Labor Day or Labor(less) Day? Thinking About A New Generation
Musing by Lew Rosenbaum on Labor Day 2016
Friday September 2. The beginning of the four day Labor Day weekend. How to think about what labor faces now, not just the trade unions which are the usual celebrators of this weekend, but about labor in its broad aspect, the class of workers including the partially working, the hardly working, the not working, the never to be able to work? Then Lynn Bremer said that that the “artist of the day” on XRT radio would be . . . performances of songs for Labor Day. At that moment he put “Bang The Drum All Day” on, I turned the radio up, and laughed out loud. I decided at that instant that not working would have to come on Labor Day itself, but until then . . .
Day One: What Is Working Class Life?
Diana interjected, as I listened to XRT’s Labor Day offerings, “The Eagle Flies on Friday.” If Stormy Monday begins the week, it’s payday when the paycheck comes and the eagle flies. YES!! Saturday we go out and play, Sunday kneel down and pray!
In between Sunday and Saturday, however, comes the workaday world. Such a richly layered narrative of working class life in such a compressed, concise, framework, Patty Griffin’s lyric resonates with me on so many levels. “You could cry, or die, or just make pies all day.” Click here for “Making Pies.”
“Will the wolf survive” is the question facing us all as we find ourselves strangers in our own strange land, fighting for survival. The visuals on this one lead into Day Two’s theme, with the migrant’s constant search for home. Click here for “Will The Wolf Survive?”
Day Two, Saturday: The Sharpest Expression Facing Labor Is Homelessness
This is the “Trump version” of “I ain’t got no home in this world.” At least we know where Donald learned his racism now. Check out also how it begins in the first verse: “The po-lice make it hard, wherever I may go.” No romanticism about good cops vs bad cops, it’s the role they play in society. Click here for “I Ain’t Got No Home”
“No matter who you are, no matter where you go in life, you’re gonna need somebody to stand by you.” Street musicians performing this song in streets all around the world, starting on the beach in Santa Monica, Ca. Click here for “Stand By Me”
“If Woody Guthrie were alive today, he’d have a lot to write about,” says Bruce Springsteen introducing this version of his Ghost of Tom Joad. A searing guitar solo leads into the final ” I’m sittin down here in the campfire light waitin on the ghost of Tom Joad” Click here for the “Ghost of Tom Joad.”
Day Three, Sunday: How “Which Side Are You On?” Changes
Florence Reece sings the original mine workers song. In Harlan County, there are no neutrals there. Spare and sharp. Click here for “Which Side Are You On?”
Rebel Diaz launches a torrid hip-hop take on this classic. “The truth is, we’re in so much debt, the only way out is revolution or war. So now the question is, which side are you on?” Click here for the Rebel Diaz version.
“We’re on the freedom side” is Adam Gottlieb’s take on this song, updated to 2016 in Chicago. Click here for the Adam Gottlieb version
Day Four, Monday:What Does The End of Work Mean?
This is the song I heard on the radio the Friday before Labor Day, part of WXRT’s Labor Day song focus, that kicked off my idea for this musical reverie. Nelson Peery asks in The Future Is Up To Us, “What would you do if you didn’t have to worry about surviving”? I don’t want to work, I want to bang on the drum all day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZclddLcOYYA Click here to bang on the drums all day.
David Coe wrote, and in this version sings, a song made popular by Johnny Paycheck. Thankfully I no longer have to say “take this job and shove it” (though more than occasionally I remember how little my social security covers, and I think wistfully I’d like to have a job to be able to shove) Click here to take your job and shove it!
Pete Seeger sings “The Big Rock Candy Mountain,” my favorite utopian song of abundance, written by Harry McClintock, where they hung the jerk that invented work. Click here to find Big Rock Candy Mountain communism!