Live Together or Die Alone

“Live together or die alone.” That’s the motto of the castaways in the TV show, “Lost,” which began its fourth season a couple months ago.
The saying is far from original, of course. I’m reminded of the flag featured in the titles of the recent PBS documentary on John Adams, that depicted a snake in several pieces, with the words, “Join or Die.” It was a plea for the colonies to recognize their common interests and work together. See where that got us – one of the most powerful nations on earth.
Members of labor unions know the wisdom of collective action of individuals for the good of all. When I joined the Newspaper Guild in 1977, I benefitted from the strikes and struggles of the previous decades, with a 37 1/2-hour work week, a night shift that was an hour shorter than the day shift, and a solid grievance system that would protect me from the whims of erratic supervisors.
Some old-timers could tell me when they got those particular provisions in the contract, or what the results were of the strikes of the previous decade. Before I left, I could tell you the battles we waged to prevent a two-tier wage system, random drug testing or attacks on our very right to representation.
Readers of the Labor Trib don’t need to be persuaded of the value of sticking together for the common good. But in the last few years, maybe even the last few decades, many Americans seem to have lost sight of the notion of The Common Good in capital letters. Live together or die alone; join or die. These are not just sayings to make a good TV show or something from our history. These expressions of the necessity of focusing on the Common Good describe what has made America a great nation.
I’m afraid for our great nation when we lose sight of the Common Good.
The topsy-turvy weather we’ve been having the last few weeks has me thinking about global warming, power , money and the Common Good. The fact that our global climate is changing because of pollution is becoming inescapable. What mystifies me is why the Bush administration, the oil companies and other powerful monied interests are so anxious to deny it’s happening.
Oh, I can see the economic argument. Addressing the problem, tackling it with all our resources, would cost money. It might reduce profits. It could threaten fortunes. What I don’t understand is the attitude of the rich and powerful who seem to think that their power and money can protect them from global climate change.
It’s one thing to invade Iraq, using the nation’s soldiers and the nation’s money, while Bush & Co. reap profits and stay safe from the action. They seem to think that they can construct reality and live in their nice bubble, paid for with other people’s lives and livelihoods.
But there’s nowhere to hide from global warming. No amount of money or power can prevent the climate from changing in the rich man’s corner of the world. No amount of money can remove these problems to another planet. Everyone’s wellbeing is connected.
It’s the same with the attitude toward healthcare. The Republicans in Congress and the Blunt administration in Missouri seem to think that as long as their children have access to healthcare, they and their powerful friends shouldn’t have to pay taxes to ensure that other people’s children are healthy. Until the immunization rate has plummeted so much that we’re suffering from an epidemic of whooping cough – a thoroughly preventable disease. When the legislature or Congress feel no responsibility to provide access to healthcare for the least powerful of their constituents, they are acting as if they don’t live on the same planet.
Or take the economy. This latest downturn, the economists tell us, is different from those in the past. Because the poorest segments of the U.S. population never recovered from the last downturn. The rising tide of economic activity has not lifted all boats, especially among the chronically unemployed or underemployed.
Well, why should the billionaires in this country care about the widening gap between rich and poor? Why should the CEOs who get millions in bonuses even when their companies lose money – why should they care?
When the Common Good is overshadowed by “I’ve got mine, and to hell with you,” why should anyone care?
Live together or die alone. If money and power could buy peace and prosperity, the Middle East with its oil would be heaven on earth, where all children had enough to eat, where every adult had meaningful work and all God’s children would live in harmony. Instead, it is a spawning ground for terrorism. Why does this oil-rich region incubate the likes of Al Qaida, Hamas, the Taliban, ? Policies of the powerful that ignore or tear down the Common Good.
No one has enough money or power to buy peace of mind, if they’re focused only on getting it for themselves. No economy can function for long if the people who do the work are sacrificed for the comfort of the people who have the money. Take a look at the stock market’s gyrations lately. A system built on American productivity cannot hold if you ship the production overseas. A system that exploits immigrant workers and seeks to blame them for the exploitation will continue only if we refuse to stand together.
This political season, as some politicians try the divide-and-conquer methods again, I urge you to look for candidates who understand the necessity of making policy decisions for the Common Good. Live together or die alone.

Published in the St. Louis Labor Tribune, March 11-18, 2008


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