In Christian mythology, labor is a curse. A punishment to humans for disobedience. Deity curses the land so that men shall forever toil in difficulty until the day they die. It's a rather grim outlook on labor.
In some African mythology, labor is a gift. One of the Yoruba deities, Ogun, gifts humans with iron from which they make tools of labor. Blacksmiths, farmers, mechanics, surgeons... those who use iron tools, see their labor as divinely predetermined.
In Capitalist mythology, the laborer is a tool. It is meant to sharpen itself and labor to produce maximum profits until it is retired and discarded. Phrases like "cog in the wheel", "daily grind" and "race to the bottom" are derived from this outlook on labor.
"Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you..." - Book of Genesis. Too many laborers return home daily with the weight of sorrows on their shoulders and fulfill this curse. "I hate my job" is perhaps the most common phrase spoken in homes at the end of the day.
But it is not an unseen force beyond our control that makes our labor punitive. It is fellow humans who create oppressive systems of labor. The history of human labor proves that we often have to organize and mobilize against these labor systems that deplete human dignity.
The sweat of our brow, our mind's constant toiling, and the midnight hours of our soul's creative labor can and often do bring us immense joy and a sense of purpose when the conditions are just and fair. It's always in our power to change the mythology that doesn't work for us.
On this day of laborers, I hope we find time to redefine our labor so that it honors us, even if it comes with some measure of pain; fulfills us, even if we had little choice in determining what job to take; and reflects our worth as a human being; even if we are working for someone else.
|Ogun Collection, by Jose Bedia, Cuban artist who depicted the god of war and iron; the Orisha of blacksmiths. Bedia also honored the metal workers from West Africa who built the railway in Cuba while enslaved.|