I have been thinking about writing this for exactly 148 days now. That is how many days the staff at the juvenile detention centre near my house have been on strike. The centre lies directly between my house and everywhere I ever drive, so I go by it just about every day. Every day they update their little sign to tell the world how many days they have been sitting outside, waiting for their demands to be met. My friend Jason thinks that if, after 148 days the jail is not falling apart, they have likely learned to get along quite well without the staff. He’s probably right. I wonder why they don’t just let the staff sit out there forever.
There are always at least 6 or 8 people sitting at the end of the driveway leading into the detention centre. They sit in the middle of the driveway so they can block any cars coming in, forcing the drivers to wait a few minutes. On either side of the driveway are little huts they have constructed of shipping crates, plywood and old blue tarps. I believe they are held together with nothing but gravity and a bit of nylon rope. Outside each hut is an oil barrel which is loaded with wood to provide warmth on cool nights. There is an assortment of garbage, broken lawn chairs, barrels, signs and other assorted trash scattered around the strike site. Any time I drive by the employees are sitting on lawn chairs either kicked back reading novels or playing cards. For the first few days they held signs and waved at cars, but that has long since stopped. For a while they held signs claiming that working conditions were not safe enough. Yet since they are striking for more money, I suppose they would allow those conditions to remain the same or even deteriorate if only they were given a bit more money. Those signs have disappeared.
One of their signs continues to bring a smile to my face whenever I see it. Nailed to a tree beside on of their squalid little huts is a sign that says “Protect the dignity of labor.” Every time I see that sign I think, “Is this dignified labour?” Is it dignified to pile garbage on the ground and to build huts that look like something homeless people would turn their noses up at? Is it dignified to sit on the side of the road in track pants and a dirty t-shirt and reading a novel for eight hours a day? Is their dignity in walking away from your job, your responsibilities, and the youth you claim to care for so you can gain an extra couple of dollars an hour?
Dignfied labour is labour done for the Lord. Giving an honest day’s work, whether it is as a a pastor, a homemaker, a labourer or a youth worker in a detention centre is as dignified as one can be. Being a good employee and honoring God through your work – that is God’s recipe for dignity, success and joyfulness.
To those people sitting at the end of the driveway over at the detention centre I say this. If you want to be dignified in your labor, get out of that lawnchair, take down your huts, put out the fires and get back to work.
I have a feeling they won’t listen. I have a feeling this strike isn’t about bringing dignity to labour at all…