Bankole: Shutdown denies workers promise of America

Bankole Thompson
Cheryl Monroe, left, of Ecorse, an FDA employee and her sister Sheila Monroe, right, of Fort Mill, South Carolina, a Department of Treasury employee, chant "Call a vote" along with other furloughed workers during an anti-government shutdown rally in downtown Detroit Friday.

Over the last five weeks, some federal employees have had to continue to work without pay, showing that America appears to be revisiting an ugly and past practice of indentured servitude. But we have come a long way since then with the sanctity of labor becoming a central pillar of the American way of life. That has been the holy grail of the American Dream, which promises a road map to a better life through hard work and dedication.

That is why no one should work without pay in 2019. No one should be made to pour blood and sweat into any company or entity without the requisite compensation. That should be non-negotiable. Period.

I remember a late uncle who used to say that there is dignity in labor. He believed that no matter how big or small your job is, what matters is that you were taking a paycheck home. Because there is something redemptive about going to work to provide for your family. There is something sacrosanct about waking up in the morning and looking into the innocent eyes of a child and tell him/her that you are headed to work for them. That is economic security at its core, because that child feels secured that their father or mother will return home with food on the table.

But there are federal workers — 800,000 dedicated men and women across the nation — who have been deprived of that economic security that will enable them to guarantee to their children and families that the lights in their homes will continue to be on. That they will be able to pay their bills on time without fear of receiving an eviction notice. To withhold their checks in a political game they have no role in creating, is the height of callous indifference toward those who represent the dignity of work.

These workers represent the best of the American credo of contributing to the well-being of the nation in every facet of our national life. In return, they deserve more than what they are getting from those who have sworn to protect their interests. And unless your heart is made up of stone, no one should be recommending that these workers take a loan and go into debt simply because political inflexibility in Washington, D.C. has basically turned them into political hostages. Unless you enjoy watching innocent people suffer, no one should be telling these workers that not receiving their checks is part of some greater good or commitment to a higher order.

One of the victims of this political cruelty that forced workers to go without pay is Faye Smith, an African-American security guard at the Smithsonian Institution, who was shown on television shaking and weeping. She became one of the public faces of this national crisis. After expressing worry that she may be kicked out of her house, she reportedly received some support.  

Still, Smith’s story represented for many the kind of national outrage that is greeting the shutdown as polls continue to show that the majority in the nation are opposed to it no matter the attempts to justify it. 

This crisis is also a wake-up call because it shows how many people are a paycheck away from homelessness. What should come out of this calamity are sensible policies that will lead to a stronger safety net in the same way Social Security, born out of the Depression, became one of the most popular government programs that is still funded.

Shutting down crucial components of the federal government is unacceptable. And though the power play between the White House and Congress has come to a temporary end, we in Detroit can show something we are known for: generosity. If this happens again, we should rally around those federal workers in Detroit who are affected and find ways to support them and their families.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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