Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Freedom From or Freedom To

with 8 comments

Total Black: $543.66
Total Red: $

It’s Emancipation Day here in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The day Virgin Islanders commemorate the Danish King’s decision to free the slaves of the former Danish West Indies.  A decision forced upon him by the revolt of the slaves on St. Croix back on July 3, 1848.  I had heard about a few events going on today, but I didn’t feel like driving around the island, looking for festivities.  And—frankly—I’m not sure how welcome a white guy would be to some of those festivities.  But I digress; instead I both slept in and stayed in.  And then later tuned in the local PBS channel since some of the local festivities were televised.  But it was an earlier broadcast on that channel, an episode of Life Part 2 on Fighting Ageism, that got me thinking about freedom and emancipation.  At the start of the show, the host and three guests sat around a table talking about the problems facing older workers in this economy, particularly in the face of rising unemployment numbers caused by the Great Recession.  One mentioned a stereotype of older workers being more dedicated, more committed to the job and the employer than younger workers.  And accordingly they tend to be hit harder by layoffs.  The comments of one participant caught my ear and caused me to stop what I was doing.

“I think there’s really something fundamental that has shifted in terms of the worker/employer relationship that you sort of alluded to.  It’s sort of a fracturing of the social contract, where in the past, employers said we wanted committed workers for a long period of time that would invest in the company, then there was an expectation that the company would give back.  But what I’ve found in the discrimination studies that I’ve engaged in is employers are doing just this, maybe at increasing rates with globalization and outsourcing, which is laying off or pushing out aging workers because the employer is interested in saving, in terms of health benefits and pension plans.  There’s something that seems to be, at least to me, morally unjust about that, that is, expecting commitment from an employee, then on the other hand not paying your due as an employer in return.”

I suspect that a discussion in the comments to Laid-off “Livingston” Lawyer got me thinking about this topic.  Although it’s not the first time I’ve touched on issues affecting workers.  Back in To Be Determined I talked about rising unemployment rates and the larger question of what we can do to halt it, and then why we aren’t doing anything.

I agree with the commentator on that PBS program; there is something morally unjust in today’s economic market, particularly when the employee is penalized for leaving but the employer is not.  If I quit or am fired, I cannot collect unemployment.  I assume the rationale is that workers who are fired don’t “deserve” unemployment.  That seems wrought with problems, really, when you think about it.  People can be fired for a host of reasons—being late a few too many times or because two employees fell in love, just to name two.  And “late” doesn’t always mean something egregious.  I once worked for the JC Penney catalogue company.  If you clocked in one minute late or two hours late you were “late” and that’s all that went on your record.

Labor has certainly been denuded when employers can invent such un-human policies like prohibitions on interoffice dating or being a minute late.  Seems like employers—those same who switched us from the Personnel department to the Human Resources, something noted back in Slow Going—have won.  When we’re no longer persons but mere resources, then you can view us like a product that needs to be moved or off-loaded because you ordered too many.  You can picture us like a machine that you turn on when the shift begins—and if you’re late by a minute, then replace the machine.  In this throw-away society it’s easier to replace it than to repair it.

Is this what the slaves of St. Croix . . . and around the world . . . fought for?  To off the literal shackles of one master and clasp on the economic ones?  Are we ever free?  Or is it the plight of human beings?  In Aristotle’s Politics he noted two fundamental relationships we could never escape: Male / Female and Master / Slave.  Each of us are always one or the other.  Intriguing but disturbing.  We seek to be free, of course.  But what version?  There are two types of freedom after all.  The freedom from something, like a dictator or unjust laws, and then the freedom to do something.  Or not do it.  Presumably we’re free to do or not do many things, including continue working for oppressive or immoral, as the commenter dubbed it above, employers.  But we have little freedom from their practices.  And how much freedom do we have when our only option is to leave?  And go where?  Industrialization, and then globalization, has pretty much ensured consistency in many business practices.

What are we looking for?  As a race, I mean.  Do we really want a world based on consumption of meaningless goods?  We’re already seeing the breakdown of that system: massive unemployment, horrible environmental  damage, dissatisfied and disgruntled citizens, overcrowed landfills.  Honestly—if someone “higher up” knows—please tell me.  Where is it supposed to end?  What’s our exit plan?

On Emancipation Day, and the day before America’s Independence Day, I can’t help but wonder about our employment future as a nation.  And, even, as a world.  Already China is attempting to catch up to our level of materialism and ownership.  To what end?

8 Responses

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  1. This looks like its going to be an interesting post:)


    July 4, 2010 at 11:13

  2. Read the Bible, if you haven’t.

    Even if you don’t believe it, it’ll give you a lot to think about relative to your questions in this post.



    July 5, 2010 at 08:40

  3. As a good Catholic (or would that make me a bad one), I’ve read the Bible. In fact, as a teenager I started reading the Bible from the first page forward. I got as far as Second Kings, I think. I just couldn’t deal with the genealogy. Perhaps I’ll restart it.

    I don’t “fear” the Bible as many questioners or non-believers do. As if by touching it, it’ll take you over. Same feelings some have about reading the Qur’an, for example. Unthinkable. Both hold many, many truths. But here I don’t see the direct applicability.

    How can the Bible help find us new jobs? Does it address how to get out of the lack of ethics in business now? The commodification of humanity? I’m sure it does, but I couldn’t cite the Bible in the boardroom. Look at the almost hostile response Biblical environmentalists have gotten over the past few years when they decided to assert their “stewardship.”

    Laid-off Lawyer

    July 5, 2010 at 09:48

  4. Another great post. It always makes me chuckle when people in the west talk about freedom because we are not really free.

    What is the solution? Well individually we can find like minded people to live collectively and barter goods and services and to share resources, I dont know whether I’ve got the commune system in mind, because that could bring with it its own complications and also I value some privacy. But there are groups of people over the world who shun the major economy and create their own and share resources. You just need a few like minded people. I’ve heard of some in the US and I also Ibiza, Im going to try and track them down in Ibiza.

    Its not easy. Problem is that to be free of the system we need some money to start off with.

    Its sad but most people dont have an exit plan or if they do it is “retirement” in the traditional sense at some date 40 years away.

    I forsee that things in the mainstream will only get worse. I think that there will come a day not too far off that employers will start offering dormitory type facilities on site for workers, decent affordable housing will become out of reach for most people.


    July 5, 2010 at 11:49

  5. There are some “company towns” here. The large oil producer on-island—Hovensa—provides cottages for many of its workers, on long stretches of green, green grass. And behind two fences, with barbed wire on top. What a way ruin any view you’d have, right?

    But doesn’t that mean then we’re back full-circle to indentured labor, no? To living off the lord’s land and working for him?

    Laid-off Lawyer

    July 5, 2010 at 12:42

  6. Well, I guess I was responding more to the “big picture” type question of “What are we looking for…” and not specifically as a consumer/employee/part of the US economy/etc.

    We just have to try to be content in our own lives and how we conduct ourselves even while being in the midst of the corruption, et al. that you are talking about. I must admit, I’m not very good at it…I allow myself to get very agitated, upset, and angry over the things going on in this country and in the world today.

    What I need to do, and what I think would help a lot of people get in a more positive place, is to count our blessings every day, especially it times of trouble/turmoil. Again, I don’t do this nearly enough (hardly ever), but I’m trying…

    Anyway, I just thought I’d throw it (the Bible) out there since you’re obviously one who likes to read self-help books and such. BTY, I borrowed one of the books you mentioned from the libarary (Mind Over Money). I thought the explanation of possible “roots” of our money problems/behaviors was interesting, but overall it wasn’t a very helpful book, in my opinion.



    July 6, 2010 at 15:47

  7. You didn’t like the book? I thought it explained a lot. But if it didn’t resonate with you, perhaps you haven’t had negative experiences with money. I’ve found it to be spot on as far as how many people approach money.

    Did you read the whole book or just flip through pages?

    Laid-off Lawyer

    July 7, 2010 at 22:36

  8. I started of reading every page, but I admit I did end up skimming and only checking on the particular chapters that were relevant.

    Don’t get me wrong–I think the book WAS good as far as explaining the (possible) roots of many money behaviors. I guess what I wanted was more strategies to solve or to help others solve them, and the chapters I read didn’t really offer that.



    July 8, 2010 at 07:37

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