The Marks of Ti, E Essay

Submitted By yodaman123
Words: 781
Pages: 4

“I came to Washington to work for God, FDR, and the millions of forgotten, plain, common workingmen,” recalled Frances Perkins. And so she did. From 1933 to 1945, Perkins helped create the core features of the New Deal state: minimum wage and maximum hours laws, legal guarantees for workers’ rights to organize and join unions, prohibition of child labor, Social Security, unemployment compensation, and fair labor standards. For all of the New Deal’s limitations, its laws and programs tamed Upton Sinclair’s “Jungle,” encouraged broad economic security and prosperity, and created, in economic terms, the most equitable America in history. And it was promoted and protected not only by strong unions but also by religious leaders, thanks to the prominence of a social gospel in the Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish traditions at mid-century. During her twelve years as secretary of labor, Perkins herself spent one day a month in contemplative retreat at a convent. For her, the reference to God was not simply a rhetorical flourish.
Since the 1970s economic inequality has surged to levels not seen since the 1920s, Dickensian abuses of workers have returned, and deregulation has enabled the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. President Obama’s Secretary of Labor, Hilda Solis, faces challenges not unlike Perkins’s. Yet today, as in the 1930s, crisis also creates the opportunity for a bold new direction—a New New Deal, potentially more inclusive of the nation’s diverse labor force than Perkins could have imagined. Might the nation’s churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples again have a role in rescuing a wayward economy?
In addressing this question, Solis can learn much from Kim Bobo, founder and Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ). Bobo’s goal is to revive America’s justice-seeking prophetic tradition, with a particular focus on economic justice. In her new book, Wage Theft in America, Bobo argues powerfully for the importance of community allies in improving struggling workers’ lives. She aims to rouse believers from all faith traditions to a new sense of social mission. Her starting point, and the focus of her book, is to address a more specific challenge: “why millions of working Americans are not getting paid and what we can do about it.” The charge is not an exaggeration. Using Department of Labor settlements (which her organization has done much to win), Bobo documents how companies steal literally billions of dollars from millions of workers each year.
The cruelest cases involve undocumented and vulnerable immigrants, among them construction day laborers who are sometimes paid literally nothing for their back-breaking work. But the problem is not confined to small businesses using undocumented workers. Cintas, the huge industrial laundry with more than $3 billion in sales in 2007, subcontracted to a sweatshop in Bobo’s own northside Chicago neighborhood that was shortchanging workers $1 an hour by paying less than minimum wage—even requiring them to supply their own toilet paper in the company restroom. Through its outsourcing system, Cintas “had essentially stolen over $100,000 from poverty wage workers.” The Department of Labor agreed and mandated…