‘The Death of the Hired Man’ a metaphor for angry activists

‘The Death of the Hired Man’ is the title of a well-known Robert Frost poem and the same title was recycled by Blythe Theatre founder Paul Thompson for a play he wrote and directed at the southeastern Ontario institution a dozen years ago.

The same name could be given to the era we’re currently living in because it denotes an epoch of change. Both Frost’s poem and Thompson’s play described dramatic changes in rural life, as the agricultural industry was becoming increasingly mechanized and less labour-intensive.

In our current ‘Death of the Hired Man’ time, this plays itself out as a period of fewer jobs, the increasing importation of goods once manufactured in Canada and the classic image of people still living in their parents’ homes in their late twenties and early thirties.

Our particular version of the ‘Death of the Hired Man’ has manifested itself in a large way in Europe and the United States, less so in Canada, over the past week with the protests of the ’99 percent’ outside large financial institutions.

The grievance of the ’99 percent’ is, of course, directed at the one percent—those few people who are disproportionately wealthy and powerful.

Their concerns are, of course, legitimate and the movement in Western Europe and North America may go in a direction that no one anticipates as more and more people who consider themselves marginalized and disenfranchised by society and by economic circumstances may take to the streets in various incarnations of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ phenomenon.

The ‘Death of the Hired Man’ reference is appropriate because much of the unemployment and well-educated people having access to only ‘McJobs’ is the result of overseas outsourcing, not only of manufacturing jobs but of technical work as well.

It seems more and more clear that our United States neighbours have a larger discrepancy between rich and poor than Canadians. It’s the same thing north of the border, of course, but the divide doesn’t appear as pronounced.

One very good reason for this is our access to universal health care, which goes a long way, in comparison to the United States, in narrowing the divide between rich and poor.

The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protestors in the United States and their European counterparts feel governments lavished money to prop up banks while their own lives were in chaos, many in the United States losing their homes because of the sub-prime loan fiasco that had been encouraged by the very banking institutions that were then the beneficiaries of government support so that they, in turn, didn’t fail.

In Canada, very tough banking regulations give far more protection to the banks’ customers than their United States counterparts so, once again, Canadians may not have nearly as much about which to protest.

‘The Death of the Hired Man,’ however, remains an abiding symbol in our Western economy very much in flux where even tiny alterations to the status quo (inevitable in many cases) are very disruptive to the lives of many people, particularly in the 99 percent of the population who are just now, especially in the United States and Europe, taking exception with the ways in which their governments have assisted the financial institutions that are in trouble, specifically because of inappropriate planning and decisions.

We are in a time of change worldwide and the change is massive.

To say that it is inevitable and necessary means precious little to the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ crowd and their counterparts in Europe and, less desperately, in Canada.

It is the ‘Death of the Hired Man’ once again.