Labor Pains: The Drudgery of Work

Between the strike of the matchstick and the spark of the head, between the suction of air and the sight of a teardrop of fire, between the smell of charcoal and the scent of suntan lotion, between the sound of the backyard barbecue and the scenery of suburbia—in this unaltered snapshot of the good life, minus changes in technology and biotechnology—where seemingly schizophrenic husbands yell at Alexa (or Siri) and housewives sedate themselves with Ambien (and ambient music), it is Labor Day.

It is more a holiday from work than an homage to America’s workers. About the latter, whom artists glorify as either men of strength and stature or as huddled masses yearning to breathe free, for every portrait of tightened sinew and toned skin versus every picture of tired mothers and gaunt children, between the hell of heaven on earth and the hunger of our earthly existence, there is the quiet despair of millions.

These people hate the work they do. I would, too, if I had to deal with the pettiness of office politics and the drudgery of life as Bartleby with a BlackBerry.

These workers have the pallor of the embalmed and the passion of the dead.

I admire them still, because they neither believe nor buy the company line. They are smart enough to say what their employers want to hear, but wise enough to know what these loyalty oaths mean: that in exchange for working longer hours without extra pay, and not asking for suitable working conditions while working in sweltering conditions, their bosses promise to reward them by reserving the right to fire them without cause and send their jobs overseas.

Gone is the gentlemen’s agreement between business and labor, and corporations and communities. Gone is a living wage mandated not by Congress but compelled by conscience. Gone is the myth that we can legislate morality, though we can nonetheless perform miracles by making people out of paper.

We deliver artificial respiration to articles of incorporation, so companies can speak freely and act anti-democratically.

These laws are constitutional. They are a necessary evil, whose repeal would do more to upset the economy than to enrich it.

I support these laws, while I put the national interest ahead of the interests of multinational corporations.

I pledge allegiance not to a corporate banner but to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

My allegiance is with America’s workers.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

About Ashley Hamilton

Ashley Hamilton is an artist and father, who lives in Malibu and seeks to express the truth through his work.

Photo: Tools working hand holding equipment set with isolated white background.

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