at our Church and its life and role in all this. Will the churches call on the candidates to stand with and speak out for the poor, the poor in fact and spirit, whose agendas are more meager and perhaps closer to the bone than most of what is spoken of in the campaign rhetoric.
Saying all this, I want also to say that I am proud to be a supporter of Senator Barack Obama for President. However far away from the poorest of the poor he is, he is in my mind closer by far than any candidate we have seen in a long time.
This blog is mostly about Anglican and Episcopal concerns. So this will probably be my only statement about the political campaign. But here it is.
Remember the poor and don't change the subject by talking about the endangered middle class. While we are at it remember their labor and give it the dignity of a meaningful fair wage, which will lift many of the poor and the endangered together. And even then the work will not be done and the change not complete.
After all, this thing about Labor and the poor is finally about finding a little Justice and Mercy together. Right?