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Labor Pains: ­What Obama Won't Say In His Jobs Speech

A friend of mine called recently to tell me that her daughter was about to give birth. “She’s going into labor!” my friend said with much excitement. It occurred to me as I listened to her that while we might refer to the act of childbirth as ‘being in labor’, we almost never use the word ‘labor’ to describe the very hard work of caring for children or others.  So when we observe Labor Day, that work is all but invisible.

Today I heard yet another economist talk about why creating jobs is so important–workers need money so they can spend money and buy things, and that he said will make the economy recover. But the truth is,  that kind of thinking  is precisely why the economy is in such desperate shape, because it is predicated on the assumption that we need things. New, shiny things. Things that we buy on credit, things that are possibly made in sweatshop conditions, things made of who knows what that pollute our landfills when we throw them away to make way for yet more things.

It is that sort of thinking that has led us to a place where too many people have no job or have dead-end, low paying jobs doing things and making things that make absolutely no sense while at the same time, hunger is at epic levels in this country and elsewhere. If you’re a woman, so sorry, but you will not be achieving pay equity until 2109. Too many people have lost their homes and now the government owns most of the Monopoly mortgages and there is no one to buy them. It is expensive if not impossible to insure our own health and our children do not have the resources they need to learn and when they cannot find jobs, the only option for many is to join the military which is bleeding our coffers dry while sending our children off to bleed to death for faux reasons that make no sense at all.  The education system is so desperate, that moms can be convicted of the heinous crime of trying to send their child to a better school. Our air is barely breathable. Our roads are falling apart, our water system is barely functional, we power all the things that we buy with filthy, dangerous forms of energy. This isn’t an economy–it is what the death throes of human society looks like.

We do not need more jobs so we can spend more. We need work that makes sense and work that sustains us, not work that just feeds the cycle that is sucking us dry and de facto enslaving us.

I am excited when I see projects like Caring Across Generations that focuses on the exploding need for better models of how to care for the elderly.

I am excited when I see conferences like Reimagining Work which expects to be an “All Generation Conversation” about “news ways of living, surviving and growing our souls…”

And we need to read and re-read Riane Eisler’s seminal work about caring economies and Genevieve Vaughan’s work on Gift Economy.

This Labor Day we need to re-focus our goals to include not only just jobs, but also just work that values what sustains and enables us, and moves us away from work for the sake of economic ‘growth’ (which has become a hollow euphemism for lining corporate coffers) and that merely perpetuates the hamster wheel of what ails us.

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