Labor Day

Photo by Roman: May Day, Chicago, 2006.

Labor Day isn’t, really, unless you mean something like: Last call for alcohol; it’s the end of summer and time to get back to work. Also, while the idea for the holiday has its roots in organized labor, my humble opinion is that it amounts to President Grover Cleveland’s weak grin in the direction of old Sam Gompers (Gompers was born old.) and what remained of the railway Brotherhoods (fergitabout Debs). I mean… a buncha states had already adopted the holiday or something similar, but when originally enacted, the Federal version only applied to Federal employees…

Anyway, let’s celebrate the occasion of Labor’s day in the USA with something from the UK, The Longest Johns:

Santa on Vacation?

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Photo by Roman

— Santa Claus!

The fat man whirled with a finger to his lips.

— Shush! If Mrs. Claus finds out I’m here, there’ll be hell to pay. She thinks I’m in contract negotiations with the Elves Union. Not another word, not to anyone, or you won’t even get coal in your Christmas sock. There’ll be coal ash under your tree and your home will be an EPA superfund site.

— Will there be a strike?

— Of course not! We settled-up in an afternoon. It was mostly a matter of the elves trying to figure out what the elves wanted; they’re never prepared.

— What did they get?

— Anything they wanted. They’re elves for Pete’s Sake! You don’t mess with them when they’re on a solidarity kick. And, anyway, it’s for Christmas; why would anyone deny them? Now if you’ll excuse me, we’ve got tickets to see Elvish Pressley and I gotta go.

— But what are–

Not a word! Remember!

— Yip

Back when I was some 40 pounds heavier, “Santa!” was a typical wise-guy cry, at least seasonally, though my impression is that it was as much the beard and the coat as it was the weight because during the warm months of the year “ZZ Top!” would take the lead.

But I have indeed threatened coal ash when fingered as Santa. “ZZ Top” usually just got a denying shake of the head with a smile but on one occasion, the bloke was serious. That was creepy.

Before the COVID, these encounters would happen several times each year, mostly in good humor though repetitious. Even so, children, be careful what you wish for when you wish to be a star.

Post Script: It hadn’t happened in a while, but this last Sunday I was fingered as Jerry Garcia. But wait, Garcia is gratefully dead. Do I look that bad?

Two Upcoming Events

Haymarket Martyrs’ monument, the old Waldheim Cemetery. Photo by Roman.

May Day, the international Labor Day, is very much my holiday. Here are two upcoming events for those of you in the Chicago area. I would be very inclined to do both if I had my way. I would then also say: “See you there!” But alas I am a geezerly male and so that makes making such commitments a chancy thing. Maybe, then.

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Chicago’s Haymarket Free Speech memorial. Photo by Roman.

Haymarket Square May Day Commemoration

Sunday, May 1, 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM
DesPlaines St between Randolph and Lake, Chicago

“Italian unionists from the Federation of Metallurgical and Office Workers (FiOM) will join the ILHS at 12:30 p.m. on May Day, Sunday, May 1, to unveil their commemorative plaque on the Haymarket’s Square statue’s base. The base features plaques from labor movements around the globe, marking May 1 as International Workers’ Day.”

For more information, visit the Illinois Labor History Society’s calendar entry.

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DSAer Dave Rathke tends to the Mother Jones balloon. Photo by Roman.

Mother Jones’ Birthday Party

Sunday, May 1, 4 PM to 6 PM
Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox, Chicago

Guest will include Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson, Irish General Consul Kevin Byrne, artist Lindsay Hand, musicians Paddy Homan, Kathy Cowen and the SAG-AFTRA singers, with emcee Chicago Federation of Labor Secretary-Treasurer Don Villar.

Admission is free but RSVP please at the Mother Jones Museum calendar where there is also more information.

“Railroad Workers Barred from Striking”

While I still keep a wary eye on politics (broadly defined, not just elections), most of it just doesn’t seem that interesting (outside of immediate hazards) these days.*

But in this case, the story below had popped up on one or more of the news lists I follow out of a lifelong interest in trainspotting. Those accounts were rather sparse on the details. The account below, from the More Perfect Union YouTube channel, provides rather more detail…

…with maybe the “draconian” dial turned up a notch or so. Not that I’m complaining. The More Perfect Union website is worth a visit.


*Oh, yes: it is most certainly me and not politics that has changed. But since I’ve “retired” from activism, the details have changed enough that they begin to obscure rather than to inform.

Sidney Poitier: Nobody You Can Boss Around

Sidney Poitier: a class act…

Working-Class Perspectives

In the 10 days since we learned of Sidney Poitier’s death there have been hundreds of tributes to Poitier—an undeniable icon. Most of these tributes have focused on Poitier’s brilliant acting, for which he received innumerable awards, as well as his advocacy for Civil Rights. As CNN notes, for example, in 1963 Poitier joined Harry Belafonte on a dangerous mission to fund Civil Rights work in Mississippi.

Many tributes also acknowledge Poitier’s humble beginnings. The youngest of seven, Poitier grew up in the Bahamas, without electricity and running water. His parents were tomato farmers who traveled to Miami by boat in order to sell their produce. On one of those trips, Poitier’s mother was pregnant with him and gave birth while on the job in Miami, making him a US citizen.

In 1937, when Poitier was 15 years old, his parents sent him to the United States to live…

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Unions in Science Fiction

I mentioned, a few posts back, that John Barnes was one of the few science fiction authors who took the concept of “memes” seriously. He’s also one of the few that occasionally include a favorable mention of labor unions in his stories. At least, he’s among the few that I’m aware of. There is quite the flood of work labelled “science fiction.” It would be a full time job just to keep up with it, which is another way of saying that I’m not all that hip so maybe there are a lot more such authors these days: IDK.

Most science fiction authors do not consistently write from a particular ideological point of view, so what is it about unions? Part of it is that a good story-teller generally relies upon the reader to supply part of the story. Stories, true or fiction, are collaborative efforts, and the readers who have had direct contact with unions are a distinct minority, and most of those experienced the union the way most of us experience an insurance company. Including unfamiliar plot elements such as unions comes with a cost: You must explain and show as otherwise the readers don’t know. (That’s also one of the reasons most science fiction tales resemble a Dr. Frankenstein’s monster of re-used plot elements.) Another part of it is the assumption that in a futurama future productivity is so great that… why would most people need a union? We’re “post-economic,” right? On the other hand, how few hours a week did the early 20th Century economist John Maynard Keynes predict we would be working by the end of that century? Gee, where did all that time and money go?

Whatever. My ulterior motive in bringing up unions here is as an excuse to quote a paragraph from one of the John Barnes books that I recommended in that previous post, Candle. The series that includes Candle was written around the turn of the century, when failed states seemed to be the likely theme for the 21st Century, including the United States. This is part of a recruiting pitch made to the residents of a Seattle orphanage by the captain of a militia hired to protect that part of the Pacific northwest:

“Burton’s Thugs for Jesus is a union shop, represented by the United Combatants, Engineers, Medics, and Chaplains, and we use the standard UCEMC contract for a battalion-sized unit. You get room and board, medical, dental if we ever get another dentist under contract, and locked-in rent control for basic uniforms and equipment. In the event of combat against other UCEMC units, you have a much better POW contract — which can make a big difference if you’re captured — you keep your seniority without penalty if you elect to defect, and you fight under the strict form of the Hague Convention, so the union is a good deal for most of you, and it’s a flat four percent of your pay. You also pay for your training with a five-percent deduction from your pay for your first year, which I waive if you’re decorated for bravery in combat. You don’t pay any local or episcopal taxes.”

Lest I give the wrong impression, unions appear in only some of Barnes’ works. But even those few inclusions are enough to stand out an otherwise silent or hostile fiction genre. When I finished reading the recruiting pitch for the first time many years ago, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to weep.

But as Billy Bragg sang:

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own;
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone?

Democratizing the Economy

a presentation by Olof Palme.

The recording features a presentation at the December, 1980, Eurosocialism and America Conference by Olof Palme (1927 — 1986). At the time, Palme was a leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party. He was then between two of his stints (1969-1976 and 1982-1986) as Prime Minister of Sweden. At the time, the Swedish Social Democrats were attempting to implement the “Meidner Plan” which would have euthanized the rentier class essentially by buying it out over time.

The Eurosocialism and America Conference was organized by the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC)’s 501c3 arm, the Institute for Democratic Socialism. A few years later, DSOC merged with the New American Movement to form the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). The conference was held at a strategic moment, after the pivotal November, 1980, election but before the January change in government. At least a few of Palme’s remarks are directed specifically at this. The conference was a Beltway wonder for a few weeks in that December but was ultimately buried by the flood basalts of the erupting Reagan Revolution.

Olof Palme is introduced by Chicago’s Carl Shier. Shier was an International Representative with the United Auto Workers Region 4 and a leader in the DSOC. While it is true that Olof Palme had many connections with the United Auto Workers, it is also true that a truly surprising number of foreign lefty politicians and union leaders knew Carl Shier, Palme among them.

[Recording time: 56:48]

This particular recording was among the several dozen tapes that Frank Llewellyn from the Democratic Socialists of America’s national office had sent to me sometime after the turn of the century. Allowing for duplications and individual tapes expiring from old age, I guessimated those tapes amounted to at least a week’s worth of full time work. I listened to a few of them and did an inventory, but that’s where I left it.

They remained in my closet for well over a decade. Now, voilà.

“Toyota Man”

When I was watching this short video from Neon Indian, I realized that I had seen it before. And this time I thought it was worth sharing. There’s no memory of why I had decided not to post it before. Maybe because it’s a music video.

In any case, what’s not to like? See if you can spot all the pop references. I only know a few of them. Many others are sufficiently caricatured that they are obviously references but the originals are beyond my ken.

Mr. President

a message for Donald

This is a remastered from the version that was on Randy Newman’s 1974 “Good Old Boys” album.

We’ve taken all you’ve given
It’s gettin’ hard to make a livin’
Mr. President have pity on the working man

We’re not asking you to love us
You may place yourself high above us
Mr. President have pity on the working man

I know it may sound funny
But people ev’rywhere are runnin’ out of money
We just can’t make it by ourself

It is cold and the wind is blowing
We need something to keep us going
Mr. President have pity on the working man

Maybe you’ve cheated
Maybe you’ve lied
Maybe you have finally lost your mind
Maybe you’re only thinking ’bout yourself

Too late to run Too late to cry now
The time has come for us to say good bye now
Mr. President have pity on the working man
Mr. President have pity on the working man

— Randy Newman, 1974