Honor Labor  


by Brad Cotton


published Circleville Herald Sept. 3, 2013


We were working to get his heart beating again. He had a great pulse when the automatic CPR machine was going, but had no pulse on his own.  After 20 minutes of Advanced Cardiac Life Support( ACLS) in the EMS truck, we were nearing the end, known in the algorithms as “consider termination of resuscitative efforts”


I asked the EMS crew ,“Know anything about this guy?  I know you were busy working him, any history, any diabetes, kidney disease, drugs?


“No, nobody even knew who he was.


“He went down at work, nobody knows him?


There is nothing left to do. As always I make eye contact with every nurse, respiratory tech, ER tech on the team. We’ve been in this together, and the patient is younger than me, only 49. He has a wedding band. I will soon meet his family and become a part of their memories for ever and ever. “I’m out of ideas,,it’s been 30 mins..any suggestions?,,,ready to stop?”


Even the too-hopeful ACLS texts advise “termination of efforts” at this point. We stop and note the time.


I speak with the EMS guys. “Thanks, great  job, thanks for trying. Nobody knew him?”  I am wondering how can you work with someone and not even know him.


“Doc, you don’t know this place. You want to work, you show up in their lot. They pick you to work that day, they give you a number. See that number on his wrist band?”  I note he does have a wrist band, like when you go to an amusement park.


“ You work, if you get picked out of the lot, they pay you at the end of the day. The workers say you get stiffed a lot.”


I look the EMS Officer in the eye. We are talking about a man who worked, trying to take care of a wife, likely some children,  being treated so disrespectfully, like a piece of rental equipment. “You know, used to be we respected a working man.”


Day laborers, didn’t Jesus hang out with day laborers and such? He spoke about being unable to serve both God and money. I’ll take the Spirit of God living in my patient over the spirit of money speaking through those running this sweat shop


Used to be in our nation we respected labor, whether that man or woman was an EMS officer, a teacher, a custodian, a factory hand. One man working was able to support a family, buy a home, get good health care and send his kids to college. Those days are gone, although the preachers of the new  Golden Calf , aka  “The Market” still claim that character and hard work will always pay off  and that we are one of the most upwardly mobile societies. We of character  know that the economy, after years of right wing free-market theorizing, has only served to make our money, not us, upwardly mobile. We know the US is now one of the most unequal and unfair and least upwardly mobile of nations.


We didn’t always respect the working man. The post- Civil War era of industrialization up until FDR’s presidency was one of sweat shops, long hours, dangerous conditions, unspeakable suffering.  US history texts taught in high school rarely appropriately emphasize the hard-fought bloody years of the US labor movement wherein workingmen gained respect by demanding it, out loud , now. To understand from whence we came, and to where right wing economics is returning us, to the days in 1912 when my grandfather  Hiram Cotton at age 12 shoveled coal into the boilers of Great Lakes freighters, read “The Labor Wars: From the Molly Maguires to the Sit-Downs” by Sidney Lens.


Money talks. Money protects itself. Money has been winning since the Reagan presidency. Money talks through “Right to Work” laws that turn entire states into the kind of sweatshops my patient died in. Money talks through gerrymandered Republican voting districts. Money talks through the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allows unlimited secret corporate cash to destroy elections. Money talks through voter suppression laws that as former President Clinton noted this past week “ make it harder to vote than to buy an assault weapon”. The lies of money are astounding: there is no, repeat no significant voter fraud yet so many Republican-lead states, including Ohio, have enacted laws/regulations limiting voting access. Who benefits when people can’t vote?


Progressive US  Supreme Court justice  Louis D. Brandeis helped tame the corrosive destruction of people and democracy by moneyed corporations. Appointed by Woodrow Wilson in 1916 Brandeis is alleged to have said: “ We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” We could use a lot more Brandeis.