It’s International Workers’ Day again. It’s an official holiday in more than 80 countries, but goes largely unnoticed in America (even though its origins are in commemoration of an event that took place in America). That may be why we are the only nation in the civilized world without universal health care, why we have the lowest rate of unionization, the lowest wages for unskilled labor, absolutely no mandated paid vacation, no security against being fired on the employers’ whim, no mandated paid maternity leave, and oddly (or not) enough, the lowest voter participation in elections. I could go on and on and on.
America may be one of the greatest nations on Earth, depending on your definition of greatness, but we are near the bottom in workers’ rights. Don’t forget that whatever meager rights you have, you have because somebody was willing to stand up and fight for them. Also, don’t forget that while you’re snoozing in front of your big-screen TV, the Koch brothers and Big Everything is hard at work trying to take them away from you.
As a gentle reminder of what’s at stake, here is an English translation of the original French L’Internationale – The Internationale – written in 1871, a left-wing anthem for workers’ rights all over the world. Call me a Marxist, leftist, commie, pinko, socialist; I’ll wear it as a badge of honor.
Arise ye pris’ners of starvation
Arise ye wretched of the earth
For justice thunders condemnation
A better world’s in birth!
No more tradition’s chains shall bind us
Arise, ye slaves, no more in thrall;
The earth shall rise on new foundations
We have been naught we shall be all.
‘Tis the final conflict
Let each stand in his place
The International Union
Shall be the human race.
We want no condescending saviors
To rule us from their judgement hall
We workers ask not for their favors
Let us consult for all.
To make the theif disgorge his booty
To free the spirit from its cell
We must ourselves decide our duty
We must decide and do it well.
The law oppresses us and tricks us,
The wage slave system drains our blood;
The rich are free from obligation,
The laws the poor delude.
Too long we’ve languished in subjection,
Equality has other laws;
“No rights”, says she “without their duties,
No claims on equals without cause.”
Behold them seated in their glory
The kings of mine and rail and soil!
What have you read in all their story,
But how they plundered toil?
Fruits of the workers’ toil are buried
In strongholds of the idle few
In working for their restitution
The men will only claim their due.
We toilers from all fields united
Join hand in hand with all who work;
The earth belongs to us, the workers,
No room here for the shirk.
How many on our flesh have fattened!
But if the norsome birds of prey
Shall vanish from the sky some morning
The blessed sunlight then will stay.