“Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common.-The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me.” -Frederick Douglass
It is 5:00am as I write this and I will soon be off to work.
My day will consist of serving others, wearing a fake smile, and on top of it all generating value to be passed upwards in a pyramid the Egyptians would’ve been proud of.
In fact I’M supposed to be proud of it.
We’re constantly told how lucky we are to have a job, how millions of others stand ready and willing to take our place. Everyday the very real threat of losing the privilege of not starving is held right above heads. They even have holiday to celebrate this fact.
Not May Day, a holiday most Americans simply ignore, and if they are aware of it most buinsess-y types avoid like the plague. I’m talking about Labor Day, a holiday these roaches in suits are federally mandated to give a shit about.
So they climb out of their nests and pretend.
The entire country puts on a half-assed show to act like they really give a shit about the people taking out the trash, waiting tables, or driving dead bodies to the morgue. Like living for somebody else was something to be fucking proud of. Big shit-eating grins with crocodile teeth stretch from corporate offices to skyscrapers in New York, inner laughter being stifled to keep the illusion of decency going. It’s fucking hilarious that on the holiday ostensibly made for us the majority of people work because they have to, while salaried petit bourgeoisie take it as a personal day. Across the country yesterday little speeches rang out above the clack of dishes or inbetween off-loading trucks:
“I just want to thank you for everything you’ve done for us here, we’re all one big family. Ernesto, by the way, uh I’m not going to be able to give you that weekend off. You need to find somebody to switch with you. Tiffany! One more time I catch you 5 minutes late you’re out of here, understand that? And cover up that tattoo! I don’t care if it’s your mother’s name I don’t want out customers seeing that! Now uh, I’m going home for the day but I want this place looking good in the morning, understand? So uh…happy Labor Day.”
It wasn’t always like this.
50 years ago Labor Day was an American tradition, a holiday where the little guy got to sit back and celebrate his accomplishments. TV ads would remark about amazing levels of American productivity, unions would offer company picnics, and amid the peaceful suburbs the smell of cooking burgers wafted inbetween homes owned by the people that lived in them.
Contrary to modern myths, including those held by Leftists, this comfort was not “given” to them by anyone, nor did workers see it as such:
“The American Labor Day holiday grew out of the parade and picnic of the Central Labor Union of New York City on September 5, 1882:
The year 1882 was charged with excitement for organized workers in New York City. On January 30, thousands of workers packed Cooper Union in support of Irish tenants against their British landlords. Under such banners as “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey/Where wealth accumulates, and men decay,” union leaders expressed the unity of labor’s cause throughout the world. Among the participants were Matthew Maguire, Secretary of the Committee on Arrangements, who read letters from labor unions from every part of America, and Peter J. McGuire, who “spoke eloquently for half an hour, retiring among continued applause,”
Maguire and McGuire, both members of the Socialist Labor Party Club of New York, had proposed the holiday to the Central Labor Union of New York. On Tuesday, Sept. 5, 1882, about ten thousand workers took an unpaid day off and marched around Union Square in support of the holiday and celebrating labor’s international cause. It became an annual event that spread to other cities and states as the movement for a national Labor Day grew.”
50 years ago folks still had grandparents who could tell you what it was like to spend 12 hours in a mine, how they’d lost 3 childhood friends to factory accidents. There was still a link, however thin, to a lightning struck past where the great mass of humanity fought often to the point of physical violence against a life many viewed worse than death. Nobody kidded themselves into thinking bosses or business execs had “given” them a weekend or an eight-hour day. They knew, through first hand experience, that people died for the right to live decently.
Perhaps Labor Day in the past warmed red hearts, and for those who shuffled off to work the next morning maybe a bit of inspiration was carried in the pocket normally just reserved for keys. They were going to do work with benefits, job security, even pension plans yet they knew that while these things were good they were only trophies, hard-won laurels in an ongoing campaign. They were not “gifts” by any stretch.
What a difference 50 years makes.
Now union membership is at an all time low. 79.7% of all american workers are putting in time not in industries but in shit-pay service jobs. The American worker hasn’t seen her wage raise since 1979 while the prices on everything from food to housing has gone up. This morning she will go into one of the two unfulfilling jobs that she hates to make money for the disgustingly rich “job creators” the Republicans worship while praying she doesn’t catch the flu this week because she has no paid sick days.
Now that the hotdogs are all eaten, the booze all drank, and the morning commute looming ahead of us, we return to the fog of amnesia. We forget our history, our hard-fought struggles. We get up and thank whatever gods we pray to that we can simply put food on the table. Life blends into schedules we never choose, our lives orbiting the diktats of corporate or franchisee. We smile and swap stories of what we did for the short while we were off the plantation if we had the day off. Many of us didn’t.
What does Labor Day mean, in a very real sense, now that it’s over? What eulogy can be written for one million causes and a ghost holiday rarely noted on calendars and even less often “celebrated?”
What can be said the morning after, if we really stare into the oblivion we call society and note that in a short 50 years almost every victory paid for in blood by the working class has been reversed?
Maybe we don’t deserve Labor Day. Maybe it’s no longer a crown that fits on our head. As profits go up and living standards go down the tents are long gone from Zuccotti Park. Bernie Sanders has skipped town. Ask for more money and your fellow workers are more likely to call YOU greedy than the boss buying a new boat. Maybe Labor Day is a testament to what was and certainly could be again–but nothing that we live in today.
Many lament that these holidays have lost their appeal, that class-consciousness has fallen to the point where May Day is almost unknown outside radical circles and Labor Day is a joke.
But I see potential.
Because if we stop celebrating a history that isn’t ours we stop pretending we’re reaping its benefits. If we stop telling ourselves about how much we’ve accomplished we can begin to look back down on the piles of shit we’ve allowed to accumulate onto our shoes. We can stop seeing a war half-won and acknowledge a battle that needs to be reignited. We are on the ropes here, kids. We have much more in common with strikers being shot in the early 1900’s then comfy union picnics. People are having dogs set on them by private companies in an attempt to keep them in line. We fell asleep at the wheel and are waking up to a world where workers are back at square one.
Now that the fun is over let’s call a spade a fucking spade and stop pretending.
We can acknowledge the fact that we are exploited, abused, broken, and that with every passing day the safety net that keeps us from hitting rock bottom slowly shrinks. We can acknowledge any labor struggle, any strike, will most likely no receive any help from allies outside our workplace. Once again our eyes can become clear and see that the State and Capitalism are inextricably fused, that the cops will break up our rallies and meetings under false pretenses. We can acknowledge we have enemies again, with names and addresses, or even better that the old enemies never really left, a reoccurring darkness reborn with every generation. We can start organizing in our towns and fight the battles our Ancestors did, hoping like they did that our children will be born to a better world.
Hungry, lean, and sharp in tooth in claw, the wounded animal is truly the most dangerous and they know it. The less we have to lose the more likely we are to act. Entire industries exist to keep you medicated, calm, and distracted from the horror show our species endures. The day after Labor Day, when life returns back to the normal routine, becomes the stark reminder of just how far we’ve fallen; the splash of water people need to start noticing that the tick-like bloodsuckers we call Capitalists have once again reinfested our skin. We are bloodied, true, but we are not yet dead.
Today we march back into the holding cells of enslaved labor. We will answer phones, take orders, and clean floors all in service to those who exist parasitically above us. But perhaps now, perhaps at least this day the dichotomy between what once was and what could be will be so startlingly clear it demands action.
It was Independence Day, a holiday that existed in name only that inspired Fredrick Douglas to give a speech that would forever highlight the wretched dichotomy between a nation that lived half-slave and half-free. Now, on a planet where 90% of the population toils away for the benefit of a much smaller Planter Class, hypocritical holidays should fuel our revolutionary rage anew.
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