May 01, 2008

May Day

"If I were a worker in a factory the first thing I would do would be to join a union." — Franklin Roosevelt

There was a lot of factory work in America back when Roosevelt said that. Implicitly he was endorsing a force that had for decades organized workers to fight and sometimes die for decent hours and decent pay and decent working conditions for every worker not only in factories, but on railroads and in mines and everywhere else, waged against powerful, well-armed interests who had both the law and the firepower in their favor. Long ago, people died to establish the standard of the eight hour day, the one that rolls so easily off the paycheck of today's worker in America. The forty hour week, overtime, all that cost blood, which goes unconsidered, except on ceremonial occasions such as May Day as experienced elsewhere in the world. In America the other word for labor history is amnesia.

I read somewhere that representations of these guys are a common feature of May Day parades in other lands, statuettes and commemorative floats devoted to their images still being dragged through the streets after all these years, memorializing in other lands what is in America an almost universally forgotten martyrdom of labor history:

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