The Fight of America’s Working Class: Your Great-Grandparents Would Be Ashamed

The plight of the middle class, the working class, the laborers and workers of the world, has seldom improved – and even then in incremental steps only – and often only to be briefly enjoyed, lost, and fought for again another day. Documents from the American labor movement, over a hundred years ago, prove that the current battle is nothing new, and poised to revert to the agonies of its early days.

The current austerity measures being imposed on the citizens of the world, while corporations and financiers profit, is a battle that has been fought before. We can look at where those policies now being presented have taken us in the past. It’s not a pretty place. We must remember our history before we are forced to repeat it, again, and again.

There is a cyclical pattern of boom and bust in the economy at large, but what we often overlook is that it only pertains to the majority of us; those who have been convinced that our role is to serve the economy that serves only the very wealthy. We force ourselves to labor, to sacrifice, and to weather the storms of bull and bear markets alike. They matter little to us. We work our lives away regardless of which animal personifies the markets used to consolidate our wealth in the hands of the few.

We no longer even talk about ‘quality of life;’ an abstract too painful for the expendable class. We shoulder the burden of our lot while the fruits of our labor are binged on and purged, by a class for whom we are chattel.

We define ourselves by the occupations and duties that rob us of the lives we have. We’ve inherited a slave mentality forced upon our recent ancestors despite the courageous battles they, and their parents, fought. Absent from the history books, and therefore removed from our social memory, is a fierce class war that has never abated; despite being waged in virtual silence, ignored by corporate media, facilitated by corrupt politicians, and reinforced by our own damaged psyches and ignorance of our own self-worth and birth-right.

We have capitulated control of our resources, and our very lives, to corporations and financiers, and allowed ourselves to be convinced that our dreams and desires are unreasonable. Like the peasants and serfs of old, we have been convinced of our ‘place;’ not to be changed, not to be resented, and never to be challenged. We are taught that the opposite of obedience to an unjust system is treason. Keep your head down. Don’t rock the boat. Be a good man, or woman, or parent, or citizen…. work, pay taxes, and die.

Our great-grandparents would be ashamed of our cowardice. We are turning our backs on all that they achieved, and tried to achieve, in order to make our lives better. Rather than continue their fight, we took the small gains that they bled for, failed to press on for more, and are now ready to lay down and allow all that they gave us to be stripped away by the same enemy that they stood courageously against.

In 1883 a congress was held in Pittsburgh. Those that we remember as fading images in sepia toned photos were vibrant people ready to put everything on the line to fight for the freedom and self determination that had been promised them… that they deserved. They produced a document that demonstrates a courage we need to rekindle, a resolve we need to rediscover, and a clarity of vision, and singularity of purpose, that we must resurrect.

… All laws are directed against the working people… Even the school serves only the purpose of furnishing the offspring of the wealthy with those qualities necessary to uphold their class domination. The children of the poor get scarcely a formal elementary training, and this, too, is mainly directed to such branches as tend to producing prejudices, arrogance, and servility; in short, want of sense [trained to be workers, to perform a task, to be fodder for the economic machine that serves the wealthy… not educated] . The Church finally seeks to make complete idiots out of the mass and to make them forego the paradise on earth by promising a fictitious heaven. The capitalist press [media] , on the other hand, takes care of the confusion of spirits in public life… The workers can therefore expect no help from any [either] capitalistic party in their struggle against the existing system. They must achieve their liberation by their own efforts. As in former times, a privileged class never surrenders its tyranny, neither can it be expected that the capitalists of this age will give up their rulership without being forced to do it…

They haven’t given it up, and we’ve apparently lost the courage to continue the fight. We’ve settled for scraps from their table and we amuse ourselves, forgetting the drudgery of our existence, by immersing ourselves in the entertainment and trinkets they have us purchase with the paltry wages we’re allowed. They exploit the resources that belong to all of us, and keep all the profit for themselves. They use our labor to transform those resources into goods that they in turn sell to us for the pennies we received when we prostitute ourselves to them for production. They use our resources, and our labor, to enslave us in a system of debt for their profit.

All politics are personal. The system that we have allowed to enslave us hits us all at the very center of our existence. This too is nothing new. Our lives have been used up, and our families decimated, by serving an economy that services only the wealthy; and has been doing so for far too long.

Over a hundred years ago, a poem was written by a man who worked as a pants presser; Morris Rosenfeld. He captured the agony of many, and his poem was widely distributed. His words echo through time to all of today’s parents who struggle against a system that cares nothing for them. Sadly, in the face of growing austerity measures, low wages, increased unemployment, and record profits for the wealthy, his words are as poignant, and appropriate, today as they were then.

My Boy
by Morris Rosenfeld

I have a little boy at home,

A pretty little son;

I think sometimes the world is mine

In him, my only one.

But seldom, seldom do I see

My child in heaven’s light;

I find him always fast asleep…

I see him but at night.

Ere dawn my labor drives me forth;

’Tis night when I am free;

A stranger am I to my child;

And strange my child to me.

I come in darkness to my home,

With weariness and—pay;

My pallid wife, she waits to tell

The things he learned to say.

How plain and prettily he asked:

“Dear mamma, when’s ‘Tonight’?

O when will come my dear papa

And bring a penny bright?”

I hear her words—I hasten out—

This moment must it be!—

The father-love flames in my breast:

My child must look at me!

I stand beside the tiny cot,

And look, and list, and—ah!

A dream-thought moves the baby-lips:

“O, where is my papa!”

I kiss and kiss the shut blue eyes;

I kiss them not in vain.

They open,—O they see me then!

And straightway close again.

“Here’s your papa, my precious one;—

A penny for you!”—ah!

A dream still moves the baby-lips:

“O, where is my papa!”

And I—I think in bitterness

And disappointment sore;

“Some day you will awake, my child,

To find me nevermore.”

Translated from the original Yiddish by Rose Pastor Stokes and Helena Frank


What do we want for our children, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren? Do we want them to share Mr Rosenfeld’s lament? Do we want them to wish for the courage of those in Pittsburgh so long ago? Do we want them to wonder why we lay sleeping while their future was stolen… before they were even born?

The time to stand is now. We need change, not reform. We need courage, not patience. We need action, not moderation. We need anger, not acceptance.

Our children are counting on us to protect their future, their resources, and their wealth; not to sell it off to private interests; not to define their lot in life as servants to an economy that only serves the few; and not to make them tenants on their own planet…  owned by a powerful, wealthy, elite.

It’s time to raise our heads up, rock the boat until it capsizes, and claim the future that we all deserve; a future of economic justice, social justice, and a true equality that guarantees them the quality of life that our ancestors tried to provide for us.  It’s time to finish the job they started.


2 Responses to The Fight of America’s Working Class: Your Great-Grandparents Would Be Ashamed

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  2. Gjeancgrammy May 7, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    I totally agree,only if the goverment can change this situation,not grandparents or great grandparents,i was my parents slave, I worked hard at home hardly had time to go to school,and when I did I better bring home a passing grade or get punished or whipped like a slave used to get whipped., many a day,,I miss the bus because I didnt dry the dishes saved all day that i washed the night before,many a day I got into trouble at school because i was not properly dressed out for PE because my parents thought smoking was cooler then my needed tennis shoes,oh yeal baby,That government let us be treated that way,not any more,the teachers at school and the parents of today has to behave themselves because the children will tell on them, I got married to get away,only to jump right back into slavery again,worked at all kinds of jobs during the seventies till up to next marriage i still worked some but children all gone but had to work till I just couldn’t take it any longer. And stopped and started my SS before time, Because of my health and got robbed thus making me to nervous to work any more at jobs in the public around money,.My children all was grown and married some got divorced and came to live with me some and I helped baby sit for them while they got another life going.And remarried,but all and all we made out ok,but I do totally agree,the rich keeps getting richer and the poor gets poorer. Thats the way its been even when Jesus walked on earth.
    It will always go down to one word ( GREED) Thats my story and I’m sticking to it.
    Signed a old worn out old lady that worked all her life
    and never got rich.only had my children and they are worth millions to me.

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