Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Labor Movements

Tuesday, March 23, 2010 -- Week of 5 Lent, Year Two
Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop and Missionary of Armenia, c. 332
Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 957)
Psalms [120], 121, 122, 123 (morning)       124, 125, 126, [127] (evening)
Exodus 5:1 - 6:1
1 Corinthians 14:20-33a, 39-40 
Mark 9:42-50

NOTE:  Yesterday I printed the wrong Epistle reading.  We are in First Corinthians, not Second.

The Exodus begins as a labor movement.  Moses functions in the same way as a labor union.  Moses approaches management -- the Pharaoh -- and asks for a work concession:  Let the Hebrews go for a three-day religious observance.  Management decides to crush the upstart movement, and adds new productivity expectations:  You will produce the same amount of bricks, but you will gather your own straw rather than having the company supply it.  The new policy was enforced with worker sanctions, focusing on the workers' supervisors.  When they bring complaint, they are rebuffed strongly. 

As management hoped, the supervisors turned on the labor organizers Moses and Aaron, saying, "You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us."  The whole movement is close to being crushed by the harshness of management.  Pharaoh has succeed in dividing labor, getting them to fight among themselves instead of uniting in some organized way to improve their conditions. 

I'd like to repeat a story I've told before, about my wife's grandfather.  Kathy's grandfather was a Baptist minister in South Carolina in the 1920's.  He preached in a mill town, where a large portion of his congregation worked in a textile mill.  The mills' management faced lowered profits because of a post-war overproduction problem.  They created a strategy called "stretch out."  Each factory person was given more looms to work, break times were limited, pay lowered, and more supervisors hired to enforce higher production.  When the National Recovery Agency set the forty hour work week, mill owners required the same amount of work as had been produced previously in the fifty and sixty hour weeks. 

Although they were still largely unorganized by the fledgling United Textile Workers union, almost a half-million workers walked off their jobs from New England through the Southeastern U.S. in 1934.  The walkout is still regarded as the largest strike in our nation's history.  It lasted twenty-two days, and it was brutally suppressed.  The governor of South Carolina deputized "mayors, sheriffs, peace officers and every good citizen" to maintain order and called out the National Guard with orders to shoot any picketers who entered the mill.  Gangs of ruffians-turned-militia beat and shot strikers.  They threatened families and homes. 

The brutality worked.  Workers returned to the mills defeated and cowed from further resistance.  Many scholars trace the general lack of union presence in the South to the memory of the trauma so many families suffered in their singular experience of this strike.  Wages and benefits for southern workers continued to be significantly lower for generations than wages and benefits for workers in more unionized regions in the North.

For Kathy the strange thing about this part of her family's story was the inherited shame that haunted her family.  It took her years for her to piece together the facts of the story, because no one in the family was willing to talk about it.  At first, Kathy thought her grandfather had done something terrible or immoral.  "Why did Granddaddy leave South Carolina?"  "Oh he got into some bad trouble up there." 

It took years for her to learn the truth.  Her grandfather, the Baptist minister, had supported the strikers.  Because of that he lost his job.  He was fired through pressure from the mill owners and management.  His family had to relocate.  That's how they came to Mississippi.  It was remembered within the family as a dark time, and no one spoke of it.  A shamful silence covered up the story for generations.  When Kathy finally uncovered the whole story, she was proud of her grandfather.  She was the first person in her family to react with pride rather than shame.

Pharaoh knows how to victimize the victims.  Southerners like Kathy's grandfather internalized the suffering and the violence that broke their claim for justice, and they felt guilty for the ruin of their families and livelihoods.  We often see victims victimized, in of violence perpetuated against women, injustices tolerated against immigrants, and various attacks on gay people. 

The abuse of power and the economics of Pharaoh didn't stop with the Exodus.  And God is still working to set the people free. 

The church proclaims an alternative power, the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom of God is how this world would be if God were in charge rather than Pharaoh.  The Kingdom of God upholds the place of the little and the lost, the weak and the vulnerable.  Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, who yearn for right. 

In the power of God, Moses organized a people to free them from their oppression.

In Christ, God became the victim of every abuse of power and overcame its destructiveness with resurrection power.  The Risen Lord invites us into that triumphant resurrection Kingdom of God, which continues the Exodus work of overturning injustice and victimization in the name of God.  Against such spiritual power, Pharaoh cannot prevail. 

And I'm proud to be married to the daughter of that Baptist preacher from South Carolina.



Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another great reflection. Thanks for the time and thought you give to each one of these.

At 7:49 PM, Blogger HumbleHumanity said...

So our president and his abuse of power cannot prevail? So when he, thru the IRS, reaches into my pocket and steals from my children I can expect some Heavenly justice?
"Another great reflection. thanks fro the time and thought you give each one of these." I can't wait.

At 8:38 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

It is not abuse of power in our system to pass a law by a majority vote. Happens every day. Sometimes I like what passes; often I don't. But the rule of law applies, and we follow them, even when it means we start immoral wars like the invasion of Iraq.

If you object to paying taxes, stop riding on roads, drinking clean water, eating inspected foods, or enjoying every other privilege that is underwritten by our taxes. By all means, refuse to participate in Medicare and Social Security when you get to be 65. Do all of that and really prove you aren't a socialist.

At 9:21 AM, Blogger HumbleHumanity said...

Oh, so your finally admitting that it is socialism? Finally some honesty.
All I want from Social Security is the security that I will get what I was FORCED to put into it.

Oh, yeah, how is your lord Obama doing in Afghanistan? Dropping bombs and killing civilians. Talk about an unjust war. Innocent women and children sleeping in their beds and a bomb lands in their living room. Justice? There is no justice in a bomb with Obama's finger on the trigger.

Another thing. The law said that Federal dollars will be used to fund Abortions. that was majority vote and rule of law. but then the opressor obama comes along and passes an executive order depriving sooooo many women of their fundamental right to kill their baby. IS that another example of JUSTICE?


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