The end of July always gets me thinking about my dad. No, it’s not when he was born, that was in March. It’s when he passed away.
My dad was born in 1913. Had he lived, he’d be close to a hundred now. Thinking about the span of his life also gets me thinking about all that has changed in that time. So often, people get nostalgic for the “Good Old Days.”
My father was never one of those!
No, he always talked about how rough life was in his youth. He’d seen his mom work hard, all day, every day, just to get the basic chores done. There was a reason people spoke of “wash day” and “ironing day”; it used to take all day to get the wash done! His dad worked as a plumber, teacher and various other odd jobs, just to make ends meet so the family could live decently.
In his childhood, there were no video games or Internet to make kids obese, but there was also no penicillin or advanced medical care; the dentist was definitely no fun! There weren’t too many handicapped people around, but that was because so few people survived anything, such as an accident or birth defects, which that might leave them disabled. The disabled were institutionalized or hidden.
The accused had no right to a lawyer, and certainly no right to remain silent! If you were poor and arrested, you were probably going to jail. The rich often got a free pass for just about any crime. There was no protection for the environment; companies dumped anything anywhere. Of course, to be fair, the chemicals and pollutants back then were mild compared to the toxins of today.
Though his dad, my grandfather, was a skilled worked, a master plumber and teacher, he wasn’t exactly making big bucks. As a plumber, he made fifty-cents an hour. His salary, as a teacher, was a pittance, with and no benefits.
Inn my dad’s world there were the rich, the poor and a very few families such as his a notch above working poor. Unions didn’t have much influence, the ones that existed; health insurance was a joke and the government was in the pockets of the rich and the powerful.
Big business pretty much did what it wanted. Government regulations were almost non-existent. Companies could hire anyone they wanted, of any age, paid as little as they wanted, made employees work under any conditions they wanted and gave them zero benefits.
Over the course of his life, my dad saw so much improve, for so many. Healthcare became downright high tech, simple conveniences and devices made every aspect of daily life easier – and helped to fuel an economic boom; John Q. Public saw the standard of living improve dramatically.
Unions became stronger and won, for their members, wages and benefits we now take for granted. Unions won paid vacations, shorter hours, the end to child labour, safer working conditions, a minimum wage, sick leave, higher wages and so on.
Now, here we are, closing in on coming full circle, in so many ways. Not only are the dates re-aligning, so is our country. The unions are weak, we have only the rich and the poor, healthcare is only for the well-to-do and businesses are back to doing what they want.
Recently a state changed their child labour laws to allow children to work more hours and they took down a mural celebrating the history of labour, of workers. Kids work cheaper than do adults and who wants a nasty old image around to remind us of what workers once had to go through on a daily basis? After all, we should be looking forward, not back. Just think of how profitable companies will be in the future, once cumbersome government regulations vanish.
Yes, we’re coming full circle and I have to wonder if we’ll ever get back to a more balanced society.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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