What does it mean to be a "worker"? The broadest answer I know is that you participate in the creation of things that could not exist without the efforts of you and others like you. Today in the United States we participate in a surrogate "Labor Day" My labor day celebration is on May 1st along with most of the workers in the rest of the world. I keep writing diaries like this at the age of 75 because I am concerned about our knowledge of history. If they succeed in rewriting history as they seem to be doing, then their myths will replace what actually happened. As I live in the United States each day tells me the past I know so intimately will soon disappear only to be replaced by illusions. Much of that past goes beyond my lifetime but has been preserved long enough for me to know about it. This also is disturbing in a way since so few others know about it. Is it really gone? Is it really erased? That depends on what you mean. On a day like today in the USA it seems to have been totally erased. Does this sound confusing? Read on below and I'll tell you why I think workers in the USA have been had.
I come from the "working class". I am a scholar and an academic who "rose" above his roots. What a joke? My father was a worker as was his and as was my mother's father. In their day in many places like Chicago where I grew up being a worker was different than it seems to be now.
I can only relate what I know from growing up among them. One thing that has never quite been easy to reconcile with their image of themselves was the constant urging to "better myself". It worked. I am now a scholar and an established scientist. "Better"? I wonder?
They had a quality I admire. They did not just "work" to earn a living. When they were off the job enjoying leisure, at least part of that time was used to enjoy other forms of work. Repairing cars, radios, TVs, gardening, etc. People around me do things like that now but not like they did. You ride power mowers now and there are power driven tools for everything.
If your TV breaks, or your radio, or your car, or most any of the electronic gadgets out there, few people set out to fix them themselves nor are most of them fixable. I remember the trays of radio tubes my Dad had for fixing radios and TVs which he did in his spare time because he enjoyed it. There was a kind of creativity in that lifestyle that has all but disappeared.
It is always tempting to find someone who is responsible for what has happened. I am as guilty of this at times as anyone else. That is why I am writing this diary. I firmly believe that there is an ongoing, systemic process that evolves our conditions. I often blame "Capitalism" and that has some justification. It is even bigger than that though.
Before I was born the working people of the world were struggling. Just one example was the
Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
Many IWW members opposed United States participation in World War I. The organization passed a resolution against the war at its convention in November 1916. This echoed the view, expressed at the IWW's founding convention, that war represents struggles among capitalists in which the rich become richer, and the working poor all too often die at the hands of other workers.So much for international solidarity among workers. nationalism and National alliances took over and worker looked down the sights of his rifle to pull the trigger to kill another worker!
An IWW newspaper, the Industrial Worker, wrote just before the U.S. declaration of war: "Capitalists of America, we will fight against you, not for you! There is not a power in the world that can make the working class fight if they refuse." Yet when a declaration of war was passed by the U.S. Congress in April 1917, the IWW's general secretary-treasurer Bill Haywood became determined that the organization should adopt a low profile in order to avoid perceived threats to its existence. The printing of anti-war stickers was discontinued, stockpiles of existing anti-war documents were put into storage, and anti-war propagandizing ceased as official union policy. After much debate on the General Executive Board, with Haywood advocating a low profile and GEB member Frank Little championing continued agitation, Ralph Chaplin brokered a compromise agreement. A statement was issued that denounced the war, but IWW members were advised to channel their opposition through the legal mechanisms of conscription. They were advised to register for the draft, marking their claims for exemption "IWW, opposed to war."
War and Nationalism have shown to be far more strong than worker solidarity as has the xenophobic rant against immigrants. The drama plays out and a convincing case can be made that we celebrate "Labor" today because of the same desire to divide American workers from their counterparts around the world.
When Marx published his works he sent into motion one of the most powerful struggles among human myths since the births of Christianity and Islam. He never would have predicted that for centuries hence the industrial world would organize itself politically to counter the revolutionary forces they believed he unleashed. It is interesting that the test of ideas is in their ability to mobilize people to act. People around the world organized themselves under one or another "Marxist" banner and the people who held control of the means of production quivered and organized themselves to ward off this threat.
Meanwhile, evolution continued. Something else was organizing this struggle and going to manipulate its outcome. It has so many variations. Black vs white. This nationality vs that one. Meanwhile the system grinds on and gets bigger and more powerful. "System" you ask? What system? The system that human intelligence has created and ironically to which it has become a servant.
We have reached a point now where the very things we struggled to achieve for workers around the world can not possibly be the answer. If we go on consuming and letting technology be the brain of the system that controls us we are basically doomed.
So the workers have been had. They have struggled to get more of their share of what they made. The system responded by giving them more but only with the provision that they struggle for even more. They gain some and the system grows. The use of resources continues and the filling of our living space with our waste matter continues. And the system grinds on. And the system grinds on. And the system..... Happy Labor Day everyone!