While our country has in recent times engaged in a relentless policy war against the working class I grew up in, there was a time when honest labor was a thing to be celebrated. America became the greatest nation on the planet for a period of time thanks to its workers, not its CEOs or its bankers. Our character is defined by our Main Streets, not Wall St. And you never heard of a Protestant management ethic, did you?
Today S&R honors the worker, and we begin with Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing.”
I HEAR America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck; 5
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother—or of the young wife at work—or of the girl sewing or washing—Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.
Next, Bruce Springsteen, who early on in his career was one of the most powerful working class voices our popular culture had ever heard, sings about the “Factory.”
And finally, John Mellencamp, the Springsteen of the Midwest, speaks for the farmer.
On Labor Day 2011, Scholars & Rogues asks our readers to reflect on what we once were, on what we are all too rapidly becoming, and on the reasons why it has happened.
Have a good one, and feel free to share your own tributes in the comment box below.