In my days as a college student, protester and demonstrator I recall the song, if “I had a Hammer”. My favorite verse was ” I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land.” It was a call to overcome the deep divisions that haunted the times. Well much has changed since that period. And, much still needs to be done.
Over the last several years I began gardening (great stress relief), my brother in-law remodeled my mother’s home, and my wife, Cayan, began making numerous minor home repairs (she is really good at it). Like so many others we purchased our supplies and tools at the big box hardware stores. One can’t help noticing the day laborers that wait for someone to hire them. Evidently, contractors and others could efficiently buy both supplies and hire laborers at the same place. But this year seemed different. A sagging economy reduced the need for these workers. So, laborers, many Latino, seemed to be waiting for longer periods of time to be hired. Far too often, you could see the desperation in their faces and body language.
People waiting for a day job are more often the visual of a developing country. Or, they make headlines as a member of China’s migratory day job labor force, which is the largest in the world. The plight of this workforce is legendary and human rights activists have criticized China’s handling of their living and working conditions.
So, I was so pleased that the City of Los Angeles adopted an ordinance to establish regulatory standards for the treatment of day laborers. Those big box stores must provide them with shelter, bathrooms, drinking water, and trash cans. I wish King County government could follow suit. But there are no big box hardware stores within our jurisdiction of unincorporated King County. We live in the greatest nation in the world.
Contrast Los Angeles with the elected leaders of Hendon, Virginia. They closed down their day labor center and are intent on adopting regulations that will make Hendon inhospitable to day laborers. Their town officials want to step up police activity and zoning enforcement where the workers gather, ban carryout alcoholic beverage sales downtown and remove the pay phones that the workers use to call their home countries. According to the Washington Post, they want to “institute a permitting process for homeowners to rent out rooms, in hopes of reducing the number of workers living in crowded conditions. They also want to confiscate bicycles — a common mode of transport for the workers — that are parked illegally in public places.” The racism that surrounds this issue in Herndon is evidenced by Town Councilman’s Dennis Husch, who proposed the new rules, who says “I’m getting a lot of pressure from my constituents to do something about those 30 guys standing on the street all the time… I got an e-mail from a lady that lives on the west end of Alabama Drive talking about how scared she was, how afraid she was to go out at night or to go out during the daytime because of the men just hanging out. ..”
How we treat day laborers and migrants can represent either the best or the worst in us. To deprive an individual of shelter, water, and a sanitary environment and intimidate them with police is so very wrong. Or we can see them for what they are: hardworking individuals chasing and sustaining the American Dream.
We must set the highest standards for the treatment of people, especially in a world that all too often forgets to. We must remind ourselves and each other that being humane is what separates us from other living things.
Well I’ve got a hammer
And I’ve got a bell
And I’ve got a song to sing
All over this land
It’s the hammer of justice
It’s the bell of freedom
It’s the song about love between my brothers and my sisters All over this land…
- Lyrics to Hammer Song
- LA City Council article
- Herndon Could Tighten Screws On Day Laborers
- State farm workers face low quality of life, study find
- As Unrest Rises, China Broadens Workers’ Rights
- Hundreds of migrant workers riot in east China