Saturday, May 23, 2009

Work Versus Labor

Today, CNN featured an article titled "Renewables: America's Next Heavy Industry" ( about the possible job creation that could come from the renewable energy market. The story highlights Minster Machine Company in Ohio where skilled metal workers make hubs for wind turbines at a starting rate of $17.50 per hour. UC Berkeley has estimated that if we get 15-20% of our energy from renewable resources, the number of these types of jobs could climb to two to four million in the next fifteen years.

John Winch, the Chief Executive of Minster Machine Company said: "the renewable energy market could be akin to an industrial revolution-type event", and although job creation and economic development are much needed in this region, are traditional industrial jobs what we want to re-introduce to our cities?

A few days ago, our group had the incredible honor of meeting Grace Lee Boggs. Mrs. Boggs has been an activist, author, speaker and revolutionary thinker for the last 60 years and we were privileged to sit and speak with her about the challenges and opportunities that face Detroit. When addressing job creation, Mrs. Boggs said that we have romanticized the factory work of the past; work has robbed us of our humanity. She quoted Marx who said that labor makes a human being a "fragment of a man". Mrs. Boggs believes that we have to see a correlation between creative ideas and activity and we need to distinguish the difference between labor and work.

Yesterday, we met with educator and activist Nate Walker who wants to develop a new kind of school in Detroit. He wants to create a place where children are taught to think critically and creatively and are asked questions about what it means to be a human being. He said that we are currently educating children to find their use in the labor market and this industrial model of education doesn't value people or their amazing potential to be contributors to their community and to the world around them.

Is it helpful to the people of this region to put the fate of their economic future in another industrial revolution? Is our hope for the children of Detroit or Youngstown that they will grow up to work in a factory? To become the next generation of laborers? Or should they be nurtured to be inspired and critical thinkers allowed to live up to their potential? What kind of world are we trying to create?

People that we met in Detroit said that Detroiters make things. This is their past and I think it could be a part of their future but it is important to allow the residents of these cities to have a diversified economy. What would these new jobs look like and how can we turn the labor of the past into respectful work of the future? Mrs. Boggs husband, activist Jimmy Boggs said: "Change should happen not because you don't like what is going on but because what we're doing makes us less of a human every day".

Our group with Mrs. Boggs, at her home in Detroit.

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