As we celebrated Labor Day this week, it seems like as good a time as any to bring up what we often try to ignore:
Progressive social workers committed to labor rights often have a lot of work to do in our own shops.
It’s rare to even hear talk about labor rights for social service professionals, and social workers are increasingly disengaged from the labor movement. Instead, we focus our attention (when we focus on labor rights at all) beyond our own walls, finding fault (rightly) with the unfair labor practices of other employers without adequately examining our own record. We talk about how our jobs are our “passion” or our “labor of love” without thinking about how, as employers, social work agencies can be guilty of taking advantage of employees’ dedication to clients and cause.
Think about it where you work. Does any of this sound familiar?
In many ways, we are lucky.
Many of us who call ourselves social workers get paid, some of us even quite well, to do work that does bring meaning into our lives. And, for the most part, we value our interactions with clients, the chance to make a contribution, and the colleagues alongside whom we have the honor to work.
BUT, none of that means that we should ignore our own position as workers, and relatively powerless ones at that. If we won’t take our labor rights seriously for our own good, we should think about the kind of example we’re setting for those we serve–why should they take the risk to stand up for themselves on the job, if they see that we’re not willing to do so too?
You can start today–talk with your coworkers about conditions you all find oppressive, and start to think about how you might work together to change them. Use your clinical skills to open dialogue with your employer and your rights, and, most importantly, how protecting them is in clients’ best interests, too. Use your research skills to learn more about labor rights in your state and resources to help aggrieved workers. Check out some of the examples of social workers forming unions to represent their interests.
Social workers, like everyone who works for a living, deserve to be safe, fairly compensated, adequately rested, appropriately supported, and well-respected on the job. We need to practice what we’re preaching to our clients.
And, besides, we have a lot of rocks to throw!