Yesterday was Labour Day in the States. Krugman explains its origins, and notes how far away they appear today:
In 1894 Pullman workers, facing wage cuts in the wake of a financial crisis, went on strike — and Grover Cleveland deployed 12,000 soldiers to break the union. He succeeded, but using armed force to protect the interests of property was so blatant that even the Gilded Age was shocked. So Congress, in a lame attempt at appeasement, unanimously passed legislation symbolically honoring the nation’s workers.
It’s all hard to imagine now. Not the bit about financial crisis and wage cuts — that’s going on all around us. Not the bit about the state serving the interests of the wealthy — look at who got bailed out, and who didn’t, after our latter-day version of the Panic of 1893. No, what’s unimaginable now is that Congress would unanimously offer even an empty gesture of support for workers’ dignity.
The day provides an excellent opportunity to share Springsteen, which I’ll gladly take. Two songs seem apt. A year ago on Labour Day, I was fortunate enough to be at his Philadelphia concert, where he opened with an acoustic version of Factory:
But even better, I thought, was the acoustic opening of The Ghost of Tom Joad at Coventry this June:
My favourite verse from the latter:
Now Tom said “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight against the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or a decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.”
I think there’s a great irony intended in the chorus of this one. When he writes ‘the highway is alive tonight, but nobody’s kidding nobody about where it goes’, he’s surely making use of the most common image of hope, liberation and empowerment in his music – the road out of whatever hell-hole you’re in – and just this once making it bluntly clear that there’s no such prospect in this song’s world, where the struggle is there to stay.