With the recent commemoration of Veterans Day, we often heard the phrase “we honor you for your service” directed at those who served in the armed forces. And honored they should be, for they made great sacrifices while in the military. Some received serious wounds, both physical and mental; and if nothing else, they gave up years of their lives, while some were placed in harm’s way in combat zones. We cannot forget the more than 100,000 Americans who gave their lives in conflicts just since World War II.
If one thinks about it, however, one rarely hears the statement “we honor you for your work.” Very similar words, very different intent. Why is that? Even on Labor Day there are few statements honoring workers for their work, other than those from the AFL-CIO, a labor union, or from some in the progressive community. Almost nothing in the media or at sporting events (where professional team owners fall over themselves to honor veterans).
Everyone would agree that the average person who gets up in the morning and goes to work-in an office, a factory, a mine, or a hospital, for example-faces many difficulties. No one needs to go through the list of daily stressful conditions that can lead to burnout, injury, or illness. Not to mention the end product of their work, oftentimes a commodity that an owner sells at a profit.
The bottom line is that the two statements express two very different outlooks on life. Again, no one takes anything away from the veteran, yet the ubiquity of the phrase “we honor your service” is really the outgrowth of a system that has incorporated war and militarism into its basic fabric. “We honor your work” describes a view that the production of goods and services in a society is the result of people making a daily sacrifice-their time and their labor-so that modern civilization can exist.
Maybe it is unrealistic to expect a high level of respect for those who work in a capitalist society. It is only when people understand that labor is at the core of all we know that we will make progress toward the creation of a socialist society.
Photo: Welder works on boilers for a ship (CC).